27 October 2008

Persuasion (starring Amanda Root and Ciarán Hinds)

While I'm not, in general, a huge fan of books turned into movies, I do feel that Jane Austen's novels can work particularly well on screen. The somewhat archaic descriptive language translates to gorgeous scenery and creative photography; the people come to life, if well-cast, and the story takes on a new perspective.

With this in mind, I have started collecting recommended DVD versions of Austen's novels. I was given the BBC version of 'Persuasion' for my birthday, and we finally sat down to watch it.

The story follow the classic Jane Austen novel 'Persuasion', which is less well known than some of her others. I had not read it for a few years, but still remembered the plot roughly.

The story features Anne Elliot (Amanda Root), the middle daughter of three. She is not a traditional heroine - neither feisty nor ravishingly beautiful. Indeed, as the title suggests, she is all too persuadable. And as such, we quickly become aware that she broke off her engagement to the dashing (but poverty-stricken) Captain Wentworth (Ciarán Hinds) some years previously. She has always harboured regrets, but attempts to behave as a young lady was expected to, and hide her deepest feelings.

Unsurprisingly, Captain Wentworth re-appears in Anne's neighbourhood, now doing well financially... and clearly popular with the ladies.

In my opinion, the BBC really know how to do Jane Austen. I don't suppose the budget was huge, but this adaptation brought the novel to life very well. There was some nicely done humour where appropriate, and two very believable main protagonists. The scenery and language felt believable, close to the text of the book, at least as far as I could remember it; my husband, who has not read any Jane Austen, thought it very well done too.

All in all, a very enjoyable film. Recommended.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

23 October 2008

Quantum Leap series 4 (starring Scott Bakula and Dean Stockwell)

I have been a fan of Quantum Leap since it was on TV 15 years ago or more. An unlikely fan, in a way, since I don't in general like science fiction or fast action. But somehow the theme - that of someone stuck in a time travel experiment, bouncing around the decades directed by God to sort out 'what once went wrong' appealed - and still appeals - to my imagination. Scptt Bakula as Sam is a wonderful hero, and Dean Stockwell as his holographic sidekick Al provides a lot of humour, some of it rather bawdy.

I was delighted to have learned that all the Quantum Leap episodes are available on DVD, sold by the five different seasons for which the series ran on television (originally in the USA, but also broadcast in the UK).

We have managed to watch two or three episodes each month, and it has taken us nearly six months in all to see the fourth series. There were some excellent great episodes, including one where Sam becomes a chimp - it was very well done. We particularly enjoyed the an amazing finale to this series, when Sam leaps back into Al as a young man, caught up in a murder trial.

Unsurprisingly there are, if we thought about it in any depth, a few logic leaps. It's almost inevitable in any story involving time travel. But one has to suspend reality while watching this kind of show. More importantly from my perspective, there were also some amusing quips, and fascinating insights into both Al and Sam, as we explore a little of their past and get to know them better.

Definitely recommended. The UK rating is 15, probably due to some violence, bad language, and sexual references. Not intended for younger children.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

16 October 2008

Parenthood (starring Steve Martin, Mary Steenburgen and Dianne Wiest)

I very much like films with Steve Martin, which is probably how 'Parenthood' appeared on my wishlist. The blurb suggested something fairly light-hearted, and sure enough it made a good relaxing evening's viewing.

Steve Martin stars brilliantly as the father of three, trying to relate well to his children, juggling parenthood with his job and also his wife. He has three siblings with very different attitudes to family life. One of them has two rebellious teenagers, one is over-protective, and is hot-housing his small daughter, and the third pretty much ignores his delightful son.

The film is entirely character-based, like most of my favourite books, with plenty of interaction between the various siblings, cousins and other characters. Of course they’re mostly exaggerated, but nonetheless, I could see at least a grain of reality in everyone.

There's humour (some of it rather risqué), and some pathos too. I just wished the topic of home education had come up with Kevin, the sensitive child who was very unhappy at school.

Although Amazon UK lists this as PG, our version states that it is rated 15; I assume that’s because of several innuendos and sexual references. But there’s nothing explicit, no nudity, no violence, and – as far as I noticed – no bad language. Perhaps it was down-rated. In America, the rating is PG-13. Unlikely to be of much interest to young children anyway, but very enjoyable for adults wanting something light, not requiring too much brainpower, and yet surprisingly thought-provoking.


Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

12 October 2008

Mansfield Park (starring Billie Piper and Julia Joyce)

I've always enjoyed the books by Jane Austen, but 'Mansfield Park' is one of my favourites. It features the shy, well-behaved Fanny Price who hero-worships her cousin Edmund, and faces grave displeasure from her cousins and friends when she stands up for something she believes to be right, despite their attempts to persuade her otherwise.

Jane Austen's novels usually translate well to the screen, particularly (in my view) when made for television, allowing sometimes for longer versions than a film to be shown at the cinema.

So when we were given the ITV version of 'Mansfield Park' by a relative, who found it free with a Sunday paper, I looked forward very much to seeing it.

Unfortunately, this is by a long way the worst adaptation of a Jane Austen novel that I have seen. Billie Piper is totally miscast as the demure, almost priggish Fanny Price, which spoils the entire thing. Piper plays Fanny as a pouting, overly-prudish miss, whom nobody could possibly like.

While the film roughly follows the plot of the book (other than in Fanny Price's personality), there are too many missing characters, and other unnecessary changes which did not really make sense.

In addition, we did not feel that there was any sense of the 18th century at all. Yet it's not a completely modern interpretation - which might have been intriguing; instead, it looks like modern people dressed up in costume. Even the camera work is bizarre at times.

It’s strange how the BBC can make such excellent period drama productions, whereas those made for ITV (such as this one) are generally much poorer quality. I’m glad we got this free with a newspaper rather than being given it for Christmas or paying for it.

NOT recommended.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews