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