29 January 2013

Back to the Future (starring Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd)

'Back to the Future' is one of the few films I saw at the cinema, shortly before my first son was born. Science fiction and time travel are not exactly my chosen genre, but this film was extremely popular and highly recommended... and I enjoyed it very much.  About twelve years ago I discovered a DVD set on special offer, featuring not just this, the original film, but the two sequels. We watched them with our sons - teenagers by then - and I was pleased to find that it was well worth seeing again.

Now we're introducing some teenage friends to suitable items in our DVD collection, and suggested this to them.

The story is probably well known. Marty (Michael J Fox) is a teenager, the surprisingly sane product of a wimpish father and a controlling mother.  His brother is unemployed, his sister whiny. As the film opens, Marty's father is being verbally abused by 'Biff', his bullying boss, who has just managed to wreck their car but is blaming Marty's dad. And Marty is very unhappy about this because he was hoping to drive his girlfriend Jennifer (Claudia Wells) into the mountains the following day...

Marty is friendly with the eccentric 'Doc' Brown (Christopher Lloyd) and is thrilled to be asked to film his time travel experiment: sending his dog a minute back in time in a Delorian. (It was years before I realised that a Delorian is a regular brand of car in some countries. I assumed, back in 1985, that it was invented specifically for this film).

Then, due to some political activists, Marty finds himself going back in time by thirty years in the same car. He meets his parents just before they have their first date, and a younger Biff - the school bully.  Unfortunately he doesn't observe the rules of time travel, becoming involved in people's lives, and thus  is in danger of changing history in a way that endangers his own existence...

There are plot holes, of course. But it doesn't matter. It's amusing, fast-paced, and very well done - particularly given the era when computer graphics for special effects were rather basic. The reconstruction of Marty's home town in 1955 works brilliantly, and the story is quite gripping, once it gets going..  There's great excitement at the climax - even though I remembered the majority of the plot - and an ending which I had not completely recalled.

'Back to the Future' is rated PG in both the US and UK, which seems about right. There are some minor instances of swearing, and one or two incidents of minor violence and sexual implications.  I don't think it would be of much interest to anyone under the age of about nine or ten anyway.

Our teenage friends (a girl of 15 and boy of 13) thought this a great film, and are hoping to see the sequel at some point.

Highly recommended for teens and adults.

(Note that the Amazon links are to the single DVD versions of this, but in both the US and UK it can be bought as part of the trilogy of Back to the Future films).

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

14 January 2013

Music of the Heart (starring Meryl Streep)

It's nearly four years since we first saw the film 'Music of the Heart', which we liked very much indeed. So when some friends said they would like to watch it, we were more than happy to see it again.

Meryl Streep stars in this very moving film as Roberta, a newly separated mother of two. Needing to support her sons Nick and Lexi, and also needing something to live for, se applies for a job teaching violin at an inner city school.

This film is based on a true story, as is briefly explained in an epilogue. Much of the film follows Roberta's early attempts to help impoverished, struggling students to care about music, to work at their playing, and often to achieve something beyond their wildest dreams. She has an abrasive style which offends some parents, but which the students find refreshing and oddly helpful. She comes across prejudice, aggression, and sometimes laziness; at first she finds it difficult to adjust to the very different lifestyle and families that she meets. But gradually, over the years, many students find her classes inspirational and fulfilling.

Ten years after Roberta is first accepted as a substitute teacher, a blow falls: her music class no longer has funding. In the exciting final part of the story, Roberta - aided by many devoted friends - decides to fight this decision and raise funds herself. It's a mesmerising story, extremely well done (no surprise there, with Meryl Streep starring, but the whole cast is brilliant), and really quite moving in places. Even knowing what was coming, I enjoyed it very much indeed.

PG rated in both the US and UK, due to a little bad language, and some sexual implications, although nothing explicit is shown. Probably not very interesting to anyone under the age of about 10 or 11 unless they happen to be interested in violins.

Highly recommended.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

02 January 2013

Father of the Bride II (starring Steve Martin and Diane Keaton)

We enjoyed watching Father of the Bride in the summer, so when I learned that there was a sequel which was mostly recommended, I put it on my wishlist and was delighted to receive it for Christmas. Wanting a light and undemanding film on New Year's Day, while convalescing from various bugs, we decided that 'Father of the Bride II' would be a good choice.

One again, Steve Martin plays the slightly hapless middle-aged George Banks and Diane Keaton is brilliant as his long-suffering wife Nina. In this story, their recently married daughter Annie makes an announcement which is no surprise to anyone other than George... but gradually he gets used to the idea, and even quite excited about it.

Then Nina finds herself feeling unwell. Unfortunately I had read the blurb on the back of the DVD which told me what was going to happen, but it didn't matter over-much, although it slightly spoiled what could have been a surprise.

Meanwhile, they are both feeling rather depressed about their huge house with only their son Mattie (superbly played by Kieran Culkin) and decide to downsize.  Nina doesn't really think it's going to happen, but then out of the blue George manages to sell the family home to a wealthy Arab, with a cash bonus for a quick move... only to realise that it's not, after all, going to be used as a happy family home.

Oh, and 'Franck' (Martin Short), the extraverted and extremely bizarre wedding planner, appears again in this film with new ideas and designs; he seems more human this time, and as he gradually starts to grow on George, I found myself liking him rather more than I did in the first movie.

There's a fair amount of humour, some of which verges on slapstick at times, but it's interspersed with some quite poignant moments which made this less frivolous than I had expected. Towards the end there is a somewhat tense climax, followed all too quickly by a bittersweet ending which we, as empty nesters, could relate to all too strongly.

Theoretically this film could stand alone, but it would be a bit strange to see it without having seen the original 'Father of the Bride', as so many of the characters recur, and themes continue. So I would definitely recommend seeing that first. If you don't like that, you won't like this one either.

The rating is PG in both the UK and US, which seems reasonable; there's no violence and not much bad language; there are inevitably some sexual innuendoes, but nothing overt. I don't think the film would be of the slightest interest to anyone under the age of 11 or 12, and probably not even then as the subject matter is really only appropriate to parents, or at least people who appreciate the importance of parenthood.

Note that while the links to Amazon are to this film alone, it may be better value to buy the two-part DVD set which contains both 'Father of the Bride' movies.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews