18 December 2012

Love Actually (starring Hugh Grant, Bill Nighy, Colin Firth, Alan Rickman... and more!)

Many people have recommended 'Love Actually' to us, but I'd heard that there was a large cast and that the plot was confusing... and I find it hard enough to understand films at the best of times. However, when we spotted the DVD for a pound or two in a British charity shop, we picked it up - and finally sat down to watch it, on the recommendation of one of our adult sons.

The plot is, indeed, somewhat confusing in this film, because it's made up of several loosely connected subplots about relationships.  Supposedly they are all reflecting different kinds of love, which - as we're told - is all around us.  The cast of main characters was larger than I'm comfortable with in general, so it's a tribute to the script and the actors themselves that I mostly managed to keep track of who was whom.

The majority of the actors and actresses are well-known in other fields - so much so that even I recognised them despite my very limited film viewing compared to many. One of the most significant was Hugh Grant as a new and slightly naive British Prime Minister who develops a bit of a thing for a new tea-lady. His sister, played by Emma Thompson, is excellent, married to someone played by Alan Rickman who's something of a workaholic, and seduced into doing something foolish by one of his workers.

Then there's Colin Firth playing a writer whose wife cheats on him, and who then falls slowly for a European domestic worker who doesn't speak any English.  My favourite subplot of all, however, features Thomas Brodie-Sangster, whose name I did not recognise but whose face was familiar from such diverse productions as Nanny McFee and Doctor Who.  He plays a recently orphaned boy slowly getting to know his stepfather, and their scenes are, in my view, by far the most poignant and thoughtful of all.

A few of the subplots are light and amusing - particularly those with Bill Nighy as an aging rock-star, trying to produce a rather naff new Christmas song. There are some funny moments when Rowan Atkinson features as an over-enthusiastic shop assistant, too. Unfortunately, two of the other subplots seemed utterly pointless; the film, in my view, would have been a great deal better without them. I was particularly unimpressed with somewhat explicit scenes from a young couple who were supposedly making a porn film despite being very shy. It was somewhat gross rather than comedic - the US censors have given this film an R rating, which for once seems quite appropriate, although the more generous UK ones.

Possibly worse still was the most feeble thread featuring a nerdy guy whose name I have forgotten already, who wanted to get intimate with lots of girls - nothing whatsoever to do with love - and decided to travel to the US for this purpose.

Still, despite the two lame subplots, the acting is very well done, and despite the large cast it holds together in a way that works, and even I found myself keeping up with most of the storylines. While I'm not sure I'd watch it again, it made an enjoyable light evening's viewing.

Recommended guardedly, so long as you don't object to very explicit nudity and simulated sex.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

04 December 2012

The Gods Must be Crazy (starring N!xau, Marius Weyers and Sandra Prinsloo)

Although we've had this DVD for many years, it had not appealed to me and I had never seen it. Until last Sunday when some teenage friends came over, and chose this as their film of the evening.  I sat down to watch the beginning.. and soon found myself fascinated, drawn into the story.

The opening describes an idyllic society, where 'attachment parenting' is the norm, children get along, and there are no words for negative emotions such as anger or jealousy. One day a man from this society comes across an empty coke bottle, discarded from a small aeroplane.  They assume it must have been sent by the gods. At first people find constructive uses of the bottle - as a rolling pin, or a hammer, or for curing snakeskins...  but gradually, because there is only one, they start to fight, and experience anger and violence for the first time.

So after attempting in vain to get rid of it, Xi one of the bushmen, decides to walk to the ends of the earth to return it to the gods - a distance which he thinks could take as much as twenty days...

Meanwhile a young and attractive teacher (Sandra Prinsloo) is on her way to Botswana, and is going to be met by a rather klutzy scientist (Marius Weyers) in an ancient truck.

Meanwhile again, some guerillas try to assassinate the president. When they are afraid that they might be caught, they take some small children hostage

All these stories run alongside each other. Xi (played brilliantly by a real bushman called N!xau)  gradually meets people in so-called 'civilized society', as he travels to find the gods. It's all very confusing for him, and difficult to deal with - leading to some amusing moments, although the main humour, some of it almost slapstick, comes from the problems driving an ancient truck which will probably give up working altogether if it's ever allowed to stop.

The story could have been condescending, but the film really pokes fun at supposedly advanced civilization. The gentle bushman society is portrayed as ideal, and Xi adjusts well as he learns about life outside his home and the ways of white people.

I was surprised at how much I liked this film. It was very well done despite having been made on quite a low budget; it was a surprise hit in 1980, apparently.

There's a fascinating 'extra' on the DVD, interviewing some of the real bushmen actors - who were rather different from the people they portrayed, much happier about beginning to adopt technology and other western innovations.

The rating is PG in both US and UK; there's some minor bad language in appropriate places which might offend some parents, and also several shots of people in underwear, in awkward and amusing situations.  Unlikely to be of interest to anyone under the age of about ten or eleven.

Note that the DVD link to Amazon is for the dual edition including the sequel to this film. It's currently unavailable new in the US, so much better value from the UK (but note that not all US DVD players will play UK DVDs).

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

20 November 2012

My Big Fat Greek Wedding (starring Nia Vardalos)

It's very rare for me to re-watch films - at least, it has been. While I re-read favourite books fairly regularly, the imagery of movies tends to stay with me longer and I'm far less likely to think of seeing something I've seen before, unless it was twenty or more years ago in the cinema.

However, some teenage friends have started coming over a couple of times per month to watch films of their choice from our collection; time was limited on Sunday, and the choice was 'My Big Fat Greek Wedding', which I saw, for the second time, less than two years ago.  I thought I might get bored, or even drop off... but found that I enjoyed it very much indeed.

The story revolves around Tula (played exceptionally well by Nia Vardalos), a Greek girl living in the United States. Her family are loud, and cheerful, and hard-working; caricatured, perhaps, and yet there's a great deal that we recognise, after living for fifteen years in Cyprus, where culture is very similar to that of Greece. Tula is expected to marry a nice Greek boy and raise Greek babies...

However, Tula is something of a geek, and does not appear to attract any boys, Greek or otherwise. She works in her father's restaurant, but is frustrated that it's a dead-end job which doesn't begin to take account of her intelligence. With her mother's help, she persuades her father to let her enrol on a computer course and then to work in the family travel agency... where she meets and falls in love with Ian (John Corbett) a quiet, all-American white English teacher. He is a very nice guy indeed, but absolutely not what her parents were hoping for.

That, basically, is the story. A young girl's bid for independence, and breaking out of the family expectations and stereotypes. Of course it pokes fun at Greek culture; it also pokes fun at American culture (Ian's parents are unbelievably naive, and don't appear to know about anything beyond US borders).  Tula's father Gus (Michael Constantine - a Greek American by nationality) is absolutely brilliant in his exaggerated control of his family, his desire for tradition, yet with a deep love for all his family.  There are echoes of 'Fiddler on the Roof' in the story, as well as some very funny moments, no less amusing for knowing that they were coming.

I had forgotten a lot of the detail of this film, and found that I enjoyed it very much indeed. I'm a little surprised that it's only rated PG in both the UK and the US; the content would not be of much interest to anybody under the age of about 13 or 14, and although there's no nudity, bad language or sex, there is the end of a bedroom scene where it's very clear what has gone on - something which I would have expected to raise the rating to 12/PG-13.

All in all, I'd recommend it highly to teenagers and adults, particularly anyone who knows anything about Greek and American culture.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

05 November 2012

ET: The Extra-Terrestrial (starring Henry Thomas, Robert MacNaughton, Drew Barrymore and Dee Wallace)

I first saw ET when it was first out in the cinema, back in 1982. I had no idea what to expect, but fell quite in love with it. However, although some people went to see it several times, I didn't re-watch it at all. We bought the DVD about eight or nine years ago so that our sons could see it with their friends, and I watched it - or at least half-watched it - about six years ago. Yesterday evening we watched it again with some teenage friends.

The story is well-known: an odd-looking but lovable alien comes to earth to collect some plants, then accidentally gets left behind by his spaceship. He is taken in by a boy called Elliot, played absolutely brilliantly by Henry Thomas. Dubbed ET, the alien and Elliot get to know each other gradually, each developing trust in the other, and sharing an odd kind of psychic link. There's a poignancy in the friendship, as Elliot is a stressed, often lonely boy whose parents have recently separated. He's the middle child of three, teased by his brother (Robert MacNaughton) and sometimes irritated  by his small sister (a very young Drew Barrymore).

Unfortunately ET can't survive for long on earth; we never really discover why in any detail. Worse still, government officials want to capture him, worried about alien contamination, so that in the end the children have to fight to get him away.  I had forgotten most of the details of the story, and enjoyed it very much. I would have liked more scenes with Elliot and ET, and fewer of the later more tense ones that featured fast action - but the whole thing was brilliantly done, directed by Steven Speilburg, with a very moving end.

Supposedly this film is for children, with a PG rating on both sides of the Atlantic. This sounds about right, since it would be fine for many children of about nine or ten and upwards, but it would probably not be understood by much younger ones.

The edition we own is the 20th anniversary one, with an extra CD. We watched the 'creation of ET'afterwards, in which the stars and director were interviewed. It was amazing watching Henry Thomas's audition - his acting and emoting were outstanding for such a young boy - and also very interesting learning how ET himself was made before the days of CGI. The film had been digitally enhanced to take account of modern technology, and clear up a few minor glitches; seeing how it was done was fascinating, and certainly hadn't spoiled the film in any way.

Highly recommended.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

22 October 2012

Fiddler on the Roof (starring Topol)

About eight years ago, when we started collecting DVDs, 'Fiddler on the Roof' was on special offer.  I knew it was a classic, one of those musicals where I knew some of the songs, and had a vague idea of the storyline. I'm pretty sure I saw a stage version - maybe done at a school - when I was a teenager, but I had never seen the 1971 film production.

It's the story of a Jewish family living in Tzarist Russia at the beginning of the 20th century. Tevye, the star and narrator, is brilliantly portrayed by Topol; he's a likeable middle-aged peasant who has been married for twenty-five years and has five daughters.

Teyve pledges his oldest daughter to be married to the local widowed butcher who is wealthy, but not at all young or handsome. To his horror, his daughter pleads to be married instead to her childhood sweetheart. Teyve loves her, and wants her to be happy, so he agrees somewhat reluctantly… not realising the irony in that in marrying a nice Jewish boy whom he likes, she is being far more traditional than her younger sisters will prove to be...

For tradition is at the heart of the culture. The opening song glorifies the importance of tradition, which is how Teyve was raised, and how he expects his future to continue. Yet young people - most of all his daughters - are starting to query it. Concepts such as love are alien to Teyve; in the song quoted in 'love language' books, his wife lists the things she does for him, but is also a bit puzzled by the concept of love itself.

Teyve is a caring person, and is usually willing to listen;  sometimes he will change his viewpoint too, often in conjunction with a quick chat with God. This is done in a style that works well as little asides, as if he is thinking aloud, pondering the pros and cons of various options while his companions of the time are temporarily frozen.

'Fiddler on the Roof' is a long film, nearly three hours in all. The musical style, even the songs themselves seem old fashioned at times, yet the choreography is excellent, and the scenery gorgeous. The Russian army, eventually driving the Jews out, are shown in historical context, making this useful from a social history point of view, and overall there’s much to think about. At the end, which was almost too abrupt, seeing Teyve himself having to depart from his beloved tradition for many reasons, I found myself wishing it could be longer.


Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

08 October 2012

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (starring Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint)

Having decided to collect the Harry Potter DVDs and watch them, over a period of several months, we finally sat down to the fourth in the series on Sunday evening.

'Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire' is my least favourite of the books in the series. I haven't read it since 2005, but could remember most of the important plot points. It starts with some clear evidence of 'he-who-shall-not-be-named' seeking dark methods of returning to power. This is followed by the world Quidditch match, which doesn't much interest me. Most of the book, once the students have returned to Hogwarts, deals with the Tri-Wizard tournament - dangerous tasks between representatives of three different schools.

The ending of this book is particularly unpleasant and much darker than the previous novels; I didn't like it either of the times I had read it, and was not at all keen on seeing it on screen.

Still, the film is very well done, in my view. It keeps close to the plot of the book (or as much as I can remember, anyway) while - inevitably - cutting out some sequences, and cutting down on others. It's two and a half hours long, and quite intense. I felt myself quite tense at times. Some of the action scenes were so rapid that I had to close my eyes, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

I deliberately didn't watch most of the climax at the end, knowing what was coming. Just listening was more than sufficient - and it was well done.

The three main actors - Daniel Radcliffe as Harry, Emma Watson as Hermione, and Rupert Grint as Ron - were clearly growing with their roles, and did very well portraying 14-year-old teenagers, sometimes moody and suspicious, sometimes emotional, beginning to show an interest in the opposite sex. This facet isn't overdone at all; the film's 12 rating (US: PG-13) is no doubt due to the somewhat dark theme - even though actual violence is not extreme. A sensitive child could find it very frightening.

I don't watch enough movies to have got fully used to the way that actors pop up all over the place, sometimes in similar roles, but - more disturbingly - sometimes very different. Maggie Smith is excellent, as ever, as Professor McGonagall; we've been watching 'Downton Abbey' and were a little bemused by her being a dowager countess in that, but the characters are not dissimilar.

Robert Hardy as the Minister for Magic was a bit strange - we knew him better as Siegfried Farnon in 'All Creatures Great and Small' - but I was at least expecting that. However, we both found it quite disturbing that David Tennant - the wonderful Doctor Who - appeared as the evil Barty Crouch...

I think I would recommend this film overall, to anyone who likes the books or has seen the earlier films. It would rather be confusing for anyone who knew nothing about Harry Potter, however.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

24 September 2012

Doctor Who, The Complete Third Series (starring David Tennant and Freema Agyeman)

Reluctant though we were to get hooked on the 21st century incarnations of 'Doctor Who', the popular science fiction show that was so popular (and scary) in my childhood, we've just finished watching the third series, and are already looking forward to starting the fourth.

It took us about six months to watch our way through the thirteen episodes of Doctor Who series 1, but then managed  the similar length Doctor Who series 2 in just three months. Season 3, with fourteen episodes in all, has taken us nearly six months, although that's not for lack of interest.

This series was mostly broadcast in 2007, but begins with the 'Christmas Special' from the end of 2006 in which a young and rather angry bride finds herself unexpectedly transported to the Tardis. We weren't quite sure what to make of this, but very much enjoyed the next episode which introduced Freema Agyerman as Martha Jones, a medical student in a hospital which finds itself transported to the moon...

David Tennant continues as the tenth incarnation of the Doctor, and we found that we liked him more and more in the role as the series progessed. He has just the right amount of eccentricity verve; this series also gives him the opportunity to display his extensive skills as an actor. The two-part episide, 'Human Nature' and 'The Family of Blood' see the Doctor temporarily tranformed into a human, unaware - other than in his dreams - of any other existence.

Martha Jones becomes the Doctor's companion for the rest of this series, zooming around the universe from the past to the long distant future. We liked her very much better than Billie Piper as Rose; Martha is highly intelligent and motivated, and saves the Doctor's life more than once. Inevitably she, too, finds herself falling for the Doctor even though he's a time lord and can never settle down.

Martha's family are very upset about her taking off with the Doctor, suspicious and rather worried too... and there's an ongoing theme, seeing her mother reporting every phone call to a government agency, in scenes that  are not explained until everything falls into place in the final episode.

As for that final episode, it's a three-parter, which must have been quite frustrating when shown on television, with a week to wait in between each part. It was so tense that we had to watch all three parts in one evening, something we would not normally do! It introduces yet another adversary from the Doctor's past, and has some very tense, rapid scenes, as well as some moving moments... and what appears to us to be a strongly Messianic theme in the final part.

Thrown into the mix of the third season are a meeting with William Shakespeare, a rather scary two-part episode featuring evolving daleks, an elderly man after the secret of eternal youth, and some cryptic messages found on DVDs in a so-called 'Doctor-lite' episode which was very thought-provoking in terms of time travel.

All in all, we thought this an excellent season.

Note: Despite being rated PG in the UK, I wouldn't really recommend this for anyone under the age of about nine or ten; some of the concepts are quite complex, and while there's no bad language or gore, or indeed anything else to warrant a higher rating, there's a lot that might give nightmares to a sensitive child.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

17 August 2012

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (starring Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint)

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is one of my favourite books of the brilliant series by JK Rowling. However, I didn't see the film when it first came out in 2004.  I'm not a fan of cinema, and I'm easily scared. The thought of seeing dementors on the big screen was enough to put me off entirely.

However we picked up the DVD cheaply a couple of years ago, and decided to collect the whole series. We watched 'Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone' in April, and 'Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets' just a few weeks ago. A teenage friend pointed out that on-screen dementors could not possibly more scary than those of the imagination, and I decided she was probably right.

So, in a free evening, we sat down to watch 'Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban'.  The story starts with Harry getting into trouble, yet again, at his awful relatives' home. He becomes angry when they make rude remarks about his parents, and ends up walking out of the house dragging his school trunk. He's picked up by the 'Night Bus' and taken - after a somewhat hair-raising ride - to Diagon Alley, where he is reunited with his friends... and also warned about an escaped and dangerous convict, Sirius Black.

Three main teenage cast are superb in this film. I was particularly impressed with Rupert Grint as Ron, but all three really do carry this story forward, with excellent on-screen chemistry as they begin to mature in their roles.

Hagrid (Robbie Coltraine) has a bigger role in this film, and is great too. He plays the gentle giant to perfection, and I can't now think of Hagrid as being anyone else. Snape (Alan Rickman) is spookily nasty too.

Professor Lupin, a new teacher in this book, was a bit of a surprise at first.  David Thewlis is excellent in the role, but does not look or behave at all how I had imagined him. Still, I liked him very much by the end. Professor Trelawney, is played in an over-the-top way by Emma Thompson; I got the impression from the books that JK Rowling didn't like her or her subject much, and she's done well, suitably over-dramatic and unbelievable.

The special effects are excellent, smooth and highly professional. The hippogriff seemed particularly realistic, and the various flights and other effects were very well done. The dementors were suitably unpleasant, but thankfully not quite the nightmares I had imagined. Gary Oldman as Sirius Black was exactly how I expected him to be, at first, even if the later scenes were a little too fast and didn't quite work.

My only problem with the casting was Robert Hardy as Cornelius Fudge, Minister of Magic. I spent most of his scenes trying to remember who on earth he was, and only later realised that he is, of course, Siegfried Farnon from the 'All Creatures Great and Small' series. He not only looked like him, but behaved like him.

This film was certainly worth watching, and I enjoyed it as part of the series.

However, this was a much more visual film than either of the first two. There seemed to be huge swathes of the book left out; it's probably a good thing that I haven't read it for several years, as I'm not currently familiar with all the details of the book, so was able to watch the film in its own merit.

But it was disturbing that there was so little dialogue, and that the film felt very short.  Despite this there were rather tediously over-long visual scenes of (for instance) Harry flying on the hippogriff, or Quidditch games, which added nothing to the storyline.

Some critics have said that this film was 'darker' than the first two; perhaps it is, but then so is the book. I didn't have a problem with that. But I would have preferred more action and speech and considerably less of the visual side. Had I not been aware of the overall plot, I'm not sure I would have followed it.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

01 August 2012

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (starring Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson)

I did see the first two Harry Potter films at the cinema when they came out at the start of the century. But it's only more recently that we've collected most of them on DVD, and plan to watch them in order. We saw 'Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone' back in April, but have only just got around to watching the second in the series, 'Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets'.

I have, of course have read the 'Chamber of Secrets' book several times, though not for a while. So while I remembered the overall plot, I was a bit hazy about some of the details when we sat down to watch the DVD.

As with the first film, the story starts with Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) at home with his appalling relatives who still treat him like dirt. He's looking forward to his second year at Hogwarts, although feeling rather neglected by his friends. Then he receives an unexpected visitor: Dobby the house-elf, who is superbly represented in the film, much as I had imagined him from the book.

Dobby has no self-esteem whatsoever and keeps punishing himself loudly for every minor infraction. However he is a huge fan of Harry's, and wants to keep him away from school because, he says, it will be very dangerous. So he causes all manner of trouble trying to ensure that Harry is either prevented from going, or - later on - sent home.

The main plot revolves around the 'Chamber of Secrets' which is a hidden part of Hogwarts School. It had been closed for many years but has apparently been re-opened, although nobody knows who was the culprit. Harry becomes increasingly worried because he can hear strange voices that nobody else can hear, and discovers that his gift of speaking to snakes is not a respected talent in the wizarding world.

There are plenty of other subplots, lots of excitement and tension, and a highly dramatic climax. Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) remain as Harry's most important allies, and it's good to see their characters developing in this film. There's a nice speech by Professor Dumbledore (Richard Harris) towards the end, including a very important line about the reason why he is in Gryffindor house.

It's hard to be fully objective about a film series which is so well-known and which has been so surrounded by hype. But, trying to look at it fairly with the benefit of hindsight, it was hard to find anything wrong with this film. There's an excellent cast who play their parts well, great direction, and some light humour to temper the drama.

We even remembered to watch the few seconds of 'extra' at the end of the credits, and liked being able to 'fast forward' through them, which of course was not possible at the cinema.

Definitely recommended, other than to small children who might find it over-scary.

While this can still be found as a single DVD, new or second-hand, enthusiasts wanting more than one of the Harry Potter books might do better to buy the Harry Potter Collection - 1-6. which contains all but the last two in the series.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

20 July 2012

Father of the Bride (starring Steve Martin, Diane Keaton and Kimberly Williams)

Back in 2007, I watched the original black-and-white version of 'Father of the Bride' on an aeroplane. I liked it very much, and a year or two ago looked for it on Amazon. I couldn't find a reasonable edition of the original DVD, but liked the sound of the 1991 update, particularly since it stars Steve Martin.

We finally sat down to watch it on our anniversary, which seemed like a suitable occasion. I gather that some purists don't like the updated version, feeling it's too different from the original (starring Spencer Tracy). I might have felt the same way if I had watched them within a few months of each other, but with nearly six years' gap I was able to enjoy this with only the most general idea of the storyline.

Steve Martin is, in my view, wonderful as the hapless father, who begins the movie - as in the original version - surveying the chaos that has ensued after his daughter's wedding. Then as he thinks back, the story moves to the time, some months previously, when Annie (Kimberly Williams) returned from college and announced that she had fallen in love...

It’s nicely done with plenty of modern updates. Martin's ideas of a simple wedding, once he finally accepts that it IS going to happen, are gradually eroded by Annie and also his long-suffering wife (Diane Keaton is excellent in the role). From the time they decide to take on a wedding organiser (brilliantly - and bizarrely - played by Martin short)he is reduced to counting the rapidly increasing costs, and giving up on any personal input.

I'm sure the details are very different from the original, but they work well in the context of the 1990s. There are some great choreographed scenes showing Steve Martin at his best. His son Matthew is nicely played by Kieran Culkin, and the family life is shown as strong and closely attached despite the father's obvious eccentricities. It felt warm and encouraging throughout.

There's lots of light humour, a great pace, and then the ending was every bit as moving as I remember the original version being.

Definitely recommended.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

03 July 2012

Heidi [2005] (starring Emma Bolger and Max von Sydow)

I have loved the classic children’s story ‘Heidi’ for many years, so when I learned that there was a fairly recent film adaptation of the book, I thought I'd put it on my wishlist.

While I haven't read the book for many years now, my initial impression was that this 2005 version of 'Heidi' was pretty close to the original. Having said that, there were a few odd digressions - the 'Alm Uncle' being referred to as 'Uncle Alp', for one thing, and the goats' names being changed - both so minor as to seem rather pointless to have changed, although I'm not such a pedant as to worry over-much.

Still, the basic plot follows that of the book pretty well. Orphaned Heidi (Emma Bolger) is taken by her aunt to stay with her grumpy grandfather (Max von Sydow) when nobody else wants her. He isn't keen at first, but they grow to love each other, and Heidi makes friends with the goatherd Peter (Sam Friend).

Then, out of the blue, Heidi's aunt returns and snatches her away, to become a companion to the wealthy but disabled Clara. There, Heidi has her first taste of fine living, befriends people of all classes, and takes the fancy of Clara's grandmother...

The scenery is stunning at times, but the pace is a bit slow; it's not that I wanted to rush through the film, but there were times when almost nothing seemed to be happening. Moreoever, although the adults were well in character - I particularly liked Heidi's grandfather, and also the delightfully horrible Miss Rottenmeier (Geraldine Chaplin)- , we found the child actors disappointing. Peter was mostly believable, but Clara (Jessica Claridge) seemed rather twee and unreal, and Heidi herself, though believable in places, seemed over-done, with exaggerated yawns and tears at times, and little show of emotion in general. I wasn't worried by the faint Irish accent which came through, but it did seem rather incongruous.

Still, overall we thought this a likeable film which would probably be enjoyed by children of any age who have enjoyed the classic book.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

27 June 2012

Where Angels Fear to Tread (starring Helena Bonham Carter and Rupert Graves)

I assume that Amazon recommended this film to me, some time ago, because I told them that I enjoyed 'Room with a View'. Or perhaps it was due to my liking films with some of the same actresses in. It's perhaps a pity that I didn't read the reviews more carefully; while most of them are high, I should have taken note of the mention of 'tragedy' which might have put me off.

'Where Angels Fear to Tread' is an adaptation of another of EM Forster's novels, although I haven't read it. And am not inspired to do so having watched the film. It's set in the early part of the 19th century, initially in the UK, and the majority in Italy. I found it difficult to get into - the sound quality of our DVD isn't that great, so it was hard to catch some of the conversation, but I got the gist of it. The recently widowed and rather strong-willed Lilia (Helen Mirren) is going on holiday in Italy with a rather serious companion, her friend Caroline (Helena Bonham Carter). Lilia's daughter Irma is to stay behind with her somewhat snooty in-laws.

Letters start to arrive, culminating in one announcing that Lilia has fallen in love and is getting married. Her hapless brother-in-law Philip (nicely played by Julian Graves) is sent out to stop this shocking event, only to find that he's too late. And then Lilia, past the first passionate stages of married life, discovers that life as an Italian wife is even more restrictive than it was in the UK.

So far so good. There are some mildly amusing moments and plenty of attractive scenery, as well as some nice Italian (and British) stereotypes of the era.  The cast are believable (albeit difficult to hear) and my only real annoyance in the first part of the film is that despite several conversations in Italian, there are no available subtitles on the DVD. I did frequently find myself confusing Caroline with Helena Bonham Carter's character Lucy in 'Room with a View' even though they have rather different personalities - but despite Caroline supposedly being rather dowdy, they looked very similar.

Unfortunately, the second part of the film features increasing tragedy, peppered with violence and sadness. Again I'm sure I missed quite a bit of the subtleties with the poor soundtrack (Helena Bonham Carter, quietly spoken anyway, is particularly difficult to hear) but the overall storyline was clear - and quite depressing. Even the ending was somewhat without hope. Perhaps it reflects real life, but I prefer films that provide positive escapism.

I was surprised to find that in both the UK and US, the rating is PG. Quite apart from the subject-matter being unsuitable for children, there was more violence than I was comfortable watching, and one decidedly intimate scene which admittedly did not show anything directly, but implied a great deal. I would rate this at least 12/PG-13.

Not a film I expect to watch again. But that's just my personal taste - others rate it highly, and it certainly has a high quality cast.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

22 June 2012

Shakespeare in Love (starring Joseph Fiennes and Gwyneth Paltrow)

We weren't entirely sure what to expect from 'Shakespeare in Love', but it was recommended to us by several friends. It sat on our to-be-watched shelf for some time until we pulled it out to see this week. We wondered if it might be based on real events, but soon realised that, while set in Elizabethan England and featuring some real people (including Her Majesty), the entire storyline was fictitious.

The plot revolves around Will Shakespeare as a young man, brilliantly portrayed by Joseph Fiennes. He's written a few good plays - though nothing really outstanding - but is much fonder of wine and women than he is of writing. Besides, he seems to have a case of writers' block, not helped by pressure from the theatre owners who are themselves under pressure from debt-collectors. The plague has had devastating effects on entertainment, and there are those who would love to see the theatres closed.

Despite the rather sordid background, and one of two decidedly unpleasant scenes, this is a fairly light-hearted look at the period. It was a bonus to discover that the first Queen Elizabeth was played by Judi Dench, who seemed entirely at home in the role in a variety of stunning costumes, with some delightful dry humour.

Meanwhile Lady Viola (Gwyneth Paltrow), a spirited young theatre-goer, finds herself pledged by her father to be married to someone she barely knows (Colin Firth as a rather unappealing suitor, Lord Wessex). Viola dresses up as a young boy and auditions for one of Shakespeare's plays... something that would have been quite shocking at the time. Even more shocking for an upper-class lady, she falls in love with Will and a passionate affair begins... alongside rehearsals for the new play which he is writing. It started out as 'Romeo and Ethel the Pirate's Daughter' but gradually changes as his affair progresses.

There humour is understated but undoubtedly there, making me smile several times. There's inevitably some hot-blooded romance although nothing actually explicit; we didn't notice any seriously bad language at all. The UK rating of 15 seems about right although I wouldn't have been surprised if it were only 12; the more prudish US censors have set it at R (18). I'd have thought this would be a good way for teenagers struggling with Shakespeare at high school to see him as a real person in context, and understand a little more of the way that his plays were written and acted.

The production is lavishly done with wonderful settings and costumes, the whole being a very enjoyable film which well deserved its many awards.  We watched one of the extras too, with some of the cast and writers talking about the way the film was made - very interesting.


Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

22 May 2012

Just Like Heaven (starring Reese Witherspoon and Mark Ruffalo)

I really don't know how 'Just Like Heaven' arrived on my Amazon wishlist. Perhaps it was recommended to me as a 'romantic comedy', since I tend to like that genre of movie. It can't have been due to the actors involved, since I didn't know of any of them. I was given it for my birthday, and we watched it last night.

The film opens with several scenes from a busy hospital, showing Elizabeth (brilliantly played by Reese Witherspoon) as a young, keen doctor who is extremely good with patients, but lives as a workaholic, devoting far too many hours to her career with no social life at all.

Her sister Abby (Dina Waters) wants to set her up with a date, but Elizabeth doesn't think she has time. However, she finally finishes her 26+ hour shift, and sets off in the rain, talking on her mobile phone... and, unsurprisingly, a terrible crash happens.

I hadn't read any summaries of the plot, which meant that I was a little confused when the action switched to that of a young landscape gardener called David (Mark Ruffalo) looking for an apartment to rent. He finally chooses one he likes - after fate takes something of a hand - but after settling down finds himself apparently haunted by the previous owner - Elizabeth - who is convinced that she has not in fact died - although she can't remember much at all about her life.

They begin with hostility, each claiming ownership of the flat, which gradually turns to wary friendship. David agrees eventually to try and find out who Elizabeth is and what happened to her... and while the ending is somewhat predictable, the route to get there is sometimes unexpected, sometimes amusing, sometimes quite thought-provoking.

The chemistry between the two main cast works extremely well, and there are some excellent supporting actors too. The whole is only an hour and a half long, but I felt quite drawn into the story, wondering what the outcome would be, almost believing in the somewhat unlikely plot premise.

The UK rating is PG, which seemed about right - there's nothing explicit, and almost no bad language, although there are some implied sexual references. The US rating is a somewhat stricter PG-13.

Overall. we both enjoyed it very much. The DVD comes with extras including a 'making of', 'meet the cast', and some deleted scenes.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

08 May 2012

Pretty Woman (starring Julia Roberts and Richard Gere)

Years ago someone suggested I might like the film 'Pretty Woman'. I didn't really know anything about it, but like Julia Roberts as an actress, and so it went on our wishlist. And sat on our unwatched-DVD-shelf for probably a couple of years before we decided to see it earlier this week.

What an incredible film it is! It's basically the story of a somewhat ruthless American millionaire  businessman who stops to ask for directions in a backstreet, and ends up paying for the services of a prostitute for a week. Which sounds extremely sordid.. but isn't. In fact it's rather less sordid than the 1960s film 'Never on Sunday', which is only rated PG in the UK, and not at all in the US.  By contrast, 'Pretty Woman', which likewise implies 'adult' content, is rated 15 in the UK and an even stricter R (18) in the US.  Yet there are no explicit scenes, no full-frontal nudity, almost no violence (certainly nothing gory), and surprisingly little bad language. Had we been the censors, we would have opted for '12' (or PG-13) on both.

As for the film itself - Richard Gere stars as the wealthy Edward, but was in my view one of the weaker characters. He's not bad - but his character didn't seem much different from that of the journalist in Runaway Bride.  He's quite likeable, but I never found him entirely believable either as a cutthroat businessman, or as someone likely to hire a prostitute - though he does express reservations for a while.

However,  Julia Roberts as Vivian is absolutely incredible. She totally makes this film, and apparently it's a significant role in terms of turning her into a star. I'm not surprised. When we first meet her on the streets, it was difficult even to recognise her.  Then the changes in her as she enjoys a life of luxury for a week are gradual but realistic.. and while the ending is perhaps a little surreal, it's eminently satisfying.

We thought that Hector Elizondo as the discreet hotel manager Barney was also excellent. His expressions were exactly right, his attitude to Vivien refreshing, and he was responsible for several lightly humorous moments in this film which we greatly appreciated.

I have to admit that it took me until the following morning to realise that the story is, essentially, that of Pygmalion - or the better-known 'My Fair Lady', set in 1990s Los Angeles... I assume that the title 'Pretty Lady', which out of context is rather feeble, was deliberately intended as a connection to the musical.

Overall, the pace is great, the story powerful and the directing works very well. I found this film totally engrossing once I got into it, and am only sorry we didn't see it sooner!

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

23 April 2012

A Simple Twist of Fate (starring Steve Martin)

Amazon often recommends DVDs to me based upon those I have already put on my wishlist, or which I have rated highly in their system. I have enjoyed several films featuring Steve Martin, so when this one appeared as a recommendation - and was highly rated by reviewers - I assumed it was a light comedy in the style, perhaps, of Parenthood or Roxanne.

So 'A Simple Twist of Fate' went on my wishlist, and I was pleased to receive it for my recent birthday. The cover does nothing to dispel the idea that this film is a light comedy - it shows Steve Martin (as Michael) looking quirky, with a cute child (Mathilda) at his feet. I gathered that the plot revolved around these two getting together in some way...

So it was a bit of a shock when the early part of the film was a long way removed from a comedy. The
first part is - basically - one tragedy after another, including adultery, poverty, drug addiction, burglary, blackmail, a car crash... we began to wonder what we were letting ourselves in for!

When Michael and Mathilda meet, the film does lighten up somewhat and there are some amusing scenes - as well as some very tense ones. Steve Martin is excellent in the quirky comedy line, and some of his ideas for parenting are decidedly wacky. But he raises a good daughter... perhaps too well, since her real father decides to try and woo his daughter. Which means that the final part of the film is a somewhat moving (and somewhat distressing, at times) court scene.

Overall, we thought it an excellent film, once we had realised that it wasn't quite the genre we were expecting. Steve Martin is superb in the role of Michael who seems to have lost everything until little Mathilda walks into his life; the various actresses who play her at different ages do extremely well, and the supporting cast are believable too. Although the early scenes were perhaps too awful for enjoyment, we thought that overall it was very well done, with quite a thought-provoking plot and a satisfying (if macabre) ending.

What surprised us was that the UK rating for this film was only PG. The US rating of PG-13 seems more appropriate. Admittedly there is no bad language, no actual violence and no scenes of intimacy... but the subject matter of the first part of the film could be very disturbing to a young child.

Recommended to adults and teenagers.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

03 April 2012

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (starring Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson)

We saw this film back in 2001 when it was in the cinemas. It's one of a handful that I've wanted to see on the 'big screen' in the past fifteen years or so, and I felt it was well worthwhile. I had already read 'Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone' a couple of times, and thought it an excellent book. I was a little concerned that the movie version might stray from the plot, but knew that JK Rowling had a hand in it. I was pleased to discover that it did, indeed, keep pretty close to the storyline.

We got hold of the DVD a year or two ago, and it's been watched by some friends, but it's only recently that we decided to watch the entire series - gradually - at home. We actually took two evenings over this one, separated by nearly a week; it's a long film (two and a half hours) and despite being a children's book for which I knew the plot well, I found it a bit tense in places.

The plot of this first Harry Potter story is well-known. Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), adopted as a baby by his rather unpleasant aunt and uncle, is treated like a servant by them, and bullied by his ghastly cousin Dudley. They do all they can to make him 'normal', but genetics win out.. and on Harry's 11th birthday he is collected by the friendly - and enormous - Hagrid, and taken to Hogwarts School for trainee wizards.

Harry quickly becomes friends with the impoverished Ron (Rupert Grint) and the brainy Hermione (Emma Watson), while becoming less popular with some of the other students. Despite his unpleasant upbringing, and total lack of knowledge about anything magical, he displays an unusual talent for the school game of Quidditch (played on broomsticks) and also an amazing integrity and loyalty, and a willingness to defeat evil.

The three children were superbly cast, with great chemistry which develops as they get to know each other better. Dumbledore (Richard Harris) was perhaps a bit too softly spoken, but looked the part entirely; Snape (Alan Rickman) was suitably sneering and unpleasant. The message of the book - that love overcomes everything, that integrity and honesty are the most important traits - comes through clearly, and I found myself gripped, almost as if I did not know what was coming.

There are some scary moments towards the end, and a little minor bad language, so the rating for this film is PG in both the US and UK. For some reason the book (and film) were re-titled as 'Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone' in the US.

Highly recommended. (Note that, while it is widely available, both new and second-hand, the best value DVDs tend to be in box sets with some of the others in the Harry Potter series.)

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

26 March 2012

Doctor Who, season 2 (starring David Tennant and Billie Piper)

We were reluctant watchers, initally, of the new Doctor Who TV series (started in 2005). Our sons persuaded us at least to try out the new style, high-graphic storyline-intensive series and recommended beginning at the start with the relevant DVDs.

So we bought Doctor Who season 1, and watched it, off and on, through the latter part of 2011. We did like it, but I'm not sure that we would ever have progressed on had it not been for one of our sons spotting four out of the five series 2 DVDs on a church bookstall. So we paid a grand total of four euros for them, ordered the remaining one online, and have just completed watching Season 2 in three months.

I wasn't at all sure that I would like a new Doctor Who after just one season with Christopher Eccleston. He was a very good choice, and the ending of season 1 was rather over-dramatic. However, we were very quickly impressed by David Tennant, who stars in Season 2 as the tenth incarnation of the Doctor. In the early episode, he somehow succeeds in acting as if he were Christopher Eccleston - he pulls some of the same expressions, uses the same catchphrases, and relates to his companion Rose (Billie Piper) in the same kind of way. This gradually eases off, but the transition worked extremely well and we quickly became fans of David Tennant as the Doctor.

The early episodes, story-wise, are a bit of a mixed bunch. We rather liked the third one, 'Tooth and Claw' where they meet a very believable Queen Victoria (Pauline Collins), despite it having some frightening moments. I also very much enjoyed 'School Reunion', where one of the Doctor's previous companions, Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen) re-appears, along with her wonderful mechanical dog, K9, whom I had totally forgotten about.

On the other hand, warned by one of our sons, we did not watch the two-part story 'The Impossible Planet' and 'The Satan Pit', warned that if we found earlier ones scary, we would have nightmares from these two. It was not a difficult decision since neither of us like horror at all. It was bad enough to see the Doctor's old enemies, daleks and cybermen, arise afresh in other storylines!

Yesterday evening we ensured that we had time to watch the final two episodes of Season 2, knowing that they were another two-part story. I'm glad we did, since the first of the two ('Army of Ghosts') ended with a terrifying cliff-hanger. Still, despite the Doctor's worst enemies all appearing, there was some light humour in the episode which helped us relax, and the second part was gripping.

We knew it was to be Billie Piper's last appearance, and felt that it was very well done. Rose's mother Jackie (Camille Coduri) plays a bigger part in this than she had done previously, and I was pleased to see Rose's old boyfriend Mickey (Noel Clarke) make a re-appearance. However, the ending was such that I can't see any possibility of Rose or any of her family appearing again.

Then again, one never knows...

I think we're now established as fans, at least in a low-key way, of the new-series Doctor Who. We've already bought Season 3 and look forward to watching it soon.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

23 March 2012

Danielle Steel's 'Secrets' (starring Christopher Plummer, Linda Purl and Gary Collins)

Danielle Steel is a very popular novelist, although I was not particularly impressed with either of the books I have read by her, so far. I don't suppose it would ever have occurred to me to get hold of a DVD of an adaptation of one of her books, but we were given this - a freebie from a weekend newspaper in the UK - by a relative. It has sat on our shelves for quite some time, but last night we finally sat down to watch it.

'Secrets' is set in Hollywood, and is the story of a group of people who get together to make the pilot series of a new TV show called 'Manhattan'. The director, and really the star of the whole film, is called Mel - nicely played by Christopher Plummer in a role that seemed to suit him well.

The cast he gets together are a somewhat caricatured and unlikely mix. There's Sabina (Stephanie Beacham) who really doesn't like TV, but very much likes Mel, and yet keeps popping off to San Francisco for some purpose which is not revealed until the end. There's Jane (Linda Purl) who is in a horribly abusive marriage. There's Zack (Gary Collins), a likeable guy who becomes quite protective of Jane, yet evidently has a worrying secret of his own. There's Gaby, apparently a diva, who turns out to be rather wealthy, and Bill (Ben Browder) whose wife is a druggie.

Somehow all these confused and hurting people manage to create a show that is a terrific hit, and the movie shows the filming interspersed with scenes from their increasingly unpleasant private lives. The movie was well done in a 1990s kind of way (I had thought it earlier) but the story itself is artificial, with exaggerated traits in all the cast, and a tidy, predictable outcome. There seems to be rather a lot of bedroom scenes; they're fairly subtly done with no nudity as such, but by the end had become somewhat tediously repetitive.

It wasn't a bad film, if a bit depressing in places; I thought Christopher Plummer held it all together very well, and the ending was at least positive, if unlikely. But the story felt too plastic to be interesting; perhaps it somewhat reflects life in Hollywood, but the characters did not seem believable in the ways they behaved. I was not at all inspired to get hold of the book.

Oh, and there was a very odd start and end to the film, featuring Danielle Steel herself thanking the viewers for watching - I expect she's a very nice person, but these parts were cringeworthy, and very offputting. Perhaps they were put on the DVD for the freebie version.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

13 March 2012

Moonstruck (starring Cher and Nicholas Cage)

I'm not sure how 'Moonstruck' found its way to my wishlist; perhaps it was recommended because I've enjoyed other films of similar genre. Perhaps it was because I've rated highly a couple featuring Olympia Dukakis. Perhaps it was just random. Whatever the reason, I'm glad I was given it; we watched it last night, and enjoyed it very much.

It's a film about Italian Catholics in the USA, made in 1987 and I assume contemporary for the time. I suppose vinyl records were still played in that era. It stars Cher as Loretta, a rather down-to-earth bookkeeper, whose husband died suddenly seven years previously. I had not previously thought of Cher as an actress, but she plays the part very well.

Loretta decides that she will accept a marriage proposal from the middle-aged Johnny (Danny Aiello), an old friend whom she likes but does not love. He doesn't seem particularly keen to make any arrangements, but she is determined to do the wedding 'properly'. He hurries away to the deathbed of his mother, instructing Loretta, at the last moment, to get in touch with his estranged brother Ronny (Nicholas Cage). Loretta does just that…

The film is good fun, quite engrossing, if caricatured. The box said it would be a 'comedy', but it was mildly amusing rather than hilarious, with some comic moments. However there are also some bittersweet parts, and some quite thought-provoking scenes which are far from funny. We liked the almost farcical scenes of confusion and misunderstanding which develop towards the end.

All in all, 'Moonstruck' was nicely done, the characters not too extreme or unbelievable (despite the plot being a little extreme in places) and there was a good, encouraging ending.

Recommended. It's rated PG in both the US and UK, with nothing unsuitable for children, but the content would not really be of any interest to a child.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

27 February 2012

Driving Miss Daisy (starring Jessica Tandy and Morgan Freeman)

This is another of those films which Amazon must have recommended to me - possibly because of the actors in it - and which I was given by one of my relatives. It's sat on our unwatched-DVD-shelf for some time, but we decided to see it with a friend a couple of evenings ago. I don't usually watch this many films in a month, but the blurb on the back suggested that this would be a gentle and undemanding story.

'Driving Miss Daisy' proved to be exactly that. We first meet Miss Daisy (Jessica Tandy), an elderly Jewish widow, when she has a little prang with her car. She wants to keep her independence, but cannot get car insurance. Her son (Dan Aykroyd) tries in vain to reason with her, then goes ahead and employs an African-American chauffeur called Hoke (Morgan Freeman) for her.

The film is set initially in the 1940s, in the American South. While Miss Daisy insists that she is not prejudiced, there's an overt difference between her and her black cook Idella (Esther Rolle), and she really does not want a chauffeur of any kind. She reluctantly agrees to let him drive her car, but the relationship is often rather strained at first.

Jessica Tandy is superb in the title role, which she filmed when she was 80 according to the brief ‘making of’ extra. During the course of the movie she starts as a sprightly woman of around 70 and eventually becomes very frail, approaching 90. She is entirely believable as both. Freeman, too, is excellent as Hoke, surprisingly confident and determined, while aware all the time of his 'place'.

There's not much action, or indeed plot. However, this is a wonderful, character-driven gentle film that was engrossing. There were a few humorous moments too, and some poignancy when it became clear (though never fully spelled out) that both the main characters were sometimes the subjecs of prejudice.

My one problem with this film was that the Southern accents were so strong that I could not understand a lot of the dialogue, particularly that spoken by Hoke. As it turned out, it didn’t matter too much, but was frustrating at first; so much so that we even wondered if we could switch on sub-titles, but they were not available with the DVD.

Definitely recommended.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

23 February 2012

Must Love Dogs (starring Diane Lane, John Cusack and Dermot Mulroney)

I'm not quite sure why 'Must Love Dogs' appeared on my wishlist; probably Amazon recommended it to me, based on other films I had rated and enjoyed. The reviews sounded reasonably positive, and it's in the light-hearted romantic genre, so I was pleased to receive it as a gift for Christmas.

So, with a free evening last night, we sat down to watch this with a guest. We expected something fluffy that would not require much thought, and, indeed, that's what we got.

The plot is about Sarah (Diane Lane) who is recently divorced. She works as a pre-school teacher, and is happy enough. However, she's part of quite a big extended family, who think she must be desperate for romance, so try to set her up with other men. Her family includes a womanising father (played by an aging Christopher Plummer) and a busybody sister Carol (Elizabeth Perkins) who sets Sarah up on a matchmaking website.

Of course, not all the guys who get in touch with Sarah are suitable... we see cameos of various dates with caricatured bores, geeks and even one who bursts into tears every couple of minutes. Sarah really isn't interested in another guy; she prefers to hang out with some safe gay friends who reassure and comfort her.

However, there are two rather nice men Sarah comes across who do appeal – the ‘incorrigible’ Bob, father of one of her students, and Jake, a perfectionist boat-builder who doesn’t seem able to make a sale. It's not immediately obvious which one she was going to end up with, although it soon became clear.

There were a few dogs thrown into the mixture, some lines that made us smile, and a happy, if predictable ending. All in all, 'Must love dogs' was a pleasant evening’s viewing.

Rated 12 in the UK, PG-13 in the US, probably due to repeated references to sex. However, there is nothing explicit in the film, no nudity, no violence, and - unusually - we didn't notice any bad language.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

12 February 2012

Mrs 'Arris goes to Paris (starring Angela Lansbury)

I'm not entirely sure how this particular DVD ended up on my wishlist; possibly it was recommended to me by Amazon because I so much enjoyed the TV adaptation of 'The Shell Seekers' which starred Angela Lansbury. Lansbury stars as a very different elderly woman in 'Mrs 'Arris goes to Paris', and does so with equal aplomb.

Mrs Ada Harris is a London charlady, and one of her clients is a wealthy duchess. Ada's aesthetic longings are triggered by seeing a couple of Dior dresses. Shocked to hear their approximate cost, she nonetheless is determined to have one for herself, despite her friends telling her to stop being silly. She saves every penny she can for three years, cutting back on all non-essentials, and then takes off for Paris with her hard-earned cash in a bag.

Unprepared for the world of fashion, Mrs Harris discovers that she can't just choose a dress and buy it off the shelf. Angela Lansbury shows her confusion, her hurt as she is almost turned away, and also her indomitable spirit. Ada is a likeable, friendly woman who endears herself to almost everyone around her, including catching the fancy of a lonely Marquis, played charmingly by Omar Sharif. There are those who don't like her, who are shown as caricatured snobs... but with those she cares for, Mrs Harris spreads an almost magical sparkle, bringing people together and encouraging them to see beyond their problems.

In one sense it's a silly and materialistic plot, but the film is delightful; beautifully done, showing the importance of holding onto one's dreams. Originally made for TV in 1992, it's set in the 1950s and feels more that era. Poignant in places, there are a few very funny moments too.

Rated PG in the UK, I can't think of any reason why it wouldn't have a U rating (in the US it does have a G rating). Definitely recommended.

(Note that the link to Amazon US is for the VHS version of this, as it does not seem to be available there on DVD).

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

07 February 2012

Film review: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader [Chronicles of Narnia: 3] (starring Georgie Henley and Skandar Keynes)

Having finally watched the second 'Chronicles of Narnia' film (Prince Caspian) last week, we decided to watch the third in the sequence, 'The Voyage of the Dawn Treader', which I was also given for Christmas.

It's many years since I read the book - probably the last time was when I read it aloud to my sons, at least twelve years ago. But I re-read it many times as a child and young adult, and know the story well. It begins with Lucy and Edmund, the two younger Pevensie children, staying with their somewhat ghastly relatives, including their young cousin Eustace. He is taunting them when a picture of a boat comes to life, and they are drawn into the scene, finding themselves in Narnia - or, rather, sailing away from Narnia on a quest with their old friend Caspian.

The quest is to find seven lost lords who were exiled some years previously. The crew visit various islands, with some exciting adventures along the way. Eustace is obnoxiously awful at first, but a dramatic experience improves his character enormously.

At first, the film version - with Georgie Henley as Lucy, and Skandar Keynes as Edmund, a little older than in the previous films - stays fairly close to the book, at least, as far as my memory goes. However there are some rather odd extra themes thrown in - such as a green fog, the 'dark', which threatens to overtake everyone. I suppose it helped to show the rise of evil in a visual way, and I wouldn't have had too much of a problem with that - but for the fact that this 'dark' can only be conquered by seven swords being placed on Aslan's table... a storyline which does not exist at all in the book, and seemed rather pointless.

The book, at one meta level, is about each individual's responsibility for their own actions and behaviour, and the ease with which we fall into temptation (Edmund wanting to be in charge, Lucy wanting to be beautiful, Eustace being generally horrible) and the need for everyone to overcome their failings and errors individually. The idea of a 'dark' which can be conquered by magic swords rather misses the point, in my view.

There were, of course, other deviations from the story, but they were less significant and we could see why they were done. Afterwards we watched a few deleted scenes which were truer to the book, but which, we could see, would not really have added anything to the story. I just wish they had also cut one or two of the fighting scenes that were included.

However, overall, we thought that 'The Voyage of the Dawn Treader' was very well done. Eustace (Will Poulter) is wonderfully done, quite believably dreadful - arrogant, bullying and generally rude - and his eventual transformation seems quite believable. Reepicheep the mouse is brilliant - modern technology makes the talking animals seem almost realistic, and Reepicheep's character comes through delightfully.

Definitely worth seeing for anyone who has enjoyed the books, or who has seen the earlier films. It makes sense on its own, but I would recommend watching 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe' first (or, at least, reading the book).

Rated PG in both UK and US, as there are some potentially disturbing scenes which might upset sensitive children.

Our version had very few extras - the deleted scenes mentioned above were the only ones worth watching. There were some rather odd music videos, and a commentary about the film, but no 'making of'. Perhaps the two-disc version would have more.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

29 January 2012

Film review: Prince Caspian [The Chronicles of Narnia 2] (starring Ben Barnes)

The seven Narnia books by CS Lewis were some of my favourite stories as a child, and a teenager, and, indeed, as an adult. I was pleased when the BBC made a version of the first four, back in the 1980s, but inevitably they were low-budget, and animation wasn't very advanced, and some of it seemed trite.

But then, in recent years, Disney has started to produce film versions, under the group heading of 'Chronicles of Narnia'. We saw the first one at the cinema at the end of 2005, and liked it very much. However, Prince Caspian is probably my least favourite of all the books, and early reviews said that it veered a long way from the book and was full of battles, with a spurious - and unecessary - love interest which was never intended by Lewis.

It didn't sound very appealing. And the years went by... but finally I thought it would be good to see this on DVD. We sat down to watch it last night with my son and daughter-in-law.

The opening of the film works well, with the birth of a new baby boy, heir to the teenage Prince Caspian's uncle. Caspian's mentor was exactly as I had imagined him too, urging his young protegé to escape with his life. And the scenes when Caspian is discovered by the Narnians living secretly in the woods is also, I felt, close to the book.

We then switch to scenes in London, the four Pevensie children going home from school, waiting for a train, and tugged into Narnia again. There seemed to be some irrelevant extra parts but they arrive at the ruined castle, and gradually realise what's going on... so far, so good.

It's a long time since I read the book - at least twelve years - but even so, I became aware of more and more deviation from the book. Particularly irritating was the unpleasant rivalry between Peter (William Moseley) and Caspian (Ben Barnes). On the other hand, the 'love interest', such as it was, seemed very low-key and not actually unrealistic or unlikely in the circumstances. It wasn't necessary, but it didn't seem to me to do any harm.

Aslan and the other talking animals are very well done, and I was captivated by the mouse Reepicheep, who provided some light humour in the midst of some quite tense scenes.

But, I have to say, the early reviews were correct in saying that the film was, basically, a series of battles. After the opening scenes - which I very much enjoyed - there did seem to be just one battle after another, played out in rather too much detail. The book did have a lot of fighting; but one can skim the detail in a book, or just accept that it happened, whereas it has to be shown in a movie. Some of it was rather violent, and I'd have personally given the film a '12' rating rather than the 'PG" which both the UK an US censors decided was appropriate.

I suppose the film would have made sense to someone who had not read the book, but think it would be hard to understand if one hadn't already read (or at least seen) 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe'.

Certainly worth seeing as part of the series, but it's not a film I'll be coming back to regularly.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

24 January 2012

Film review: Beaches (starring Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey)

We've had this on the shelf of not-yet-watched DVDs for a while; I don't remember why it went on my wishlistk, but think I was given it months ago for my birthday. I recently sorted the shelf alphabetically for want of a better method... and we decided to watch the one furthest to the left, which was 'Beaches'.

We had no idea what to expect. The film opens with a sound-check for CC Bloom (Bette Midler) singing on an outdoor stage. Then a text alerts her to something that shocks her, and she takes a taxi to the airport. There are no seats on any planes, so she starts to drive... we still don't know where she's going or why she is in such a hurry, but as she drives she thinks back to her childhood...

CC was a precociously talented 11-year-old, already street-wise, even smoking, when she met Hillary on the beach. Hillary had temporarily lost her parents and forgotten the name of her hotel. CC offered to escort her back, having determined that it was a top-class 'ritzy' place... and a strange, lifelong friendship is formed between these very different girls. For years they simply correspond by letters, but eventually meet and decide to share lodgings for a while.

The film is about their abiding friendship, despite their very different backgrounds and expectations, and also despite some rather heated arguments. They fall out over a man, and over their very different values... at times the dialogue seems cliched, but for the most part it's a very well-made film, extremely well acted, with believable people. It was made in 1988 although for some reason it feels older than that - possibly due to the childhood scenes, which were evidently meant to take place in the '60s.

The ending did feel rather predictable, the kind of thing that seems to happen a lot in films, but I felt that it was taken somewhat out of the ordinary by the delightful Victoria, played by Grace Johnston. She must have been only four years old at the time, but acted her part to perfection. There were some very moving moments.

All in all, we liked this film very much. It's rated 12 in the UK (PG-13 in the USA), which is probably due to one incident of a 'bad' swear word. The storyline probably wouldn't be of much interest to those under the age of about 12 or 13 anyway.

There were no extras on our copy of the DVD.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

12 January 2012

Film review: Never on Sunday (starring Melina Mercouri and Jules Dassin)

Browsing Amazon, as one does, this DVD was recommended to me, along with several others that were about Greek culture or people. I assume that this is because I had already rated 'My Big Fat Greek Wedding' highly, and had 'Driving Aphrodite' on my wishlist. I had no idea that there were so many films featuring Greek people! I skimmed through the reviews, rejecting the ones that were unpopular, and put 'Never on Sunday' on my wishlist, as it seemed to be very highly regarded in both the UK and US.

I received it for Christmas, and we watched it last night.

Our first surprise was that it was as old as it is - I hadn't really taken in the details, so we had not noted that it was made in 1960, nor - stranger still - that it was black and white. I also hadn't expected that over half the film was in Greek, with English sub-titles (there are options for three or four other languages in the menu).

However, it seemed like an interesting story, if somewhat unusual. Ilya is the main character, brilliantly played by Melina Mercouri who is best known as one of the earliest women in Greek goverment. She is a lively, fun-loving 'lady of the night'. She goes swimming each morning to entertain sailors, and is said not to have a price... she chooses her men, depending on whether or not she likes them.

Homer (Jules Dassin) is an American philosopher visiting Greece, determined to find out what made the country descend from the great cultural icon of ancient times into the disorganised, light-hearted crazy culture he sees around him. We first come across him in a taverna, watching people getting drunk and dancing in typical Greek style. He makes a cultural error, and is embroiled in an angry fight when Ilya - who speaks pretty good English - arrives and manages to negotiate.

Homer is shocked when he discovers Ilya's profession, but sees her as an icon, a representation of all that he considers to be wrong with Greece. So he sets out to educate and enlighten her.. in a way that seemed, at first, to be along the lines of 'Pygmalion' (a story popularised in the films 'My Fair Lady' and 'Educating Rita').

We liked the story, once we got used to the regular subtitles, and the way the film was made. Ilya is quite a believable person, in a 1960s, never dishevelled kind of way, and the strangely named Homer is a cleverly satirical character, determined that his own country and culture are superior to the one he is visiting. Yet he does not object to some hypocritical wheeling and dealing on his own behalf.

What puzzled us is that the UK rating is only PG, and it's not rated at all in the USA. Admittedly there is no bad language, and there are no overt bedroom scenes or below-the-shoulders frontal nudity displayed; but there's a great deal of it implied. Indeed, the entire story has an 'adult' theme that should surely attract at least a '12' rating. There are many scenes of drunkenness and disorder, and some violence too, though nothing too gory. Not that it worried us - it just shows how ridiculous some of the ratings systems are.

Not sure I'd particularly recommend this film, but it was interesting to see - and probably all the more so since we ourselves live in a Greek-speaking country, so could catch at least some of the Greek dialogue, and certainly understood the reality (if a little caricatured) of the culture.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews