28 November 2015

Shadows in the Sun (starring Joshua Jackson and Harvey Keitel)

I don’t remember how I first came across this film. Perhaps I read a great review of it somewhere; or perhaps Amazon recommended it to me. For some reason, though, I put it on my wishlist and received it for Christmas last year. It’s sat in our to-be-watched drawer for nearly a year but last night our adult son decided it would be a good one to watch as a family.(Note that there is another film with the same title, made in 2009 with different actors).

I had entirely forgotten the reviews I read, so wasn’t quite sure what to expect; the warm colours of the cover suggest an almost documentary style of film, perhaps one exploring the further reaches of a country via exploration. The blurb on the back describes a young book editor going in search of one of his childhood favourite authors and persuading him to write again. We were set for something quite serious, perhaps thoughtful and with attractive scenery.

What we did not expect was to be absolutely mesmerised. The story is beautifully told. Jeremy (Joshua Jackson) is a highly structured American living in London. He sleeps in a pristine flat, dresses in a suit, slicks back his hair with gel, and works in an office with an overpowering boss. He knows no other life until he’s informed that he must travel to Italy and dig out Weldon Parish (Harvey Keitel) who hasn’t written anything in twenty years.

Weldon lives with his three young adult daughters, drinks heavily, and has lost any motivation to write. He insists he’s happy. Jeremy is persistent, but gradually it becomes clear that this is his story as much as Weldon’s. Jeremy’s transformation is considerably more dramatic than Weldon’s, including his predictably falling in love with the glamorous Isabella.

All the acting is good, but Weldon’s part is outstanding. I hadn’t come across Harvey Keitel before, but he played the part to perfection. I was absolutely gripped. The pace is perfect, the direction smooth, the dialogue believable, the photography gorgeous.

An added bonus, which we were not expecting, was some humour. There are some clever lines that made us chuckle, and some amusing dance sequences. There’s also some comic violence to cars and people which didn’t make us laugh but still lightened the more serious nature of the story as a whole.

Admittedly the ending is a bit schmalzy, and the lessons taught are a little obvious… but that doesn’t matter when a film is as well-made and thought-provoking as this one.

In fact my only real niggle was that Weldon’s three daughters all spoke with distinct Italian accents. I’ve known enough bilingual/cross-cultural children to realise that this wouldn’t happen. Given that their father was supposed to be American, they should have spoken English with his accent, since though they grew up in Italy with an Italian mother.

But it’s a pedantic complaint, and one that didn’t detract in any way from my enjoyment of the film. The rating is 12 and we thought that about right. Although there’s plenty of smoking and drinking, and one intimate scene shown (without obvious detail), there’s a very refreshing lack of profanity. I can’t imagine it would be of interest to anyone under the age of about 18 anyway.

There are some extras: we watched the documentary about the making of the film, which was nicely done, though we didn’t see the interviews with the main characters.

Highly recommended if you want a thoughtful and inspiring film; there’s no fast action and the comedy isn’t slapstick or continual, but overall we thought it excellent.

Review by copyright 2015 Sue's DVD Reviews

20 November 2015

Ella Enchanted (starring Anne Hathaway)

I always like variations on traditional stories, and someone recommended this to me a year or two back. It went on my wishlist and I was given it for Christmas nearly two years ago. It’s taken this long to watch it, but we decided on something light and undemanding for a free evening - and ‘Ella Enchanted’ certainly fit those requirements.

It’s loosely based on the story of Cinderella, with the added twist, Snow White style, of a gift bestowed at birth by a fairy on baby Ella. Lucinda (Vivica A Fox) isn’t exactly a bad fairy, but her gifts are renowned for being rather problematic. And Ella is given the gift of obedience. This isn’t such a bad thing when her only family are loving parents, and a rather bumbling house fairy (Minnie Driver), although she sometimes finds it tedious. But then her mother dies and her father remarries, and her step-sisters soon discover that Ella always does what she’s told to do….

The early part of the story is fairly brief, and Anne Hathaway plays the teenage/young adult Ella. She’s outspoken, and also thinks for herself in a way that’s not expected from young women in this pseudo-Mediaeval era. I say pseudo because although the castles and most of the scenery are from this era, there’s also modern pop music and some far more up-to-date touches which were mostly quite amusing. For instance, the Prince (Hugh Dancy), is plagued with a screaming fan club headed by Ella’s step-sisters.

Since it’s a fairytale setting, other characters include elves, giants and ogres, all of whom (we learn) used to live peacefully alongside the humans; but recently the Prince’s uncle (Cary Elwes) has taken power from his deceased brother, and new rules have been drawn up. The giants are treated as slave labour, the elves required to sing and dance on demand. Life is terrible for an elf wanting a more academic career.

So there’s a lot more than the simple story of Cinders and the Prince. Ella isn’t treated like a servant, at least not in the traditional sense, and she’s far from enamoured of the Prince when she first bumps into him. Her main aim, from her teenage years, is to find Fairy Lucinda and ask her to withdraw her gift - only when that happens does Ella believe she will be free.

We thought it very well-made, on the whole. The elf scenes are a bit silly at times, and the outside scenery not entirely believable; but the ogres are wonderfully nasty and the giants mostly amusing in their love of partying and entertainment. The inevitable romance between the Prince and Ella is fraught with difficulties, even more so when her secret is discovered. There’s some tension and low-key violence and suspense but nothing gory or frightening; the rating is PG and we thought that probably right.

There are a few extras: we watched a documentary about the making of the film, which was quite interesting: it showed how the ogres were made up, and why Anne Hathaway was chosen as Ella. There’s a game of sorts, too, accessible via the remote control - but either we didn’t understand how it worked, or it was remarkably difficult. We didn’t persevere.

All in all, a pleasant evening’s viewing which would be appropriate for the whole family.

Review by copyright 2015 Sue's DVD Reviews

09 November 2015

The Go-Between (starring Julie Christie and Dominic Guard)

Some years ago, one of the Sunday newspapers was giving away free DVDs. A relative collected several, and then passed them on to us. Most of them have sat in our drawer, although we found a few gems. Last night we decided to watch a 1971 production called ‘The Go-Between’. It’s based on a novel which neither of us has read, and apparently the BBC recently made a TV version which is also now available on DVD.

The story is mostly set in Edwardian England, in an upper class stately home. Twelve-year-old Leo (Dominic Guard) goes to stay with his school friend Marcus (Richard Gibson), and is at first a little overwhelmed by the size and grandeur of the house, and the formality of meals and events. He’s very much taken with Leo’s older sister Marian (Julie Christie), who’s considered beautiful, and who is also kind and generous to her brother’s friend.

In gratitude for Marian’s kindness, Leo agrees to take a note to a farmer called Ted Burgess (Alan Bates), and becomes the ‘postman’ for what are evidently love letters. Leo himself is quite naive, asking questions about pregnancies and what goes in in marital life, in a way that feels quite awkward; perhaps it was realistic for the era in which the film was portrayed.

The scenery is very attractive, the photography nicely done, the costumes lavish, the settings believable.

However, there’s really not much story. And while Julie Christie does a great job as Marion, and Alan Bates as Ted, the other characters feel stilted and two-dimensional. Leo himself has flashes of being believable, but in other places he simply seems to be delivering dialogue; and much of the dialogue is dull. Harold Pinter was apparently involved in the screenplay, so we’d expected something a bit more scintillating.

We kept watching, wondering if anything unexpected would happen, or any real resolution, but the story meandered on. Perhaps if we had been prepared for something so slow-moving we would have enjoyed it more, but although we’ve enjoyed some films from this era, we thought it could have done with significant editing. Some scenes are simply too long; our attention wandered, and I nearly dropped off to sleep a couple of times.

It’s not a bad film at all; part of me is intrigued to read the book or see the modern adaptation to see if they are more interesting. But I suspect it’s simply not my kind of thing. I would give two-and-a-half stars if I that were possible, but have no desire to see this one again.

Nonetheless, it’s highly rated by many; if you enjoy films about Edwardian England, and don’t mind the lack of much plot and the slow pace, it’s not a bad way to spend a couple of hours. It’s rated PG but I feel a 12 rating would have been more appropriate, given the content, even though there’s no violence or strong language.

Still available on both sides of the Atlantic, despite having been given away free by a Sunday paper a few years ago.

Review by copyright 2015 Sue's DVD Reviews

23 October 2015

The Best of Me (starring Michelle Monaghan and James Marsden)

This is a film my husband put on his wish-list, thinking we might like to watch it together. He was given it on a recent birthday, and we saw it within a few days. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect: I’d read some very mixed reviews about it, but on the whole I thought it was quite a good film.

Early in the movie there’s an unpleasant scene on an oil rig with lots of fast action and noise, where I had to hide my eyes; I don’t deal at all well with that kind of thing. There are a few other scenes in the film of a similar nature, including a very dramatic and horrific one near the end. However, the majority of the story is much more relaxed; it’s a love story, essentially, but takes place in two different time periods.

Amanda (Liano Liberato) and Dawson (Luke Bracey) fall in love as teenagers. Dawson is from a very troubled home, and Amanda’s father really doesn’t want her associating with him, despite recognising that Dawson himself is unlike the rest of his family. But they are determined to be together… until a horrific incident happens.

However, the majority of the story takes place twenty-five years later, when they meet (now played by Michelle Monghan and James Marden) due to the wishes of an old friend who has just died. They both have a lot of anger and find it hard to forgive each other; Amanda is married with a son, although Dawson has remained unattached. Reluctant at first, they find that they have a lot to talk about - and the story gradually unfolds, with flashbacks to the past, interspersed with the things that have to be sorted out in the present.

Other than the violent scenes - and some of them really are very unpleasant - we thought it very well-made. The younger actors playing the main roles are excellent, and worked closely with the two main actors, to make the parts seem consistent. The settings are typically American, but work well; I struggled at the start to understand all the accents, but that gradually became easier.

The ending was predictable but, frankly, unbelievable - and not at all pleasant. However, when we looked at the extras we discovered an alternate ending, which we watched in full, and thought considerably better. I wish there was some way we could make that into the correct ending, connected with the rest of the story.

There were also some short interviews with each pair of characters and Nicholas Sparks, who wrote the original novel on which this film is based.

It’s rated 12A in the UK, PG-13 in the US, which - given the amount of violence - seems rather low to me. I’d rather have seen a 15 rating. However I suppose this is because there’s not a vast amount of bad language, no nudity, and only hints of intimacy other than one brief scene where little is left to the imagination.

I'm glad we saw it; it was a bit different, and quite an interesting story. But I'd have preferred it with a great deal less violence.

Review by copyright 2015 Sue's DVD Reviews

18 October 2015

The Theory of Everything (starring Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones)

Although I’ve very much enjoyed the dramatised biographical films I’ve seen in the past few years, I was a bit reluctant to watch this particular one. Stephen Hawking is a brilliant man, and I have enormous respect both for his brilliant mind and for the way he’s kept going, fighting against the odds of motor neuron disease. But I thought it might be depressing to watch someone develop a terrible disease that took away his dignity and control. I was also aware that he’s well-known as an outspoken atheist.

However, my husband put ‘The Theory of Everything’ on his wishlist, and was given the blu-ray for a recent birthday. He sat down to watch it with our adult son, and after a bit of persuasion, I agreed to watch the first few minutes….

I was almost immediately hooked. We first meet Stephen Hawking, brilliantly played by the actor Eddie Redmayne, when he’s at university. He looks decidedly geeky, and is evidently brilliant but has a casual attitude towards studying and time-keeping. There are odd moments of clumsiness, too, which foreshadow the disease he’s soon to develop.

Jane (Felicity Jones) is an attractive English student who finds herself drawn to Stephen; she doesn’t understand everything he talks about, but is still able to engage him in intellectual discussion and banter, and they quickly become close.

Stephen’s descent into motor neuron disease happens suddenly and dramatically, and is very well done. His prognosis of no more than two more years to live is ironic to those of us watching the film, knowing that he’s lived more than fifty years with the illness, and has managed in that time to write books and give lectures with the help of artificial speech and writing implements, which have advanced in their capabilities as the real Hawking’s illness has become worse.

The scientific side of Stephen’s life, and his astounding theories are presented clearly yet without becoming jargon-ridden or impossible to understand. We also follow his personal life, which I knew almost nothing about, coping from day to day with his increasing limitations, testing his wife’s patience and endurance to the full. She knew what she was embarking on when she married him, but not that he would live so long or become so incapacitated. And her gradual change from confidence and love to stress and worry is movingly done.

It’s a powerful story, and a brilliantly done film. One of the extras on the blu-ray gives insights into the research that the two main characters did, in order to portray the real Stephen and Jane - an incredible amount of work, done partly in conjunction with the two real people themselves.

What struck me most, I think, was Stephen's dry sense of humour, which remained with him despite his suffering; and his family life and relationship with his children. All in all, I thought it a wonderful film; thought-provoking, moving, and bittersweet.

Rated 12 due to mild bad language and low-key suggestive scenes. Unlikely to be of any interest to a younger child in any case.

Amazon links shown are to the DVD versions of this film, but it's also available on blu-ray.

Review by copyright 2015 Sue's DVD Reviews

04 October 2015

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (starring Dev Patel, Judi Dench and Maggie Smith)

We very much enjoyed ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’ when we watched it a couple of years ago; I wasn’t sure I would like the sequel, but our son put it on his wishlist and was given it for a recent birthday. We decided to watch it together on Saturday evening.

‘The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’ features many of the same characters as the first film, now living quite happily in the hotel for retired/senior citizens. At the start, Sonny (Dev Patel) and Muriel (Maggie Dench) have flown to the United States to apply for sponsorship by a large company as they hope to expand the hotel business. They are told that a hotel inspector might visit..

Most of the film then follows the residents, and two new visitors, as they go about their varying daily lives and businesses. Evelyn (Judi Dench) is startled to be offered a job, despite being almost 80; not only that, but she’s been courted, in a low-key kind of way, by Douglas (Bill Nighy) who is now separated from his wife (Penelope Witten). Judi Dench is excellent in her role, and while Bill Nighy’s character is similar to those he plays in other films, their growing friendship works well.

The plot, such as it is, weaves around the different characters, giving insights into their lives and (in a low key way) that of Indian culture. There are some amusing and also poignant sections, although I found the scenes with Madge (Celia Imrie) and Carol (Diana Hardcastle) to be a little confusing and mostly tedious; neither seemed realistic, even in a caricatured way.

However they were more than compensated for by Evelyn’s story, and also that of Sonny. Dev Patel is excellent as the overly-enthusiastic hotel founder and owner, engaged to be married to Sunaina (Tina Desai) but worried that she’s spending too much time with her brother’s best friend. He is also absolutely convinced he knows who the hotel inspector is…

It’s nicely made, with the bonus of some enjoyable dance scenes, culminating in a celebration which has its own poignancy alongside the tremendous joy and enthusiasm of most of those involved. I’m not sure I liked it quite as much as the first, and am glad to know that there won’t be a third; this one tied off several threads quite neatly, and any more would be too much.

Rated PG which I’d say is about right, although it’s unlikely to be of any interest to children or young teenagers. There’s no violence or anything explicit, but there’s a sprinkling of bad language and plenty of suggestive references.

Recommended, but not as a standalone; the first film gives so much background into the people and situations that this one, I think, would be highly confusing to see without having seen the original.

Review by copyright 2015 Sue's DVD Reviews

14 September 2015

Four Weddings and a Funeral (starring Hugh Grant)

We saw this film at the cinema, back in the early 1990s when it was first made. We thought it very well done, but shocking in places, thought-provoking in others. I remembered it as amusing but bitter-sweet. And when we first started collecting DVDs, around twelve years ago, I saw that ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’ was considered a classic; it was on special offer, so we bought it.

My husband and our teenage sons watched it, but I don’t think I saw it at the time. Perhaps I felt uncomfortable with teenagers around, although both were over 15. In any case, it’s been sitting on our shelves for many years, until I decided it would be good to see it again on Sunday afternoon. We sat down with our 20-something son, who also hadn’t seen it for some years.

The style is immediately dated, but suggests a light-hearted story; I’d forgotten that after setting the scene rather cleverly, seeing people arriving for a society wedding, the first speech is a series of expletives: what would be listed as ‘strong’ language, uttered because the hero, Charles (Hugh Grant, looking remarkably young) oversleeps on a morning when he’s supposed to be Best Man. He and his sister Scarlett (Charlotte Coleman) make it to the wedding just in time, but then he realises he’s forgotten the rings….

Charles and Scarlett, we quickly discover, are close friends with a diverse group of people, all of whom are single. They regularly attend weddings but are more inclined to casual relationships than commitment. Charles, in particular, seems commitment-phobic, although he’s very attracted to Carrie (Andie McDowell) whom he meets at the wedding.

The story really does encompass little more than four weddings and a funeral, not quite in that order. The second wedding is an unexpected result of the first one and follows a similar pattern…. except that Carrie has some news that shocks Charles to the core.

It’s a relationship-based story, a series of sub-plots and interactions rather than a single plot, with Charles as the main character, everything seen from his perspective. Hugh Grant manages this part to perfection, in an almost Bertie Wooster style of an upper-middle class well-meaning but often bumbling Englishman. It’s the role which put him in the public eye, and which probably spawned many of his later and better-known roles.

Other characters are rather more stereotyped, particularly the participants in the second wedding; that didn’t matter too much, and the caricatured roles of some of Charles’ friends helped me to keep them separate in my mind. We particularly enjoyed the lively and highly eccentric Gareth (Simon Callow), and the cameo role for Rowan Atkinson as a new and very nervous priest.

The one slight disappointment in the casting is Carrie herself, supposedly the romantic lead, but with little to recommend her other than her looks. She doesn’t feel quite real; she’s hardly a role model (she admits to being highly promiscuous, not to mention materialistic). Yet she’s not a humorous exaggerated American, but the female romantic lead. The chemistry - and growing friendship - really doesn’t work.

There’s a great deal of humour in the film, most of it understated but cleverly done. The comic timing is perfect, and we found ourselves chuckling more than once. It makes the shocking parts stand out all the more; and the recital of a poem at the one funeral is extremely moving. I recall finding that (or what it implied) rather shocking when I first saw the film over 20 years ago; it was a theme that wasn’t explored nearly so often as it is today. It made an excellent point about love - real love - transcending all boundaries and cultural expectations.

The 15 rating is still appropriate; the ‘strong’ language is there for effect, and it might well be down-rated to a 12 by today’s standards if that were all. But there are several rather overt scenes of intimacy; no nudity as such, but several scenes that lead little to the imagination. It’s rated R in the United States.

Overall, we enjoyed it very much and I would recommend it in general to older teens and adults. But if you’re offended by strong language or overt sexuality, this is probably one to avoid.

Review by copyright 2015 Sue's DVD Reviews

03 September 2015

Midnight in Paris (starring Owen Wilson)

I had never heard of this film, and it’s not one that would naturally have been recommended to me; however I happened to read a review of it on a consumer site, and my interest was piqued. It went on my wish-list and I was delighted to be given it for a recent birthday. We decided to watch it last night purely because it was the shortest of the ones remaining in our to-be-watched drawer!

‘Midnight in Paris’ starts with some very nice scenery and some rather too loud jazzy music. I quite like jazz in its place, and when I thought this was going to be the background to opening titles, I didn’t mind it at all. But no titles appeared, and the music became louder as the images of Paris continued for much longer than we’d have expected as an opening sequence. We had to turn the sound down at one point as the high notes were almost screechingly loud.

Then the story starts. We meet an American family who are visiting Paris. The parents - caricatured materialistic types - are there for business; their daughter Inez (Rachel McAdams) decided to tag along, as did her fiancĂ© Gil (Owen Wilson). Right from the start they seem like an ill-matched pair; he’s evidently a romantic, who loves the nostalgic feel of Paris, and the beauty of the buildings. He wonders if they could live there after they’re married; but Inez doesn’t want to live anywhere other than the United States.

Gil is a successful Hollywood scriptwriter, and Inez appears to care more for his success and wealth than for him as a person. She’s rather scathing about his current project of writing a novel, although he’s easy-going and seems to brush off her negativity. Still, when she decides to go dancing with some old friends, he says he’d rather go for a walk, as Paris is so romantic at night. He manages to get himself lost, and sits down for a rest just before the clock strikes midnight…

...at which point an old-fashioned car arrives and he’s persuaded to get inside. The situation gradually becomes surreal, as he finds himself amongst people whose novels he has admired… apparently he’s gone back in time to the 1920s, an era he believes reflects the glories of literature. I thought this was supposed to be a dream sequence at first, but he repeats the experience the following day, meeting famous artists as well as writers, and a very attractive girl…

I had to accept that, essentially, it’s a surreal plot, which includes time travel but without any worries about the potential problems. Whether or not these forays into the past were a dream, or a subconscious wish, or reality (so to speak) is left open. But the contrast is made between Gil’s romantic nature and Inez’s materialistic side; as he becomes more inspired to write, given advice by people who care, and begins to fall for the girl in the 1920s, his relationship with Inez deteriorates rapidly. And thank goodness for that - right from the start I was hoping they would break up.

There’s an underlying message or theme to the film: being contented with one’s own era, taking life as it comes, going with one’s heart. There’s some humour, nicely mixed in with the story; once or twice we even chuckled aloud. The scenery and filming are gorgeous, the costumes stunning, and despite the oddness of the storyline, I was left feeling both nostalgic and uplifted.

Rated 12; basically due to several sexual references, although there’s nothing explicit, no violence, and no nudity. Mild language. Unlikely to be of interest to anyone under the age of about fifteen or sixteen anyway; it’s necessary to know the names of at least some of the best-known artists and writers from the 1920s in order to get the point of the forays into the past.

Recommended, if you like character-driven stories that are light, slow moving and somewhat thought-provoking. It's only 90 minutes long, but quite intense; the length felt exactly right.

Review by copyright 2015 Sue's DVD Reviews

30 August 2015

Little Man Tate (starring Jodie Foster and Adam Hann-Byrd)

This is probably one of those movies that Amazon recommended to me - or perhaps I read a review of it elsewhere. In any case, I put it on my wishlist and was given it for my birthday a few months ago. We sat down to watch it with our twenty-something son on Sunday.

‘Little Man Tate’ is about a small boy called Fred (Adam Hann-Byrd) who is nearly seven when the story begins, and is already a highly gifted pianist, mathematician and artist. He lives with his single mother Dede (Jodie Foster) and they’re very close; however he is excessively bored in school and struggles to make any friends. His mother doesn’t understand his giftedness and wants him to be an ordinary little boy; she loves him very much but is resistant to ‘gifted and talented’ style testing.

However, she eventually allows him to take some tests and attend interviews, pending some enrichment courses and spending time with other prodigies. The psychologist Jane (Dianne West) becomes almost another mother figure to him… until he realises that gifted children are no pleasanter than regular ones, and that Jane may be able to offer him a great deal in terms of academic challenge, but she has no idea how to be a parent…

Fred is not portrayed as having Asperger’s Syndrome or any other learning disability; he’s affectionate and friendly, and quite capable of pretending to do things wrong so as not to stand out. Some of his teachers (and, indeed, the psychologist Jane) are portrayed as caricatures, condescending to their charges and with no real connection to them at all, which gave a light-hearted touch to what could have been a very heavy story.

Jodie Foster directs the film as well as playing Fred’s mother, and we thought she did it well, sensitively and with a good pace. Overall, we loved the story; the way it’s told, with the different viewpoints and the struggles to help a child who is ‘different’ as well as the tensions between those who value academic excellence above everything else, and those who don’t.


The soundtrack on the DVD was very badly mixed. The music was too intrusive, often drowning out the speech entirely. My husband did all he could to increase the sound of the dialogue while reducing the music but by about half way through we had to switch on the subtitles in order to catch what was going on. I struggled with the strong accents in any case, but Fred and Dede in particular spoke very quietly and it was important to know what they were saying.

We also thought that, while the young actor did well, he was never quite believable as a gifted prodigy. And it was a pity that none of the serious academics or psychologists were portrayed as believable or indeed likeable.

The rating is PG which we thought about right; there's some strong language, and minor violence, but nothing explicit. Unlikely to appeal much to small children anyway.

Review by copyright 2015 Sue's DVD Reviews

03 August 2015

Ever After (starring Drew Barrymore)

Browsing around on Amazon, as you do, I was recommended this film. It sounded pleasant, it starred Drew Barrymore, and it was rated PG. Reviews were mostly positive so it went on my wishlist and I was given it a couple of years ago. It’s taken until this long to decide to watch it.

However, last night we wanted something light and relaxing, so curled up in the air conditioning to watch ‘Ever After’. Billed as a ‘Cinderella’ story, that’s exactly what it was - with a difference. There’s no fairy godmother in this, no pumpkin turning into a carriage. Indeed, special effects are noticeable by their absence.

Instead, it’s topped and tailed by a discussion between an elderly monarch and a couple of writers; the monarch wants them to know the ‘truth’ about the story of Cinderella, which, she says, happened to one of her ancestors.

The majority of the film is then set in Mediaeval times - probably around 1500, since one of the significant characters is the elderly artist Leonardo da Vinci. We first meet young Danielle, aged ten, looking forward to her father returning home after a lengthy trip, bringing a new wife and her two daughters. The meeting is a little awkward, but the sisters are far from ugly; it’s Danielle herself who, as a complete tomboy, appears covered in mud after having been chasing her friend across the fields.

Danielle’s father dies suddenly, shocking his family, and the story then moves forward some years. Danielle (Drew Barrymore) and her stepsisters are now in their late teens, and while Danielle isn’t exactly abused or locked in cupboards, she’s treated very much like a servant, expected to fetch and carry for her stepmother and sisters. Even so, the younger of the sisters - Georgina - is quite kind-hearted.

Danielle remains unspoilt and quite outspoken, and manages to attract the attention of Prince Henry in various ways, long before the ball at which he plans to announce his betrothal. There are twists and turns to the story which, in context, make a whole lot more sense than the traditional fairytale.

My only real problem with the film is that there wasn’t much chemistry between Danielle and the Prince; she seems at times like a naive child, and he is remarkably self-centred. It made sense that he appreciates her outspokenness and intellectual abilities, and is captivated by her looks, and their friendship certainly works. But the sudden 'falling in love' and kisses never feel entirely real.

The settings and costumes are excellent, with Mediaeval life well portrayed, and the snootiness of Danielle’s stepmother, a wonderful caricature, is quite amusing. Overall it made an enjoyable evening’s viewing.

The rating is PG which seems right: there’s no nudity, only the mildest of bad language, and the kisses are never anything other than chaste. However there are some traumatic scenes that could disturb some children, and a fair amount of violence, as well as threats, but no real gore.

Review by copyright 2015 Sue's DVD Reviews

31 July 2015

Monte Carlo (starring Selena Gomez)

This isn’t the kind of film I would naturally have thought of seeing; however, it was in a double-pack with another film I was interested in, and I found it inexpensively second-hand. Wanting something light and fluffy to watch last night, we decided to see what it was like.

The story is about three young women in the United States. Grace, who has just graduated from high school, has been working as a waitress and saving up for a long time to go on the trip of a lifetime to Paris. Her close friend Emma, who also works as a waitress, is going too; Emma is a few years older, but quite flighty and potentially irresponsible. So at the last minute, Grace’s stepfather announces that his daughter Meg, who is a contemporary of Emma’s will be accompanying them.

Grace and Meg don’t much like each other, and when they arrive in Paris they discover that the tour they booked is not at all what they expected. Their accommodation is dingy and uncomfortable, the tour guide rushes everyone from place to place with no time to pause or enjoy the landmarks.

Nor does the bus wait when the three are a couple of minutes late… and by a series of unlikely events, they find themselves in Monte Carlo, in a luxurious suite, with Grace being mistaken for a snooty celebrity called Cordelia who is booked for a charity ball and auction.

It’s not surprising that Grace is considered a look-alike of Cordelia’s, since both are played by Selena Gomez. She manages both in a believable way, although I found Meg (Leighton Meister) more believable and natural. Emily (Katie Cassidy) is mostly caricatured, although her character develops in the middle of the film, and she becomes more likeable.

Monte Carlo is probably intended for a young teenage audience, but on the whole we liked it. We particularly appreciated the cameo role played by Catherine Tate, as Cordelia’s wealthy aunt; having only seen Tate in her role as a Doctor Who assistant, we appreciated her very much in this part.

The story is light-hearted - frankly silly at times - and relies on a too many coincidences, particularly related to a young man who takes a liking to Meg. We didn’t laugh aloud, but there were places that were somewhat amusing, and it didn’t require any deep thought. I don’t know that it was uplifting, exactly, but the ending was entirely satisfactory, if rather predictable (and dogged by yet another coincidence).

The rating is PG, which we felt was entirely appropriate. There are lots of short skirts, but no nudity (unless we count a very brief appearance of someone up to his neck in soap). There’s a fair amount of kissing, but nothing more: we thought this quite refreshing in a film of this kind. There’s some mild profanity, but it would be easy to miss; nothing major, and nothing gratuitous. I doubt if anyone under the age of about 12 would be interested in this anyway.

Review by copyright 2015 Sue's DVD Reviews

27 July 2015

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (starring Daniel Radcliffe)

I decided, after the first two Harry Potter films, that I was not going to watch any more at the cinema. However, since I enjoy the books and the films are well-made, I determined that I would - eventually - acquire and see them on DVD. Slowly we’ve been working our way through the series, which I’m currently re-reading too. However, it’s been some years since I read ‘Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix’, so I had forgotten many of the details when we finally sat down to watch the film last night.

The film starts, as the book does, with a hot summer in England; Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) is teased almost to breaking point by his unpleasant cousin Dudley (Harry Melling), and then a freak storm arises. They run to take shelter in a tunnel, only to be attacked by dementors, the life-sucking guards of the wizarding prison of Azkaban. Without pausing to think, Harry uses his wand to produce his ‘patronus’ to ward off the dementor who is about to destroy him, and then saves his cousin’s life too.

The Ministry of Magic then send Harry a letter letting him know that he’s been expelled from Hogwarts School due to use of underage magic. He is devastated, with no idea what he will do… but, unsurprisingly, is rescued by some of his friends and taken to the secret headquarters of a group dedicated to fighting against the return of the evil Lord Voldemort. Harry attends a trial, from which he is acquitted, so is able to go back to school after all.

However, school is no longer the haven it used to be. Harry’s suffering from a lot of anger that’s more than mere teenage angst, and most of the students in the school don’t believe that Voldemort is returning, or indeed anything that Harry tells them. It’s going to be a lonely year… made almost infinitely worse by the sadistic new teacher Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton).

The film, in my view, is extremely well done. I’m sure a great deal was missed out - the book is very long, and the film only about two hours - but the storyline holds together with the important facets included. It’s perhaps as well that I haven’t read the book for so long, as I was able to enjoy the film on its own merits. The settings and most of the characters are familiar from the earlier films, of course, even if everyone is a little older, and for the first time there’s a bit of light romance.

It’s an exciting story, ending - as ever - with a fierce battle of good vs evil. I found the fast action in this section to be too confusing, so hid my eyes, listening for more conversation. The special effects that I saw were stunning, but I don’t enjoy that kind of thing, and thought it was perhaps too long a sequence - but necessary for the resolution of the story. My only other slight gripe is that some of the dialogue is rather too fast and not very clear above other sound. However, I don't think we really missed anything.

Other than that it was gripping. Umbrage doesn’t look quite as close to a toad as she’s supposed to, but she’s very well played as an apparently gushing middle-aged woman who represents the ministry, until she is crossed. At that point she becomes immovable and cruel. JK Rowling was evidently pointing an exaggerated finger at educational rules and regulations, and school inspectors when she created Umbridge; she’s certainly not a comic figure, but demonstrates a different kind of implacable evil from that of Voldemort.

The story is an important one in the Harry Potter sequence, showing the start of the reign of terror that will come to a climax in the final book. I didn’t expect to enjoy it as a film, knowing what was coming, both with Umbrage and the loss of someone dear to Harry - and yet, it was gripping, powerful, and, in places, moving.

Although each book stands alone, the films rather build on the previous storylines; there’s no room for back story when they are so abridged. So if you haven’t read the books, and don’t plan to, I would recommend watching the earlier movies before seeing this, particularly ‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’, which contains events referred to in this film.

Despite the fact that I prefer the book, I liked this very much and would recommend it highly.

Our DVD is a single disc edition, so there are no extras. There are several editions of this film still available, including Widescreen editions, Blu-Rays, and a double disc special with several extras.

Review by copyright 2015 Sue's DVD Reviews

17 July 2015

Summer in February (starring Dominic Cooper and Emily Browning)

We came across this film when in the UK; it was on the special offers shelves at a local supermarket. Described as a powerful love story set in Cornwall, we thought it would make a good addition to our collection, although we had not heard of it before, nor of any of the actors.

We watched it last night with our twenty-something son.

‘Summer in February’, as we discovered after watching it, is a true story set in the early part of the 20th century. It features a group of artists who live, work and socialise in Cornwall. Early scenes set in a pub are probably realistic, but very confusing; even as Brits we had a hard time understanding some of the accents. I should think they would be impossible for anyone from outside the UK.

Moreover, there are so many people in the pub scenes that it was difficult to work out who were the main characters. I nearly gave up watching after fifteen minutes; perhaps I should have done so, as it turned out to be a very depressing film.

The love story angle isn’t, in my view, particularly well played; AJ, the main protagonist (Dominic Cooper), comes across as both cruel and shallow, while Florence, a hopeful young artist (Emily Browning), is naive and selfish. There isn’t much chemistry between them at all. Gilbert (Dan Stevens) is the only reasonable character in the film, and he gets a pretty bad deal.

Apparently the real AJ - also known as Alfred - Cummings was a talented painter of horses; this comes across in the film, but if his private life was half as unpleasant as portrayed, I wouldn’t want one of his paintings, no matter how good it was. I hadn’t previously heard of him or any of the artists shown.

Other characters - Florence’s brother, and another couple - seem almost irrelevant to the story. Presumably they were in the film because they were part of her life, but the plot seems disjointed, and nothing much gets resolved. Perhaps it’s meant to reflect reality too closely.

Still, the scenery is stunning, the settings believable, and I had a good feel for the place and the colony of artists who (apparently) existed there, giving Cornwall its name, later in the century, as a haven for art.

The UK rating is 15, which is appropriate given the subject matter. For some reason there's no US rating. Bad language is not too much of a problem; there are some uses of ‘strong’ words but in the context they were not too disturbing.

The violence is minimal, the intimate love scenes not shown directly. There was, however, some gratuitous nudity which didn’t do anything for the film, and made us even less inclined to like it.

As is probably clear, we didn’t enjoy ‘Summer in February’ and I wouldn’t recommend it. But someone who likes true-story films with gorgeous scenery, and who doesn’t mind a tragic and depressing ending might like this better than we did.

Review by copyright 2015 Sue's DVD Reviews

14 July 2015

Relative Values (starring Julie Andrews and Sophie Thompson)

This film was recommended to me by Amazon - probably because I have enjoyed films with both Colin Firth and Julie Andrews, though not, I think, together - and also by some family members. So when I saw it inexpensively in a UK charity shop, it was not a difficult decision to buy it.

‘Relative Values’ is based on a play of the same name by Noel Coward, but we didn’t realise that until after we’d watched it. It was made in 2000 though set in the 1950s, based in the stately home of the Marshwood family. The young Earl, Nigel (Edward Atterson), has announced his engagement to an American actress called Miranda (Jeanne Triplehorn) who, until recently, was in a relationship with another movie star (William Baldwin).

His mother (Julie Andrews) is determined to be egalitarian and to accept a commoner, so long as she’s truly in love with Nigel. However she’s worn down by snide comments from friends, and is also disturbed by the increasing anxiety of her personal maid Moxie (Sophie Thompson)....

It’s rather an all-star cast; Stephen Fry is typecast as the butler Crestwell who has to hold together a fluttery star-struck set of housemaids, while attempting to calm down Moxie who feels that she has no choice but to leave. Colin Firth is brilliant, too, as Nigel’s cousin Peter, who keeps his aunt company and provides some wonderfully satirical asides. I was perhaps a little disappointed in Julie Andrews, whose character seemed to be almost identical to the Queen of Genovia in ‘The Princess Diaries’, but she played it admirably.

However, we thought that the most amusing and versatile character was Moxie, who has an unexpected secret, and is then expected to act a part for which she is totally unsuited. I didn’t realise that Emma Thompson had a sister who was also an actress; I shall look out for more with Sophie Thompson in future, as she was excellent in this role. She was transformed into an extremely dowdy maid for most of the film, but also manages to appear as a twittery and very nervous family friend, putting on an upper-class accent and wearing unaccustomed finery.

While we didn’t find it ‘outstandingly funny’, as the front of the DVD describes this, there are some amusing moments, and one brief scene - an American/British language difference, where Colin Firth puts Julie Andrews right - which was delivered with such perfect timing that we laughed out loud and kept chuckling for a while afterwards.

The whole thing is caricatured, of course, as is typical for plays of this era, with a deeper theme exploring the prejudices that were - and maybe still are - held against foreigners and commoners, by even the most enlightened of the upper classes.

Rated PG, it’s free of bad language and anything ‘adult’, although - for those who are concerned about such things - there are plenty of scenes of drinking, including some rather tipsy behaviour, and some cigarettes. However, I don't think it's the kind of film that is likely to appeal to anyone under the age of about 14 or 15 in any case.

Definitely recommended as a light-hearted and amusing satirical film.

Review by copyright 2015 Sue's DVD Reviews

20 June 2015

The Help (starring Emma Stone)

It’s three years since I read the excellent and thought-provoking book ‘The Help’ by Kathryn Stockett. It’s a story that’s stayed with me, as it was eye-opening in introducing me to the world of ‘maids’, treated often with disrespect (or worse) in the southern parts of the US, as recently as the 1960s.

So when I realised there was a film available, I quickly added it to my wishlist, and was given it for my birthday a year ago. We have quite a few DVDs in our ‘to be watched’ drawer, and it took us a while to decide to watch this. But last night we saw it with our younger son, and were captivated.

It’s perhaps a good thing that I waited three years after reading the book, as some critics claim that the film isn’t a particularly good portrayal. Whether or not that’s the case, it seemed like an excellent adaption to me. The overall message of the book was strong, the acting was superb, and the settings felt just right. Indeed, if I had not read the book, I might have missed parts of the story as the accents of some of the society ladies were very strong and difficult for me to understand, although I’m sure they were realistic for the era.

Skeeter (Emma Stone) is wonderful as the main character, and the catalyst for change. She returns to her small town after graduating from university, and is upset to find that her beloved - and elderly - maid Constantine is gone. Skeeter has several friends who try to match her with a suitable young man/ they invite her to supper parties and bridge games, but she wants something more than frivolity. As she realises how badly some of the black maids are treated, she decides to gather their stories together in a book, a move that’s potentially very dangerous in a way that's hard to grasp from the safety of the 21st century.

The other main star of the film is Aibilene (Viola Davis). She's a middle-aged maid who has raised several white children, and is currently looking after a young child whose mother cares very little about her. Aibilene continues working her hardest for the sake of the children, although she’s quite bitter after losing her own son in an accident. She is believable throughout. The thing that puzzled me most about this film (and, indeed, the book) was the irony that wealthy white women would refuse even to share a toilet with their maids, yet expected them to raise their children entirely.

For anyone wanting to know what society was like in Mississippi as recently as fifty years ago, or who wonders if people in the US can be as intolerant as they sometimes appear, or indeed anyone wanting a thoughtful and encouraging movie about how a writer can change society, I would recommend this highly. I don't know how accurate a portrayal it is - there have been many mixed opinions about this - but although I'm sure this kind of racism wasn't universally true, it felt authentic as a story.

The Help is rated 12A (PG-13 in the US) and I think that’s probably fair. There no nudity or intimacy, and the only bad language is fairly minor, other than instances of a word now considered highly offensive but commonly used in the era, There’s implied violence and one or two unpleasant scenes, though on the whole it’s tastefully done, giving impressions rather than details.

However, the subject matter is intensive and potentially disturbing, so I would suggest that this is best seen by teens and adults, rather than younger children.

It's a long film - two and a quarter hours - and we found it totally absorbing, if a bit draining at times. It's neither relaxing nor fluffy, and not one I'd like to see too often - nonetheless, very highly recommended indeed.

Review by copyright 2015 Sue's DVD Reviews

04 June 2015

Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang (starring Emma Thompson)

It’s some years since I watched ‘Nanny McPhee’, starring Emma Thompson as the nanny who appears when she’s not wanted, and leaves when she’s not needed. We thought it amusing, and it’s been seen several times by visiting children.

So when we saw the sequel on offer, inexpensively, it seemed like a good idea to buy it although it’s taken a while to decide to see it. We were prepared for disappointment - sequels are sometimes poor imitiations of the original - but were pleasantly surprised.

Having said that, the overall plot isn’t too different from the first. It’s set in the 1940s and features a family with three wild children whose father is away in the war. Maggie Gyllenhaal plays the part of Isabel, the stressed mother who is trying to keep the family farm together. The family are expecting two cousins to come and stay, as evacuees from London. They turn out to be spoiled and snooty, and sparks fly… until Nanny McPhee arrives and treats the children to her rather coercive style of ‘teaching’.

The whole thing is caricatured and rather silly in places, with slapstick humour and a predictable (if satisfactory) ending. Isabel’s brother-in-law Phil (Rhys Ifans) makes an over-the-top villain who wants to force her into selling the farm so he can repay his debts. And there’s a delightful cameo role by Maggie Smith as Mrs Docherty, the elderly and scatty Mrs Docherty.

The star, of course, is listed as Emma Thompson, but her role is little different from that in the first DVD. We thought that the children were excellent, with good rapport and almost believable relationships that vary from antagonistic to caring. There are some quite poignant moments too, and the importance of family life and growing friendships was what pulled this movie above the average.

There are nods to some other films, not just the obvious Mary Poppins; there’s a flying scene depicted on the front of some editions of the DVD that could have been out of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and Mr Docherty, the air raid warden, had a marked similarity to Mr Hodges in Dad’s Army. These (and more) are not particularly forced, and probably add to the appeal for adults although I doubt if most children would notice them.

The action was well-paced, the dialogue good, and some quite tense scenes (at least from an adult perspective) played out nicely. The CGI isn't particularly impressive, but still amusing in places.

The UK rating is U, presumably because there’s nothing specific that would trigger a higher rating, but I’d see this more as a PG, as it's rated in the US: there are a few scenes that could scare a sensitive child.

Overall, though, we thought this a pretty good sequel. Recommended.

Note that 'Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang' may be marketed as 'Nanny McPhee Returns' in the US.

Review by copyright 2015 Sue's DVD Reviews

30 April 2015

A Good Woman (starring Helen Hunt and Scarlett Johansson)

This is another DVD which I had not heard of, but which Amazon recommended to me. Possibly this is because I like ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’; I didn’t really know anything about the actors in it. I was given it for my recent birthday, and had forgotten, until I glanced at the back, that it’s based on one of Oscar Wilde’s books, ‘Lady Windermere’s Fan’.

The start of ‘A Good Woman’, which is set in 1930, is a bit confusing. The elegant Mrs Erlynne (Helen Hunt) escapes New York after running up a series of debts; it’s clear from the comments around her that she’s had a series of affairs with married men. She decides to go to the Amalfi coast. Lord and Lady Windermere, a young and devoted married couple (Scarlett Johanssen and Mark Umbers) are there too for the season, and another young man, the charming Lord Darlington (Stephen Cambpell Moore) flirts with Lady Windermere.

All set in upper-class society, with everyone speaking in the same accent and dressing the same kind of way, it was rather hard to tell who was whom at times. I did find myself wondering whether it was going to be worth watching, but gradually it started to make more sense.

Mrs Erlynne seems to be attracted to young Lord Windermere, and he starts visiting her house, much to the consternation - and delight - of the locals, who are convinced they are having an affair. Lady Windermere has no idea at first, until she discovers that he’s been writing some rather large cheques…

It’s something of a comedy of errors, with lots of asides and implications, secret assignations and hints that are not explained until the end. It’s quite a clever plot, and although I’d heard of the Wilde play, I didn’t know the story. The fan - a generous gift from Lady Windermere’s husband - plays a significant part in the story, leading to near disaster towards the end.

It’s light and a bit fluffy, amusing in places, poignant in a few. The scenery is good, the acting sound, the pace about right. We had wanted to watch something that didn’t require too much thought, and which wouldn’t leave us drained with emotion, and ‘A Good Woman’ fit the bill nicely; it was quite uplifting in the end.

The PG rating is reasonable enough; there’s no bad language, no violence and no bedroom scenes. However the storyline is about the affairs of the upper classes and there are plenty of implications; still, I can’t imagine anyone under the age of about fourteen being interested in this.

Review by copyright 2015 Sue's DVD Reviews

25 April 2015

Proof (starring Gwyneth Paltrow)

I’m not sure how I came across this particular film; perhaps it was recommended to me by Amazon, as I’ve enjoyed others by Gwyneth Paltrow. Or perhaps - as I suspect - I read a review of it which made me convinced we would enjoy it. Whatever the reason, I added it to my wish-list many months ago and was delighted to receive it for a recent birthday.

We watched ‘Proof’ with our twenty-something son, and all found ourselves captivated from the start. Gwyneth Paltrow stars as Catherine, the daughter of a once brilliant mathematician (Anthony Hopkins). We meet them at the start of the story having a slight surreal chat in the kitchen, only to learn that Catherine’s father recently died.

She’s bereft, and is unimpressed that a student, Hal (Jake Gyllenhaal) is spending many hours in her father’s study, working his way through his recent notebooks in the hope of finding something worth keeping amidst the ramblings that were the result of some kind of mental illness that bugged him for many years.

Catherine has looked after her father, giving up her own mathematical research programme but ensuring that he could remain in his own home rather than being institutionalised. Her sister Claire (Hope Davis) is much more conventional; armed with checklists and plans, she decides to sell the house and move Catherine back to the city...

If that weren’t enough, Hal is clearly smitten with Catherine, and she is convinced that she is hovering on the brink of insanity, sometimes wondering if she’s already crossed it. The film uses flashback extensively, so we see Catherine with her father some years previously, and gradually build up a picture of her life and just what she’s given up.

And then there’s a notebook found with a brilliant mathematical proof in it, one that will astound the academic world...and, cleverly interwoven, is the necessity to prove authorship and ownership of the proof itself.

It sounds rather dry, perhaps, and a bit off-putting for those who struggle with even high school maths. But there’s no need at all to understand the academics of this movie: the story is about relationships, and trust, and also about women’s portrayal in academic mathematical circles. I wasn’t sure what the outcome was going to be until near the end; the story is very cleverly written, brilliantly directed, and flawlessly acted.

At times it’s quite harrowing; our emotions were engaged, our heartstrings pulled. Yet there are lighter moments to ease the tension too. Once or twice we laughed aloud. The ending is entirely satisfactory, yet as it drew to an end we all felt drained.

The rating is 12, which we thought about right. There’s no violence (although there’s a threat in one place), no nudity, but one ‘bedroom’ scene. There’s some bad language, appropriate to the situations, but we didn’t think it too excessive. The film would probably not be of interest to anyone under the age of about 12 or 13 anyway.

No fast action, no sweet romance, but a very different plot that’s extremely well executed. Made in 2005 but still available on both sides of the Atlantic ten years later.

Extras comprise a few deleted scenes (one entirely unnecessary) and a commentary from the actors.

Review by copyright 2015 Sue's DVD Reviews

18 April 2015

The Magic of Belle Isle (starring Morgan Freeman)

I assume that Amazon recommended this to me because I’ve enjoyed other films starring Morgan Freeman. I put it on my wishlist a long time ago and was pleased to be given it for Christmas, although a little startled to see that - other than the title - the DVD case is all in German.

However, English is listed as a language at the back, and thankfully it was easy to set the film to be in its original language when we decided to watch this with our twenty-something son at the weekend. We had no idea what to expect, but hoped for something lightweight, mildly amusing, and, if possible, uplifting.

We were not disappointed.

Freeman stars as the cranky Monty, a widowed writer who spends his life in a wheelchair and drinks too much. His nephew brings him to a small house where he’s going to stay during the summer, in the hope of persuading him to start writing again. Monty isn’t particularly keen, particularly when he learns that a large dog called Ringo goes with the house, but he doesn’t have much choice.

Next door lives Charlotte (Virginia Madsen) who is a recently divorced mother with three daughters. They have come to the area for the summer; perhaps for good. The oldest daughter Willow (Madline Carroll) is a moody teenager who would rather be with her father. The youngest, Flora (Nicolette Pierini) who also misses her father very much, is only seven. And there’s nine-year-old Finnegan (Emma Fuhrmann) who is thoughtful, imaginative, and would really like to be a writer…

The story, such as it is, follows the interactions between these people over the next few weeks. As the children gradually realise that their father is not reliable, and isn’t going to come and see them, they come to rely more on Monty - and we find that his crankiness is mostly a mask, with a soft-hearted and gentle man inside, embittered by circumstances and grieving his beloved wife.

Belle Isle works its magic, both on the people in the story and on its audience - it was an absolutely delightful story. There was some humour, even some laugh-aloud moments when Monty converses with the not terribly intelligent dog. There are some deeply poignant moments, too, and there’s some maturing for the teenage Willow, as she starts to see other people’s points of view rather than just her own.

I found myself totally caught up in the story, the only slight jar coming from the rather slow and ‘odd’ Carl (Ash Christian) who is probably meant to be amusing, but made me feel rather sad, at least until Monty starts treating him with respect.

Overall, though, we were utterly captivated. Not a film for those who like a lot of plot or fast action; this is slow-moving and character-based. It was absolutely what we wanted to see, and one that I will undoubtedly watch again. Highly recommended.

Note that this has been re-released in the UK with the rather less memorable title of ‘Once More’.

Rated PG. There’s some minor bad language, and a great deal of drinking, but then it’s not the kind of film to appeal to anyone younger than about twelve anyway.

Review by copyright 2015 Sue's DVD Reviews

13 April 2015

A Song for Marion (starring Terence Stamp and Vanessa Redgrave)

Terence Stamp is delightfully believable as the curmudgeonly Arthur but his life is shadowed by the fact that his wife Marion (Vanessa Redgrave) is terminally ill. That’s not immediately obvious, although she’s wheelchair bound, and he has to take her everywhere.

Her social activities include a choir of elderly folk, meeting in a church hall, directed by the cheerful Elizabeth (Gemma Arterton) who was very realistic as a bouncy choir mistress, determined to make her mixed bunch of singers into a great choir. Her choice of music is sometimes quite amusing, as are some of the choir members and their reactions to her.

Arthur and Marion have a son, James, and I spent a long time during the film trying to remember who he was. I knew that face, but out of context could not place him. It was not until the end that I realised - duh! - he was Christopher Eccleston, the ninth Doctor. I thought he was far better cast in this film, as an adult son who’s very fond of his mother but mostly estranged from his father. He works as a mechanic and is divorced, with a likeable nine-year-old daughter Jennifer (Orla Hill) who is very fond of her grandparents.

The first part of the film felt quite morose as it was clear that Marion was not going to survive much longer. My husband almost turned it off after about half an hour, he was feeling so miserable. But we kept watching... and the story did get better, if a little predictable. The choir go on to a festival, and that leads to some quite amusing scenes and high drama, as well as some poignancy.

Unfortunately some of the singing, which is important to the storyline, isn’t that great, and this irritated my husband so much that he couldn’t enjoy it, despite agreeing that it was - in the end - a positive story, and a nicely made film with some great characters.

I liked the story and would have given it four stars; it was well-made, and the storyline a little different, even if it was fairly obvious from the start what would happen. I got quite caught up in the story. But my husband’s reaction was so negative that I don’t really think I can give it more than three - he’s quite eclectic in his tastes and will happily watch most films intended for women. But he really didn’t like this one.

The rating is PG in the UK, PG-13 in the US; I suppose this reflects the lack of horror, violence or nudity; on the other hand there are a LOT of references to sex. I wouldn’t suggest anyone under the age of about thirteen or fourteen watch this, as there are some quite heavy emotional scenes, and the storyline wouldn’t be of interest to children.

Apparently this film is known as 'Unfinished Song' in the US.

Review by copyright 2015 Sue's DVD Reviews

04 April 2015

The Last of the Blonde Bombshells (starring Judi Dench)

This is another movie that was recommended to me on Amazon, probably because I have enjoyed films featuring Dame Judi Dench in the past. I had never heard of it before, perhaps because it was originally made for television, back in 2000. The title wasn’t particularly appealing, but the reviews were good so I put it on my wish-list some time ago and forgot about it; so I was pleased to be given it last Christmas.

The story opens with a funeral. Judi Dench’s character Elizabeth has just lost her husband of many years. She misses him, but is determined that life should continue, and be interesting, despite her rather stuffy adult children who feel that she should move into some kind of care home. She starts playing her saxophone again, something she had abandoned for many years although - as she explains to her granddaughter Joanna - she was once well-known as a musician, in a wartime band called ‘The Blonde Bombshells’.

Elizabeth bumps into Patrick (Ian Holme) who was the drummer for the band, and they decide to contact other past members, to see if they can have a reunion concert. They don’t do very well at first: one member has died, one is suffering from dementia, one has joined the Salvation Army and doesn’t play ‘that kind of music’ any more… but then, gradually, much to Elizabeth’s family’s dismay, the band starts to re-form.

There are flashbacks to the wartime band interspersed with the narrative, and it makes for a compelling and interesting story that’s unusual and quite poignant. Judi Dench is excellent; her acerbic witty style fits the aging but bohemian Elizabeth. She’s not the only well-known actress involved: even I had heard of Olympia Dukakis, Cleo Laine, Joan Sims and June Whitfield, all of whom play different members of the reunion band.

The music is excellent and fits perfectly with the storyline, the pace is good, and we enjoyed this film very much indeed. There are no extras, and it lasts just under an hour and a half.

The rating is 15, which is presumably because of a few instances of ‘strong’ language. I would have thought that 12 would have been more appropriate.

Definitely recommended, although it’s currently showing on DVD in the UK at a vast price; I hope it will be re-released at a rather more reasonable cost. I wouldn't suggest paying more than £10 for it at the most.

Review by copyright 2015 Sue's DVD Reviews

17 March 2015

We Bought a Zoo (starring Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson, Colin Ford, and Maggie Elizabeth Jones)

We picked this film up, inexpensively, at a supermarket in the UK on a recent visit. We had not really heard of it, but it looked as if it could be rather different from others we’ve seen recently.

The story is about Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon), who has been recently widowed. He has a moody teenage son, Dylan (Colin Ford) who keeps getting into trouble at school, and a seven-year-old daughter, Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones) who is trying to take on some responsibility for the house already. I could feel for Benjamin’s growing frustration, trying to raise his children while still grieving himself. So it was no surprise when he decided to look for a new house, in a completely different area, to start afresh.

There are some amusing scenes as Benjamin and the delightful Rosie are taken around some entirely unsuitable houses by an enthusiastic agent who’s new to the job. Eventually they discover what seems like the perfect property: a bit run-down, but with several acres of land, and a wonderful view. There’s just one slight problem: it comes with a zoo.

Determined to make it work, Benjamin puts money into better enclosures and renovating the zoo, only to find that it’s considerably more expensive than he imagined, and there’s no guarantee that he’ll pass the stringent inspection necessary to re-open…

This film, set in the US, is based on a true story about a real zoo in the UK, although many of the details have been changed. It makes for a very interesting couple of hours, and has a good balance of themes: the obvious one of renovating the zoo runs alongside Benjamin’s often stormy relationship with Dylan, who reminds him all too often of his late (and much-loved) wife. There are also a couple of low-key romance elements, nicely done in an entirely family-friendly way. There’s some humour, mixed with some mild suspense and some quite moving scenes too.

The rating is PG, which I think is probably right; there’s some bad language, although nothing that would warrant a 12 or 15 rating; however a strong word for ‘dung’ is used repeatedly, and there are other slang phrases that some parents might prefer their little ones not to hear. The suspense is mostly mild, but Dylan does produce some quite intense and potentially frightening pictures as he works through his anger. Parents should check before showing this to sensitive children.

We enjoyed this film very much, and would recommend it highly. I was particularly taken with little Maggie Elizabeth Jones' delightful and entirely believable performance as young Rosie, and will be looking out for other films in which she features.

There's just one extra: a documentary about the production, showing how some of the animals were trained (entirely humanely and lovingly). It was very interesting.

Review by copyright 2015 Sue's DVD Reviews