28 May 2018

Saving Grace (starring Brenda Blethyn)

We didn’t have much idea what to expect when we decided to watch ‘Saving Grace’ last night. I’m not even sure when we acquired it, although I think it was probably at a recent charity bazaar. We didn’t know of any of the actors, and I don’t think I’ve seen it recommended anywhere.

The film starts rather depressingly with a funeral in a small village. Grace (Brenda Blethyn) is a lively middle-aged woman whose husband has just died in a fall from an aircraft without a parachute. Grace lives in a large and comfortable home with staff, and assumes that she will be reasonably well off. She quickly realises that this is not the case. Her late husband made some poor investments, and mortgaged the house. She has no money, and no way of earning…

Her gardener and caretaker Matthew (Craig Ferguson) is a likeable young man who is determined to keep working for her, even as circumstances become more difficult, and there is no way to pay him. His long-term girlfriend Nicky (Valerie Edmond) is the skipper of a fishing trawler, and there’s quite a side story involving their relationship which is both moving and inspiring. She’s a very strong - and also kind - young woman.

Matthew is involved in something a little shady and asks Grace for some help. At first, she is reluctant to give it. However when she realises that the project he is involved in could earn them both large amounts of money, she decides to take a risk. From this point the story becomes somewhat surreal, with a fair amount of humour. As the plot becomes increasingly unbelievable, the two main actors are so good that it’s easy to be carried along with their ideas, and the story in general. Excellent supporting actors, in addition to Nicky, include the doctor (Martin Clunes) and the vicar (Leslie Phillips).

It’s a genre all on its own; we both agreed afterwards that we had never seen anything similar. The main part of the film relates to a subject I know almost nothing about. There are forays into the London underworld - no doubt somewhat sanitised - as well as the mysteries of complex gardening techniques. The romantic element mainly involves the couple already mentioned, although there’s a slightly contrived ending which resolves all the problems and shows another new relationship.

The rating is 15 (R in the United States), which I assume is because of the subject matter. To say more would be a spoiler - but I think I would have put the rating nearer 12. There’s no violence and no nudity, although there’s the end of one intimate scene, some some rather frank discussion, and some humorous innuendoes. There’s not even a vast amount of bad language, although some ‘strong’ words are used.

All in all, we thoroughly enjoyed it and would recommend it to anyone who doesn’t mind a highly controversial (and illegal) subject matter.

In the extras, here is a short feature about the making of the film, which we watched and thought interesting. There are also staff/crew interviews.

Review by copyright 2018 Sue's DVD Reviews

23 May 2018

Two Weeks Notice (starring Sandra Bullock and Hugh Grant)

From time to time I browse Amazon’s recommended books and films, and add a few interesting-looking ones to my wishlist. That was the case for ‘Two Weeks Notice’ which was probably suggested because it features both Hugh Grant and Sandra Bullock. I’ve liked films with both of them in the past, and this looked, from the viewer reviews, like my favourite kind of light but reasonably intelligent romantic comedy.

I was given the DVD for my recent birthday, and we watched it last night. Sandra Bullock is entirely believable as Lucy, a somewhat disorganised lawyer who works for a charity. We meet her in the throes of lying down before bulldozers in the hope of saving her beloved local community centre.

Hugh Grant plays George, a billionaire, arrogant playboy. He does it well, but I could never quite believe in this character - the slightly awkward gentleman persona of other films was always in my mind. George’s firm is involved in knocking down the community centre, but they’re also looking for a bright, proactive lawyer. He bumps into Lucy, and manages to persuade her to take the job, promising a huge salary and also that he will save the community centre.

Lucy quickly discovers that George wants a personal assistant/PA as much as a lawyer and becomes increasingly frustrated that he expects her to answer the phone at any time of day or night, no matter how busy she is, for trivial concerns. Eventually she hands in her notice. Even that isn’t straightforward, until another young and attractive woman applies for the job.

Despite my never entirely believing in Hugh Grant as George, he and Lucy have a very good on-screen chemistry, with quick-fire dialogue and great timing. There’s some humour - we smiled several times, even chuckled once or twice - and the romance element, while inevitable, is mostly subtly done.

I appreciated, too, the contrast between faceless corporations who want to make more and more money, and the caring side of humanity which George had apparently never previously noticed. There's a political element, which I guess might upset some who tend towards capitalism, but it's not overt, nor pushed.

The rating is 12, which seems about right to me; not that it would be of much interest to anyone under the age of about 15 or 16. There are no explicit scenes, only partial nudity in a humorous context, and no violence. There are plenty of innuendoes and sexual references and some ‘strong’ language, however.

All in all, it filled the bill perfectly for a light evening’s relaxation. Don’t expect fast action or passion in this - but if you like good rom-coms, I would recommend this one, in a low-key kind of way.

Review by copyright 2018 Sue's DVD Reviews

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