01 May 2018

Yorkshire Pudding (starring Adrian Plass)

I bought this DVD after seeing Adrian and Bridget Plass speaking in a church in the UK some years ago. I had read all their books - and enjoyed them thoroughly - and it had been a wonderful evening of humour, poignancy and much to ponder.

So, wanting to buy something from their bookstall, I picked up the DVD entitled ‘Yorkshire Pudding’. It claims to be short vignettes, intended for discussion, perhaps in small groups. Some of the items listed were evidently from some of Adrian Plass's books, but I was interested to see them dramatised.

The DVD sat in our to-be-watched drawer for a long time, as it never seemed to be the right time to see it. Then, last night, we began watching the film 'Closer' (starring Julia Roberts and Jude Law, and a couple of other actors we had not heard of) which we had bought inexpensively at a charity event. Rated 15, supposedly about modern relationships, we expected it to be a bit risque. We did not expect it to be laced with innuendoes, ‘strong’ language of the worst kind, and blatant betrayals and immorality. 18 would have been a more appropriate rating. When one character demanded intimate details of what his wife had done with her lover, we stopped watching ‘Closer’. We're throwing away the DVD and I won't even give it a proper review.

I had a bad taste, metaphorically speaking, in my mouth by this stage. We wanted to see half an hour or so of something wholesome in contrast. It was too late to start watching another film, so I pulled out ‘Yorkshire Pudding’. A little ironically the first sketch involved someone talking about a woman tempted into betraying her husband… but all ended happily and entirely satisfactorily, in stark contrast to what we had seen earlier.

There are seventeen vignette interludes on this DVD, all involving Adrian Plass, mostly as himself, with typical self-deprecating humour. There are sketches about boundaries, about decision-making, about guidance, mostly tinged with humour and also with a strong message.

Bridget Plass comes into a few of the sketches too, in a variety of parts. I loved her role as an Anglican minister, discussing an upcoming joint service with the local free church minister (Adrian), getting increasingly heated as they exaggerate their differences and fight about words. The ending falls a little flat, perhaps, but the bulk of it is very well done.

We were determined only to watch five or six of these sketches, but ended up seeing ‘just one more…’ until we had seen them all. We watched the outtakes too. Many of the vignettes were based on (or taken from) sketches in various of Adrian’s books, although I’m not someone who can pinpoint the sources.

On the back, there’s an explanation of the title - it’s not just that the scenes were all set in Yorkshire. The vignettes are intended as a side dish, so to speak, to accompany a longer talk or Bible study. However, we felt they worked well as something to sit and watch straight through, particularly in contrast to what we had started watching earlier.

The scenery is pleasant, green and hilly, and the scripting and acting mostly excellent. Our one gripe was with the way the camera kept zooming in to give close-ups, and then zooming right out again to give a wider view. We found it quite irritating - but it appears to have been deliberate, as it happens in almost every sketch.

The content is Christian, but not churchy; indeed, much of the humour comes from satirising some of the strange ways Christians sometimes behave in church settings. The sketch about bad Bible reading made us laugh out loud, and reminded me somewhat of Mr Bean in church.

Recommended to anyone who wants something a little offbeat for conversation starters, perhaps with youth groups or small house groups.

Review by copyright 2018 Sue's DVD Reviews

24 April 2018

All Roads Lead to Rome (starring Sarah Jessica Parker)

This is one of the many DVDs that Amazon recommended to me, and which I added to my wishlist a while ago, based on the blurb and reviews. Inevitably different films appeal to different people, and I thought that ‘All Roads Lead to Rome’ sounded like an interesting storyline, rather different from the typical rom-com. I was given it for my recent birthday, and last night we decided to watch it.

There are four main characters in this film. Sarah Jessica Parker plays Maggie, a somewhat neurotic mother who has brought her teenage daughter Summer (Rosie Day) to Italy for what is supposed to be a relaxing holiday. Summer is upset because she wants to be with her druggie boyfriend, and Maggie is over-enthusiastic about the views and atmosphere, in a way that even I found irritating, and I’m a mother rather than a teenager.

They quickly meet Luca (Raoul Bova) who was romantically attached to Maggie many years previously and his mother Carmen (Claudia Cardinale) who seems, at first, to be a little senile; but we soon discover that this is far from the case. She wants to get to Rome for reasons that later become clear… and when Summer takes the opportunity to escape from her mother, Carmen insists on going too.

A lot of the storyline is far-fetched, with a lengthy car chase around the Italian countryside, various near misses, apparent disasters… and then perfect timing towards the climax. But that doesn’t matter; it’s more comedy than romance, and while we didn’t laugh aloud, there were some quite amusing sections. Summer is excellent in her role as an uncommunicative teenager, and quickly bonds with Carmen despite their distance in age and rather different circumstances.

Meanwhile Maggie and Luca join forces to try to find the runaway pair… and in doing so gradually explore what went wrong in the past, and what changes each of them needs to make to their lives. I didn’t find this nearly so convincing, however. I never really believed in Maggie, who smiles too broadly, too often, and has a streak of viciousness which is most unappealing. Luca looks good as a romantic hero, but his treatment of his mother, and his opinion of women in general make him seem unpleasant - and his eventual capitulation is far too rapid.

Still, as a light-hearted evening’s viewing, it filled the bill nicely. There was no deep thought required, and while there is more action than I usually like in a film, it wasn’t difficult to follow. I’d have liked English subtitles for a couple of significant Italian exchanges; it was easy to get the gist, but I’d have liked to know exactly what was said.

The rating is 12 (PG-13 in the US) which I’d say is about right. The story is unlikely to be of interest to children or younger teens anyway; but there’s very little bad language, no nudity or intimate scenes, and no violence. The brief glimpses of Summer’s boyfriend in his squat are sordid, involving drugs, but they’re not shown in a disturbing way.

Not the greatest film, but pleasant enough.

Review by copyright 2018 Sue's DVD Reviews

03 April 2018

Roxanne (starring Steve Martin)

Interspersed with new films, we’re watching some which we haven’t seen for ten years or more. Last night we decided to re-watch ‘Roxanne’, the film starring Steve Martin as Charlie, the fireman with the long nose. It’s is loosely based on the classic Cyrano de Bergerac, although we’ve never managed to watch that.

Charlie is a likeable, popular and intelligent man, but he has a hard time with romantic relationships. His nose isn’t just long, it’s somewhat disturbingly so, and difficult to ignore. So when the beautiful Roxanne (Daryl Hannah) comes to live in his town, he’s pretty sure he has no chance with her, other than as a friend. And, indeed, she asks him to help her get together with Chris (Rick Rosovitch), a good-looking fireman who has recently started working for Charlie.

Roxanne is an astronomer who likes interesting conversation. Chris is not only shy but lacks any kind of culture or interest in anything other than (as he puts it) getting in her pants. So he asks Charlie to write letters… and Charlie pours out his heart.

The outcome is somewhat predictable, but nicely done and there’s a great deal of humour as well as some quite moving scenes. Steve Martin is a master of comic timing, and while slapstick isn’t my preferred style, I liked this film very much. The humour isn’t just physical, either; there’s a wonderful scene in a bar, where he comes up with a list of suitable insults appropriate to his nose, which manages to be both amusing and poignant.

I’d remembered the overall storyline from a decade or two ago, but had entirely forgotten most of the interactions and dialogue. I gather that much of it is taken almost directly from Cyrano de Bergerac, but it’s modern (in a 1980s style) in a way that works extremely well. It’s thought-provoking too, and I hope would encourage viewers to think about the importance of character and personality over appearance.

The rating is PG in both the US and UK, although I feel a 12 (PG-13) would have been more appropriate. While there’s nothing explicit, there are a lot of innuendoes, some non-frontal nudity (in a mostly humorous context), a slightly violent scene, and quite a bit of minor bad language.

It's not something I would want to show children, although young teenagers might appreciate it - and it could make a good starting point for a discussion about the way people can be treated based on physical characteristics such as Charlie’s nose.

This film has become a classic in its own right, and (in my view) deservedly so. Steve Martin is flawless, and the supporting characters are all excellent. The pace is just right, and the ending entirely satisfactory.

Highly recommended.

Review by copyright 2018 Sue's DVD Reviews

27 March 2018

Twelfth Night (starring Imogen Stubbs)

We’re trying to work our way through the DVDs we have acquired over the years but have never watched, as well as re-watching some we haven’t seen for ten years or so. Last night my husband decided on the 1996 production of the Shakespeare play ‘Twelfth Night’. I have no idea where we got hold of this; I suspect a charity shop or similar.

We saw an excellent production of this play nearly twenty years ago, and it had not occurred to me that this would be made as a normal film rather than being a stage adaptation. So I was a little startled when it opened with the inside of a ship, in stormy weather. We saw the twins Viola (Imogen Stubbs) and Sebastian (Steven Mackintosh) singing a a double act, shortly followed by the shipwreck which separated them, before any dialogue begins.

This is followed by what I later realised is scene two of the original script. Viola is devastated at (she assumes) the loss of her brother, and decides that it’s safest to dress up as a man. She plans to seek employment at the court of Orsino (Toby Stephens), the Duke who is in love with a lady called Olivia (Helena Bonham Carter) - but Olivia’s father and brother have both died recently, and she has renounced the company of men.

The famous opening line, ‘If music be the food of love, play on…’ then shows Viola, already disguised as the man Cesario, playing for Orsino. After that, the story moves forward (if I recall correctly) in the order of the original play, but with the addition of relevant scenery, interspersed with some songs.

I had assumed at first that the setting was in the 16th century, contemporary with Shakespeare. I was then startled by the use of a bicycle in one of the early scenes, something that was not invented until much later. So I adjusted my time-frame, and realised it was set as if in the late 19th or even early 20th century.

It always takes me a few minutes for me to get into Shakespearean dialogue, but it wasn’t too difficult, and I was soon absorbed in the story. The overall plot is well-known: Orsino loves Olivia, but she falls in love with the supposed Cesario who is really Viola, and Viola herself falls in love with Orsino. There’s a fair bit of comedy inherent in this, but extra comic relief is provided by the drunken Sir Toby (Mel Smith), and the fool Feste (quite unlike any Feste I have previously seen or imagined, brilliantly played by Ben Kingsley). There’s also the pompous Malvolio (Nigel Hawthorne) who has both a comic and a poignant part to play.

I was amazed at how alike Viola and Sebastian looked, and thought they must be close relatives, only to discover later that the two actors are unconnected. Imogen Stubbs is a credible Cesario, with quite a bit of low-key humour in the way she moves, and facial expressions. Helena Bonham Carter is excellent as Olivia, and Nigel Hawthorne as Malvolio was inspired casting, in my view.

It’s not laugh-aloud comedy for the most part, and is quite bawdy in places, but I’ve always liked ‘Twelfth Night’, and thought this an extremely good adaptation. It’s rated U in the UK, PG in the US. Shakespeare’s plays have quite a bit of innuendo and this play has its share, but younger children wouldn’t get them. I doubt if anyone below the age of about eleven or twelve would be particularly interested anyway.

However this would be an excellent version for secondary/high school or university students studying this play, to see realistic backgrounds and scenery, and to see far better the context (albeit a few centuries too late).

Recommended to anyone who would like to see something a bit different.

Review by copyright 2018 Sue's DVD Reviews

20 March 2018

A Taste of Honey (starring Rita Tushingham)

Years ago we acquired some DVDs which a relative had collected free with weekend newspapers. ‘A Taste of Honey’ came with a Sunday Telegraph, and has sat in our to-be-watched DVD drawer for five years or more. We knew it was black-and-white, which isn’t necessarily appealing, but last night we finally decided to watch it.

The film, made in 1961, is set in a northern coastal town of the UK, and stars Rita Tushingham as Jo, a young girl of perhaps 15 or 16. She lives with her mother Helen (Dora Bryan) but the two have an acrimonious relationship. Helen likes drinking and dancing, and men… Jo is full of anger at life in general, and her mother in particular.

We see them doing a ‘moonlight flit’ from a rented apartment where they have fallen behind on payments, ending up somewhere worse, though presumably without either means to pay or references. It’s impossible to tell time-frames, as the action moves forward in random jerks; Jo is at school when we first meet her, then employed at a shoe shop, looking after herself.

We thought at first that it might be somewhat amusing, but it’s really all rather depressing. Rita Tushingham’s acting debut is impressive, and apparently she won an award for the role, going on to a lengthy career as an actress. Dora Bryan is also a expressive, if caricatured and rather inconsistent. At one point she seems to care for her daughter, at other points she ignores her or treats her badly. She’s shallow and increasingly dislikeable as the film progresses.

Jo herself is rather blatant; she appears quite shy at first, but makes male friends as easily as her mother clearly has done through the years. There are a lot of issues in this film which were probably very shocking back in 1961. Jo first makes friends with a black sailor, and then with a young man who is gay. Promiscuity is rife, along with casual sex, although it all takes place off set. Indeed, I see that the film was initially rated as X, although there’s no real violence, no bedroom scenes, and no bad language. Our edition is rated 15, but I see that the general UK rating is now 12. That seems about right to me, although I can’t imagine it being of interest to anyone below the age of at least fifteen.

I understand that the genre is that of the ‘kitchen sink drama’ which was popular in the 1950s and early 1960s in contrast to the lavish earlier films that were produced. So we see a slice of what life probably was like for poorer, working class folk of the era. But the conversation is quite stilted in places, the action slow and plodding, the background music irritating. Worst of all, there’s no resolution to any of the storylines.

I was startled to read that the play on which the film was based had quite a run both in the West End and Broadway. I should perhaps have guessed that it began as a play, since there are only five named characters in the play, as far as I recall, although there are a lot of children around as extras. I was even more surprised to learn that this film is highly rated and won several awards.

Perhaps it’s a particularly good example of the kitchen sink genre; maybe caricatured and depressed looking characters are to be expected. But neither of us enjoyed it. It’s only 96 minutes long, but I found myself regularly glancing at the clock. It certainly isn’t the pleasant escapism I look for in watching DVDs.

I really wouldn’t recommend ‘A Taste of Honey’, but don’t necessarily take my word for it. It’s clearly very popular in some circles.

Review by copyright 2018 Sue's DVD Reviews