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

09 March 2015

The Decoy Bride (starring David Tennant, Kelly Macdonald and Alice Eve)

Browsing on Amazon last year, I spotted this DVD in my ‘recommendations’. I assume it was because David Tennant is in one of the main roles, as I knew nothing about either of the other two co-stars. The blurb made it sound interesting, in the light rom-com genre that we enjoy for a relaxing evening in, so it went on my wishlist. I was given it last Christmas and we watched it last night with our son and a visiting friend.

The story starts with a society wedding that doesn’t go ahead, due to intrusive journalists and photographers. David Tennant is the hopeful groom: he plays the role of an English writer called James, who is engaged to Lara (Alice Eve) who is one of the world’s most desirable and well-known American movie stars.

Lara is quite hot-tempered and wants their wedding to be private, so the wedding planners decide to move the location to Hegg, a (fictional) little-known island in the Hebrides. James has written a long book supposedly based on Hegg which makes it sound a lot more appealing than it really is.

Meanwhile on Hegg, we meet Katie, the one unmarried young woman in a population of 75. She has suffered more than one disappointment in love, and has decided to give up on relationships. She has been living elsewhere but has returned to look after her terminally ill mother whose one wish is to travel the world…

Inevitably there are clashes of culture between the gentle Hebrideans and the wealthy, fast-moving wedding party, and there are plenty of misunderstandings and mistakes which make this gently amusing in places, surprisingly poignant in others. The location is lovely, entirely believable as a cold Northern island, although apparently the filming was mainly done in the Isle of Man.

The plot itself becomes a bit unlikely, as Lara goes into hiding and the wedding planners decide to use a ‘decoy’ bride to fool the journalists - who, inevitably, learn about the wedding and arrive in their droves. However, the sequences that follow, without Lara involved, are thoughtfully done with quite a spark of chemistry becoming apparent.

It’s not deep or thought-provoking, other than, perhaps, the glimpse into the lives of the famous that shows how very intrusive and painful media interest can be. But it’s a good story and made an excellent light evening’s watching which we all enjoyed. The ending was, perhaps, a bit too abrupt, but overall we thought it a pleasant film.

It's rated 12 (12A in the US) which seems about right; there are some minor instances of bad language as well as references to ‘adult’ topics; however, there’s no nudity, only mild violence, and nothing explicit. It’s not a storyline that is likely to appeal to anyone under the age of about 14 or 15 in any case.

There are no extras on the DVD at all.

Review by copyright 2015 Sue's DVD Reviews

02 March 2015

The Love Punch (starring Pierce Brosnan and Emma Thompson)

We were wandering round a supermarket in the UK and spotted this - along with several other DVDs - on offer, at less than £3 each. We had never heard of this particular film, but we know of and like the two main stars (Pierce Brosnan and Emma Thompson) and we both like the rom-com genre, on the whole.

Last night we watched it with our mid-twenties son, who also liked the sound of it based on the actors and the blurb on the back. We were all quite tired and wanted something fairly fluffy, a ‘feel-good’ story that didn’t require too much thought. ‘The Love Punch’ delivered on all counts.

The story is about a divorced couple. Richard (Pierce Brosnan) is a wealthy businessman on the point of retirement. He’s starting to feel his age, with various ailments getting worse. Moreover, despite being something of a womaniser, he seems to be losing his touch. There’s more than a nod to his previous role as James Bond in this story, but it’s not necessary to be a fan of 007 or even to have seen his movies.

His ex-wife Kate (Emma Thompson) has also grown older, and is suffering the first pangs of being an empty nester. Their geeky son is already at university, their daughter about to depart for her own studies. I could empathise quite strongly with her mixed feelings of pride and misery as she watches her daughter drive away. Their good friends and neighbours, Jerry and Penelope (Timothy Spall and Celia Imrie) try to encourage Kate to meet someone new. Although she’s not particularly keen, she is determined to make an effort.

Then disaster strikes Richard’s business, and he turns to his ex-wife. From this point the plot starts to become increasingly surreal - at times, very silly - with the kind of slapstick humour that doesn’t usually appeal to me at all. But somehow it works. The script is amusing, the timing perfect, and the little digs at James Bond (even I know he’s the one who generally organises car chases…) add to the enjoyment.

It’s not the greatest film I’ve ever seen, but it was undoubtedly entertaining and kept us interested from the start. Emma Thompson is particularly good. The ending is somewhat predictable but left us with a happy-ever-after feeling that perhaps life isn’t as bad as it’s often portrayed.

I thought that the rating of 12 (PG-13 in the US) was about right. There was some minor bad language, and one or two instances of ‘strong’ language which weren’t too obvious. There were hints of bedroom scenes but nothing explicit, and some brief implied nudity that was oddly amusing.

I think one has to be in the right mood for this kind of film; don’t expect anything thought-provoking or deep, and accept the silliness for an attempt to entertain.

There are no real extras on the DVD. There are some interviews with the main cast but they were, frankly, rather dull and we gave up watching them after a few minutes.

Recommended if you want something light-hearted and don’t mind silliness and low-key slapstick.

Review by copyright 2015 Sue's DVD Reviews