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