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