20 January 2014

The Italian Job (starring Michael Caine)

I first saw this film over twenty years ago, when - a little ironically - we were living in the US for a couple of years. Some friends invited us over to see the video, assuming we would like it because it was 'so British'. Never good at understanding fast-moving action, I found it very confusing in the early sections, mildly amusing in the middle, frustrating at the end. I wasn't very impressed, although my husband thoroughly enjoyed it.

As I learned later, the 1969 version of 'The Italian Job' is considered a classic. So when it came out on DVD we thought our teenage sons should see it... my husband watched with them, but I decided against it. However, last night some teenage friends asked to watch it, and I though I'd see if time had mellowed my opinion.

The basic plot involves some crooks, ably headed by Michael Caine, who plan - in minute detail - a major robbery in Italy. To do this includes hacking into the traffic control computers to cause a traffic jam. So we have the introduction to this (essentially another crook failing in the attempt), and a lot of discussion about it, and some preparation, and then the actual day. There's a lot of fast action, some of it very cleverly choreographed, and some mildly amusing sections although they mostly involve some kind of slapstick violence.

So it's an action film involving cars, which is fine; not my taste, as there's little room for character development, but suitable for most viewers... I had a hard time understanding what was going on in the early sections, but the essential plot was pretty clear. But what surprised me was the number of fluffy girls involved in the first part. Everything that happened was clearly behind closed doors with no detail, but still the implied activities of the hero were sleazy, and totally unnecessary as they didn't add anything at all. Indeed, they were very demeaning to the girls in question. The UK rating for 'The Italian Job' is PG, which seems about right, although I would probably have said 12 myself, given that there are a few mild swear words, a great deal of violence (albeit non-gory) and some implied sex.

What did surprise me was to learn that the US censors, usually more prudish than the UK ones, rated this as G - suitable for all.

On the whole I thought the film was quite watchable, given the genre. I had forgotten almost everything in it other than the ending, and that wasn't as frustrating as it was the first time since I knew what was coming. Our young friends were shocked when the titles rolled at the end, leaving the film (literally) on a cliff-hanger... but overall they enjoyed it very much.

We then watched the classic 'deleted scene' with a band playing the Blue Danube while cars 'danced' ... that alone made it worthwhile, in my view!

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

15 January 2014

The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe: Doctor Who 2011 Christmas Special (starring Matt Smith, Claire Skinner, Holly Earl and Maurice Cole)

Watching our way through the 'new season' Doctor Who DVDs, we reached the end of Series 6 at the end of last year. Aware that this was likely to happen, I had already placed Series 7 on my wishlist - and, in researching whether there were any extra 'specials', I discovered that this particular episode, the Christmas Special from 2011, was not included in the main DVDs. So I put it on my wishlist too, and was delighted to receive them all for Christmas.

Sometimes, it seems to me, the Doctor Who Christmas specials are rather bittersweet, or over-heavy for the festive season. If I'm sitting down to watch television after a large amount of food and a busy day, I want something light, preferably mildly amusing, and with a happy ending. Although we only just watched the 2011 special, 'The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe' in the middle of January, as far as I'm concerned this is exactly what a Christmas special should be like. There's a Christmas surprise, some amazing visual effects, and a large nod to CS Lewis and Narnia (not just a snow-covered planet but a line quoted from the book). There's some humour, there are some unusual aliens, and, best of all there's a wonderful climax and a great ending.

Matt Smith is superb as the Doctor in the guise of a slightly weird caretaker. Maurice Cole and Holly Earl are excellent as the geeky child Cyril and his teenage sister Lily (who looked very like the Narnian Lucy at times) - and Claire Skinner was absolutely fabulous as their mother.

Admittedly it's not standard Doctor Who, and probably won't appeal to hard-line fans. It's only rated PG, and there's only mild suspense; there's a lot that's silly and the whole is somewhat twee. Credulity is always suspended in this series, but perhaps even more so in this. And I loved it. The episode stands alone - so for those who dislike this kind of thing, it can easily be ignored.

Sadly the only 'extras' on the DVD are various compilations of 'best of' moments in the previous series, presumably intended to inspire viewers to buy more DVDs. And it's currently very highly priced on Amazon, given that it's just an hour-long episode.

But still. Great stuff.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

10 January 2014

Gambit (starring Colin Firth, Cameron Diaz and Alan Rickman)

This is not my usual kind of film, but at some point Amazon recommended it to me, probably based on one or other of the stars. It looked interesting so I added it to my wishlist. Having received it for Christmas, we wanted something light and undemanding to watch as a family, and this seemed to fit the bill.

I had no idea what to expect; the blurb talked about a comedy involving an art forgery. And, indeed, that's pretty much what it's about. The opening title sequence is somewhat reminiscent of the old 'Pink Panther' farces, presumably deliberately; the whole thing bore something of a resemblance to them, as far as my memory goes, with a significant amount of both clich├ęd and slapstick humour. However the timing was impeccable and expressions so perfect that this was lifted out of what could have been simply silly or embarrassing.

Alan Rickman is excellent as the dour multi-millionaire, even if the character felt, at times, a little too similar to Professor Snape; Colin Firth is perfectly cast as the klutzy art critic with the dubious morals, a far cry from Pride and Prejudice, or The King's Speech! As for Cameron Diaz, I don't know how accurate her accent is, but she is brilliant as the Texan cowgirl who's a lot brighter than she seems...

The film is rated 12 (12A in the US), presumably due to some quite significant innuendoes - there's a wonderful conversation in a hotel foyer, entirely innocent but totally misinterpreted by the staff - but there's nothing explicit, no violence, and only a couple of brief scenes showing partial or rear view nudity, intended to be amusing rather than suggestive.

Yes, the humour is primarily that of schadenfreude - laughing at other people's misfortunes or clumsiness. But it's so cleverly executed (and exaggerated) that I did smile several times, and even laughed a couple of times. Don't expect anything deep or thought-provoking in this movie, or even any romance... but for a light evening's viewing, we thought, overall, that it was great.

There are subtitles in Englsh for the hard-of-hearing, though none in other languages on this DVD; the only extra is a 'making of' documentary.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

02 January 2014

The Family Stone (starring Sarah Jessica Parker, Dermot Mulroney and Diane Keaton)

I picked this up in a charity shop in the UK a couple of months ago. The cover showed an all-star cast (not that I recognised anyone other than Diane Keaton) and the blurb on the back sounded appealing. Three of us watched it last night…

Sarah Jessica Parker stars as Meredith, a smart, but rather uptight and socially awkward executive. She is in a relationship with Everett Stone (Dermot Mulroney) and he’s planning to propose over Christmas. He invites her to stay with his rather bohemian family, which makes her very nervous, as she is convinced that they will all hate her.

Diane Keaton is wonderful as the laid-back mother in a long and happy marriage which has produced five children, now all adults. Dermot has two brothers - the rather slobby (but likeable) Ben, and Thad, who is profoundly deaf, and also gay. There are two sisters as well: Susanna is married and has a small and precocious daughter, and Amy is not currently in a relationship. I found the two girls a bit simiilar at first but over the course of the 98 minute film, I felt as if I got to know them all, to the extent that I could recall all their names the following day.

The plot revolves around Meredith’s increasingly dreadful attempts at making the family like her, not aided at all by Amy, who makes every effort to make her look even worse than she is. So Meredith invites her glamorous sister Lisa to stay, and Everett finds himself liking her very much…

I found the strong American accents slightly hard to get used to at first, but soon my ears attuned and it wasn't a problem. I very much liked the way that the family all used sign language naturally when communicating with Thad, at the same time as speaking. The acting, in general, is believable if (inevitably) stereotyped There’s some slapstick in the kitchen, which is quite well done, even if it mostly made me wince rather than laugh; there are one or two amusing moments, and also some surprisingly heart-wrenching subplots which I was not expecting.

It was appropriate to watch at this time of year as the theme is Christmas; some secular Christmas songs are included, as is a great deal of snow and general festive decorating. While it wasn’t the greatest film I’ve seen, it makes a good addition to our collection, and is a little different from the average ‘rom-com’.

The rating is 12 in the UK, which seems about right; there’s no violence or anything overtly sexual, nor any seriously bad language, but there are plenty of innuendoes and sexual references. I am slightly surprised to find that the usually more prudish US censors have awarded this a PG rating. However, I very much doubt if anyone under the age of about 15 would be interested in this anyway.

The usual special feature are included - commentary, deleted scenes, and more.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews