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