31 March 2014

Dad's Army: The Movie (starring Arthur Lowe, John le Mesurier and Clive Dunn)

I watched the BBC TV series 'Dad's Army' off and on in my teenage years, and have seen random repeats from time to time. But it's many years since I watched the official film, made in 1971 as a spin-off for the cinema. Teenage friends wanted a recommendation of something light but interesting, so we recommended this, and all enjoyed it.

The story is well-known, set in World War II and involving the formation of the local 'home guard'. Arthur Lowe is brilliant as the bossy bank manager Mr Mainwaring, who decides to take control of the local home guard, with his assistant Wilson as second-in-command. They gather together a rag-tag collection of mostly elderly men, plus Pike, a mollycoddled young man whose mother likes to look after him all the time.

The group who form the Warmington-on-Sea home guard are essentially incompetent but willing; they clash with the Vicar (Frank Williams) and the air raid warden Hodges (Bill Pertwee), as happened regularly in the TV series, but they also clash with a visiting Major-General...

The humour is mostly low-key, with some slapstick and some situations that are so ridiculous they become amusing. But what makes this film - and indeed the series - work is the chemistry between the main actors, and the superb timing. I love the ending, too, when the platoon finally succeed in something constructive.

Critics complain that this is really cobbled together from about three of the TV episodes rather than being a new idea or plot, and that may be the case; but as an introduction to Dad's Army, and indeed a caricatured overview of how the home guard functioned in the war, this is hard to beat.

I had forgotten the majority of the story, and enjoyed it very much.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

03 March 2014

Raising Helen (starring Kate Hudson and John Corbett)

Browsing films a couple of years ago I saw 'Raising Helen' recommended to me by Amazon. The reviews mostly seemed positive, and although I wasn't really familiar with any of the cast. So it went on my wishlist and I forgot about it; so I was pleased to receive it for Christmas last year. Our 25-year-old son had not seen it, so with a spare evening a few days ago we sat down as a family to watch it.

Three grown-up sisters, celebrating a birthday. Two fairly laid-back, one quite stressed and rigid in her views. Two with families, one - the youngest - a glamorous career-girl. Tragedy strikes, and Helen (Kate Hudson) suddenly finds herself trying to house and raise three children: a moody teenage girl, a depressed pre-teen boy, and a smaller girl...

For a romantic comedy, this film starts in rather a dramatic way and has a thread of tragedy running through it, yet I thought it was very well handled. The three children are entirely believable, dealing with their grief in their different ways. We don't see scenes of trauma, just snapshots that felt poignantly real. Overall it's an encouraging story with quite a message of hope about working terrible situations.

It's also about the difficulties of balancing a career with parenthood, and as such might well upset some; yet, once again, the way it's handled seems quite realistic. As a parent myself (though never a glamorous wedded-to-career person) I could empathise quite strongly with Helen's difficulties.

It's not laugh-aloud funny, although there are plenty of light-hearted moments. Inevitably there's a growing romance, but it's not a passionate one - instead, it grows out of a low-key developing friendship. Unusually, and much to our relief, nobody was shown leaping into bed after the first kiss. The language is clean, too. There's plenty of love and understanding, and while there's a caricatured Asian neighbour (Sakina Jaffrey) who introduces a bit of slapstick, there's a likeable and believable pastor (John Corbett) who is neither elderly nor a dork.

I wouldn't rate this amongst my absolute favourites, but overall, we all enjoyed it very much. More thought-provoking than many films of this genre, and nicely done.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews