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

06 January 2012

The King's Speech (starring Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter)

I don't think it would ever occur to us to have watched this film, but for the separate recommendations of both our sons. We are far from royalists, and would not have imagined that scenes in life of King George VI would have been remotely appealing, despite the excellent reviews and Oscars accorded this film. But we trust our sons' tastes, so it went on my wishlist, and I was given it for Christmas. Last night, we decided to watch it.

The story is probably well-known, based as it is on history. It begins when George VI (known to his family as 'Bertie), who is brilliantly portrayed by Colin Firth, attempts to make a speech on the newly-popular 'wireless'. He has a bad stammer, made worse when he is nervous, and the speech is a disaster.

Bertie has a supportive wife - the future Queen Elizabeth whom I knew of only as the Queen Mother - also very well cast as Helen Bonham Carter. She is determined that somehow her husband's stammer must be curable, although he has been to many speech therapists already, and tried both orthodox and unorthodox methods. Finally she comes across Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) who says that, yes, he can cure her husband but only on his own terms...

The film is set firmly in historical context, with snippets of actual speeches made by royalty and also by Hitler in the period preceding the Second World War. While, undoubtedly, many liberties were taken with reality, the underlying story gives a very moving tale of a shy man who suffered from a strict father and bullying brother, forced into situations he hated. Bertie suffers from explosive anger at times, and it's clear that the stammer is psychological in origin; it becomes markedly worse under times of stress.

I was absolutely gripped by this film, from beginning to end. There's humour here and there, there's pathos, there's a depth of understanding of the loneliness that can come with positions of authority. The royal family come across as real, believable people who are who they are by an accident of birth, often deeply distressed by the responsibilities they must carry.

Very highly recommended indeed. It's rated 12 in the UK, which slightly surprised me because, although there are no violent or sexual scenes, there is quite a string of extreme bad language used more than once in (as the back of the box states) 'a speech therapy context'. However, most 12-year-olds would be well aware of these words, and there is certainly nothing in the film that is unsuitable, content-wise. In America, however, where 'strong language' is evidently considered more of a problem, the film is rated 'R'.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews