31 January 2016

The English Teacher (starring Julianne Moore)

I don’t know why this DVD was recommended to me, but it sounded good from the reviews, and I was given it for Christmas just over a year ago; it’s taken us this long to decide to watch it.

Julianne Moore stars as Linda, a single teacher in her forties. She lives on her own, and - according to the introductory voice-over - mostly enjoys her days, living vicariously in the novels she devours. She’s an inspiring teacher whose students enjoy her classes, and she’s fiercely independent. So much so that when an ex-student happens to see her, she rather over-reacts at first…

Michael Angarano co-stars as Jason, a young man who has graduated from university and written an incredible - if dark - play but has been unable to find anyone interested in performing it. His widowed father, he tells Linda, wants him to give up on his dream of being a writer and study instead to be a lawyer. 

Linda is determined to help out, and convinces her school to put on the show, no expense spared…

On the whole it’s light-hearted, the school production being caricatured and full of its own drama on the sideline. The main cast - including Greg Kinnear as Jason’s father - are excellent and believable. While the ending is somewhat predictable, there is an unexpectedly sordid incident - done with humour but still rather cringeworthy - that made me less certain about the likely outcome.

The storyline is not particularly original, but it’s nicely done on the whole. The rating is 15 (or an even more cautious R in the US) which I think is right: there was a fair amount of ‘strong’ language, which I could have done without, as well as a bit of violence and the rather obviously sordid scene mentioned above. I can’t imagine that this would appeal to anyone still at school; I would have found it embarrassing in the extreme when I was a teenager.

Still, we liked it, and thought it made a good light evening’s entertainment. So on balance I would recommend it.

The film is around an hour and a half long, and the only extras are some cast/crew interviews.

Review by copyright 2016 Sue's DVD Reviews

20 January 2016

Elsa & Fred (starring Christopher Plummer and Shirley MacLaine)

I didn’t really know what to expect of this film, but it has an all-star cast, and Amazon recommended it to me as a gentle light romance. So it went on my wish-list and I was given it for Christmas. I realised that it was about an elderly couple, as the main title roles are played by Christopher Plummer and Shirley MacLaine, but I think it’s a positive move that films are being made about those both in middle age and well beyond it.

The story starts as we meet Fred’s rather bossy daughter, who is helping him to move into a small apartment. He was widowed some months before the story opens, but although he’s not really grieving, he’s a bit lonely, and quite a hypochondriac. His daughter arranges for someone to cook, clean and provide company for him, but he’s cantankerous and prefers to spend his days in bed…

Then his neighbour Elsa comes into his life. She’s lively and imaginative, although we quickly realise that she has a habit of embellishing the truth, or even making up stories entirely to suit her purposes. She’s a dreamer, but she and Fred soon become friends…

It would be hard to say more without spoilers. It’s not a fast-moving plot, nor is it particularly original. But it’s nicely done with touches of humour here and there, and I found it mostly very engaging. I can’t say I particularly liked Shirley MacLaine’s character; I felt it would have been better played by one of the other well-known actresses in their early 80s, but on the whole the pairing works, and it’s a nice back-to-front touch that their younger offspring were the ones worrying about them, telling them what they should and shouldn’t do, and generally disapproving.

Since I associate Christopher Plummer primarily with ‘The Sound of Music’, I found myself expecting him to break into ‘Edelweiss’ when he picked up a guitar… and there was a bit of cognitive dissonance when Scott Bakula appeared as Elsa’s reliable accountant son; I’ve only known him as the star of the lengthy ‘Quantum Leap’ series. But he was believable, as was his artist brother, whereas I had a hard time believing in Fred’s controlling and unpleasant daughter and son-in-law.

Rated 12, which I suppose is about right; I did notice one instance of ‘strong’ language, and perhaps a couple of minor words, and there are several implied bedroom scenes, although nothing at all explicit. I’m a little surprised it’s not PG from the legal point of view, but the storyline would be of no interest to a child, or even a teenager; indeed, I wouldn’t really recommend it to anyone under the age of about forty.

The ending is bittersweet, as was inevitable almost from the start, but nicely done. Overall it made a pleasant evening’s viewing even if there wasn’t much that was memorable or thought-provoking.

Review by copyright 2016 Sue's DVD Reviews