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