31 December 2006

Nanny McPhee (starring Emma Thompson)

'Nanny McPhee' is one of those films that's highly rated on Amazon, and, for some reason, was recommended to me. Possibly it's because I was looking for 'Mary Poppins', the classic that seems to remain highly priced, or perhaps it's because I had rated films with Colin Firth or Emma Thompson.

Either way, I thought it looked interesting so added it to my wishlist, and received it for Christmas. We thought we would watch it as a family, despite not having any young children at home any more.

And, yes, it is a children's film. The beginning of the story is a bit like an updated version of Mary Poppins. Colin Firth is a rather bemused father of a large family, who has lost his wife. He employs nannies to look after the children while he is at work, but the children are so horrible that they manage to drive them all away.

Then the agency sends Nanny McPhee, played brilliantly by Emma Thompson, looking as she has never looked before - she is dressed as an ugly witch, covered in warts, speaking in a harsh, disciplinarian voice.

I'm not sure I liked her methods much, but then again, nothing else seemed to help. It becomes a bit predictable plot-wise, but the children are delightfully horrible, with some excellent acting by the younger ones in particular.

Brain-dead fun, nicely done, and entirely suitable for all the family. Recommended.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

25 December 2006

The Terminal (starring Tom Hanks)

I'm not sure that 'The Terminal' would really have appealed to me based on the reviews, which were decidedly mixed. Indeed, I'm not sure that I would even have heard of it, were it not for my older son - who was working abroad on a ship at the time - happened to see it, and told us it was brilliant.

So I put it on my wishlist, and received it for Christmas.

And yes, if you happen to spot the date of this review, we did indeed watch it on Christmas Day. Not that we were absolutely raring to take the film out of its wrapper and put it in the DVD player - it was more to give us something to do. We were all feeling a bit low, on our first Christmas without our older so at home.

What a wonderful movie it was, too. Tom Hanks is brilliant as Victor, the lost foreigner stuck in JFK airport. Due to a complex political situation that erupted after he left his home country, he is unable to enter the USA, but also is unable to fly back. So he is stuck in the airport for an unspecified length of time...

I have to admit that the plot is minimal, and becomes increasingly unlikely during the latter part of the film. But the humour is wonderful - much of it subtle, most of it very cleverly done. We all found ourselves enjoying it very much; I would recommend it to anyone.

I'm not usually a huge fan of extras, but we were all interested to know whether the real JFK airport was used for the filming... and found ourselves fascinated by the explanations, and other extras. If you like this kind of thing, make sure that you get an edition with extras on it.

'The Terminal' is rated 12 in the UK, PG-13 in the USA, due to some moderate bad language - though not inappropriate, given the situation - and some implied sexual references. Nothing extreme, however.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

28 October 2006

Barchester Chronicles (starring Donald Pleasence, Janet Maw and Nigel Hawthorne)

Some friends recommended this BBC drama series highly. I could never quite get into Anthony Trollope's writing, so was rather dubious; but our friends lent us the DVDs, so we decided to watch them over a couple of weeks.

The BBC is almost always good at period drama, and this is no exception. It's slightly galling to admit that a screen adaptation of the six Barchester Chronicles by Anthony Trollope was a great deal more appealing than the books - but there it is.

Once we had started watching, we felt that it was very well done indeed. The story - complex in print, easier in movie form - is of intrigue and jealousies amongst the clergyman of a fictional city, with a bit of love interest along the way. We did a double-take at seeing Nigel Hawthorne playing a somewhat smarmy clergyman - he is so well-known as 'Humphrey' in 'Yes, Minister' that it was hard to see him as anyone else!

The main character is the excellent and almost-too-good-to-be-true Mr Harding (nicely done by Donald Pleasance), but in the latter episodes we all agreed that the villainous Mr Slope rather stole the show, played brilliantly by Alan Rickman. Surely this could easily have been the inspiration that gave him, later on, the part of Snape in the Harry Potter movies.

Unsurprisingly, it was a little long-winded in places and rather slow-moving, but basically 'The Barchester Chronicles' was very enjoyable indeed.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

02 October 2006

The Parent Trap (starring Hayley Mills)

The reason we ended up with 'The Parent Trap' on our shelves is that it was on special offer in a double-pack with 'Pollyanna'. However, the latter did not much appeal to my husband, but he thought that 'The Parent Trap' sounded much more appealing.

First the negatives: it's rather twee, and feels extremely dated. It was actually made in 1961, so not quite as old as we thought; we would not have been surprised if it had been ten years earlier. Moreoever, the plot is - in the end - rather predictable. Not to mention unlikely, relying as it does on an amazing coincidence following bizarre circumstances...

To say any more would be a spoiler, although I imagine that most people interested in this movie will know at least the outline of the plot.

On the plus side, it's really a delightful feel-good story, once one accepts the 1960s twee American style of acting. The young Hayley Mills does a wonderful job, acting two girls brought up in different environments, even managing two distinct American accents. That this was done before the modern days of easy special effects is in itself a triumph of production.

Recommended as a warm family film that doesn't require much thought. There is, apparently, a 1998 remake of this film which modernises the names and situations - but many people who have seen both prefer this original. There's something special about watching a classic.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

30 September 2006

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (starring Johnny Depp and Freddie Highmore)

Many, many years ago I saw the 1970s film 'Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory', which I remember enjoying. So I was a bit surprised when there was a remake in 2005, retitled 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' like the children's book by Roald Dahl which it is based on.

I don't suppose we would have bothered to see this film, but our teenage son was interested, put it on his wishlist, and received it for his 17th birthday. So we decided to watch it as a family.

I was a bit surprised at first to find that Willy Wonka, brilliantly played by Johnny Depp, is really nothing like the more cuddly Wonka of the 1971 adaptation. He is truly bizarre. But I had to admit that he was a lot closer to the bizarre, show-host-like Willy Wonka of Dahl's creation.

Freddie Highmore co-stars as Charlie, the very poor boy who lives with his parents and bedridden grandparents, but who - amazingly - manages to find a golden ticket that will allow him to spend a day in the world famous chocolate factory. The other children who win are spoilt rich kids, all unpleasant in different ways, and delightfully caricatured.

The special effects are stunning, particularly the oompa-loompas; we were amazed at what we thought was the brilliant choreography, too, until we saw the 'extras' and learned that they were played by just one person.

The only odd thing about this adaptation is that there is a whole extra storyline about Willy Wonka's father, which does not appear to have anything to do with the Roald Dahl book, and did not add anything much to the film, other than some length. Moreover, it didn't seem to be of any interest to children, who would be expected to be the primary audience.

Nonetheless, overall we thought it a very good film and would recommend it.

Note: the Amazon links are to the inexpensive versions with the film alone; you can also get a two-disc version, at higher price, which has some good extras including information about how the movie was made.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

05 September 2006

Winter Solstice (starring Sinéad Cusack and Jan Niklas)

I’m a huge fan of Rosamunde Pilcher’s novels, and have recently started collecting some of the films based on them. My husband is unlikely ever to read books of this kind, but enjoys movies and adaptations of books - and in general, they make pleasant viewing.

'Winter Solstice' is the last saga novel Pilcher wrote, and, in my view, her very best. It's a poignant story about an elderly woman's friendship with a local family, which is shattered when tragedy strikes. She then goes away for a while for some space... only to be joined by more and more needy people in various circumstances, who find themselves stranded over Christmas, due to the weather.

There isn't really a great deal of plot as such, but many intertwining sub-plots, and some totally delightful people of all ages. It would, I thought, make a wonderful film. This adaptation was made for television, which - I assumed - would allow the director to meander through the story, keeping relatively close to Pilcher's original.

I was wrong.

I suppose that 'based on’ the book is an accurate description, since there were indeed the same major characters, and the same overall idea of diverse people gathering together in the winter.

But that's where the resemblance stops. Well, to be fair, I did recognise some of the storylines as one might recognise a long-lost friend after many cosmetic changes. But it wasn't the book by Rosamunde Pilcher. I really do prefer movies to stick more closely to the original – I understand that some parts must be left out, and other sections have to be shown differently for good drama, but I don’t much like extra sub-plots and characters being introduced.

But, having said that, this was an excellent romantic family-type film. Once I had decided to forget about the book and concentrate on enjoying what I was watching, I found that I did - very much - despite its variances from the book. So although purists would probably be disappointed, I would recommend this to anyone. My husband loved it, and I did too. Even though I'd like to see a real adaptation of Pilcher's'Winter Solstice' one day!

(Note that 'Winter Solstice' alone is not currently available at Amazon in the UK; it's packaged with a movie called 'Summer Solstice' which is apparently loosely based on some of the same characters but bears no relation at all to Pilcher's writings).

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

03 September 2006

September (starring Jacqueline Bisset and Michael York)

Realising that my husband is unlikely ever to read Rosamunde Pilcher's wonderful novels, I have started collecting adaptations of some of them on DVD.

I have to admit that I've been a little disappointed in some of the others that I've seen, which seem to stray fairly far from the originals. But ‘September’, one of my favourite of her books, was done as for television in the 1990s, and on the whole I felt it was faithfully adapted in movie format – even if the end of the story was foreshadowed in the opening of the film, making something of a spoiler.

The story basically revolves around someone organising a special party for her daughter - and then spiders out to various interwoven subplots featuring the various guests.

We thought there were very believable characters, and a good script which was well acted. It didn't matter that my husband had not read the book, and it didn't matter that I had; somehow the inevitable changes did not seem to be a problem, and I enjoyed seeing the various people - and there are quite a lot of them - come to life in some gorgeous settings.

We thought it a delightful romantic movie overall, despite the bittersweet ending, and look forward to watching it again in a few years.

Note: You can also read my longer review of the film 'September', written when we did indeed watch it, over eleven years later.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

23 August 2006

Ladies in Lavender (starring Judi Dench, Maggie Smith and Daniel Brühl)

This film was recommended to us by various friends. I always like Judi Dench as an actress, so it went on my wishlist.

'Ladies in Lavender' is a lovely film about two elderly sisters - brilliantly portrayed by Judi Dench and Maggie Smith. Set in Cornwall in the 1930s, they live alone until a man - who speaks no English - is washed onto the shore near their home, nearly drowned.

There's not a great deal of plot; the film is an exercise in characterisation, and the changes that inevitably take place when two gentle old ladies take an unusual young man into their care. Relationships develop in different ways, powerfully portrayed.

Ideal for a relaxing evening's viewing. Rated 12 (PG-13 in the US) but the only reason we could find for this was a single instance of 'strong language'. However, with little action and plot, it probably would not be of much interest to anyone under the age of twelve or thirteen anyway.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

17 August 2006

Quantum Leap series 1 (starring Scott Bakula and Dean Stockwell)

Many years ago, in the days when I sometimes watched television in the evenings, I came across a science fiction programme called 'Quantum Leap'. Sci-fi isn't really my thing, but I caught it at a good moment, with the interaction of two guys - I forget which episode it was - and the idea of a time traveller, going back to 'put right what once went wrong'. I like it, and made sure I watched it again the following week. I was quickly hooked.

Over the years I caught various episodes of 'Quantum Leap', including the final season in 1993 when we lived for a couple of years in America. After it was taken off the air, I stopped watching television altogether. So I was absolutely delighted when I learned that the first season is now available on DVD, with the others coming out soon. I don't often buy full-priced DVDs, but at around twelve pounds for nine 45-minute episodes, it seemed like good value.

We've been watching about one per week for the past few months, and have enjoyed them very much. We both remembered the first episode - the pilot, I guess, where with clever word play Sam (Scott Bakula) finds himself as an Air Force pilot - and no idea how to fly the dangerous mission he is must undertake. Al (Dean Stockwell) appears to him as a hologram, advising and helping, and keeping him in touch with the Quantum Leap project which Sam has forgotten about entirely when being transported back in time.

The second episode is theoretically the second part of the pilot, but pretty much stands alone - this time Sam leaps into the body of a basketball player. The rest of the first DVD contains extras - thoughts from the actors, and commentary, but these first two episodes set the scene for the entire five-season show which followed over several years.

The other two DVDs contain a further seven episodes from the first season of 'Quantum Leap', and are a nice mixture, from a rather awkward teenager to a black chauffeur to a mafia hit-man. Scott Bakula adapts brilliantly to each; despite knowing that he is bound to manage whatever he is supposed to do in his different 'leaps', they are exciting, sometimes tense, and often tinged with humour in Sam and Al's exchanges. There's actually very little science fiction beyond references to the project, and I thoroughly enjoyed this series.

Definitely recommended.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

27 July 2006

Pride and Prejudice (starring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth)

I have liked Jane Austen's classic novels since first reading 'Pride and Prejudice' at school, and although I do not re-read them regularly, I find them very enjoyable when I do so. In general I am biased against film productions based on books, as they often stray far from the originals; not just in cutting out scenes, but sometimes including entirely different storylines and subplots.

However, several people had recommended that we watch the BBC mini-series version of "Pride and Prejudice' which made Colin Firth (as Mr Darcy) a household name. It was long enough, I was assured, that it kept fairly well to the book, and was beautifully done. So I put it on my wishlist, and was given it for my birthday. We've watched it over the past few days - it really is over-long for one sitting, as it's 330 minutes (five and a half hours!) in all.

My husband has not read the book, but was happy to watch it with me as he generally likes BBC period dramas. He was as eager as I was to continue watching, too, after we had seen the first two episode. And I was surprised at how much I liked this production. Jennifer Ehle isn't really how I had imagined Lizzie Bennett, but she plays the part well and I could believe in her fairly easily. Colin Firth is magnificent as Darcy, snobbish and proud, and eventually admitting, unwillingly, that he was wrong.

Mrs Bennett, played by Alison Steadman, is absolutely wonderful as the match-making mama who is so dreadful as to be comic, and I loved Benjamin Whitrow's Mr Bennett - he was exactly as I had imagined him, with just the right amount of irony.

It was obvious in a few places that the budget for this production was limited; the balls have very few dancers, and there's not much glamour. But it really didn't matter; the outside scenery is attractive, and the story is character-based, which worked very well. Although it's some years since I last read 'Pride and Prejudice', I felt that it kept pretty closely to the storyline, and overall was very impressed.

Definitely recommended.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

12 March 2006

Flipper (starring Paul Hogan and Elijah Wood)

'Flipper' is a delightful film for all the family, starring Elijah Wood before he became famous as 'Frodo' in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. In this film, Wood, aged 15 at the time, plays Sandy, a rather morose boy who has been sent for the summer to stay with his Uncle Porter (sensitively played by Paul Hogan).

At first Sandy complains about everything and is determined not to have any fun at all. But then he sees Flipper, a friendly and very intelligent dolphin. A special relationship develops between the two of them, and Sandy's summer is transformed.

There are some rather tense moments - which is, I suppose, why this film is rated PG rather than U - and some unpleasant bad guys, but overall this is an uplifting story about the influence a dolphin can have over a moody teenager.

Watched with my husband - like me, he vaguely remembered the television series of the same name from our childhood - and our 17-year-old son who was a little cynical at first... but we all enjoyed it very much.

Definitely recommended.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

26 February 2006

ET - The Extra Terrestrial (starring Henry Thomas)

ET - the Extra Terrestrial - was hailed as a classic movie in a relatively short time. It's one of a handful of films that I actually saw at the cinema when it was newly released, back in 1982, and I was totally captivated by it.

The story is about a young boy called Elliot, superbly cast as Henry Thomas. He comes across an alien who has been left behind by its spaceship, and dubs him ET. He tries to hide him at first, but his older brother and sister are soon in on the secret, although their parents are skeptical.

ET is highly intelligent, and over the course of a day manages to teach himself to speak English by watching television. There are several very amusing scenes which almost turn into slapstick, but stay just short of it.

However, Elliot seems to have an uncanny rapport with ET, and when the little alien becomes ill, Elliot does too. There are some tense moments when it seems as if ET will be taken away... but inevitably there is a positive (if bittersweet) conclusion.

A wonderful film for all the family, which I was very happy to watch again now it's out on DVD. My husband was glad to see it again too, and our 17-year-old son (who had never previously seen it) totally captivated.

Highly recommended for any age, with the caution that there are some slightly scary scenes that could be disturbing to a young and sensitive child.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

11 January 2006

I Capture the Castle (starring Romola Garai)

I'm not entirely sure how this DVD found its way to our rather scanty shelves (at least so far). Perhaps it was a special offer, in conjunction with something else. I was probably struck by the fact that 'I Capture the Castle' is an adaptation of a book by Dodie Smith, who is probably best known for the delightful children's book 'The Hundred and One Dalmations'.

We really had no idea what to expect when we sat down to watch this DVD as a family. The UK rating is PG and I suppose I had assumed that it would be a children's film. I was mistaken! It's rather a 'gothic' style of film, narrated by a teenager called Cassandra (Romola Garai) who lives in an old and draughty castle with her beloved sister Rose, and her frustrating father, who once had a book published, but seems now to have lost his muse entirely.

The whole thing requires a suspension of reality, and the plot seemed over-complex to me, but the whole was well done and - basically - we enjoyed it. I would perhaps have liked it more if I'd known what to expect, as it was an odd story, but there are some amusing parts and we found ourselves more and more drawn in as we watched.

The UK rating for 'I Capture the Castle' is PG, which slightly surprised me as there are some rather revealing scenes which would, I felt, have merited at least a 12 rating. I doubt if it would be of any interest to anyone younger than twelve, anyway. However, the US censors evidently went to the other extreme, since it's rated R (18) in America - odd for the film version of a novel which was originally written for teenagers.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews