Christina Aguilera- Stripped Album Review

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I’m going to do something a little different with this post. While I have reviewed music on this site in the past, I’ve never quite been as personal or introspective in my writing about it on here. That’s changing with this take on Christina Aguilera’s second album Stripped. This will be a personal post about why this album means a lot to me and it’s impact on me.

I don’t remember exactly when I got this album, but if my timing is correct it was probably in 2003 when I was 8 years old. The album was from the year prior and I can remember there being a bit of an uproar that the young Christina Aguilera had changed her image up from good girl to something more raunchy. Being of a young age, I definitely had a crush for Aguilera. And yet apart from this, I mainly focused on her music once I heard this album as it was definitely something different for me. Yes she had switched her image up, but I already knew she had a powerhouse of a voice that was freakishly good and knew how to be soulful too.

Despite the controversy raised by her switch in image( I mean it definitely was a departure from the sweet bubblegum pop image she first appeared on the scene with), I remember being entranced when I saw her being interviewed about it on television, explains how she had started to have more control of this record and had a hand in writing most of the songs on it. Various points she made about sexuality didn’t particularly register with me( leading to one of those classic asking of parents and getting the answer you’ll understand when you’re older moments). But I liked seeing her passion and dedication to her art and how she was in essence shedding her old image that she had said really wasn’t her. Here was a young woman who was choosing to take creative control of her image and sound. Over the course of the era, Christina changed her image even more. She dyed her blonde hair jet black, got various body piercings that were showcased in various photoshoots and pushed the envelope with her style of revealing dress. Plus, she adopted the alter ego Xtina. Though obviously notable and eye catching, it was always her immense talent, stellar vocal range and the fact she had something to say that registered the most with young me.

I remember the first time I saw the album cover of Stripped. There was Christina Aguilera, eyes closed, hands raised with tousled two-tone braids strategically covering her breasts, complimented by a tight pair of pants all in black and white. It sure as hell packed an impact on my young mind. I asked my parents if I could buy the CD. After an initial pause looking at the cover, they let me buy it. Stripped was one of the first times I properly listened to the lyrics of songs and with the booklet containing the lyrics, I committed most of them to memory. The album was the equivalent of a comfort blanket in tough times and it continues to be. I was inspired to right this  piece when I purchased the album again recently and listened once more to its varied content. The album is a watershed moment for Christina Aguilera and one where she announced she wasn’t going to be an artist you could put in just one box.

So now onto the crux of this post which is the review and why it’s so personal to me. For anyone who doesn’t know, I have autism and have done battle with anxiety and depression for a long time. For a very long time during my years in education, bullying was a rather regular occurrence. It was over various things through this time; from my lanky frame as I got older, my difficulty making friends stemming from my autism. There was also teasing about the tone of my voice, alongside various jibes at what people thought my sexual orientation was. Let’s just say school was rather hard for me and while not all bad,  a lot of the memories are not ones I cherish. But with support of family and growth from myself, not to mention my family and music, I made it through the best I could. And here I am now, baring my soul and thoughts for everyone.

So we begin with an intro entitled Stripped , in which we find Christina on defiant form . Here she’s revealing everything to the listener and beckoning them to see her for who she is. We segue into the hip hop beat of the confrontational Can’t Hold Us Down, featuring rapper Lil Kim . Here she tackles the societal double standards of men and women by urging women to have a voice . Even though the song tackles feminism and hitting out and the unfairness of gender roles, I think it’s a relatable song for anyone really. A running theme throughout Stripped is asserting yourself and being authentic and I think therein lay the appeal for me as a kid and even now. Christina gets vulnerable on the soulful groove that is Walk Away about being stuck in a relationship you can’t get out off. Here her vocals really knock the content out the park and her honesty is bared. The theme of breaking free is brought up many times in Stripped, much in the way I wanted to break free of my situation and  eventually did.

A heavy rock influence colours the sensational Fighter . This was a song I revisited a lot during many difficult moments in my life for its grit and message of overcoming the harshness of being ill treated. Christina’s voice soars and roars as she thanks someone for how they treated them, because she wouldn’t have known how strong she was without it. While I wish I hadn’t been though such rough times as a child at the hands of others, thinking of this song has resonance because I never knew I could be stronger after all of the suffering. While I still have moments when my mind goes back to the bullying I endured , I think I’m largely getting over it now and coming to terms with it being in the past. Fighter will always hold a special place in my heart for its anthem like qualities and how out of struggling can come release and unknown power. Plus the metamorphosis themed video which featured Christina as a caged moth that emerged into a striking butterfly beautifully backed up the theme of the song in a visually striking way.

Two interludes are around the Latin influenced and flamenco infused Infatuation. A highly danceable and intoxicatingly sultry number about desire that pays homage to Aguilera’s Latin roots, Infatuation is a sexy little number for sure. The soulful and funky Loving Me 4 Me speaks of someone who truly understands and appreciates you no matter what . I’m a hopeless romantic who believes that one day that special person will come along so naturally it appeals to me. Break ups and relationship ups and downs cover both Impossible and Underappreciated , which further showcase her range and eclectic influences.

We then move onto the heartfelt Beautiful , which is a song that means a lot to me. It was a song that made me believe that I did have a place in the world, despite the adversity I was facing. Opening with Christina saying “Don’t look at me” , this haunting ballad has her at some of her most vulnerable and open. Penned by the highly talented Linda Perry, Beautiful builds to a powerful and cathartic release and celebration of all that is different with people. For someone like me, who often felt on the outside of things, it was a anthem of depth and held positivity for me. Featuring the impressive vocals of Christina, which go from quiet and soft to massive and full of grit, crossed with honesty and power, truly holds up as an inspirational piece of music for anyone unsure of themselves . It’s safe to say that this somg was played a lot by me during difficult times. This reaffirmed my belief that music, along with my other great love of film, was indeed a healing force that could be useful to me and indeed help. That isn’t to say that I didn’t get help or support from others ( I come from a very loving and supportive family who were there for me), just sometimes music can be rather cathartic and a way of letting out feelings without even realising it. The music video also made an impression on my mind; showcasing people in life who feel disenfranchised and disconnected and bringing them together in a positive message of self acceptance. It was a video for those who don’t feel seen and it emboldened me to feel better in ways I never expected.  The next song Make Over is possibly my least favourite track of the album as it feels a bit much. But it’s a rare misstep in a game changer of an album that oozes influence and strong messages. Cruz and Soar more than make up for the last song with their messages of moving to acceptance that resonate deeply. Much in the fashion of my journey to the person I am today.

We get into sexy and strutting form with the fabulously raunchy yet playfully assertive Get Mine, Get Yours . It’s probably the main song that I think of that describes the FWB situation, marking the song out as somewhat ahead of its time. Plus, it’s near impossible not to shake your hips to the rather funky groove percolating throughout this track. Naturally as a young kid, I didn’t quite understand the meaning of the song but nonetheless loved listening to it’s often slinky groove and her voice. When most people think of this album, their minds often quickly go the rather controversial Dirrty. I mean most people remember it for the music video that features Christina in many revealing outfits, frolicking and dancing at an underground nightclub surrounded by various fetish gear and unusual events. Many at the time were outraged by both the lyrical content and the video. I have a distinct memory of overhearing people in shops when the song came on saying it was awful and shouldn’t be allowed to be heard or seen by children. This intrigued me as a kid because while I gathered it had caused some sort of bother, I think even then I could see that it wasn’t just an attempt to be shocking. Rather it was a female embracing her image and expressing it in whatever way she wanted to. I may have not quite grasped all of that at the time, but as the years went on, I began to see how Christina had bravely cultivated an image that was her own and one she was in control of . And I for one have respected her for this ever since . At a young age, I could see she was doing her own thing but didn’t quite know how to say it. Thank goodness I know how to now. Anyway, back to the infamous . A dance song with a driving and pumping beat, it’s a song you have to shake your hips to. And don’t worry dear viewer, I won’t be following in Christina’s footsteps and donning some leather chaps as only she can pull them off convincingly. If you take away the eye opening video, it’s still an incessantly catchy that showed Christina was all grown up and a woman. Once more she’s on defiant form with the second Stripped interlude, further proclaiming herself her own person.

Christina can adapt to any music genre as is evidenced in this record, but for me it is her ballads that really show what she’s truly made of and her mettle. This is highly evident in the aforementioned and the simply stirring The Voice Within . Beginning quietly with piano before unleashing a soulfully gospel influenced finale, Christina gets personal with a message of self assurance to people. The lyrics are deeply personal and ones I can most certainly relate to. The first time I heard it , truly moved me with its message and I felt seen and it was I believe a step towards me getting a little more confident. By far the most open and devastating song on the album is I’m OK; which details the abuse Christina and her mother suffered at the hands of her father. It’s a raw, deeply emotional song where it sounds as if she’s crying during parts of it. Baring her soul in such a manner had me in tears the first time I heard it as it felt so truly personal. I never thankfully suffered any abuse from family growing up, but I knew people who did and this song made me think about them. I admire when someone uses their platform to raise awareness of an issue and Christina did it beautifully with I’m OK. Finishing the album is the immensely soulful and gospel flavoured, which has you with your fist in the air with triumph and joy . Stripped ends on an inspiring note with Keep on Singin My Song its uplifting lyrics and defiant energy, twinning Christina’s growth with mine as I gradually emerged as a slowly better version of myself.

So that was my highly personal tribute and review of Christina Aguilera’s Stripped, which for me will always be a personal record of triumphs and talent for the immensely gifted Aguilera. Apologies for the long winded nature of it, but I felt so inspired to write this that the words just came out of me. I’m likely never to meet Aguilera, but if I did I would thank her for this album and how much it helped me begin to accept myself for being me. I applaud Stripped for being open, honest, sultry, emotional and a deceleration of independence. I must say it feels good to get these thoughts and memories out of my head. I feel almost lighter and have a sense of relief writing this piece. Whoever reads this, know that I am very grateful for your time and reading .

Rec

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A brutally effective horror movie that zips along at a quick and ferocious pace and proves that found footage can still be impressive, Rec makes for a disturbingly intense experience.

Ángela Vidal( Manuela Velasco) is a peppy young reporter who along with her unseen cameraman Pablo(Pablo Rosso) is filming a documentary on the emergency services. One night while filming at the fire station when nothing seems to be happening, the firemen get a call about a lady trapped  in her apartment. Ángela naturally jumps at the chance of a story and so she and Pablo tag along to the apartment block. Once inside, the firemen along with encounter the woman is distress. The woman then becomes crazed like a zombie and bites one of the firemen, throwing everyone into terror. Once removing themselves from the room and locking the woman in, the group head to the lobby. The other residents have assembled , wanting answers for what is going on. Everyone starts to panic as the military shut off the building, leaving everyone trapped inside. They hear that a virus has spread between people through saliva, explaining the crazed and feral woman. The results of the virus are rabid viciousness and the instinct to attack and bite. But as the tension mounts and panic sets in, the body count rises as people become infected by the virus and chaos reigns.  Ángela and Pablo keep recording as the horror unravels, attempting to avoid being infected and savagely attacked in the now claustrophobic apartment block. One thing is for sure, it’s going to be a fight for survival as Ángela and Pablo attempt to make it through, determined that what transpires in the apartment block will be discovered even if they aren’t .

Directors and writers Jaume Balagueró  and Paco Plaza make sure Rec lulls you into a false sense of security before unloading ultimate terror. They succeed on this score and also on making it feel realistic and like you are right in there. Once the zombie horror hits, Rec doesn’t let up with the tension and gruesome action as the kinetic point of view camera plunges us straight into the heart of the terror of this apartment block under siege. As a rule, I sometimes find that found footage movies give me a throbbing headache with the way they are shot. While Rec does include many scenes of shaky camerawork, it feels a lot smoother than most which makes it more intense and easier to follow. It’s a simple premise from  Balagueró  and Plaza that is shrewdly and economically directed , making for a lean and mean horror movie of vicious intent and brutal, nail-biting content. The script also allows viewers to discover things at the same time as the characters , increasing the shocks as we experience them and our guesses are stripped away by jolts of terror. The claustrophobic and hellish atmosphere is further heightened by the absence of a score. This makes everything feel realistic and lets the audience listen out for anything sudden about to happen or not. Credit too must be given to the zombie effects that look terrifying yet also in the realms of possibility as all hell breaks loose.

The main members of the cast are . Manuela Velasco, who is almost always onscreen is an appealing presence. She nails the determined and go getter persona within the part of Ángela which gives way to fighting for survival of the most terrifying sort. Velasco’s likeable charm , fight and sense of breathless terror at what she encounters are all on full display as the heroine of this story and make an impact. Though it’s only his voice that we hear, Pablo Rosso convinces as the much harangued cameraman Pablo, who is charged with capturing the horror right in front of him. The supporting cast are all convincing and seem so realistic in what they are doing. Which is totally in fitting with the almost documentary approach that Rec is going for.

Ruthlessly impressive and terrifyingly claustrophobic , Rec is a triumph of horror film making that leaves your heart pounding in fright. Even if the found footage genre of horror doesn’t often appeal to you, I highly suggest Rec as it might just change your mind.

My Apologies

I wanted to speak with everyone on here who follows me and tell you something. I haven’t been ignoring you for the past few months. I’ve just not had the best time with my mental health. I’m taking steps to feel better and make progress. I feel that I’ve been slacking because of this, both in terms of writing and conversing with you all. For that, I extend my apologies as I’m working on getting back to usual service. It just might take some time. So I hope you all understand and know that I love you all.

The Invisible Man

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An update and reimagining of an old idea , The Invisible Man successfully crafts tension and scares, while lacing the story with topical awareness  and psychological chills.

We open with Cecilia Kass( Elisabeth Moss)escaping from her boyfriend Adrian Griffin(Oliver Jackson-Cohen) who she lives with in his high tech house. She is aided in her escape by her sister Emily(Harriet Dyer) and following this she goes to live secretly with childhood friend/ cop James (Aldis Hodge) and his daughter Sydney( Storm Reid).  After this we learn that Adrian had been controlling every aspect of their relationship and would regularly abuse Cecilia to the point that she thought she was losing her mind. Then Cecelia hears that Adrian has supposedly committed suicide.  Cecelia is shocked by this because Adrian was so in control of everything, including her and enjoyed the feeling of owning something. But nonetheless with his apparent demise, she attempts to recover from the abuse she suffered and start a new life. Unfortunately, a lingering presence won’t let that happen for Cecelia . What first appears to just be her being paranoid because of strange coincidences soon becomes clear that something is stalking her, though everyone thinks it is just the trauma talking. With events turning dangerous and her friends questioning her sanity, Cecelia starts to feel cut off from everything with no one believing her that Adrian is doing this somehow. Desperate and isolated by this point, Cecelia must muster all her strength in order to avoid going insane and figuring out just how Adrian is still able to torment her despite being apparently dead.

Right from the opening, in which we see Cecelia escape from Adrian’s grasp , Leigh Whannell places us right in the middle of tension and keeps it ticking away like a time bomb. Once Cecelia escapes, the tension and uneasiness is never far away as it bubbles away before steadily ratcheting things up notch by notch. Whannell is a skilled director and writer  who truly brings this creepy story to life and knows how to make an impact on the audience by pushing the right buttons and also throwing in some unexpected moments too .The themes of oppression of women and particularly abuse inflicted by toxic masculinity echo the real life events across the entertainment industry the past few years. The Invisible Man understands just how suffocating and damaging dealing with abuse like gaslighting can be and what it can do to your head. For that reason, it really stuck in my mind and I’m sure it will do the same to others who see it. One tiny niggle is that the film loses a bit of steam in the midsection and a little editing could have been a tad more efficient. But this is a minor gripe in one chilling and suspenseful horror thriller. Visually, the cold colours of The Invisible Man are hauntingly rendered and the usage of wide shots to test the audience into noticing whether something has moved is alarmingly effective . I mean the way the camera lingers with tension is so assured that you feel genuinely unnerved by it . And it’s put to amazing use during a particularly brutal sequence that is one continuous moving shot that has to be seen to be appreciated . The low hum of the score further exemplifies an unearthly presence that won’t stop until it is satisfied.

What gives The Invisible Man a lot of its power is the central turn from the always talented and watchable Elisabeth Moss. Exploring the desperation, isolation and eventual strength of her character, Moss doesn’t miss a beat as the abused woman slowly piecing things together. We buy into her anger, sadness and confusion, as well as the burning resilience waiting to burst through. And it’s all down to Elisabeth Moss, who has the ability to make us feel often without speaking a word( her expressive face does that to stunning effect.) For the time he’s on screen, Oliver Jackson-Cohen makes Cecelia’s abusive ex suitably slippery and chilling; you really buy into the fact that he could manipulate you anyway he wanted to. Harriet Dyer convinces as the sarcastic but caring sister , while the supportive and strong duo of Aldis Hodge and Storm Reid adds to moments of levity for Cecilia as she attempts to rebuild her life, little realising the nightmare has only just begun . Michael Dorman excels as Adrian’s mysterious brother who you are on the fence about and can’t help but question which side he is on given his familial ties. Not to take anything away from any of the other cast, but The Invisible Man belongs to Elisabeth Moss

Scary, unnerving and above all well acted(particularly by Moss), The Invisible Man is a horror/thriller that manages to get under your skin from the very beginning. Trust me, you’ll be checking over your shoulder when this movie finishes

Underworld

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A dark action fantasy with imaginative mythology, Underworld certainly looks terrific and has a bit more plot than you’d expect. It’s an imperfect film, but with oodles of style and a kick ass Kate Beckinsale , Underworld holds the interest and has quite a few things to recommend.

A war has been raging for many centuries invisible to human eyes. It has been fought between the vampires and the werewolves, here called Lycans. Selene(Kate Beckinsale) is one such a vampire, referred to as a Death Dealer as she hunts down her enemy. We pick up with her as she hunts Lycans but finds something different this time. The Lycans are hunting a human by the name of Michael Corvin(Scott Speedman) ; which to Selene makes no sense as humans have no part of the conflict between the two clans. While pursuing Lycans, Selene becomes curious about Michael and how he somehow fits into events. The Lycans, headed by the slimy yet wily Lucian(Michael Sheen), have secret plans that involve blood and becoming more powerful . While the Vampires have plans to awaken one of their Elders very soon. Defying orders from the arrogant and scowling second in commands of  vampires Kraven(Shane Brolly), the reckless Selene investigates Michael and unexpectedly begins to care for him.  It then becomes clear that the conflict between the species isn’t as straightforward as many have been lead to believe. As various treachery is uncovered and her attachment to deepens, Selene begins to question what she’s been lead to believe just as the war hots up again and the dormant Vampire Elder Viktor(Bill Nighy) is awakened.

Len Wiseman is a very stylish director who makes a good go of bringing this story to life. He showers us with lashings of blood soaked violence, barrages of bullets captured in slow motion and leather gear throughout. And it must be said, on the visual scale, Underworld is rather dazzling . With a dark cinematography style bathing events in Gothic grey and moody blues, we are put into this nocturnal world of battles that feels fantastical and darkly intriguing.  What’s surprising about Underworld is that it isn’t just a mindless action fantasy, there is some good world building here. Occasionally it gets a bit too much with explaining things and the run time does leave a bit to be desired. I feel the movie flags in the midsection before all matter of violence breaks loose and sucks us back into the spectacle that was so entertaining. As I mentioned previously, it’s not a perfect movie but it’s sure as hell entertaining when it’s in high gear. It’s flawed but definitely got a lot going for it and I for one enjoy the good of what Underworld provides to me. A thumping score that is definitely what I’d call early 2000’s accompanies the film and fits in with the aesthetics quite well.

Underworld is not what you’d call an actors movie per say, though it has a handsome cast. Kate Beckinsale, clad in a figure hugging latex catsuit, has the appropriate sex appeal, icy cool and sullen attitude for her role of Selene. All these attributes work well as well as the physicality and reckless personality Beckinsale imbues into the part. She’s suitably cast and carries the centre of the e film as we watch her emotions become more prominent when Selene has tried to shut them off. In short, Kate Beckinsale is ideally cast and makes for a great kick ass heroine with a heart. Scott Speedman is mainly required to be startled and confused as the human caught in the midst of this war. Thankfully, Speedman does what he can with what he’s given and at least provides the centre of the story as he and Selene grow closer. Questionable morals and arrogant personality are on show from Shane Brolly as the leader of the vampires, who can’t help but feel inadequate when questioned by Selene and others on his judgment . Bill Nighy appears late but makes an impact as the Vampire, who while wise and seemingly respectable enough, may in fact be something more manipulative entirely .

So while it’s imperfect and not everything comes off, Underworld is still a largely engrossing fantasy with great action, nice wold building and good cast headed by the sexy Kate Beckinsale.

The Bone Collector

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It may follow familiar beats and is more than a tad formulaic, but two compelling leads and some crackling suspense raise The Bone Collector to a good level of suspense to watch.

Lincoln Rhyme(Denzel Washington) was once a prominent forensics detective/expert who was highly respected in his field. That is until a tragic accident rendered him mostly paralysed. Only his face, brain and two fingers work and he has all but given up on life. Though he is looked after by live in nurse Thelma(Queen Latifah), Rhyme finds his existence exhausting because he can’t do what he once did .Owing to progressively worse seizures that he believes will render him in a vegetative state, he plans to end thing sin order to avoid that fate. Meanwhile, tough patrol cop Amelia Donaghy(Angelina Jolie) is going to be transferred to a desk job. But on her last day as a cop, she uncovers a mutilated body on the train tracks . Alongside the body is old fashioned items that are most puzzling at first. Thinking fast, stops the evidence being destroyed by halting an oncoming train by stopping it in the nick of time. Rhyme’s detective friend Paulie Sellitto (Ed O’Neill) enlists him on the case in question. Rhyme isn’t keen on taking the case, until he sees the clues and can’t help but get involved. After seeing Amelia’s skill at collecting evidence and seeing, asks for her to assist him in the case .  Not wanting to put in jeopardy her soon to be desk job, Amelia is apprehensive of taking on such a case. She reluctantly accepts and though they are not the most obvious partners in solving crime, after initial animosity , the two begin to work on this unusual case. The tough Amelia becomes Lincoln’s eyes and ears on the crime scene to track down the sadistic serial killer before he strikes again. The particularly nasty killer enjoys toying with the detectives with his clues and taunting them if they are too late. Hindering the investigation is the interference of Captain Howard Cheney(Michael Rooker) , who is jealous of Rhyme and wants to laud over everyone that he’s the boss but is pretty inept at what he does. The case intensifies when another person is kidnapped by the taxi cab killer. It’s now up to the mismatched duo to stop the madman before it’s too late.

Phillip Noyce is a very good director who plays the film as a fast moving yet largely engaging thriller with creepy undertones. Though The Bone Collector is not going to go down as a truly masterful and iconic thriller, it does the job of keeping us involved with a level of skill that’s quite good and it’s certainly watchable thanks to a fast moving pace and some real jolts of horror . This film isn’t afraid to be grisly( one victim is brutally scalded to death with steam ), but gladly doesn’t get to a level of truly outrageous gratuitousness . The most common thing that is said about is that it is a poor man’s Seven . While I can understand this point of view as both feature ritualistic ,viciously methodical killers and an urban setting , I think  The Bone Collector also has differences. Plus, I don’t think many films in the thriller genre can replicate Seven and it’s spellbinding command over visuals and ambience. Saying that, The Bone Collector does have its share of good visual moments throughout, especially in the zooming aerial shots of New York and the creepy, unnerving darkness of the underground . The Bone Collector can often feel a bit run of the mill and near the end logic begins to strain , but the quick pace and jolts of suspense help raise it higher than what it is. Craig Armstrong contributes a mournful and atmospheric score that raises the hair on the back of your neck when it needs to. 

Where The Bone Collector gains a lot of its good points is in the casting. The compelling presence of Denzel Washington is front and centre here. Washington exudes a commanding, intelligent and subtly emotional presence; displaying the frustration of man who has a mind that still works, but a body that doesn’t . All of this conveyed convincingly by the forever gifted Washington through often just body language and facial expression . Which really says a lot considering he is bed ridden for practically the whole film. Aiding him with an equally fine performance is the striking Angelina Jolie. Portraying the outwardly tough and streetwise cop with buried trauma, Jolie is very effective at mingling the two sides of this to make a very watchable character. Jolie projects a haunted yet brave front here which is appealing and solid. The chemistry Jolie shares with Washington is very believable as they go from people who are seemingly opposites who then end up complimenting the other. A no nonsense Queen Latifah is appropriately warm yet steely in her performance as the live in nurse determined to make Rhyme see that life is worth living. Ed O’Neill is on likeable form as a good support to Rhyme and you buy into the fact that they trust each other implicitly. Michael Rooker, of intense stare and eyes, slimes his way across the screen as the police captain with a massive chip on his shoulder with anyone who crosses him . If it werent for the main killer of the film, Rooker and his character could easily be cited as the chief antagonist of the piece. Luis Guzman brings a little bit of humour as a fellow forensic who often lightens the often intense and foreboding mood. 

So while it’s not a truly top tier thriller , The Bone Collector is still a creepy movie that takes a standard story and raises it up a few notches to entertaining and fast moving stuff. Plus, when you have stars like Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie in the film and doing a commendable job, it’s definitely worth watching in my book

The Guardian

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I would like to thank both Gabriela and Gill for inviting me to the Other Than a Bond Girl Blogathon. Both women are amazing writers and I was thrilled to be offered the opportunity to take part. I decided to highlight the delightful Carey Lowell, below is my review. 

A supernatural horror movie from William Friedkin, The Guardian is a strange movie that is by turns cheesy and then creepy. While it is a definite mixed bag , The Guardian does hold moments of interest.

Phil( Dwier Brown) and Kate (Carey Lowell) Sterling are a young couple who have relocated from Chicago to Los Angeles as Phil has been offered a lucrative advertising job. Kate also works as an interior decorator. Soon they are blessed with a baby boy who they name Jake. To ensure that they can both be around for their son as well as have successful careers, they decide to hire a nanny. The woman in question is the English Camilla Grandier(Jenny Seagrove), who comes with impeccable manners, charm and a great deal of attention to little Jake. Camilla becomes a vital part of the household, though things are really not what they seem. She is in fact a druid, and she plans to sacrifice Jake when the time is ready to a nearby tree that she worships. Phil and Kate don’t realise this at first, but various things begin to make Phil question the woman who he has hired to care for his newborn baby. The seductive and conniving Camilla begins invading his dreams and we see the extent of her power when a friend of Phil and Kate’s stumbles onto her evil secret. For Camilla, it’s all about biding her time until she can snatch Jake and complete her act of horror. The question is will Phil and Kate be able to save their baby son from the diabolical plans of the evil but charming Camilla before it’s too late?

William Friedkin has long been a director who I’ve admired. While his films haven’t always been great, he still has flashes of crazy brilliance in his work. His work here is pretty good in quite a bit of it; it’s just let down by various other areas. The Guardian is a film that’s very much up and down in terms of quality and while it has creepiness, I wouldn’t really classify it as scary in terms of horror. The constant re-writes behind the scenes and troubled production come through because of this in terms of the overall product. It’s as if the film can’t decided what it wants to be(evidenced by the often choppy editing). It can’t fathom whether it should be totally serious in terms of subject or pretty outrageous and decadent . But some moments of brilliance shine through these many flaws , like the creepy effects used on the trees coming to life and some atmospheric dream sequences. Plus, when things do get really crazy, its quite thrilling stuff. Which makes it a shame that the rest of the film couldn’t deliver on this promise and decide what it wanted to be. A good enough score, punctuated by synth and piercing strings is employed to a fairly decent degree, even if it does feel a little sparse. 

Jenny Seagrove heads the film with a mysterious and unnerving turn as a charming woman with deception and treachery in her mind. Seagrove, who is a strikingly beautiful presence, uses this to her advantage by showing little by little that Camilla is in no way to be trust because of how dangerously powerful she can be. Dwier Brown , while not being the finest actor in the business, has a few good moments later as the father unearthing his son is in danger. Brown just unfortunately has a habit of overacting, which can be rather grating after a while. And the woman who I’m here to write about is Carey Lowell. Her role isn’t exactly what you’d call the deepest role(new mother realising something is very wrong with the woman she has trusted with her child, Lowell brings out a convincing concern and sense of terror that is very watchable. I would have liked to have seen more of her in the film, but for when she’s on the screen, Carey Lowell gives a pretty fine performance of maternal vulnerability and underlying strength. In essence, it’s the main ladies who dominate this film. 

So I must conclude that The Guardian is rather messy as a film with an editing scheme that renders parts as scattershot.  But with a competent  cast, notably Jenny Seagrove and of course Carey Lowell , plus some good visuals, they provide interest in what is a flawed but watchable film from William Friedkin. 

Tuck Everlasting

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Based on the popular novel , Tuck Everlasting is a magical and at times moving fantasy that ponders deep questions and boasts a wonderful cast. While it might not be to all tastes, Tuck Everlasting may very well surprise you. Especially because it’s not something I imagined would come from Disney but somehow works.

It’s the early 1900’s and rich teenager Winnie Foster( Alexis Bledel) feels constricted by society and how she’s never allowed to have any adventure. She’s largely confined to her house , where her parents smother her with rules and restrictions. Her mother Mrs. Foster( Amy Irving) is prim and proper , while her father Mr. Foster ( Victor Garber) is often busy . Winnie becomes more frustrated with her life when she’s informed that she’ll be going to a boarding school. Angry, she runs off into the woods that she’s been forbidden to enter. Finding herself lost, she meets a handsome young man called Jesse Tuck(Jonathan Jackson) . He’s secretive but before they can connect, Jesse’s brother Miles(Scott Bairstow) takes Winnie with him back to his family. Here Winnie meets the mother and father of the Tuck family, Mae(Sissy Spacek) and Angus(William Hurt). The family live in a wooden house, sheltered on the lake and among beautiful scenery . The family are hesitant over what to do with Winnie as they are clearly hiding from something . After initial uncertainty because of their secretive ways, the family warms to Winnie. As she spends more time with them, Winnie becomes entranced with how they live and finds trusted comfort with them. Jesse eventually reveals the secret of his family; they are immortal having drank water from a spring within the woods. Though they are a close family and live life with some sense of freedom, the Tuck’s have a few feelings of regret and sometimes question what they did. In the meantime, Winnie grows closer to the family. Unfortunately for Winnie and the Tuck’s, especially Jesse, who she has fallen in love with, darkness may be on the horizon. A mysterious Man in a Yellow Suit ( Ben Kingsley) has arrived with an intention on discovering their secret to immortality and wants to exploit it. And it seems he’ll resort to anything to get his wicked hands on it. Winnie’s parents also send out a massive search party to find their runaway daughter. With both of these things hanging over the summer that will change everything, the big question falls to Winnie. Will she drink from the spring to become immortal or decide against it and grow old like everyone else?

Director Jay Russell conjures up a pretty magical movie that takes innocence and the pressures of growing up and infuses them with summer adventure. He’s clearly got great admiration for the source material and doesn’t feel the need to over simplify for children, yet not alienate older viewers either. The visuals are simply gorgeous; long sweeping shots of woodland, dreamy dissolves between scenes and a sense of bittersweet reverie that colours every frame. Even the most cynical of people is likely to be charmed by this warm-hearted yet wistful movie that explores deep issues with heart and a soulfulness. Where other movies fail when trying to straddle both kid friendly content and weighty issues, Tuck shines. While some little moments get a tad saccharine, it steers to the right side of sentiment and heart that is hard to resist or fault. It’s a movie that can be incredibly moving too with the big question of immortality and eternal life at the centre . I mean I think the prospect has been something that has been of interest to people for centuries and is a concept that is most intriguing.  An eloquent, wistful and stirring score from William Ross highlights the often bittersweet nature of the film, but also the beauty and mystical energy involved too.

Heading the cast is the young Alexis Bledel , who gives a very fine performance. Bledel embodies the stifled feeling of caught in the need for adventure and wrestling with the prospect of growing up. A lot of the movie rests on her shoulders, but Bledel, with her blue eyes and genuine demeanour ,rises to the challenge of capturing a girl at the point of womanhood with a very difficult dilemma at her door. Plus she has very convincing chemistry with Jonathan Jackson as the main Tuck of the film. The aforementioned Jackson brings an incredibly earnest charm to his part and has enthusiasm to burn. Veteran stars William Hurt and Sissy Spacek bring experience, depth and honesty to their roles. Both Spacek and Hurt convey so much often without words and bring true class and heartfelt emotion to Tuck Everlasting. William Hurt possesses the wisdom of someone who cares deeply for his family, while Sissy Spacek beautifully portrays a genuine maternal warmth as the glue of the family in times of upheaval. Scott Bairstow is mainly left to glower and snarl as the resentful brother, though he does get one pretty emotional scene. On villainous duty and doing it in suitably stylish taste is the ever watchable Ben Kingsley. Complete with something quite unnerving, his skill for flattery and slippery way with words , Kingsley makes the main villain quite creepy and someone you really want to not succeed in his wicked plan. Amy Irving and Victor Garber , though not given the most to do, effectively embody the kind of parenting from a time gone by with strictness and want to please the rigid rules of society.

While Tuck Everlasting may not appeal to certain demographics or audiences( the Disney label might put some off), I’d say they are missing out on a very lovely and wistful story. With a blend of innocence and maturity, Tuck Everlasting is a winning fantasy in my book and one to treasure.

Heartbreakers

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A funny, scintillating and often raunchily sharp madcap crime comedy, Heartbreakers crackles with great, comedic performances and a game cast. While it overstays it’s welcome with the running time , it’s still a good knockabout time with scintillating scenes and many great laughs

Max(Sigourney Weaver) and Page Connors(Jennifer Love Hewitt) are a mother daughter con artist duo who have been largely successful in their schemes. Their main ploy is for Max to charm someone with money into marriage. On the wedding night, she falls asleep thus not consummating the marriage. Shortly after, Page poses as a seductive young girl in order to put the man in a compromising position. Max then discovers this indiscretion and files for divorce, earning plenty of money in the process. They begin the movie by pulling this number on hot shot car salesman Dean( Ray Liotta). But this charmed existence is dealt a blow when the IRS catches up with them and they are forced to pay back their ill-gotten gains. Wanting money once more, Max persuades Page to do one last con with her and they head to Palm Beach. They set their sights on the loathsome tobacco baron William B. Tensy(Gene Hackman), who is never without his product and is prone to hacking fits. Page, although obviously close to her mother, feels a tad resentful that Max is always the one who seems to be the most successful and skilful at the con game. And while obviously talented at the game too, thanks to sassy attitude and plenty of sex appeal, Page wants to prove she can do it alone and be as savvy as her mother . Alongside the big con she and her mother are working on, she decides to do one of her own. She meets the sweet and unsuspecting bar owner Jack(Jason Lee), who has been offered a good amount of money for his establishment. What Page hasn’t counted on is developing deep, romantic feelings for him, which threatens to throw a spanner in the works. Also around to complicate matters is the return of Dean who wants to get even , despite the fact he’s still crazy for Max. Much eventfulness unfurls as the elaborate con takes unexpected turns with an out of his mind Dean joining the fray and unexpected feelings getting in the way of a possibly lucrative operation for the scheming mother/daughter duo.

David Mirkin does a commendable job with Heartbreakers. He obviously is enjoying directing this amusing and at times raunchy crime comedy with amoral characters and a few good curveballs. When it comes to the laughs, Heartbreakers does deliver in large part due to the writing and zany events displayed. We have side splitting moments involving a nude statute , Max’s quick thinking in getting out of a possible jam when impersonating an Eastern European mistress and Page being used as the seductive decoy many a time. And basically anytime that Ray Liotta and Gene Hackman are on screen. The bone of contention within Heartbreakers comes with the running time, which it must be said goes on too long . Plus, there are some parts, mainly in the latter stages, that become overly complicated when they shouldn’t. I mean I’m all for twists and turns when observing a con game, but a few too many takes the cake. Thankfully, the vast majority of Heartbreakers is entertaining enough to compensate for these flaws and make it a fun-filled ride. It’s breezy and tart, with gorgeous locales and naughty antics a plenty. A jaunty and breezy score, peppered with fizzy mischief accentuates the fun time that’s being had by just about everyone involved.

The cast is what really makes Heartbreakers sizzle and have a great sense of humour. Sigourney Weaver, who is an actress I’ve always admired and been impressed with, flexes her comedic chops here with a charismatic turn. Combining a sense of experience in all things devious with moments of genuine heart, Sigourney Weaver is wholly convincing as a worldly con artist who is afraid to lose her daughter. Weaver is on great form as an commanding and slick criminal who had never grown tired of the grifter existence and displays it with appealing confidence and sexy ease. As her sparring partner in crime and daughter , Jennifer Love Hewitt also excels. Balancing cuteness, sex appeal and tough eye rolling sarcasm, she’s a vixen who develops a heart against her better judgment.  Although constantly scene in figure hugging clothing that is hard to ignore, Jennifer Love Hewitt isn’t relegated to brainless sexpot here. Rather she knows how to flaunt it with a sense of humour and fun that’s most appealing .Weaver and Hewitt share a great chemistry and are genuinely believable as not your average mother daughter. Watching their back and forth is a delight with bickering and double dealings going hand in hands in a joint venture. Both ladies are wonderful and so very watchable in this crime caper. Another big standout is Ray Liotta, having fun with his often intense and unpredictable  persona, is a delight as the out of his mind car dealer caught in the web. Liotta brings new meaning to the word manic with a hilarious performance as a spurned and played man who eventually gets in on the con game action. A scene stealing Gene Hackman is a true hoot as the man targeted by the women for their scheme. Spluttering through endless cigars, wearing heavy make up that makes him look like a reanimated corpse and embodying a sleazy routine as a dirty old man, the ever talented Hackman makes you howl with his comedic antics here. Both and are comedic delights in this movie and the screen lights up with them on it. Jason Lee probably gets the least to do as a potential pawn in the con game and love interest. He’s sweet and sincere, not to mention rather clueless, but he just isn’t as interesting as the other people who occupy the screen. In her last movie appearance before her death, Anne Bancroft has a ball as a shifty lady who you are never sure of. And boy does she have a blast in this supporting role that lets her sign off in style. 

So while it does wear out it’s welcome thanks to the running time getting long in the tooth and things stalling in the midsection, Heartbreakers is still a fun romp through the con game. It’s enlivened by an up for anything and delightful cast and some pretty fantastic laugh out loud moments. This review is dedicated to the exceptional Ray Liotta, who recently passed away.