Angela’s Ashes

Evocative adaptation of Frank McCourt's Pulitzer-prize winning memoir of growing up dirt-poor in 1930s Limerick, Ireland. Uniformly fine acting, a beautiful score by John Williams (his best since Schindler's List and a far cry better than his unforgivably mediocre score for Phantom Menace), and Alan Parker's typical attention to (obsession with?) gritty, grimy detail add to the film's distinctive atmosphere.

All that said, Angela's Ashes basically adheres to the formula of the "Young European Boy Coming of Age" movie. The cliches are all here: first love, first job, first transcendent trip to the local cinema, tragic death of a loved one, struggling mother (Emily Watson), no-good father (Robert Carlyle), anonymous siblings, valuable life lessons learned.

However, this being the dramatization of an actual human being's life, and life rarely following a three-act storyline, the film has a lax, freeform pacing. Watch young Frank trudge through his days. Watch him get into trouble and then out of it. Watch people enter his life and then leave it. It's all very realistic, but can't, by its own nature, build up any sort of momentum.

Parker and co-scenarist Laura Jones try to fold in an actual plot – Frank dreams of going to America... will he make it? – but that is secondary to scenes from his day-to-day life. In the end I was left thinking, "Well, so that was Frank McCourt's childhood. But is his story any more worth telling than anybody else's? Not really." The movie serves as a reminder that the real beauty of McCourt's book lies in the author's prose, not in his experiences.

Strangest scene: the fastest lunar eclipse in the history of time – maybe 30 seconds long!