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