25 May 2009

Orlando (starring Tilda Swinton)

I'm not a fan of Virginia Woolf's novels, and it would never have occurred to me to buy any of the film adaptations of them. However, we were given 'Orlando' from a relative who received it as a free DVD with a Saturday newspaper, and finally decided to sit down and watch it.

I have to say, it was one of the most bizarre films I have ever seen. I gather that it's a clever adaptation of Woolf's novel of the same name, but I am not inspired to read it, having seen this. The fact that the male lead is played by a woman (and Queen Elizabeth by a man) turns out to be one of the least strange parts of it.

Tilda Swinton stars as the young nobleman Orlando, in a historical panoramic play that begins in the court of Queen Elizabeth (Quentin Crisp) I where he longs for love and freedom. However, he is cursed to remain at the same age forever. The story then leaps forward across the centuries, about fifty years at a time, showing new aspects of life and attitudes to women - and featuring Orlando at the same age each time.

The scenery is very good, the costumes stunning, and taken as snapshots of society through the ages, it’s quite an interesting production. But as a story, it is strangely surreal to have the same person appearing in different roles, never growing any older, and then making an even more dramatic and unexpected change in Central Asia, part-way through the film.

There are one or two mildly amusing moments, but there is also some violence which did not appeal to me at all. There were also some decidedly ‘adult’ scenes which, I would have thought, should raise the rating to at least 12 rather than the actual PG rating given in the UK (The US rating is PG-13, which I felt more appropriate).

The blurb on the back of the DVD calls 'Orlando' a ‘brilliantly original story of self-discovery, romance and adventure’. That much, I acknowledge, is true. And the movie was very well done. It seems to have won great acclaim from the critics, too… but it didn’t do anything at all for me, other than leave me faintly puzzled.

Not really recommended.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

21 May 2009

First do no Harm (starring Meryl Streep, Fred Ward and Seth Adkins)

'First Do No Harm' is another film we were given, after a relative found it free in a Saturday paper. I am so glad she did, because this is a wonderful movie, based on a true story. In my opinion it is well worth getting hold of, if at all possible.

It stars Meryl Streep as Lori, a contented, if slightly harassed mother with three children. Out of the blue, the youngest child, Robbie (Seth Adkins), is diagnosed with a serious form of epilepsy. Everything has to go on hold for the family as he goes into hospital for tests, and then undergoes increasingly unpleasant forms of treatment.

The first drugs Robbie is given turn him from a likeable, friendly child into a hyperactive violent screamer. His parents are told that when the first drugs taken do not help the condition, there is increasingly less chance that any future ones will make any difference.

Since this takes place in America, the family get into increasingly difficult financial straits as they have to deal with Robbie’s problems, due to some small print on their medical insurance. They seem to be at the mercy of the doctors, who propose drastic surgery on Robbie’s skull as his seizures increase and his behaviour becomes worse and worse.

Then Lori discovers that an unusual diet has helped a significant number of children with severe epilepsy. The doctors insist that it would not help, and that to take Robbie to a clinic to try it out would threaten his life. So the family have to make some very difficult decisions on his behalf….

I was totally captivated by this DVD, as were the other people who watched it with me. Meryl Streep is always excellent; she is able, it seems, to play almost any role to perfection. Seth Adkins as Robbie was also extremely good and beilevable. It was well-made and interesting as well as somewhat educational, and felt like a story rather than a documentary.

The one single thing that spoiled the film was an appalling and screechy rendition of the song ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow’; not just once but twice in the film. It made us put our hands over our ears and wished we could turn the sound off.

The UK rating for this is PG, which I would suggest is correct; younger children might find some of the medical and violent parts disturbing although others would not be worried by it. The US has a more cautious PG-13 rating.

Despite that one problem, I would recommend this film it highly.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

20 May 2009

Inside I'm Dancing, aka Rory O'Shea was here (starring James McAvoy and Steven Robertson)

As far as I remember, the film "Inside I'm Dancing" was recommended to me by Amazon, based on items I had already added to my wishlist. Possibly this was a misconception due to the word 'dancing' in the title, something which has now changed - in the USA, at least, the film has been re-titled 'Rory O'Shea was here', and the cover has been given a new, modern look.

When I read the blurb, I wasn't too sure what it would be like. The story features Michael (Steven Robertson), a guy with severe cerebral palsy who lives in a home for the disabled in Ireland. He can’t speak comprehensibly although he’s clearly bright, and gets around by wheelchair.

Then the outspoken and rebellious Rory (James McAvoy) arrives. He also is wheelchair-bound but has no problems talking, and can understand Michael pretty well. They strike up a friendship, and Rory starts to show Michael what life is like outside the home… leading to a bid for independent living.

The story is bittersweet, with some humour as well as a real insight into the lives of the severely disabled. The acting is wonderful. We couldn’t decide whether or not the actor playing Michael really did have cerebral palsy; so we watched the extras, which showed him as a young man with normal movement and speech. What an incredible actor.

Despite my initial reservations, we felt that this film was brilliantly made, and well worth watching. However, I wish there hadn’t been quite so much bad language – although in context it wasn’t inappropriate. But it was enough to give the film a 15 rating in the UK, and R in the US despite there being no violence, nudity or sex (despite some references).

Recommended nonetheless to any older teenager or adult wanting to see a little more of the world from the point of view of someone permanently in a wheelchair.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

11 May 2009

Mean Girls (starring Lindsay Lohan)

I doubt if I would ever have chosen 'Mean Girls', which is marketed as a teenage film… but my son gave it to me, and said that I would probably like it.

He was correct.

Lindsay Lohan is extremely good as the home educated teenager Cady (pronounced Katie) who grew up in the African bush, but finally starts American high school at the age of sixteen. She finds it bewildering at first, with so many different cliques, but is adopted by two rather strange people… and then finds herself part of the ‘plastics’ set. These are attractive but not particularly intelligent girls who consider themselves to be role models and fashion leaders.

The entire thing was completely alien to me, so I could fully understand Cady's reservations. She begins by laughing at the idiocies of the ‘plastics’ but gradually finds that peer pressure makes its mark, and becomes drawn into their world. Unfortunately this even includes being nasty about some of the other students and teachers.

The plot is a bit bizarre, and I find it hard to believe that any high school could actually be that unpleasant… but Cady’s development as a character works well, and it was encouraging that a popular teen film is (basically) so positive about homeschooling. Cady appears to be the most well-balanced and interesting person in her entire grade, seeing much of the behaviour of her classmates as barely distinguishable from the wild beasts she has come across in Africa. It was a pity that her parents are portrayed as so weird… but then again, they were less so than some of her new friends’ parents.

There were some moments in this film that made us laugh aloud, and we were glad that we saw it - it was very different to the kind of movie I would usually choose. So, all in all, I thought it an enjoyable and well made film... albeit not very deep.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews