10 December 2010

Steel Magnolias (starring Dolly Parton, Sally Field, Julia Roberts, Shirley MacLaine, Daryl Hannah and Olympia Dukakis)

From time to time I put a DVD on my wishlist due to the recommendation of friends, only to find Amazon recommending several more that I have not heard of, in similar genre or featuring one of the same actors or actresses. 'Steel Magnolias' was one of them. A quick browse of the blurb and reviews persuaded me that it would be my kind of film.

This story is about six rather different women in the US South, who live in the same neighbourhood and who regularly see each other at the beauty parlour. The parlour owner, with the unlikely name of Truvy, is very well played by Dolly Parton. Indeed, one of the quirks of this movie is that all the main women have slightly odd names, the least unusual being Shelby (played by Julia Roberts).

As the story starts, Shelby is preparing to be married, with her household in an uproar. She and her mother, naturally enough, find themselves at the beauty parlour discussing it, and it’s not long before we learn that Shelby is diabetic.

The blurb on the back of the DVD case says that this is the ‘funniest movie ever to make you cry’. I consider that to be serious hyperbole there since I neither laughed nor cried while watching it. Still, it is undoubtedly moving in places, and the characters (once I had got used to the strong accents and the bizarre scenario of a beauty parlour) really very likeable. There were a few amusing moments, too.

I was less impressed by a tragedy which I should probably have foreseen, but which I didn’t quite believe would happen in the context of a fairly light mildly humorous film. Still, it works well and was overall an engaging movie. The interactions between the women are mostly believable, and the story surprisingly thought-provoking for something that was really a 'chick-flick'. I felt quite involved with the story and the people, and was sorry when it ended.

Recommended. Rated PG in both the UK and USA. Nothing really unsuitable for young children, unless you are very strict, but I doubt if it would be of interest to anyone younger than about eleven or twelve.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

05 December 2010

On Golden Pond (starring Katharine Hepburn and Henry Fonda)

For some reason, we had never seen 'On Golden Pond' despite it being something of a classic. Indeed, we vaguely thought it had probably been made in the 1950s, and were most surprised to find that it was produced as recently as 1981.

The film features Norman (Henry Fonda) and Ethel (Katharine Hepburn) as an elderly couple who spend their summers on Golden Pond. Norman is a crusty old guy with a terrific low-key sense of humour, and Ethel is his wife of many years: sometimes long-suffering, sometimes deeply loving.

Their daughter Chelsea (Jane Fonda - Henry Fonda's daughter in real life) has been estranged from her parents for quite some time. But this summer, at last, she comes to visit them with her fiancé Bill, and his thirteen-year-old son Billy. Chelsea and Norman have never managed to communicate that they really do care deeply for each other and Ethel is caught between them on many occasions.

Poor Billy is rebellious - wanting his father's attention, not wanting to be dragged along with a potential stepmother, and totally hating the thought of living with people old enough to be his grandparents. Even worse, Chelsea and Bill take a break without him, leaving Norman to make tentative overtures of friendship.

There's not a huge amount of action in this film; it covers just one summer that passes slowly with fishing trips, and loons calling on the lake. It is, however, extremely moving at times. It explores the depth of relationships in an elderly couple, and also manages to examine some of the problems of dysfunctional families. Perhaps most moving of all was the special friendship that developed between an angry teenager and a grumpy grandfather figure.

Totally delightful. Rated PG in both the UK and USA, probably due to mild instances of bad language, but I would consider it suitable for anyone who likes a gentle, relationship-based story that is beautifully made.

Highly recommended.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

13 November 2010

Bridget Jones's Diary (starring Renée Zellweger)

Bridget Jones's Diary is yet another well-known film which we had heard of many times, but which neither of us had seen. We remedied that this week.

It's based on a novel, which I also haven’t read, and which apparently takes its storyline loosely from ‘Pride and Prejudice’. There’s a nice irony in that Colin Firth, who played Mr Darcy in the BBC series of Jane Austen’s classic, plays Mark Darcy in this film - Bridget's mother wants her to marry him, but when she first meets him he is wearing an amazingly frumpish outfit and does not seem appealing at all.

The story is about a year in Bridget's life, beginning with her New Year resolutions; these include the determination to lose weight, drink less, smoke less, and stop fantasising about her boss, Daniel Cleaver. Hugh Grant, who stars as Daniel, and something of an office Casanova, is actually much more appealing than Colin Firth in this film. So it's not surprising that Bridget likes him, particularly when he begins a little flirtation with her.

I didn't feel that Bridget, bears much relation to any of the Bennet girls in 'Pride and Prejudice', although I suppose she is meant to have a modern resemblance to Elisabeth. However, her mother, played in an over-the-top way by Gemma Jones, is quite as ghastly as Mrs Bennet though not as amusingly so.

I thought the film was nicely done, and there are certainly some humorous moments but it’s not the hilarious comedy some reviewers suggest. Hugh Grant and Colin Firth are both excellent, and make it worth watching; Renée Zellweger is very believable as Bridget, surprisingly likeable despite being so caught up in material things and obsessive about her weight. Unfortunately, I found the smoking and excessive bad language very off-putting - and rather unnecessary. It means that the UK rating is 15, the US rating R, although the story itself probably have been rated 12/PG-13 if it had been less crude.

Worth watching for a light evening in, but not one that will stick around in my mind for very long.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

06 November 2010

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? (starring Katharine Hepburn, Katharine Houghton, Sidney Poitier and Spencer Tracy)

'Guess who's coming to dinner?' is apparently a landmark film, which was made in 1967. I wasn't very old then, so it's not surprising that I didn't see it at the time; more surprising, perhaps, is that I had not even heard of it before Amazon recommended it to me, based on my wishlist and DVDs I had bought.

The story is about Joanna (Katharine Houghton), a young white woman, who falls deeply in love with John (Sidney Poitier), an intelligent, much-sought-after doctor. John also happens to be black. I gather that this was pretty much unheard of in the USA in the 1960s, when – although it’s hard to imagine, from our more enlightened times – it was illegal in several states for ‘mixed race’ marriages.

However, Joanna is confident that her parents, who have brought her up to be extremely liberal minded about race, will be delighted for them. John is less certain about his parents. What nobody expects the extremely negative reaction from Tilly, Joey’s family’s much-loved cook and housemaid, who is also black. All the parents, too, have to battle their initial shock at something they were not expecting. Joanna's parents, played brilliantly by Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn, have a major struggle to see if they can reconcile their theoretical beliefs with the actual situation in front of them.

The feel of the film is rather ‘1950s’ – I was surprised it was made as late as it was, and that was not just due to the content. There were some very fake-looking scenes supposedly featuring sunsets or other outdoor views, which were nothing of the sort. Still, the acting was good, the script excellent (given its vintage), and I felt totally involved in the film and characters all the way through.

Even though the particular subject-matter is now long out of date, this film gives a fascinating insight into some of the ways we deal with prejudice of any kind, and how difficult it can be to reconcile what we believe in theory with a situation involving someone we love.

Definitely recommended. Rated PG in the UK and apparently not rated at all in the USA.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

04 October 2010

Runaway Bride (starring Julia Roberts and Richard Gere)

'Runaway Bride' was another Amazon recommendation, when browsing DVDs for my wishlist. Probably due to both the genre of those I had previous rated, and the actors.

I'm pleased it was recommended to me. This is not a heavy film, nor is there any thought-provoking message or deep issue. Instead, it's a light-hearted romantic comedy', probably intended mostly for woman but enjoyable for a cosy evening in for a couple too.

The story features Ike (Richard Gere), a reporter who hears about a young woman who has apparently run away, at the last minute, from several weddings. He is rather intrigued by what he reads, so researches for a while and writes an article based on what he’s heard. However, his paper receives an angry rebuttal from Maggie (Julia Roberts), the young woman in question. So Ike decides to investigate further…

The style is typical ‘rom-com’, with a fairly predictable ending, but we thought it was nicely done. Julia Roberts as Maggie is excellent, as is Richard Gere as Ike. Perhaps Maggie’s fear of commitment is somewhat overdone, and her previous boyfriends - who feature both in the present and the past - are rather caricatured. But still, there were some amusing moments, plenty of action, and a fast-paced plot.

Overall, we agreed that this was an enjoyable film which didn’t require much brainpower. Rated PG in both the UK and USA.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

25 September 2010

Falling in Love (starring Meryl Streep and Robert de Niro)

I put this DVD on my wishlist after Amazon recommended it, probably due to my having rated other films with Meryl Streep in them. She stars in 'Falling in Love', brilliantly, as ever. While some actors and actresses are very good in typecast roles, Meryl Streep manages to play a wide variety of characters, and is entirely believable in every one.

In this film, Streep plays the part of Molly, who is doing some Christmas shopping, when she bumps into Frank (Robert de Niro) in a book shop. Predictably, their parcels get switched in the confusion. Both of them are married, quite contently, to other people, and they think nothing of the encounter. Except that, coincidentally, they realise that they travel to work on the same train...

We soon realised that this is quite old, as films go – the lack of mobile phones, and the presence of old-fashioned dials on house phones rather gave it away. It was in fact made in 1984 - and very well made too. De Niro is an excellent foil for Meryl Streep, and the chemistry between them is powerful.

However the subject matter is all too modern, and rather depressing. The two leading characters become friends, and then their relationship escalates far too quickly, both of them convinced that at last they have found their soul-mate. I did not at all like the message which was conveyed – that the promises of marriage can be thrown aside, even when the marriages are, basically, pretty good.

Still, the acting was excellent, and overall it was reasonably entertaining and even mildly amusing in places. I just wish it had ended differently.

Rated PG in the UK, and PG-13 in the USA.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

16 August 2010

Ballet Shoes (starring Emma Watson, Yasmin Paige and Lucy Boynton)

I have always loved the book ‘Ballet Shoes’ by Noel Streatfeild, and have read it many times, as both a child and an adult. So I was a little reluctant to see a film based on the story, as they can often be disappointing.

However, several people recommended the 2007 version, which was made for TV, so I thought it might be fun to add it to our collection. I was a little surprised and somewhat disappointed to find that the entire film is less than 90 minutes long; the advantage of TV adaptations of books is that they are often episodic, and can thus stick more closely to the storyline than can a film made for the cinema.

The well-known story of 'Ballet Shoes' is that of three adopted sisters who are determined to make their mark on the world: Pauline (Emma Watson) wants to be an actress, Petrova (Yasmin Paige) longs to be a pilot, and Posy (Lucy Boynton), who was found with some ballet shoes as a baby, is determined to be a dancer.

Emma Watson is best known as Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter movies, but played the eldest of the Fossil children convincingly. There were other well-known faces in this film, including Victoria Wood who, I felt, was not entirely convincing as Nana.

Although, inevitably, a fair amount of the book was condensed or cut out, the storyline mostly stuck to that of the book. The three adopted sisters were very good, with Posy outstanding as a promising ballet dancer. I didn't really like the character of Winifred, who (from memory, anyway) was a great deal nicer in the book, and I was not at all impressed by a light romance being thrown in at the end – decidedly NOT in the book! However, that kind of thing appears to be compulsory, even in children’s films these days.

On the whole, I thought it was well worth watching for a light evening’s entertainment; the PG ratings, rather than U, are - I assume - just because of some smoking in the film, which although unfortunate was entirely appropriate, given the era. The sets and atmosphere of London in the 1940s were very realistic and it could be a good way of introducing children to the many excellent books by Noel Streatfield.

Rated PG in both the UK and USA.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

12 March 2010

Sleepless in Seattle (starring Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan and Ross Malinger

'Sleepless in Seattle' is one of those films I had heard about, many times, but for some reason had never actually seen. But, at last, I was given a copy, and we sat down to watch it one evening recently.

It’s a classic rom-com, but the 'romance' part is well done, and the 'comedy' part amusing and fairly subtle rather than being overdone. Tom Hanks is superb as Sam, a recently widowed young father who is still grieving the wife he loved. His young son, Jonah, expertly played by Ross Malinger, decides to phone a radio show to ask for advice about his depressed dad.

The conversation is heard on the car radio by Annie (Meg Ryan) who is driving at the time, en route to stay with her fiance, the rather too-good-to-be-true Walter (Bill Pullman).

There are some quite moving moments as well as the light humour, and I thought it was a good storyline. The ending is somewhat predictable, but satisfactory nonetheless. Nothing particularly deep or thought-provoking, but certainly worth watching.

All in all, we thought it an enjoyable evening’s light escapism.

Rated PG in both UK and USA, probably due to some mild bad language.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

06 March 2010

While you were Sleeping (starring Sandra Bullock, Bill Pullman and Peter Gallagher)

'While you were sleeping' is another movie in the light romantic comedy genre from the 1990s which I had managed to miss out on entirely. Possibly because we did not buy films on VHS, did not yet have DVDs, and I was a full-time mother with little time for going to the cinema.

So it's good to have these gentle classics available inexpensively on DVD; this is one I was given for Christmas, which I watched with my husband.

The story features Sandra Bullock as Lucy, a lonely ticket-collector who has a bit of a crush on one of the commuters: Peter (played by Peter Gallagher). One day, out of the blue, she saves his life. While he’s in a coma there’s a huge misunderstanding, whereby his family assume she’s his fiancée.

They are so grateful to her that they adopt her wholeheartedly... and, longing for affection and family life, she goes along with the deception, hoping that all will be sorted out when Peter recovers from the coma.

The problems start when Lucy starts to fall for Peter's brother Jack (Bill Pullman). So when Peter actually does wake up from his coma, life is far from straightforward…and she is caught between the two of them.

The main characters were excellent, the chemistry good, the story paced nicely. There were some amusingly caricatured minor ones characters, and a predictable but pleasant ending.

All in all, very enjoyable.

Rated PG in both the UK and USA, probably for some minor bad language.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

24 January 2010

Serendipity (starring John Cusack, Kate Beckinsale and Jeremy Piven)

I'm not entirely sure why Amazon recommended 'Serendipity' to me, but I suppose it's in the genre I tend to like - that of lighthearted love stories. So, having been given it as a gift, we sat down to watch it one chilly evening.

It's the story of Jon (john Cusack) and Sarah (Kate Beckinsale) who meet by chance in a department store. Both are in other relationships, and both desperately want to buy the last pair of black gloves in the shop, shortly before Christmas. Despite the battle, there’s an immediate chemistry between them, and as they get talking, they wonder if they might be soulmates… however, since they both have partners already, they decide to allow destiny to guide them.

The film then fast forwards a few years, to find Jon and Sarah living a long distance apart, each about to be married to someone else. Sarah’s fiancé is a strange kind of guy who obviously doesn’t deserve her, but John’s fiancée, while a little characterless, seems likeable enough.

Suddenly - and here the story takes a strangely dubious tack - Jon and Sarah both become obsessed with finding each other, and a confusing chase ensues, with each of them missing the other by seconds, time and again. Frustrating to watch, in a way, but probably realistic, although I rather assumed from the start that they would probably end up finding each other eventually...

It’s a quirky kind of story with more than a hint of Cinderella: each ends up with one glove, and is searching for the person with the missing one. There are some mild anachronisms – the fact that nobody seems to feel cold when it’s snowing out, for instance – and the number of coincidences seem a little overboard.

Still, the acting is good, the chemistry between the two main actors works, and there’s some light humour. I particularly liked the scenes with Jon and his best friend Dean, excellently played by Jeremy Piven.

All in all, a pleasant movie without too much schmalz for a relaxing evening, if rather unrealistic in storyline.

Rated PG-13 in the USA, 12 in the UK. Only fairly mild bad language, but there is one intimate scene although it's from the back, and nothing untoward is actually seen.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

03 January 2010

It's a Wonderful Life (starring James Stewart, Henry Travers , Donna Reed and Lionel Barrymore)

'It's a Wonderful Life' is an American classic movie from 1946, made in black and white. I knew – vaguely – the plot: a man is in despair, then learns what his town and friends would have been like without him. It has almost become a cliché in modern life, and has been spoofed or otherwise referred to in other shows or books - but until recently, I had never seen the actual film.

I thought about it for years but for some reason this classic has been surprisingly expensive until recently, when I added it to my wishlist and was very happy to be given it. And finally, a few days after Christmas, we sat down to watch it.

I have to say, the film was not quite as I had expected it to be. James Stewart stars as the depressed George, in a fairly typical 1940s American style, and does well enough in the role. However, most of the film turns out to be a series of flashbacks to George’s life, briefly in childhood and then as a young man; then, finally, there are some glimpses of him as he grows older. It was in some ways a frustrating life, as he had to give up many of his dreams - and I wondered for quite some time just where the plot was going.

George has a guardian angel, Clarence, played by Henry Travers. I felt that Clarence was a masterpiece of casting. He’s rather a bumbling angel, but by no means a young or even attractive one. He really wants the best for George, but is rather nervous about trying it, and would really love to earn his wings…

It could easily have been over-sentimental or schmaltzy, but somehow it isn’t. I found it a bit hard to get into, partly because of the 1940s American accents, but by the time we were half way through I was totally captivated.

Definitely a feel-good film, one of the few that I expect to watch again in a few years. Very much recommended, although the DVD seems to have returned to its over-priced state on Amazon. May be worth trying a reputable Marketplace option.

Rated U in the UK, and 'not rated' in the USA, although I assume that by today's standards it would be G-rated.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews