By Marc S. Sanders

Notting Hill written by Richard Curtis (Love, Actually) and directed by Roger Michell is a pleasant surprise of a romantic comedy. It’s not a perfect film but it certainly loves every one of its quirky supporting characters, as well as its two straight romantic leads played by Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant.

Grant plays Will Thacker who lives in the Notting Hill district of London where every proprietor is a charming little shop of some form or other; a quaint street where merchants appear on the sidewalks during the weekends selling their art or homemade jams or coffee products. Will owns a travel book shop located across the street from his flat that is whimsically recognized by its big blue front door. His wife left him for another man and now he’s relegated himself to living with a roommate called Spike (character actor Rhys Ifans doing a British equivalent of Cosmo Kramer, Seinfeld’s neighbor).

One day the superstar celebrity Anna Scott (Roberts) simply strolls into Will’s store. They have a quiet moment and he sells her a travel book about Turkey that he didn’t recommend she purchase. Moments later they run into each other down the street when Will spills orange juice all over Anna. From there, a meet cute relationship begins to unfold. It’s not so simple for the pair though as Anna’s enormous celebrity is hard to negotiate; hard for Anna, not hard for Will.

Anna is at ease when she can have a quiet dinner to celebrate Will’s sister’s birthday with his friends or when she can escape her turbulent life of gossip magazines and paparazzi by taking shelter at Will’s flat, even if grungy looking Spike walks in on her taking a bath.

I like Notting Hill. However, the quiet moments shared between Grant and Roberts sometimes carry on too long. Oh my gosh!!!! Will someone say something already????? Hugh Grant has made characters that trip over their words and stumble with what to say into a master craft. Julia Roberts is one actress that a camera loves especially when she’s distressed. A crying moment in any one of her films will milk the scene for every blush, or glassy eye or tear and whisper she can offer. She’s a terrifically skilled actress in almost any film she does. Eventually, we have to move on from all of this though. My patience for some scenes were just running way too long for me at times. Kiss already!!!! Make love already!!!! Scream at each other already!!!!

Fortunately, there’s much escape to be had with the supporting cast, especially Ifans as Spike who is the most absent minded, lovable, dirty underwear wearing and sloppy prig imaginable. Emma Chambers is just as fetching with her scarlet pigtailed haircut as Will’s sister, Honey. Tim McInnery, Gina McKee, James Dreyfus and Hugh Bonneville round out this madcap collection. The birthday dinner party is a great scene for this ensemble as a comedic but relaxed chemistry blends nicely during a competition to see who is suffering the most to earn the last brownie on the dessert plate. The group is unsure how to include a movie star like Anna in their simplicity but Julia Roberts pulls off a trick that even had me fooled. Simply put, for the whole cast, there’s just that much more life and vibrancy when they are all together and it’s not just relegated to only Roberts and Grant in a scene.

Another special moment occurs later when the couple have split up once again. To depict time fleeting by, Roger Michell offers up a transition of Will wearing one outfit but walking through the hustle and bustle of Notting Hill as the weather and seasons seamlessly change all around him from sunlight to rain to snow and spring sunlight again. You even get a glimpse of Honey starting a flirtatious relationship at the beginning of the sequence and by the time it’s over a minute later Honey is breaking up with the guy. It’s a wonderful moment of wordless narration to show Will’s struggle with moving on as time continues to pass by. More importantly, it allows the titled setting to be a character of its own. This is a great example of showing a lovesick character unable to move on while life has no patience to wait for him to catch up.

I like Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts whether it’s in Notting Hill or one of their many other fine movies. I can’t deny the chemistry they have in this film. It works. I only wanted a little more life to the material that was handed to them. Still, Notting Hill is charming and simply a very sweet romantic comedy.


By Marc S. Sanders

Love, Actually is like a warm favorite blanket to snuggle up in. Richard Curtis writes and directs a collection of the greatest British actors (along with American Laura Linney) in a kaleidoscope of love and relationships against the backdrop of beautiful London, England during the five weeks leading up to Christmas.

I won’t list my favorite characters or actors. In a film this treasured, this loved and this appreciated, that would be like picking your favorite child. It’s impossible when every single storyline is perfectly executed with thought and tenderness.

The stories of love uncovered, love that’s lost, love based in friendship, and love drowning in heartache beautifully jump from one to the next and then back again. Curtis is wise to not show all of the facets of each story early on. Some stories reveal more about themselves later that’ll leave you hurting for those that are not so merry and those that offer plenty of cheer.

I’m especially happy that Curtis did not compromise in the language or subject matter of his tales. Strong language at times makes for some memorable dialogue and nudity presents a normality to how we really are with those we have affections for.

It’s fair to say everyone in life experiences some variation of love. Yes! I mean everyone. Richard Curtis reminds you that love is a natural instinct, and so we can not focus on the easily recognized gloom of our world. To have these stories captured around Christmas time only enhances what we treasure, or what we wish we didn’t have to endure at times. Curtis’ blazing soundtrack helps along the way.

Love is hard. Love is challenging. Love will sweep you off your feet and love will destroy everything you thought you had. However, love will never leave you with complete regret. It’s never the love we have for someone that we regret. It’s only a wish to have it wholesome, healthy, happy and pure.

Love, Actually is all around.


by Miguel E. Rodriguez

Directors: Lana Wachowski, Lilly Wachowski, Tom Tykwer
Cast: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Doona Bae, Ben Whishaw, Keith David, Susan Sarandon, Hugh Grant
My Rating: 10/10
Rotten Tomatometer: 66%

PLOT: An exploration of how individual lives impact one another in the past, present, and future, as one soul is shaped from a killer into a hero, and an act of kindness ripples across centuries to inspire a revolution.

Okay, faithful readers, I hope you’re comfortable.

Cloud Atlas is one of those movies like Baraka that leaves me with the urgent need to tell people how amazing it is.  It’s visually spectacular, thought-provoking, and hopelessly optimistic about love and the good side of human nature, even in the face of the worst humanity has to offer.

Based on a critically acclaimed novel by David Mitchell, the movie tells six separate stories, linked by the fact that a core group of actors plays all the principal roles in each story, and by the fact that at least one actor in each story carries a curious birthmark shaped a bit like a comet or a shooting star.  Each story is separated from the others by decades or centuries, taking place in the years 1849, 1936, 1973, 2012, 2144, and an apparently post-apocalyptic 2321.

I cannot imagine the lengths to which the filmmakers, and the film editor in particular, went to make this movie work.  The film jumps freely from one story to another, forward, back, forward, and back again, somehow maintaining a clean flow and keeping each storyline absolutely clear.  Although the stories are unique, the editing keeps the idea of connection alive for nearly three hours.  Just based on the editing alone, that makes Cloud Atlas kind of exhilarating to watch, especially when things heat up in the 2144 segment.

Let me see if I can quickly summarize each story, without giving too much away:

  • 1849 – An American lawyer visits property holdings overseas and witnesses the brutal whipping of a slave, who stows away on the lawyer’s ship returning to San Francisco; meanwhile, an unscrupulous doctor has plans to steal the lawyer’s gold en route.
  • 1936 – A struggling composer, Robert Frobisher, is hired as an amanuensis (a fancy word for a music stenographer) to another aging composer, which allows Frobisher to compose his own masterpiece, The Cloud Atlas Sextet. The aging composer demands credit for the piece and threatens to expose Frobisher’s bisexuality, including his deep, unconditional love for a gentleman named Rufus Sixsmith.
  • 1973 – An investigative reporter stumbles onto a conspiracy at a nuclear power plant, thanks to a whistle-blowing report written by none other than Rufus Sixsmith, now in his sixties.
  • 2012 – An author on the run from hooligan creditors takes refuge in what he thinks is a hotel, but is in fact a nursing home, to which he has inadvertently committed himself.  He and three other residents plan a daring jailbreak.
  • 2144 – Set in a vastly futuristic New Seoul, a renegade “fabricant” is brought in for questioning by the ruling government known as Unanimity.  The fabricant, known only as Sonmi-451, spins a tale of oppression, liberation, and horrific realization as she becomes the voice of a revolution that will ripple across centuries.
  • 2321 – In a post-apocalyptic Hawaii, peaceful Valleysmen live in constant fear of attacks from vicious cannibals, the Kona tribe.  They also receive periodic visits from Prescients, a highly advanced society that apparently lives offshore.  One day, a Prescient, Meronym, asks a Valleysmen leader to guide her to a remote mountain peak where she hopes to send an SOS signal to off-world colonies.

Confused yet?  Don’t be.  The editing keeps everything crystal clear.

But that’s just the clinical description of the movie.  What catapults Cloud Atlas into the stratosphere is how the fancy editing and visual effects occasionally take a back seat to a really deep philosophical question that leaves me with a sense of awe.  It’s really a what-if question, one of the greatest what-if questions of human existence.

What if…death isn’t the end?

I know that countless other movies have asked this question. We all have our own answers and beliefs.  I am not suggesting that Cloud Atlas has somehow figured out THE answer to this question, or that the answer it provides somehow trumps your own beliefs. But of all the movies I’ve seen on this topic, Cloud Atlas is the only one that really, genuinely, truly left me in awe of the possibilities it proposes.

I mentioned earlier that key roles are played by the same actors over and over again in each of the stories.  While that was initially distracting, I realized that the filmmakers were actually making a genius move.  It was nothing more than a simple way of illustrating the concept that a life in one era is echoed in another, decades or centuries later.  Heavy makeup is used to indicate how one person’s life as an Asian woman could, in theory, be echoed in the life of a Mexican woman in another era.  Or perhaps the life of a British man might be echoed later as a British woman.

And then there’s the question of that recurring birthmark.  One key character from each storyline bears a birthmark that resembles a shooting star.  So many people (including me the first time around) wanted to attach some kind of conventional story-based meaning to that birthmark.  Did it mean these characters were all somehow blood-related?  Was it a prophecy of some kind?  Something mentioned in the book, perhaps, that had to be left out of the film for pacing reasons, or some such thing?  No.  It’s just another visual reinforcement of the idea of recurrence, or reincarnation.

And that’s where I get awestruck by the movie.  Reincarnation is not a new concept in films, but Cloud Atlas really got under my skin.  Imagine.  What if…the person you love, your soulmate, the one you’ll love until the day of your death…what if, centuries hence, you’ll meet each other again?  Maybe you’ve walked down the street, or been eating in a restaurant, and for a fleeting second you lock eyes with a total stranger across the room, and you think, “I KNOW that person,” but the moment passes and life goes on.  What if that happened because you have met in some past life?

Or maybe you go on a date, and it goes phenomenally well, as if you’ve known each other for ages?  Well…maybe you have.  It’s your destiny to meet and love this person because you’ve already done it before.

I know I’m getting a little woo-woo/touchy-feely here.  It’s not a new idea.  It’s just that Cloud Atlas presents the idea so well that my breath gets taken away when I think about its implications.

I just have to bring up the stunning visuals again.  There’s a scene where the composer, Frobisher, is writing to his lover, Rufus Sixsmith, and there’s a passage where, in his mind, he meets Sixsmith in a china shop.  In a wonderfully poetic moment, they start smashing the china in slow motion as Frobisher’s composition plays in the background.  Then, just as the music reaches a crescendo, the two of them stop in place, and hundreds of china vases and plates rain down from the ceiling in slow motion, hanging in space, descending slowly to the ground like gigantic snowflakes.

I’m at a loss.  I’ve come to the end of whatever I can discuss about this movie without repeating myself endlessly.  I want to reiterate that I don’t believe this movie has THE answer to what lies beyond death.  But it has a truly lovely hypothesis, one that leaves me awestruck with its implications.

So let me just end with a line from the movie that makes my heart swell every time I hear it.

“I believe there is another world waiting for us, Sixsmith. A better world…and I’ll be waiting for you there. I believe we do not stay dead long. Find me beneath the Corsican stars, where we first kissed.”