30 December 2007

Music and Lyrics (starring Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore)

Several people recommended this film to me, and the blurb looked good - so it went on my wishlist, and I was pleased to be given it for Christmas.

'Music and Lyrics' is a lovely feel-good film, starring Hugh Grant as Alex, a rather washed-out musician. He is given the chance to make a recording with a current teenage pop idol... but has to write the lyrics. He agrees to this, despite not being much of a writer at all.

He then meets Sophie (Drew Barrymore) who has been employed to water the plants in his apartment. She hears him struggling with words, and offers assistance.. and it turns out that she's quite a talented lyricist.

Unsurprisingly, the story is all rather predictable after the initial situation unfolds, but the chemistry between the two led characters works well, and we thought it a very pleasant story. Nothing particularly deep, just gentle romantic comedy. Recommended, if you like that kind of thing.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

26 October 2007

Father of the Bride (starring Spencer Tracy and Elizabeth Taylor)

Flying on a plane with individual choice of films to watch, the only one that appealed to me was the 1950s black-and-white version of 'Father of the Bride'. I knew that there was a 1990s remake starting Steve Martin, but knew little about the plot other than assuming that there was a wedding involved somewhere.

The movie begins with the respectable and slightly grumpy Stanley (superbly played by Spencer Tracy) sighing over the cost and mess produced by his daughter Kay (Elizabeth Taylor) having been married.

The rest of the film looks back over the circumstances leading up to the wedding, from the time when Kay mentioned her young man for the first time, progressing through all the rituals that were common in 1950s America - inviting him to dinner, meeting his parents, and so on.

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this film. Parts of it were very moving, perhaps all the more so since we had just said goodbye to our son who was working at the other side of the world. I scarcely noticed the lack of colour after the first five minutes or so, and was drawn right into the story, smiling in places, and even shedding a little tear in others.

Definitely recommended, if this kind of film appeals to you.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

25 October 2007

Northanger Abbey (starring Katharine Schlesinger and Peter Firth)

On a long flight, with personal choice of video to watch, I opted for an adaptation of one of my favourite Jane Austen books, 'Northanger Abbey'. It was made for TV by the BBC, who are usually very good at period dramas of this kind, so I had high hopes for it.

Katharine Schlesinger plays the hapless Catherine Morland who stars in this story as a young girl longing for adventure, imagining all kinds of dreadful deeds taking place amongst even the pleasantest of homes.

Unfortunately, I did not much enjoy the movie. While much of the text was (to my memory, anyway) fairly true to the book, none of the characters was particularly appealing. Catherine is supposed to be rather annoyingly silly, but none of the others were a great deal better.

In addition, the director appear to have missed the point of the book, which was ironic, poking fun at the plethora of 'gothic' novels which were so popular with teenage girls at the time. So, instead of warmth and humour, this film seemed to glory in the gothic horror, producing some scenes that I couldn't quite bear to watch, as part of Catherine's nightmares.

The rest of it was, I suppose, pleasant enough, and told the Austen story, albeit from a perspective entirely lacking in humour. But I don't think I'll be watching this again.

Note: later on we acquired the ITV adaptation of Northanger Abbey, which, to my surprise, I liked a great deal better.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

22 October 2007

The Vicar of Dibley complete series (starring Dawn French)

While we're not really television watchers in general, there are some sitcom series from previous years where we caught a few episodes and very much liked them. 'The Vicar of Dibley' is one such series, made mostly in the 1990s. And when, visiting our son abroad, he was given this series - most of which he had not seen previously - we watched it together over a couple of weeks.

The story is well-known. Dawn French stars as the lively Geraldine, appointed as Vicar in a small parish. The series starts at the beginning when she must face prejudice against her gender, and moves through typical (or stereo-typical) situations in the life of a parish church.

There's lots of humour in the characterisation and circumstances, but what we particularly like about this series is that it doesn't poke fun at the church as such, nor at Christian ministers. Geraldine is portrayed as a lively, caring and - in the end - faithful and responsible lady, for whom problems arise. But, in the end, God is usually the winner in a gentle kind of way.

This series is rated 12 in the UK, probably due to some sexual implications and innuendoes, which sometimes border on the vulgar. However, there is nothing explicit, and no violence to speak of. The US does not have a rating for this series.

Definitely recommended for adults and teenagers, if you don't mind the strange mixture of humour, which does sometimes border on the adolescent.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

08 July 2007

Emma (starring Kate Beckinsale)

Of all the Jane Austen novels, my least favourite is 'Emma'. However, I have realised that some classic novels come to life in film or TV form, and so have started collecting some of them on DVD.

There seem to have been several versions of 'Emma' made, but the most highly rated one was the ITV production made in 1996, starring Kate Beckinsale.

The story is about Emma's inveterate match-making, which leads to misunderstandings and embarrassment amongst her friends. She is quite cold-hearted, or so it seems, caring more about her own success as a match-maker than the feelings of her supposed friends. She's a very clever creation by Austen; it's not easy reading a novel where one really doesn't like the main character, and it's a tribute to her writing and imagination that the book is so popular. I don't much like it because so little seems to happen, and because Emma is, basically, quite annoying.

However, I did very much enjoy this made-for-TV adaptation. I found that I could get more into Emma's skin by watching the settings and situations that arose than I could in the book, which is often decidedly long-winded. Kate Beckinsale does an excellent job, showing Emma to be rather more human than the book implies, and the story flowed well.

Enjoyable, and recommended. My husband, who has not read the book, thought it well-made and liked the film too.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

01 July 2007

Film review: A Room with a View (starring Helena Bonham Carter and Julian Sands)

'A Room with a View' is one of the relatively few films that we saw at the cinema, back in the mid-1980s. I remembered it with fondness, so was delighted when I learned that it is now available, inexpensively, on DVD.

This classic film is based on the book 'A Room with a View'by EM Forster. It opens in Florence (Italy), where a group of people are staying at a hotel at the start of the 20th century. The young and vivacious Lucy (Helena Bonham Carter) and her chaperone Charlotte (Maggie Smith) have been allocated rooms without views. Charlotte is complaining about this to her fellow-guests, and is then embarrassed that Mr Emerson (Denholm Elliot) and his son George (Julian Sands) insist on giving up their rooms to them. A view, they insist, is nothing to men, but vital for women.

The film follows a growing friendship and sudden intimacy between the two young people, quickly quenched by their elders. They then meet again, some time later, back in the UK where Lucy has become engaged to the incredibly dull Cecil (Daniel Day Lewis).

There's not a great deal of plot, but the settings of this film are beautiful, the photography superb, and the whole feeling of decaying grandeur in the early 1900s. I have to admit that, watching the film on DVD, the conversation did seem a bit over-stilted in places, even given the period. But the enjoyment is in the irony and satire, and one very amusing scene which has resulted in the over-careful US censors giving this film an 'R' rating (and corresponding extortionate cost), despite the classic nature and gentle content of the film in general. The UK rating is a more appropriate PG.

All in all, an enjoyable film, although I was slightly disappointed to find that it did not quite live up to my memory. I would still recommend it, however, if you can find it at a good price.

(Note that there have been some complaints about the technical quality of some versions of this DVD; please read reviews at Amazon before purchasing any particular edition)

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

30 June 2007

Mr Holland's Opus (starring Richard Dreyfuss)

It's rare for us to go to the cinema. A good friend of mine, knowing this, said in 1995 that if we didn't see any other films that year, we should see 'Mr Holland's Opus'. Brilliant for all the family, she told us. Not to be missed...

Circumstances did not conspire, and we didn't see it. Indeed, I had almost forgotten about it until a few years ago when I spotted, at an online store, the DVD of this film on special offer. I ordered it immediately, and we watched it as a family not long after. We were unanimous in thinking it a wonderful story, superbly done.

Three of us have just watched for the second time. There are not many movies I can re-watch in such a short space of time, but Mr Holland's Opus was probably even more enjoyable this time around. I would go so far as to say that it's possibly my all-time favourite film.

The overall plot is a ‘feel-good’ story about a young man, Mr Holland - Richard Dreyfuss - who wants to compose music. However, he takes a job teaching music in a high school to provide a reliable income for himself and his wife. It’s only ever going to be temporary, or so he thinks at first. But the years roll by, and he finds himself more and more drawn into the life of the school, making an incredible difference to many of the students.

There’s another whole storyline involving Mr Holland’s wife and son, which is incredibly moving, and brings tears to the eyes at times, even seeing it for the second. I imagine it will continue to do so if and when I see this film again - as I certainly hope to in a few years time.

Richard Dreyfuss is a great actor, but must surely be associated in my mind forever as Mr Holland. He was almost fifty when this film was made, but somehow he manages to be as realistic at sixty as he is at the start of the film, playing a young man in what would appear to be his late twenties.

If you're the kind of person who only likes films with fast car chases, great excitement, sex and violence, then don’t bother with this. But for anyone who likes a slower pace of life, who is interested in schools, or music, or children with special needs, or indeed if you simply enjoy films with great characterisation, I would highly, highly recommend this.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

02 June 2007

Heaven can Wait (starring Warren Beatty and Julie Christie)

I've no idea how we came to have this movie on our shelves. Perhaps it was on special offer at one of the sites offering three for ten pounds. Or perhaps we thought it would be better than it was, and added it to one of our wishlists.

Whatever the circumstances, we sat down to watch 'Heaven can Wait' last night. It was a strange and unusual plot, yet rather unmemorable.

The basic idea is that an American football player (Warren Beatty) is in an accident, and almost dies... but an over-enthusiastic angel takes him to heaven anyway so that, as far as anyone knows on earth, he has indeed passed away. By the time the mistake has been discovered, his body is no more, but the rules state he has to go somewhere, as he doesn't yet have a place allocated in Heaven.

So he returns to earth in the body of a millionaire who has just been assassinated, and rather confuses his family...

There was a lot of potential for drama, or humour.. unfortunately, it wasn't realised. Not a bad movie, I suppose, but not a great one either.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

09 May 2007

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat (starring Donny Osmond)

I liked the songs from the 1970s musical 'Joseph', which I saw live once or twice when schools performed it. But had never thought that a TV or movie version would really be worth seeing - after all, it's just a group of people on stage. Right?

No. Not in this version, anyway. My son bought it, having seen it somewhere else, and insisted that we watch it. Expecting to be bored, even though Donny Osmond was one of the heartthrobs of my youth, I was absolutely riveted. The musical has been done as a surreal stage production, involving a school with its Headmistress - played brilliantly by Maria Friedman - singing the narration of the story.

Donny Osmond is wonderful as Joseph, the rather obnoxious favourite son of Jacob in the Bible, who ends up in prison, rising quickly to great heights in Ancient Egypt.

Despite having seen it a couple of years ago, I was happy to watch it again last night with relatives who thought it sounded interesting - and who also enjoyed it very much. There are some excellent routines; it's a very clever idea that works extremely well.

This is one of the few musicals I could watch repeatedly.

(Note: I did then watch and review' Joseph' again, four years later)

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

05 May 2007

The Court Jester (starring Danny Kaye)

I can remember seeing and enjoying the classic film 'The Court Jester' on television when I was a teenager. I had always enjoyed records featuring Danny Kaye's songs, and thought this film - with the famous 'Chalice from the Palace' scenes being most memorable - very amusing.

So I was delighted when I learned that it had finally been released (and digitally remastered to improve the quality) on DVD. It went on my wishlist, and I received it for my birthday.

Although it's not really my husband's kind of film, we had relatives staying who wanted to see it, also remembering it fondly from previous years. So we saw it last night.

The story features Danny Kaye as a naive young man, employed to be a court jester - despite not actually being very good at jestering - as part of a complex plot to undermine the evil ruler who has usurped the true king. The real king is a baby, in the jester's care..

The plot is remarkably complicated, and I'm not sure I ever fully untangled it in my mind, either as a teenager or an adult. But it didn't really matter. Danny Kaye is brilliant in his timing, and the story moves rapidly, from situation to situation.

The confusion with the chalice, not forgetting the 'vessel with the pestle' and of course the 'flagon with the dragon' - I never did quite remember which one held the 'brew that is true' was a great deal more complex than I had remembered, but amusing nonetheless. My other favourite recalled scene, when the process for knighting the jester is speeded up more and more rapidly, went by so fast that I almost missed it - wasn't quite as amusing as I had expected.

Other than Danny Kaye, the acting is a bit wooden in places, and the plot so ridiculous that it wouldn't really work for today's tastes. But I enjoyed it anyway, and hope to see it again in a few years.

Recommended if you like 1950s style silliness with a few songs thrown in.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

25 April 2007

Notting Hill (starring Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts)

'Notting Hill' is one of those films that Amazon kept on recommending to me. I like Hugh Grant very much as an actor, I'm growing to like Julia Roberts as an actress, and my preferred genre is the light romantic comedy films, where the humour is light rather than slapstick. So it went on my wishlist, and I received it as a gift.

What an absolutely delightful film it is, too! William - superbly cast as Hugh Grant - is a not-very-successful bookshop owner, getting along well enough when into his shop comes Anna (Julia Roberts). Anna is a popular and beautiful actress, and William doesn't really know how to relate to her... particularly when, meeting her again, he spills something down her front.

There's not much more I can say about the plot without giving the story away. Actually, there isn't really a whole lot of plot - it's a character-based film, gently paced, with several moving moments. The chemistry between the two principals is excellent. We thought it was very well done, the tone set right from the start.

I suppose it could be summed up as a light and somewhat predictable romance story, but it's one of those that leaves the viewer warmed and inspired.

A little surprisingly 'Notthing Hill' is rated 15 in the UK although there's no violence, almost no bad language, and only the subtlest of sex scenes. The US rating of PG-13 is perhaps more suitable.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

17 March 2007

Chocolat (starring Juliette Binoche)

In recent years, I've realised that while adaptations of book on film are often disappointing, they can nonetheless, if well-cast, offer a depth of understanding that is somehow more rounded than the individual impression one gets from a book alone. In addition, movie versions allow me to introduce my husband to stories I have enjoyed which he is unlikely to read.

I had slightly mixed feelings about the book 'Chocolat' by Joanne Harris, which I read a little over a year ago. But, with the small French village location, I thought it could make a good film. Reviews were good, so it went on my wishlist.

The story is similar to that of the book. Juliette Binoche stars as Vianne, which she does in a believable way. Judi Dench is superb as the elderly Armande, estranged from her uptight - and upright - daughter. Johnny Depp makes a wonderful, passionate Roux. The photography is indeed good, and the scenes were set far better in my mind than they had been while reading the book.

The antagonism of the townfolk to this carefree, sensual chocolate-maker is well done, contrasting their rigid style of traditional Christianity with the freedom and luxury that Vianne tries to introduce. In the book, the priest is the most vehemently outspoken against Vianne, the 'bad guy', whereas in the film it's the mayor who is the most unpleasant character; I have to admit that I preferred that; I don't think the book was meant to be anti-Christian, but against rigidity and refusal to acknowledge the joy of life.

Other than that one change for the better, the film kept pretty close to the book, as far as can be done, and we both enjoyed it. The 12 rating (or PG-13 in the US) is probably about right, since there is some sensuality and violence, though nothing too explicit or gory.

Recommended for adults and older teens.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

08 March 2007

Jane Eyre (starring Sorcha Cusack and Michael Jayston)

Charlotte Bronte's classic novel Jane Eyre has been one of my favourite books ever since I first read it as a young teenager, for English Literature at school. Shortly after I had finished reading it, there was a five-episode BBC television adaptation of the book, which I enjoyed very much; however, there have been many other films made of this classic, and I did not think I would ever be able to watch this particular version again.

So I was delighted when, in 2006, this BBC adaptation of Jane Eyre was finally brought out on DVD. I watched it with my husband and teenage son, just one episode at a time, and we all enjoyed it very much. Knowing the basics of the story in advance (as my husband did) did not spoil it, any more than knowing it well after re-reading several times over the years. There is melodrama, and some moments of extreme tension, even when I knew exactly what was coming.

With an episodic version of a book, made for TV, it's possible to keep much more closely to the original story than can be done with a 90-minute movie. I felt that this series kept very well to Charlotte Bronte's story, omitting little, and including much of the actual text of the book. Michael Jayston is excellent as the craggy Mr Rochester who employs Jane (Sorcha Cusack) as a governess for his ward.

The BBC always seems to do a superb job with period drama of this kind, even with a limited budget, and I was very glad to have been able to watch this again.

Definitely recommended. Rated PG in the UK, and unrated in the USA, but unlikely to be of much interest to children under the age of about 10 or 11.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

24 February 2007

Kind Hearts and Coronets (starring Dennis Price and Alec Guiness)

This film was highly recommended to us by a friend whose opinion we tended to agree with. However, our copy of 'Kind Hearts and Coronets' came free with a relative's newspaper. On balance, we were glad that we didn't pay for it.

It's a black and white film, made in 1949. The two main stars are Dennis Price, playing a young man who has been disinherited from his upper class family, but decides that he wants to inherit the title... so sets out to kill everyone else standing in his way. Alec Guiness plays several different parts - all related people, male and female - and does them extremely well.

However, the plot is extremely far-fetched, and the ending rather predictable. We don't have a problem with the bizarre or unlikely, but it was an odd subject matter to be treated as a comedy. There was rather a lot of slapstick humour that left us rolling our eyes more than laughing.

I guess it was worth seeing once, as it's apparently considered quite a classic, and was well made for the era; but we probably won't bother seeing it again.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

15 February 2007

Bruce Almighty (starring Jim Carrey)

I expect that the film 'Bruce Almighty' ended up on our shelves due to a special offer, or perhaps a recommendation, or maybe both. Anyway, we decided to watch it as a family, with some friends who were staying, on Valentine's Day...

It's an interesting idea, different from the usual rom-com style that I tend to choose by default. In this story, Bruce (Jim Carrey) who is a TV reporter has been complaining about his life, and about God, despite being reasonably popular and having some good friends. But it seems as if everything is going on, and he moans just a little too much...

So God appears in human form (played, brilliantly, by Morgan Freeman) and says he'll take a break, and that Bruce can take over as God for a week to see if he can do the job better.

At first disbelieving, Bruce discovers that he does indeed have divine powers, which he can use to do pretty much anything he wishes...

We thought it was well made, and quite thought-provoking too. At first excited, then overwhelmed, then determined to do things efficiently, Bruce implements some of what he feels 'should' happen in the world, only to discover the wider implications... and, unsurprisingly, chaos ensues.

Some of this is a bit silly, but parts of it were amusing and it certainly made its point. On the whole we thought it well worth seeing. The 12 rating (PG-13 in the US) is due to some bad language, some mild sexual content, and some rather crude humour at times.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

29 January 2007

Houseboat (starring Cary Grant and Sophia Loren)

'Houseboat' is one of those films I picked up on special offer, probably a 'three for ten pounds' kind of thing, where it looked interesting enough to go with two other DVDs that we actually wanted. It's not something I would necessarily have chosen, although even I have heard of Cary Grant and Sophia Loren, and it was billed as a light family comedy.

The story is about a widower (Cary Grant) with three rather riotous children, who is having a string of bad luck. It's also about a rich young lady (Sophia Loren) who runs away from home and takes a job as nanny to the children, without revealing her identity.

Most of the film takes place while the family are on holiday in a houseboat... which is not quite as expected, so various predictable disasters ensue. And, of course, there's a romantic element...

We thought it was a reasonable film; not bad, exactly, but a bit dull. I don't know why it was considered so brilliant, but then there weren't so many films made in 1958. It's in colour, but feels very dated, and despite the stars a lot of it seemed rather over-acted. Still, it makes a pleasant enough story in the end - certainly innocuous family viewing, hence the U rating for the UK.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

Quantum Leap series 2 (starring Scott Bakula and Dean Stockwell)

Having finished - and very much enjoyed - the DVD of the first season of Quantum Leap, a TV series which I watched avidly in the early 1990s, I was delighted to learn that the second and subsequent seasons were now also available in DVD format. We've now seen all the episodes of the second season (22 of them in all).

Some of these episodes were extremely moving, particularly the last one; some were frightening, some were thought-provoking, and most had plenty of low-key humour in the banter between Sam, the quantum physicist (Scott Bakula) and his holographic assistant Al (Dean Stockwell).

We learn more about Sam's background in this series, too, as he begins to discover things about himself - such as particular talents that he had originally, but had forgotten about when his time travel experiments turned his brain into what is graphically described as 'swiss cheese'. The script is well done, so that as Sam's memory apparently begins to fill in the holes, so we learn more about him, and he begins to seem more well-rounded.

My respect for Scott Bakula as an actor increased enormously while watching him take on a wide variety of different personalities in this season - from a trapeze artist to a kidnapper; he also plays a theatre actor, a lawyer, a rabbi, a blind pianist... and even a teenage with serious learning difficulties.

All in all, this was an excellent series and we look forward to seeing the third! Rated 12 in the UK, probably due to some bad language and violence as part of some of the storylines.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

13 January 2007

84 Charing Cross Road (starring Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins)

This film, the unusually titled '84 Charing Cross Road', was recommended to me by Amazon, probably because I so like films with Dame Judi Dench in them. It went on my wishlist, and I was very pleased to be given it for Christmas.

It's a twenty-year-old nostalgic film, based on a true story: the correspondence between Frank, clerk working at a bookshop in London (Anthony Hopkins) and Helene, script editor (Anne Bancroft) in New York. The story begins in the late 1940s and continues over many years.

We thought that there were some lovely contrasts between American exuberance and British austerity, although they were done tastefully without exaggeration. The common factor between these two very different people is their shared love of good books.

There's no fast action, nor any high drama; yet we were drawn right into the story, which is beautifully done. The casting is excellent, and the film very well made. It was lovely and gentle film, suitable for all the family, with a touch of sadness. The UK rating is U, reflecting this, although the more cautious US rating is PG. I doubt if it would be of much interest to young children, but there's nothing inappropriate - at least, not that we noticed.


Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews