19 November 2017

In her Shoes (starring Cameron Diaz and Toni Collette)

My relatives in the UK like to shop from wish-lists (as do I) so from time to time, I browse Amazon’s recommendations to add a few books or DVDs to my list. I’m not entirely sure why this ‘In her shoes’ was suggested to me; perhaps I had rated another film with Cameron Diaz, or perhaps it was the genre - mildly amusing light ‘rom-com’ style - that made this suggestion. In any case, the blurb sounded good, the reviews were mostly positive, so I added it. I was given it for Christmas nearly a year ago, and we finally decided to watch it last night.

Actually we had started to watch it about a month ago, on an evening when I was very tired. For some reason I found the opening sequences too confusing, and somewhat gross. We see a lot of shoes, two young women, one of them in compromising positions at an office party, then throwing up and phoning her sister, who’s in bed with someone else … hardly an auspicious opening on an evening when I wanted something light and totally undemanding.

However, last night I was more wide awake and willing to try again. I still didn’t much like the opening, but the story quickly became more interesting. Cameron Diaz’s character, Maggie, is basically a spoilt brat who can’t keep a job, seduces men at every opportunity, and even steals money from family and friends. Her older sister Rose (Toni Collette) is sensible, hard-working… and lonely. In almost every respect she is a contrast to Maggie, except that they both like shoes.

They evidently have a stormy relationship, and Rose regularly bails her sister out while trying to persuade her to look for work. But this time Maggie does something so awful that Rose severs the relationship entirely. At that point, Maggie goes to visit a long-lost relative (Shirley MacLaine) and finds herself staying in a retirement centre for senior citizens. Gradually she starts to take more responsibility - and at the same time we see Rose begin to throw off some of the shackles of responsibility, and start to live a more bohemian lifestyle.

There’s a romance involved, but it’s not the main feature of the film, and the hero (Mark Feuerstein) begins as a rather dorky guy, pushing for a date in a not particularly attractive way. The scenes at the retirement centre are wonderful; there are some very amusing scenes, and some great lines. Apparently (as we learned in one of the ‘extras’ on the DVD) the people shown are not regular extras, but the people who were actually living in the centre concerned, playing parts that suited them best. They did a wonderful job, with humour and skill.

Rated 12A (PG-13 in the US), there’s nothing too explicit but several bedroom scenes with strong implications, and some mild swearing. I can’t imagine it would be of any interest to anyone younger than about fifteen anyway.

It’s not the kind of film I’m likely to watch again in a few years (not that I do that much anyway!) nor one I’ll necessarily remember in future, but the issues related to the importance of family connections lifted it a little above the average, and it made a very enjoyable evening’s viewing.

Review by copyright 2017 Sue's DVD Reviews

06 November 2017

The Intern (starring Robert de Niro)

My husband saw this film - or part of it - on a flight, and liked it so much that he put it on his wish-list. He received it a while ago as a gift, and we finally sat down to watch it. I wasn’t particularly inspired by the blurb on the back, explaining that a retired man got a job as an intern, but it turned out to be an excellent film and I’m glad I was persuaded to see it!

70-year-old Ben is the star of this film. Robert de Niro is perfect for the role, as an understated, likeable and hard-working guy. Ben has recently been widowed, and is finding time rather drags in his retirement. He is somewhat old-fashioned, and likes to have a routine for each day, but he misses the buzz of being at work. So when he sees an advert for a ‘senior’ aged intern at a clothes company, he decides to apply.

The first scenes are cleverly done, and we learn a great deal about Ben as he prepares his resume - on video camera, not on paper. Unsurprisingly he is accepted for the job, and is put to work with the work-obsessed Jules Oston, the founder of the company. It’s an ideal part for Anne Hathaway, featuring a young, idealistic and driven woman who has quite a heart hidden beneath her high-flying exterior.

The story is character-based, with Ben as catalyst for a lot of changes to different people. He is a secure, confident person who is good at spotting when things need to be done. Perhaps he’s a tad too good to be true, but it didn’t matter. I found myself warming to him more and more. I couldn’t quite forget that Jules was Anne Hathaway; she does the ‘gradually transformed strong young woman’ role very well, but it would be nice to see her in something different. However, I can’t think of anyone who would have been more suited to the role of Jules.

There’s a surprising amount of humour in the film, some of it rather suggestive. The PG-13 or 12A rating is appropriate, although younger children would probably miss most of it; there’s nothing explicit. There's no violence either, though there's some mild (and very well done) slapstick. I particularly enjoyed the excellently choreographed burglary scene later in the story.

The scenery is excellent, the houses different in their layouts, but all welcoming and pleasant to the eye. One of the extras explains that the set designer and director were very picky about this kind of thing - and it certainly works well. There’s minimal bad language, no nudity, no violence… and a satisfying ending in all respects.

Thoroughly enjoyable to watch, and one that I expect to see more than once.

Review by copyright 2017 Sue's DVD Reviews

13 October 2017

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (starring Thomas Horn)

I don’t remember how we acquired the DVD of ‘Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close’. It has been in our to-watch drawer for many months, perhaps a year or more. I had read some mixed reviews, and the premise, somehow, didn’t seem all that appealing.

However, we recently decided to watch it… and were captivated from the start. It’s a sad, tense opening as we meet young pre-teen Oskar (Thomas Horn) grieving the loss of his father. We soon learn that he died in the Twin Towers attack in September 2001. Oskar is a highly sensitive child, evidently on the autistic spectrum although, as he tells someone later, tests for Asperger’s Syndrome were inconclusive. He struggles to deal with loud noises and finds it difficult to understand strong emotion.

The early part of the film is confusing chronologically; we see Oskar’s memories with his father (Tom Hanks), interspersed with the day everything changed, and his day-to-day life. His father and he do ‘quests’ or ‘challenges’ together, often based on unlikely stories, but giving Oskar a chance to communicate with strangers.

Oskar and his mother (Sandra Bullock) have a difficult relationship, made all the worse by their bereavement, and their reluctance to talk about it. But, a year after what Oskar calls ‘The Worst Day’, he goes into his father’s closet - unchanged, in a year - and by chance discovers a key. This leads him to what he believes is another vital ‘quest’, one that he hopes might help him make sense of what happened.

Much of the film is taken up with Oskar’s travels and interviews, which he records in detail in a scrapbook. It’s the story not just of the quest but of Oskar’s own growth in confidence, and his relationships with several other people, particularly family members. It’s beautifully done. Despite a cast featuring famous names, young Thomas Horn is the real star of this film. We wondered why he was not better known. Apparently he had never acted before, and was chosen after a stunning performance on a TV quiz show. He is a natural for this role, showing emotion and fear in his expressions, and with excellent timing. His rapport with other characters is excellent, particularly with ‘The Renter’ (Max von Sydow) whose real relationship with Oskar is immediately apparent to the viewer.

Despite an unusual and essentially tragic plot, the film is mesmerising. The pace is perfect. The viewer sees Oskar’s confusion and need for some kind of closure, rooting for him to find it. The ending is perhaps a tad sudden, but I’m not sure how else it could have been done.

The rating is 12 in the UK, PG-13 in the US. I was a little surprised at this; there are no intimate or nude scenes, no overt violence, and bad language is only hinted at. I assume the rating is due to the overall emotion and the traumatic content of the start of the film, and I certainly wouldn’t want an over-sensitive child to see it. But I would have expected the censors to rate it PG.

The only ‘extra’, other than language options, is one about finding Oskar. It has brief interviews with the director and some of the other actors, explaining how they worked with him as he knew nothing about films or acting beforehand.

Very highly recommended.

Review by copyright 2017 Sue's DVD Reviews

02 October 2017

Cheaper by the Dozen (starring Steve Martin)

I don’t remember where or even when we acquired this film. Perhaps it was at a charity shop, or a bazaar of some kind. Instead of going into our ‘not-yet-watched’ drawer of DVDs, it was put away with our main collection of DVDs. I’d forgotten it was there until, wanting something light (and not too long) to watch last night, I spotted it.

Steve Martin stars as Tom, the father of twelve children, aged twenty-three down to twins of about four years old. They live a boisterous, rather crowded lifestyle in a small town in Indiana, where they mostly get along well. Kate, the mother (Bonnie Hunt) has been writing a book about the family, and hopes to get it published.

Then, out of the blue, Tom is offered his dream job as an American football coach… in Illinois. None of the family want to move, but after much discussion, Kate decides to support him in this. He will be earning far more, and they’ll have a huge house and plenty of money; they’ll also be closer to their oldest daughter Norah, who lives with her boyfriend not far from their new house.

The plot revolves around their adjustments - or not - and their interactions with new neighbours, and school staff; there’s an underlying message about the importance of family life and interests, and the stresses that can be caused by high-profile jobs, even if they do earn a lot of money. There’s some humour; mostly of a slapstick nature, but very well choreographed and executed; it’s the kind of thing Steve Martin does exceptionally well.

I was most impressed, however, by the children. A day later I don’t remember all of them, nor the names of the four-year-old twins. But Mark (Forest Landis), the geeky, outsider of the family who is passionate about frogs, stands out as an exceptional actor; he can’t have been more than about eight or nine. The other child star was Sarah (Alyson Stoner), third of the girls. She is precocious, with excellent comic timing, and wonderful expressions. She’s the brains behind some of the children’s organised - and not-so-organised - ventures and tricks, and yet comes across as delightful too.

There are quite a few deleted scenes and ‘making of’ episodes, which we watched afterwards; they were well done too, and added to the interest. Moreover, I was surprised to learn that in parts of the United States a bouncy castle is known as a ‘moon bounce’.

I gather there was a 1950s film of the same name, based on the story of a real family with twelve children. This one, I’m told, doesn’t bear much resemblance to it. It’s not just that the situations and lifestyles are updated by fifty years; even the names are changed, and the only thing in common is a large family who move house. However, since I haven’t read the original book nor seen the earlier film, I have nothing to compare this negatively too - and enjoyed it very much.

Review by copyright 2017 Sue's DVD Reviews

20 August 2017

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (starring Gene Wilder)

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