27 December 2008

The Inn of the Sixth Happiness (starring Ingrid Bergman)

I can remember watching this film on television, many years ago. Probably in the 1970s when I was a teenager. It struck quite a chord with me, and so I was pleased to be able to find it inexpensively on DVD.

'The Inn of the Sixth Happiness', made in 1958, is based on the true story of Gladys Aylward. She was a determined young woman who felt called to be a missionary in China in 1930. She applied to the China Missionary Society, was not considered suitable. So, sure of her calling, she worked for several months as a parlour-maid until she could afford the train ticket to take her to China.

The journey was a nightmare, but eventually Gladys arrived at her destination - untrained, uncertain, but full of enthusiasm. At first, she was treated with suspicion, but she learned the language, and began to dress and live like a Chinese woman. She showed tremendous courage in the face of great adversity.

Having also read a biography of Gladys Aylward's life, I'm aware that poetic license was taken in several places, with the Christian element quite down-played. Then there are a few totally fictional romantic moments added in the movie, presumably a requierment for popularity on the big screen in the 1950s. However, the whole it gives a good overview of her dramatic life story, which is well documented in many places.

The acting is excellent, even if some of the accents are a little awry at times. The photography is stunning in places, and the many Chinese children are utterly delightful. It’s a fairly long film – about two and a half hours – but I found it enthralling, despite knowing the overall storyline.

Unsurpisingly, given its vintage, the opening sequence and titles look very dated, but we both thought that the bulk of the film was extremely well made.


Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

23 December 2008

A Christmas Carol (starring Patrick Stewart)

While not a fan of Dickens in general, I have always liked the story of ‘A Christmas Carol’. So I was pleased to be given this movie version of the story some time ago. We decided to keep it for December, and watched it a couple of days before Christmas.

This version of 'A Christmas Carol' stars Patrick Stewart, who is probably best-known for his role as Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation. It’s a tribute to his acting that he made an extremely good Scrooge, but I did rather wish he had been given a wig. I could easily believe in him as the ultimate miser in the scenes in his hat, or even his night-cap, but when his head was bare - and bald - he somehow looked more like the captain of the Enterprise (and I’m no Trekkie) than Dickens’ character.

Still, it’s a minor gripe. My only other criticism is that some of the special effects looked extremely dated; I would have guessed that it had been made in the 1980s. Still, the film is ten years old and computer graphic effects have improved enormously since 1999.

I haven’t read the book for some years, but from what I recall this film version was pretty true to the book. We both thought that it worked well; it certainly kept our interest, and on the whole we enjoyed it. A nice start to Christmas!

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

18 December 2008

The Snow Queen (starring Bridget Fonda, Chelsea Hobbs and Jeremy Guilbaut)

'The Snow Queen' is one of many DVDs that were offered free with a weekend newspaper, collected by a relative, and passed on to us. It's not one I am ever likely to have bought, nor would we necessarily have got around to watching it, but for the billing 'Christmas Magic and Fantasy' on the back. Ideal, we thought, for light viewing in the week before Christmas.

I hadn’t realised until part-way through that this movie is an adaptation of the classic fairytale of the same name. Had I thought about it, I should have done. There is indeed plenty of snow and ice, not to mention magic and fantasy, but it’s not at all connected with Christmas... and parts of it are quite suspenseful.

The story is about the evil Snow Queen (Bridget Fonda) who manages to send a sliver of ice into the heart of Kai (Jeremy Guilbaut), a young man who works in a hotel and is in love with the owner’s daughter Gerda (Chelsea Hobbs). He changes character dramatically, then vanishes… and she decides to follow him.

The second half of the film sees Gerda travelling through the fantasy realms related to the different seasons. She encounters many strange people and creatures, including some talking animals, before she finally reaches the Snow Queen’s castle, where Kai is captive.

The film is quite sad in places, a bit frightening in others, and even slightly amusing at times in some of the caricatured characters. There are some lovely ice skating scenes, and some dramatic special effects. Gerda and Kai are excellently cast, and the whole works very well despite being quite a long movie; it was originally shown on TV in two parts, as it’s nearly three hours long.

Once I had realised that it was a slightly bizarre and surreal story, I enjoyed ‘The Snow Queen’. Recommended for older children or adults; probably not for sensitive small children. The UK rating is PG, which is reasonable enough, so long as parents do use their guidance; in the USA it is not rated at all.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

13 December 2008

The Bishop's Wife (starring Cary Grant, Loretta Young and David Niven)

I'm not entirely sure how we came to have 'The Bishop's Wife' on our DVD shelves. Perhaps it was recommended online somewhere as a special offer, or perhaps we picked it up inexpensively at a charity shop. The blurb on the back suggested that it might be a light Christmas film, so we decided to watch it during December.

It's a classic 1940s black and white film which stars a young David Niven as a Bishop in the Anglican Church. He is so busy that he hardly ever has time to be with his wife and daughter, who miss him. The surreal part of the film is due to Cary Grant who stars as a slightly unlikely angel dressed in a suit, sent from heaven to give some assistance.

The Bishop wants to build a magnificent cathedral, but unfortunately the only person who may be able to fund this project wants a huge memorial to her husband. The Bishop is not happy about this, and angry words ensue. Meanwhile the Bishop’s wife Julia (Loretta Young), worries that their marriage is falling apart because her husband is so constantly busy and stressed.

There are lots of amusing incidents in this film, and some parts that are quite moving. We thought it was very well done, in an era without computer graphics or simple special effects, and the story itself is good with a thought-provoking message.

Recommended if you like a bit of sentimental nostalgia and a feel-good story. Suitable for all ages, although probably not of much interest to young children. UK rating is U (Universal), not rated in the USA.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews