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