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