16 January 2018

Mrs Dalloway (starring Vanessa Redgrave)

We have had this DVD sitting in our unwatched DVD drawer for some years now. It was originally a free issues with a newspaper, and we acquired it from a relative. I’m not really a fan of Virginia Woolf’s novels, but we’re trying to watch a film once a week, so we finally decided to watch ‘Mrs Dalloway’ last night.

It’s a 1920s drama starring Vanessa Redgrave as Clarissa Dalloway, a middle-aged socialite who is giving a party. The whole film takes place over the course of a day, although there are many flashbacks to her youth. She is from a privileged, moneyed class, married to a politician - and while she is a little stressed over the details of her party, all the work is evidently done by her household staff.

There’s not a great deal of plot. I gather that the novel is mostly stream-of-consciousness style narrated by Clarissa, and that’s the general effect of the film. We see most events from her perspective, and sometimes hear her thoughts, given separately from the action or spoken words. There’s an entirely separate subplot featuring a young war veteran who is having horrible flashbacks and hallucinations, and his wife; they are, perhaps, shown as a stark contrast to the lavish lifestyle of Clarissa and her friends.

The novel was probably considered very risqué when it was first published. The young Clarissa, in flashback, has a brief romantic encounter with her close friend Sarah. But she is also very attracted to a young and somewhat demanding man called Peter. She ends up marrying a safer, more caring man and is reasonably happy; however an encounter with Peter on her party day starts her wondering what might have happened if she had made different choices.

The film is beautifully made, and very well-casted; the younger Clarissa and friends are similar enough to their middle-aged selves that there was no problem remembering who was whom. I was a tad confused by the two time-frames for the first few minutes, but it soon became clear what was going on.

It’s not a film that caught my emotions, particularly. I could see that it was a high quality film, with great attention to period detail. As a piece of social history, it's excellent. And yet, I didn’t particularly enjoy it. That’s partly because the plot concerning the war veteran was quite disturbing, and partly, I suppose, because the Dalloways' lifestyle is so far removed from anything I’ve experienced.

I’m intrigued enough that I may decide to read the book at some point, but I doubt if I’ll want to see the film again. It made a pleasant enough evening’s viewing; the rating of PG (PG-13 in the US) seems about right, although I cannot imagine it would appeal to anyone under the age of about sixteen.

Review by copyright 2018 Sue's DVD Reviews

09 January 2018

Sliding Doors (starring Gwyneth Paltrow)

I don’t know why Amazon recommended this film to me, unless it’s that I’ve liked other films with Gwyneth Paltrow. However, the blurb sounded intriguing, and I put it on my wishlist. I was given it for Christmas a few weeks ago, and we watched it on Monday evening. I was surprised to learn afterwards that it's twenty years old; it didn't feel particularly dated at all.

I knew, from the description on the back of the DVD, that it was the story of a young woman called Helen who is shown in two parallel lives, depending on whether or not she makes a particular action. It’s just as well I knew this in advance or I might have been confused. It’s no spoiler to mention this, as the turning point happens quite early in the story.

Helen lives with her boyfriend Gerry. He is an aspiring writer, and she commutes to an office where she works to support them both. On the day when we meet them, she is given the sack so has to go home early. What she doesn’t know is that Gerry is having an affair…

As Helen rushes for the train, she just misses it. Then there’s a back-track when we see her getting to the platform just in time to catch it. From that point, there are two parallel stories. In the one where she catches the train, she sits next to a chatty young man called James (John Hannah) - and then, inevitably, walks in on Gerry with his other lover. When she misses the train, she gets involved in an accident so does not arrive home until her normal time - and is met instead with sympathy and affection.

As the film progresses, the two strands of Helen’s future diverge more and more. In one she gets a glamorous haircut which makes it much easier to remember which life we’re seeing. Sometimes the same basic scenario is shown from two different perspectives, depending on what Helen knows, and whether or not she is still living with Gerry.

There’s quite a bit of humour in the film, mostly from James. I kept wondering where I had seen his distinctive face before, and afterwards discovered that John Hannah was in the classic ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’. James is a very likeable person, which makes it all the more shocking when Helen (in the first scenario) discovers something unexpected about him…

While the storyline itself is far-fetched, it’s a thought-provoking idea to show how a life can change so dramatically depending on such a small incident. I wondered how it was going to end, and thought it was managed very well indeed. Moreover, there’s a strong hint that some things are meant to be, and will happen eventually.

Some poignant moments, some great acting, and an ultimately satisfying film. Definitely recommended. The 15 rating (PG-13 in the US) is about right, in my opinion. There are ‘bedroom’ scenes which, while not explicit, are rather obvious, and there’s some bad language including some normally considered ‘strong’. It’s not the kind of film that would appeal to anyone under the age of about fifteen anyway.

Definitely recommended.

Review by copyright 2018 Sue's DVD Reviews

02 January 2018

Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont (starring Joan Plowright)

I had this DVD on my wishlist for a while; Amazon recommended it to me, and it sounded like a gentle, thoughtful film for a winter evening. I was given it recently for Christmas. I was tired by the evening of New Year’s Day and knew I would struggle to understand the plot of some of the films in our to-be-watched drawer, but the blurb on the back of this suggested that it would be straightforward, with British rather than American voices. It sounded ideal.

Joan Plowright stars as the elderly, genteel Mrs Palfrey. We meet her as she is about to take up residence at the Claremont Hotel in London, after it has been recommended to her. She is determined to live independently of her daughter, and this hotel offers long-term accommodation, with other elderly people. However she’s initially rather horrified at the old-fashioned decor and unfriendly seating arrangements of the hotel dining room. The food isn’t great either.

I thought at first that the setting was perhaps the 1970s or even earlier; the hotel certainly seems to be from that era. But mentions are made of laptops and mobile phones, and it becomes clear that the film was in fact contemporary when it was made in 2005.

Mrs Palfrey has a grandson, Desmond, who lives in London. She’s written to him, and hopes that he will get in touch and come to see her. But weeks pass, and the other residents begin to think she’s making him up. She isn’t ready to join in with all the activities of those around her, and is clearly very lonely, still missing her husband who died some years previously. She has just one daughter and she’s not on great terms with her.

A slight accident leads to Mrs Palfrey meeting the young man Ludo (Rupert Friend). He’s an impoverished writer who lives in holey jeans and scruffy tops, but is a deep thinker, and also extremely kind. The two ‘click’... and as their friendship develops, links are seen between their lives, as they discuss favourite films, favourite songs, favourite place, and favourite poetry. The two have a wonderful chemistry, and the are totally believable in their very different roles.

There’s a bit of light humour in the film. Some of the Claremont residents are caricatured, and predictable, but amusing nonetheless. There’s also a great deal of poignancy. A relationship between a young man and someone old enough to be his grandmother is an unusual plot device; apparently the film is based on a novel of the same name, and it makes a very watchable and moving film.

The rating is PG, which is probably right; there’s no violence, no bad language as far as I recall, and just one ‘intimate’ scene in which not much can be seen. It’s not the kind of film that would appeal to young children anyway, though I should think that more thoughtful pre-teens and teenagers might well like it if they are happy to see films without any children in them.

The ‘extras’ were a bit disappointing: stills from the film, and information in textual form only. But that's only a minor glitch. The film itself was excellent and I would recommend it.

Review by copyright 2017 Sue's DVD Reviews

28 December 2017

The Accidental Husband (starring Uma Thurman)

From time to time I check Amazon’s recommendations, read reviews, and - if I think I’d like a book or DVD - add it to my wishlist. I do this more with films than I do with books, since I know already which authors I like. I think Amazon probably makes recommendations based partly on genre, and partly on actors. This one has Colin Firth as one of the main three characters, and I’ve certainly liked other films where he takes a major role.

So I put it on my wishlist, and was given it, along with some other DVDs, for Christmas. We decided to watch it a couple of days later.

The star of ‘The Accidental Husband’ is Uma Thurman, an actress I know nothing about although I saw her in another film a few years ago. She plays the role of Dr Emma LLoyd, a radio presenter in New York. She doesn’t read the news or play records, however; her speciality is offering romantic relationship advice to listeners who phone in with problems. She’s popular with a lot of women, and is engaged to be married to Richard (Colin Firth).

All seems to be going smoothly in Emma’s life; but she’s not so popular with the ex-boyfriend of one her listeners. Patrick (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) decides to take an unusual form of revenge, with the help of a young geeky friend. And so, when Emma and Richard go to register their intention to marry, they discover something so bizarre that she’s convinced it must be a mistake…

The film is billed as a romantic comedy, and there were certainly one or two amusing moments in the film. It’s mostly quite light-hearted, and it made a good evening’s viewing. I was a little disappointed in the outcome; it was inevitable from fairly early in the film, but towards the end I began to hope I might have been wrong...

I felt a little sorry for Colin Firth, once again cast as a solid, dependable and ultimately dull kind of guy, while Patrick, a brave firefighter, is supposedly a romantic hero. I didn’t find him at all endearing; from his passive aggression as he takes his ‘revenge’, to a decidedly gross cake-tasting scene where he talks with his mouth full and behaves in an embarrassing way. There’s also a scene where he makes another character drunk, although he then behaves well afterwards.

However, the film is well-made, with an unusual storyline and some subplots I wasn’t expecting. There are some nice scenes with Emma's father, bizarrely known as 'Wilder' (Sam Shepard). On the whole we enjoyed the film, and I'd recommend it in a low-key way for anyone who likes this genre.

The rating is 12A (PG-13 in the US), which I thought about right. There’s one instance of ‘strong’ language, a non-explicit bedroom scene (and brief mention of it after the event) and I don’t recall any violence. I can’t imagine it would be of the slightest interest to anyone under the age of about fifteen.

Review by copyright 2017 Sue's DVD Reviews

12 December 2017

Enough Said (starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus)

I’m not sure why this film was recommended to me by Amazon; I don’t think I’ve heard of any of the actors before, although it fits nicely into the ‘rom com’ genre. I put ‘Enough Said’ on my wishlist after reading a few reviews, and I was given the blu-ray for my birthday earlier in the year.

Last night we wanted something light to watch, and this fit the bill nicely. Julia Louis-Dreyfus stars as Eva, who works as a masseuse. She is fairly amicably divorced, and close to her eighteen-year-old daughter. At a party she meets a middle-aged and somewhat overweight man, Albert (James Gandolfini), and while she feels no attraction, she quite likes him and a friendship develops.

The friendship is obviously going to lead to something more (it’s that kind of film) but it’s taken fairly slowly, with a lot of banter and some good chemistry that leads them to becoming close friends. Albert is also divorced, and also has a daughter who’s about to head off for college, so the two have quite a bit in common, as well as their shared sense of humour.

Meanwhile, Eva has also become friendly with a poet called Marianne (Catherine Keener) after meeting her at the same party, and then becoming her masseuse. Marianne is yet another divorcee, who spends a lot of time ranting about her ex-husband, whom she rather despises.

The main plot focuses on a somewhat unlikely coincidence, which would be a spoiler to reveal, and then a great deal of cowardice - or perhaps outright dishonesty - on Eva’s behalf as she doesn’t reveal something she has discovered that could drastically affect her new friendships. A side-story, never fully resolved, involves her daughter’s best friend.

There are some amusing moments in this, and the acting is believable enough, although it’s a bit of a strange film without a great deal of plot. We could relate to the trauma of seeing one’s offspring depart for university, knowing they’re moving on and becoming separate. But the complexity of relationships, and the acceptance of divorce and remarriage as ‘normal’ was a bit depressing, and some of the humour was not really to our tastes.

The film is quite fast-paced, under an hour and a half in all, and we quite liked it, though it’s not one we’d necessarily watch again. I thought the rating of 12A (PG-13 in the US) was about right; there’s no violence and nothing explicit.

However I wouldn’t want to watch it with a younger teenager. There are a lot of ‘adult’ references, and frank discussion of body parts and intimacies. There is also quite a lot of bad language; not the worst words, but still more than I’m comfortable with.

The blu-ray has an ‘extra’ containing outtakes, mostly involving one or other character laughing at inappropriate times.

Review by copyright 2017 Sue's DVD Reviews