29 December 2011

Film review: The Truth about Cats and Dogs (starring Janeane Garofalo, Uma Thurman and Ben Chaplin)

I'm not entirely sure how this particular film ended up on my wishlist. Probably Amazon recommended it to me based on the genre (light romantic comedy); I don't think it can have been related to the actors or actresses, as I hadn't come across any of them before.

Whatever the reason, I was happy to be given 'The Truth about Cats and Dogs' for Christmas, and watched it with my husband and son a few days later.

It's the story of Abby (Janeane Garofalo) who is a vet, and hosts a radio show. Listeners with pet problems call in, and she explains what they should do. She is well-liked, but for some reason - possibly the fact that she is short - has terrible self-esteem. One day she gets a call from a man called Brian (Ben Chaplin) in an unusual and amusing situation.. and after she helps him, he asks to meet her.

Abby considers herself unattractive, and - somewhat by accident - sets him up with her tall, blonde neighbour Noelle (Uma Thurman). A case of mistaken identity ensues when Brian assumes that Noelle is Abby, and nobody lets him know the truth.. leading to a the humour that can easily go with this rather cliched situation, although Noelle is slightly irritating as a somewhat gormless dumb blonde stereotype.

Eventually all is resolved satisfactorily, and I would have liked the film very much had it not been for the added parts that pushed the rating up to 15 in the UK - a few unecessary swear words, and a bizarre, equally unecessary pseudo-sex scene via the phone. The US rating of PG-13 seems surprisingly low.

Still, overall we thought it an enjoyable film, if a little dated (it was made in 1996). It has a good message about the importance of personality above looks... although that was a little puzzling since Abby came across as considerably more attractive than the tall blonde Noelle.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

26 December 2011

Driving Aphrodite [US title: My Life in Ruins] (starring Nia Vardalos, Alexis Georgoulis and Richard Dreyfuss)

Sometimes I browse through Amazon, and check reviews for the various DVDs that it recommends to me, based on what I've already rated. It seems to have gathered that I generally enjoy light romantic comedies; it will also frequently suggest films starring actors or actresses whose films I have previously enjoyed.

So, a few months ago, I put 'Driving Aphrodite' on my wishlist; apparently the title of this movie is 'My life in ruins', in America. The star is Nia Vardalos, who became well-known for 'My Big Fat Greek Wedding' about ten years ago. An added draw was that it also features Richard Dreyfuss, star of what is possibly my all-time favourite film, 'Mr Holland's Opus'.

I was pleased to be given this DVD for Christmas, and at the end of a busy day we decided to sit down and watch it, hoping for something light and undemanding.

We were not disappointed. While it doesn't have the brilliant one-liners and satire of 'My Big Fat Greek Wedding', this is a likeable film, with some humour that we appreciated all the more having lived in a Greek culture for the past fourteen years.

Georgia (Nia Vardalos) is an American tour guide. She doesn't really want to be; she came to Athens to lecture in Ancient history, but that didn't work out. Unfortunately her style is to try and teach holidaymakers about the history of all the ruins and artefacts visited on their coach tours around the city. But most of them are not particularly interested...

Georgia's co-worker (Alistair McGowan) would like to see her fired, so he and the boss arrange for her to have a difficult and motley crew in her coach, with non-working air-conditioning and a boorish driver (Alexis Georgoulis). The first day goes badly and she decides to quit; but an irritating elderly 'wise guy' on her bus (Richard Dreyfuss)turns out to be a fount of good advice, with match-making skills too..

It took a little while to get into this; in the earlier part of the film, the generalisations were a bit too obvious, and we wondered if it was going to be even slightly amusing... but as it progressed, we started to like the people concerned, and there were some quite funny moments alongside some deeper, more moving scenes.

All in all, we enjoyed it. Particularly recommended to anyone who has lived in Greece, Cyprus, or any of the Greek islands, and so is familiar with the culture that is somewhat satirised in this film.

Rated 12 in the UK (PG-13 in the USA), presumably because of one or two instances of bad language, and some mild sexual references.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

05 December 2011

Doctor Who, season 1 (starring Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper)

As one who watched Doctor Who from behind the sofa as a child in the 1960s, the 'real' Doctor has to be Patrick Troughton. I accepted Jon Pertwee as his replacement in the early 1970s, and quite liked the long-scarfed Tom Baker in the late '70s. Not that I was a devotee by an means, but I watched now and again, and kept up with the series. However, when Peter Davison became the fifth Doctor Who in 1981, I gave up entirely. I could not think of him as anyone other than Tristan Farnon, in the 'All Creatures Great and Small' series. Besides, I found it altogether too traumatic watching episode with cybermen and daleks (shudder) and felt nothing but relief when I gave up on Doctor Who.

I gather that the series gradually petered out... and was then re-established in 2005 with a 'new' series, taking advantage of modern computer technology for special effects, and, I was told, much more interesting storylines. But we don't live in the UK, and no matter how much my friends raved about Doctor Who, I was Not Interested.

However, my adult sons both, independently, became fans of the new series. And somehow they managed to convince us to buy the first 'new' series on DVD, assuring us that the modern Doctor Who was more in the vein of 'Quantum Leap' than the old alien-defeating superman kind of theme.

It was with much trepidation that I started watching the series, but I have to admit that they were right. The plots have much more of a human touch than I can remember from the previous series. Christopher Eccleston makes an excellent Doctor, and while Billie Piper as his assistant Rose is a bit irritating at times, we got used to her, and quite liked her by the end. We definitely felt for her frustrated well-meaning boyfriend, so often given second place to time travel.

I wasn't happy when Daleks made their appearance - they can still incite terror in my heart, and my relief at, apparently, the last one being wiped out forever was short-lived - but I loved the episode with Charles Dickens. There's a fascinating one which theorises on the terrible consequences of making changes in time travel - rather different from the happy endings of Quantum Leap - which was very thought-provoking.

It took us about six months to watch all thirteen episodes, as life was busy, but we enjoyed them all. They are not as directly frightening as some of the earlier series seemed to me as a child, even if I did hide my face a few times. There's a little humour, some pathos, and some excellent storylines.

The final episode was slightly disappointing; the Doctor seemed to be at his wits' end, and the climax was rather too much 'deus ex machina' for my liking. Perhaps it had to be like that to pave the way for the re-generation of the Doctor into his tenth incarnation...

All in all, well worth watching. We look forward to beginning Series 2 in the new year.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

02 December 2011

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe (starring Kathy Bates, Jessica Tandy, Mary Stuart Masterson and Mary-Louise Parker)

I don't entirely remember why 'Fried Green Tomatoes in the Whistle Stop Café' (just 'Fried Green Tomatoes' in the USA) was on our shelves; probably it was recommended to me by Amazon some time ago, based on my preferences, and I put it on my wishlist. Whatever the reason, we decided to watch it a couple of nights ago. The back cover promised us a 'warm, touching and greatly amusing tale about the importance of love and friendship'.

To start with, we meet Evelyn (Kathy Bates), an overweight and rather depressed woman in a marriage which has lost all hint of sparkle. She has tried all kinds of classes to help her become more assertive, to eat less, or to make her husband interested in her, but none of them has helped. Then she meets Ninny (Jessica Tandy), an elderly - but lively - lady in a nursing home.

Ninny starts to tell Evelyn about events in her family's past, beginning back in Alabama in the 1920 when a terrible tragedy marred the life of young Idgie. In classic film style, we see the events of the past as if they were happening in a parallel world - and this continues throughout the film, interspersing Evelyn's growing friendship with Ninny, with anecdotes about Idgie, now grown up, and her close friend Ruth.

The theme is indeed about the importance of love and friendship, with subplot showing a bit of social history, as we see just how bad racial intolerance was in part of the US, less than a hundred years ago. There is a crime mystery too, the horrors of an abusive marriage, and some poignancy as the aging Ninny hopes to go back to her own home...

I would not have called this film 'greatly amusing', although there are certainly some humorous moments in the 1990s scenarios with Evelyn as she tries various methods to make her husband interested in her, and then later as she begins to become more assertive.

The rating of 12 (UK) or PG-13 (USA) seem appropriate, since there is some bad language and violence, and a great deal of other implied violence too. However, we both thought it was extremely well done, with excellent casting for all characters, and quite moving in places. The ending was somewhat open, but satisfying nonetheless.


Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

21 November 2011

Terms of Endearment (starring Shirley MacLaine and Debra Winger)

I knew that 'Terms of Endearment' was a classic film from the 1980s, and something of a weepy; but probably would never have bought it, had I not spotted it on a church bookstall for a euro.

When we sat down to watch it, we were not entirely sure what to expect. Shirley MacLaine stars brilliantly as Aurora, an over-protective mother who is widowed at a young age, so brings up her daughter Emma (Debra Winger) as a single parent. They are very close during Emma's childhood, but as she grows up, she needs to exert her independence. Emma and Aurora find themselves clashing, particularly - early in the film - over Emma's wedding.

The film spans three decades of their relationship, although it mostly takes place during Emma's adult years. It demonstrates their very different personalities and responses to people, with superb characterisation. Aurora is outgoing and somewhat brash, while Emma is more gentle and insightful. We see them not just with each other, but with friends and lovers - there are some amusing scenes with Aurora's astronaut neighbour, played wonderfully by Jack Nicholson, as well as more poignant ones.

I found myself completely captivated by the story; it was beautifully done, with some deeply emotional scenes as well as plenty of light humour. I thought it excellent in showing how people express their love in such different ways, and how - in the end - nobody can protect their offspring forever.

Definitely recommended. Rated 15 in the UK, probably due to sexual references and some very strong language in a few places, but - oddly - only PG in the USA.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews, 7th November 2011

04 September 2011

Julie and Julia (starring Meryl Streep and Amy Adams)

Julie and Julia is a film based on a book, which itself is a true story written by Julie Powell. Julie is a bored and rather flighty young American woman who needs some kind of focus to her life. She decides to cook her way through a French recipe book written by Julia Child a few decades earlier. She determines to cook every single recipe, and to complete them within the next year. Her husband persuades her to blog about the experience... and the blog takes off in unexpected ways.

I had never heard of Julia Child, but apparently her book - for Americans to learn how to cook in the French style, written some decades earlier - is quite well-known in the USA. The movie cleverly switches between Julie's story in the 1990s to that of Julia herself, as an American living in Paris trying to find ways to occupy herself.

Meryl Streep is brilliant in the role of Julia; she seems able to turn her abilities to just about any character, and I found her entirely believable - larger than life (both literally and metaphorically), a mixture of confidence and insecurity. Amy Adams as Julie was lovable, too, and quite believable if a bit annoying and over-emotional at times. Their husbands - played by Stanley Tucci and Chris Messina respectively - were likeable too, their interactions with their wives realistic and engaging.

As much as anything the film is about food, and the art of cooking, with some wonderful looking dishes being prepared. The amount of butter and cream used seems a little unreal in today's low-fat climate, and I did have to close my eyes at the scenes using live lobsters. But I was rooting for Julie to get through her challenge - and also for Julia, even while knowing that her book must have been published at some point!

The ending was perhaps a little sudden with no real explanation about what was going on; I wondered if it would be clearer in the book, but most of the reviews I have seen rate the film as rather better than the book. Having enjoyed the movie so much, I don't want to spoil it by having negative impressions of Julie, nor am I interested in a book full of bad language.

'Julie and Julia' is rated 12 in the UK, PG-13 in the USA, probably due to a few instances of bad language - however they were rare and mostly in context. There are several implied bedroom scenes but no nudity or anything unsuitable for children is actually shown.

Definitely recommended. There's an interesting 'extra' with the director and cast talking about the film and their roles in making it, which was enjoyable to watch afterwards.

review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews 4th September 2011

22 August 2011

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat (starring Donny Osmond and Maria Friedman)

I've known of and liked the musical 'Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat', written by Andrew Lloyd-Webber, for many years. It was very popular in the UK in the 1980s, often done by schools or other choirs, and many of the songs are well-known. So when I first saw this adaptation for film starring Donny Osmond, some years ago, I was not quite sure what to expect.

I was very impressed.

I saw 'Joseph' again four years ago, with relatives, and enjoyed it again.

Seeing it again recently with friends, I enjoyed it once more. It's very unusual for me to be able to sit through any film more than once but the music is enjoyable, the acting and directing excellent, and the whole musical an extravaganza, so cleverly done that even people who don't generally like musicals would most likely enjoy this.

Donny Osmond in the title role is extremely good, playing the young and rather arrogant Joseph in a believable way. The story follows that of the Biblical book of Genesis - Joseph is disliked by his brothers, sold as a slave in Egypt, and gradually rises to a foremost position under Pharaoh. The ending - which I won't mention, just in case anyone reading this does not know the true story - enables it to be both an example of God's provision and plan, despite men's deviousness, and also a happy-ever-after kind of story, ideal for family viewing.

The music is deliberately set in a wide variety of styles, from the well-known 'Any Dream Will Do', sung by Joseph, to the brilliantly executed song of Pharaoh which took our friends (who did not know the music) by surprise!

What I particularly like is the way that the whole is tied in with a school, the narrator beginning as headmistress, and a somewhat surreal integration of past and present. I was surprised how well it worked - and completely mesmerised the first time I saw it!

Suitable for all the family. Highly recommended.

review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews, August 22nd 2011

02 August 2011

Big (starring Tom Hanks)

"Big" is the story of Josh, a twelve-year-old boy who is frustrated at being short, and really wishes he were bigger. At a fairground he makes the wish in a heartfelt way without expecting anything to happen... but the following morning, he discovers that his wish has been granted. Just not quite in the way he had hoped.

Josh is still twelve on the inside, but his body looks like that of an adult in his 20s. His mother, unsurprisingly, is terrified to find a young man in her house - more so when she cannot find Josh himself as a boy. His best friend Billy is suspicious and rather dubious at first, but is eventually persuaded that the unthinkable has indeed happened. And while Josh is pretty frightened, Billy can see some possible advantages to hanging out with someone who looks like an adult.

Before long Josh finds himself in the city, landing an unlikely job and an even more unlikely girlfriend. The film becomes gradually more surreal, but does so cleverly so that it never seems to get silly. Tom Hanks is brilliant in the title role; he manages to remain child-like and naive without being irritating. He explores adult issues with a believable innocence and (sometimes) delight.

There’s a wonderful, iconic scene in a shop with giant-sized piano keyboards - the film is worth seeing for that alone. 'Big" was made in 1988, and thus does look a little dated in places. Billed as a comedy, we found it mildly amusing rather than hilarious, with one or two places that made us chuckle. However, we thought it very enjoyable for a light evening's viewing.

15 April 2011

Mamma Mia! (starring Meryl Streep and Amanda Seyfried)

Mamma Mia! was perhaps quite a risky film to make, rather in the style of 1950s musicals with the cast breaking into song and dance at rather unlikely moments. Except that the songs were all originally by the group Abba, many of them very well known. And there was something of an all-star cast, headed by Meryl Streep, who was brilliant as ever in an energetic role that belies her years. She can sing, too.

I watched this DVD with friends, unsure what to expect. The setting is an idyllic Greek island, with a planned wedding for a beautiful daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried). Meryl Streep plays her mother, but as we quickly learn, she has no idea who her daughter's father might be.

However, Sophia has found some old diaries of her mother's which suggest three possible candidates... so she boldly gets in touch with them all, unknown to her mother, and invites them to the wedding. Chaos, as can be imagined, quickly ensues.

The plot was clearly written in order to feature the Abba songs. While some of them fitted in well, I felt that some were rather contrived - although quite amusing. The whole thing was light-hearted and great fun, with some excellent singing and dancing by the women although we were less impressed by some of the male voices.

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

20 February 2011

Maid in Manhattan (starring Jennifer Lopez)

'Maid in Manhattan' was one of the films that Amazon 'recommended' to me a while ago - so I put it on my wishlist, and was given it at Christmas. We finally had an evening to ourselves where a light 'chick-flick' film seemed like a good plan.

Marisa - Jennifer Lopez - works as a maid in an up-market hotel in Manhattan, in the USA. She is motivated, and reasonably popular, and sometimes thinks of applying for a management role, but never quite dares to apply.

Marisa is a single mother, and manages to combine her two roles well. She has a delightful son, Ty (Tyler Posey) who loves history and politics but becomes nervous when speaking. In the course of her cleaning work, while trying on some posh clothes (which she should not have done), Marisa happens to meet a senatorial candidate. Chris Marshall (Ralph Fiennes) mistakes her for a wealthy visitor...

Marisa throws caution to the winds, and agrees to go for a walk with him. Her friends and colleagues encourage her... and one date leads to another. It's a classic case of a small initial deceit spiralling out of control, becoming increasingly complex… until the truth, painfully, comes out.

I felt that this film took a while to get going, and was a little heavy, politically speaking, in places. However, there were some humorous moments towards the end and it was a pleasant lightly romantic story. Jennifer Lopez is excellent, as is Tyler Posey, and their scenes alone made it well worth watching. Above average for the genre, though it wasn't going to win any awards.

Rated 12 in the UK, PG-13 in the USA, as there were some instances of bad language, and a few sexual references. Nothing explicit - hence parental guidance recommended for those under about twelve or thirteen.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

14 February 2011

My Big Fat Greek Wedding (starring Nia Vardalos)

Living in Cyprus, 'My Big Fat Greek Wedding' was a remarkably popular film when it first came out, nearly ten years ago. So many people told us that we 'must' see it, that we finally got hold of the DVD and I saw it perhaps seven or eight years ago. I remember it being amusing, and somewhat caricatured, but I was tired and didn't fully appreciate it.

This year, some other friends who moved to Cyprus more recently had been told that they 'should' see it. So we arranged to get together for an evening, and although it's not often that I watch films more than once, it was Valentine's Day and seemed like suitable light entertainment.

I appreciated the film a great deal more, having now lived for over thirteen years in Cyprus. Having been to a couple of local weddings and met more Cypriots helped us see just how realistic, if somewhat exaggerated, the film is. Folk from the Mediterranean area really do seem to be very family-orientated, produce huge amounts of food, and invite hundreds of friends and acquaintances to weddings.

The plot is not as such a new one - Toula (Nia Vardalos) is a much-loved and over-protected young Greek woman, who is a bit frumpish and still single. Her father (Michael Constantine) longs for her to find and marry a nice Greek boy... but Toula has ambitions that reach far beyond waitressing in her father's restaurant for her whole life. So she takes some classes, and improves her appearance... and falls in love with an American teacher.

What we all enjoyed is that the movie pokes gentle fun at both Greek and American culture, caricaturing the foibles of each. The Greek humour is more obvious, perhaps, but we loved the scenes with the 'bundt'... which have to be watched to be understood. In addition to the humour, the film showed rather well what can happen when two such different worldviews come into contact.

There were some great one-liners, such as the explanation of how even the word ‘kimono’ comes from Greek; the acting is good, the accents very Cypriot, and the characters excellent. Very enjoyable.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

09 January 2011

Mystic Pizza (starring Annabel Gish, Julia Roberts and Lili Taylor)

From time to time I check to see what DVDs Amazon will 'recommend to me, and add a few of the ones that appeal to my wishlist. 'Mystic Pizza' was one such film which I was given recently. Evidently a light 'chick-flick', so ideal for curling up on the couch with my husband one chilly January evening.

It’s set in the 1980s. Jojo (Lili Taylor) has cold feet during her wedding, calling it off and devastating her fiancé. Jojo and her two friends Daisy (Julia Roberts) and Kat (Annabeth Gish) – who are sisters – work at the pizza parlour in a small town called Mystic in the USA. Jojo still loves her boyfriend, but is very scared of long-term commitment.

Despite being sisters, Daisy is wild and sexy while Kat is sensible and sweet…they could hardly be more different. Kat is hoping to go to university soon, so working very hour she can to earn money. She starts a babysitting job and, to her horror, finds herself falling in love with the (married) father. Daisy, meanwhile, wants to have as much fun as possible but falls for someone much wealthier than she is, and starts to question her own worth.

So, the story is about these three young women with their stories intertwined, learning about life and love, and gradually maturing as they reach decisions. All three girls, despite being so different superficially, find themselves wondering in similar ways about the future of relationships they’re in. Inevitably, too, they cherish their friendship.

Oh, and there's the pizza place, which apparently is a real shop in a real small town in the USA. There's also an ongoing thread about the pizzas produced, and the people who eat them, and the secret ingredients that make it what it is.

There’s not really a whole lot of plot, and in a way it's all rather predictable. However, the film was nicely done, with some amusing moments, and great rapport between the three friends. The rating is 15 in the UK, and R (18) in the more prudish USA. No violence or horror, but some sexual references and low-key scenes, and a bit of bad language here and there.

Not too deep, but enjoyable while it lasts; good for a Saturday evening in. Just like pizza, really.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews