20 August 2017

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (starring Gene Keller)


The 2005 film ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’, starring Johnny Depp, is well-known. It’s based on Roald Dahl’s classic children’s book, and is a little scary in places. When I first saw it, I skimmed the book and realised that Depp’s bizarre Wonka was really quite true to Dahl’s creation.

I had vague memories of a much older film of the same book, which I must have seen on television at some point. So when I spotted ‘Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory’ at a school bazaar, I decided to buy it. It sat on the children’s DVD shelf for a while, until - wanting something for my three-year-old grandson to watch on a very hot afternoon - he opted for it. I sat down with him, and watched it too.

I was a little surprised that it was made in 1971 as I had somehow thought it was a 1950s film. The style of speech does feel rather older, and the slower pace of the film made it ideal for my grandson, who watches almost no TV, although it would probably be considered dull by older children who are used to rapid changes of scene and fast action.

Gene Wilder stars as Willy Wonka, and he’s a rather nicer one than Johnny Depp’s portrayal, although he has some strange quirks that are more in line with Dahl’s original than I remembered. Charlie (Peter Ostrum) is likeable, if a little too good to be true, and Jack Albertson is excellent as Grandpa Joe.

The story is well-known: five children win golden tickets, and are taken on a tour of Wonka’s factory. Four of them are obnoxious in different ways: one is a spoiled brat, one a TV addict, one a compulsive gum-chewer, and one a glutton. Wonka gives clear instructions, and one by one the children disobey him, including, at one point, Charlie and his grandfather. The children felt rather too caricatured, but perhaps that was intentional.

While there’s a lot of story in the 2005 version (some of it added to the original) and some excellent special effects, this 1971 version seemed to be more about machinery and scenes showing different kinds of chocolate. There are some good songs, particularly the one sung by the Oompa-Loompas, small people who work hard in the factory to keep everything going, and my grandson seemed to enjoy it.

It’s not a bad film for the era, but I now understand why a new version was made. This can still be found on Amazon in both DVD and blu-ray form, and is rated U (G in the US). It may be of interest for parents with young or sensitive children who might find the modern version (rated PG) a bit too overwhelming.

Review by copyright 2017 Sue's DVD Reviews

03 July 2017

Nanny McPhee (starring Emma Thompson)


It’s over ten years since I was given the DVD of ‘Nanny McPhee’. It made excellent post-Christmas viewing, and over the past few years it’s been watched a handful of times by some young visiting friends. However I didn’t have any particular desire to see it again myself.

But our three-year-old grandson is staying, and during some very hot weather recently, his parents thought it would be a good idea for him to have some quiet time in the air conditioning, watching a DVD. We don’t have anything intended for children this age, but the cover appealed to him and I couldn’t think of any reason why it might not be suitable. Indeed, I thought he might find it quite amusing since I remembered that it featured some very naughty children…

I ended up watching with my daughter-in-law and grandson. I remembered the storyline - a widowed father (Colin Firth) has seven children who are running riot in his household, scaring away a succession of nannies from the agency. The children are all excellent in this film, working together as a team, with excellent comic timing.

Then the mysterious wart-covered Nanny McPhee (Emma Thompson looking most unlike herself) arrives, and takes over….

There’s more than a hint of magic in the story; Nanny McPhee’s staff has some strange properties, which can keep children immobilised, or even reverse damage. The children don’t like her at all at first, and want to get rid of her. But gradually they realise that she’s on their side, and that they’re stressed and lonely. She says she is going to teach them some ‘lessons’ (such as getting out of bed in the mornings when called) but their father also has to learn to relate better to them.

Alongside this main storyline we learn that the family is supported by a strict great-aunt, as the father’s job cannot pay the bills and provide food for so many children. The great-aunt wants the father to remarry….

I was a little anxious at first, since my grandson is quite sensitive, and I’d forgotten just how loud and badly-behaved the children were at the start. I was also concerned that he might find Nanny McPhee rather frightening when she first appears. The fact that the father works as an undertaker seems rather inappropriate for a children’s film, but that went right over my grandson’s head, as did the fact that the children’s mother died after the baby was born.

It took him a while to get into the story, but towards the end he started laughing at a slapstick (and very messy) scene involving cake. He also loved the magical snow-covered Cinderella type ending.

Really more suitable for children of about six or seven upwards. The rating is U in the UK; the US rating of PG is, in my opinion, more appropriate. There are a couple of mild ‘bad’ words, though not noticeable by a three-year-old. There’s also a scene full of innuendoes, though nothing explicit. There’s a fair amount of mock violence too, more than I’d remembered, though mostly intended to be humorous.

But overall this is a very enjoyable film and I’m delighted that I had the opportunity to watch it again!

Review by copyright 2017 Sue's DVD Reviews

03 May 2017

Catch and Release (starring Jennifer Garner)

I’m not sure how this film ended up on my wish-list last year. Probably Amazon recommended it to me, based on the genre of film I like; I don’t think I’d come across any of the cast before, although I don’t always remember the names of actors and actresses.

I was given ‘Catch and Release’ for Christmas last year, and we decided to watch it last night. We knew the theme would be sad, at least initially; the blurb on the back told us that it was about a young woman whose fiancé had just died.

The story starts at the funeral itself, and we see Gray (Jennifer Garner) struggling to hold everything together as she deals with her own grief alongside that of her fiancé’s family and close friends. We learn that he died in some kind of accident while on a men’s weekend away, and that they had parted in anger. Gray escapes from the crowds to hide in the bathroom, only to overhear a very embarrassing incident with one of her former fiancé’s close friends, Fritz (Timothy Olyphant).

The rest of the film is about Gray and her interactions with the three close friends. Dennis (Sam Jaeger) is eager to do anything he can to help. Sam (Kevin Smith) is an irritating and overweight joker, although he too is grieving. Fritz appears not to care at all.

Unsurprisingly, and a little clichéd, Gray uncovers several secrets in her fiancé’s past which both shock and anger her. She starts to wonder if she had ever really known him at all… and gradually gets to know his friends better.

It’s a character-based story, and I liked the pace although it was a bit hard to tell the time-frame. Gray appears to recover rather rapidly, with the shocks she uncovers making her decide to live life to the full rather than becoming miserable.

Other a couple of others who were rather caricatured, we thought the people very believable. The three friends form a good contrast with each other. Every time Sam appears he’s eating very loudly, or talking with his mouth full, and I had to block my ears and close my eyes. It seemed unnecessary to make him so gross, although perhaps it was supposed to be amusing. Far from it with anyone who has misophonia, or who finds bad manners irritating.

I was particularly impressed with Fiona Shaw, who played the mother of Gray’s late fiancé. Her dignity and deep misery were shown perfectly, and we appreciated her gradual softening in the face of other people’s suffering.

Overall the story was really rather sad; Gray, inevitably, moves on although we felt it far too rapid and rather shallow. But the themes, in addition to the main depressing one are about unrequited love, betrayal and lies. It’s a testament to the director and writers that they made a very watchable and (in places) moving film.

Rated 12 (PG-13 in the US), which seems about right. The bedroom scenes are implied rather than explicit, and there’s no violence. Some bad language, mostly profanity.

Review by copyright 2017 Sue's DVD Reviews

27 April 2017

Florence Foster Jenkins (starring Meryl Streep)

Browsing Amazon a while ago, I saw this DVD recommended to me. Reviews, for the most part, were good; in my experience anything starring Meryl Streep is likely to be excellent, and there was the bonus of Hugh Grant. So I put it on my wish-list, and was delighted to receive it (actually the Blu-ray edition) for a recent birthday.

‘Florence Foster Jenkins’ is about a late middle-aged woman - played by Streep - who is clearly not in the best of health. She is loved and protected by her husband who gives monologues in music halls… although we quickly learn that theirs is a rather strange relationship.

The story begins when Florence decides that she wants to take singing lessons again. There are some light-hearted scenes where they interview various applicants for the job of accompanist. The successful candidate, Cosmé McMoon (Simon Helburg), is young and dedicated, and can’t quite believe his good fortune. At least, until the first lesson, when he discovers that Florence’s singing leaves much to be desired…

I had read on the back of the blu-ray that the film is based on a true story. In a way, i wish I hadn’t known that. Part of the bittersweet humour of the film is about the way that everyone conspires to avoid letting Florence know that she really can’t sing. In a fictional setting, with reality suspended, I could have relaxed and probably enjoyed it. As it was, I kept thinking of how awful it would be if - or when - she eventually learned that her loved ones had been deceiving her.

It’s not a film for those with perfect pitch, or who find it painful to hear bad singing. I’m no musician, and I cringed at times. Meryl Streep does a wonderful job portraying Florence; as ever, she takes on the part fully, and the character felt all too flamboyantly real. Hugh Grant, too, while somewhat typecast as her husband, does very well, and Simon Helburg’s expressions as the accompanist are also a delight.

As a film, I’d give it five stars. The pace is good, the story sparkles, and the acting is excellent. But the story itself made me feel uncomfortable, hitting just a tad too close to real situations I’ve come across.

Rated PG in the UK, PG-13 in the US. Some of the implications and conversations are somewhat ‘adult’ although there is nothing explicit. Bad language is minimal and there is no violence; drinking and smoking are commonplace. Based on the content I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone under the age of at least twelve.

Review by copyright 2017 Sue's DVD Reviews

10 April 2017

My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 (starring Nia Vardalos)


Sequels to films can be a disappointment, so I didn’t take much notice when I heard that ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2’ was being produced. It didn’t even have an original title; we very much enjoyed the first ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’, but I expected that this version would be a pale imitation, or perhaps the same over again.

However, reviews were favourable, so when the DVD became available and the price wasn’t too high, I put it on my wishlist, and was given it for Christmas. We were hoping to see it with our younger son but he’s not been around for a while, so last night we watched it with some friends who also liked the first film.

The story involves the same family, but takes place ten years after the epilogue to the first film. Toula (Nia Vardalos) and Ian (John Corbett) are still happily married, although they don’t see much of each other; their daughter Paris (Elena Kampouris) is now 17, and starting to look at university applications. Her grandparents want her to marry a Greek boy, but, like her mother, she wants to be independent and make her own decisions.

The ‘wedding’ in this movie takes place towards the end and turns the story upside down; it’s an amusing twist, although most of the reviews I had read gave spoilers, so I knew it was coming. It didn’t matter, really; the preparations, and the closeness of the Greek family remain amusing, with interludes in the family restaurant, and a couple of episodes where even small children have fun trying to find Greek derivations for words in the English language.

There’s plenty of humour that made us smile, including one or two places where we laughed aloud. Greek culture is clearly caricatured, but so is American culture, and the clashes between the two are shown, although not as obviously as in the first film. And yes, there's much that's a re-hash of what worked so well in the original movie - but we didn't have a problem with that.

It’s a story about marriage, primarily; about the kind of relationship that lasts decades, moving through difficulties and arguments, finding what loyalty and long-lasting love really mean. As such I thought it quite uplifting, in a light-hearted way. Of course some of the scenes are exaggerated, although having lived for nearly 20 years in a country that’s culturally Greek, they’re not as caricatured as some would assume.

It’s also about the balance of culture and freedom, of the empowerment of women, and of the difficulties of letting go of teenagers. But they’re not issues that are pushed; they’re there to be picked up or ignored. The film moves at a good pace, and I found myself quite involved in the family dynamics, oddly disappointed when it ended.

All in all, I thought it was a good film, and pleasant for a relaxed evening’s viewing without too much brain power needed. It helps to have seen the first film, but probably isn’t essential.

Rated 12 (12A in the US) which I think is about right. While there's no nudity or violence, and I didn't notice any bad language at all, there are several suggestive scenes and references, and frank discussions about making babies that would be irrelevant and possibly embarrassing to younger children.

Definitely recommended.

Review by copyright 2017 Sue's DVD Reviews