26 September 2016

An Unfinished Life (starring Jennifer Lopez and Robert Redford)

I expect Amazon recommended this film to me because Morgan Freeman is one of the main characters, and I’ve very much liked other DVDs where he has starred. I put it on my wishlist a couple of years ago, and was given it for Christmas last year. It’s taken this long to decide to watch it, and we liked it very much.

The story starts with the aftermath of domestic violence. Jean (Jennifer Lopez) finally makes the decision, pushed by her eleven-year-old daughter Griff (Becca Gardner) to leave her boyfriend. They make their way to her father-in-law Einer’s ranch, but he is still grieving the loss of his son, and blames Jean….

It takes a while for the movie to get going, after the initial drama, as there’s a lot of backstory to understand. But I like a gentle pace, developing characters and rounding out the past. Einer is brilliantly portrayed by Robert Redford, and his only friend Mitch, who is seriously injured, is played by Morgan Freeman.

The plot itself is perhaps predictable: ‘Heidi’ is probably the story best-known for a crusty old man who has his heart melted by his granddaughter. But the circumstances are very different; Griff is interested in farming, riding and even car mechanics. The close friendship between Einer and Mitch works well and is quite moving at times; it’s a good device to show Einer as a likeable person underneath his bitterness.

Overall it’s a story about coming to terms with the past, about forgiveness, and emotional healing, and the need to live life as it is rather than continually regretting the past. But the direction and the acting make it above average; we were particularly impressed with Becca Gardner as Griff, which was apparently the actress’s debut in films.

There are places where the story becomes quite tense: a bear is stalking the neighbourhood, and, mirroring this, Jean’s ex-boyfriend is trying to find her again. The contrast is shown between the natural tendencies of a wild animal and the cruelty of a human. There’s more violence than I’m comfortable with, although it’s necessary for the story and there’s nothing too gory.

The rating is 12 (PG-13 in the US) which is probably due to the violence and some instances of ‘strong’ language. There’s nothing else that would make this unsuitable for children, and the inclusion of a child may make this more appealing to younger teens.

Definitely recommended.

Review by copyright 2016 Sue's DVD Reviews

19 September 2016

It's Complicated (starring Meryl Streep)

I happened to spot this DVD in a charity shop when I was in the UK. Meryl Streep is always good value, and I was intrigued at the idea of her working with Steve Martin, who is listed as one of the co-stars. The plot sounded like a typical light romance, so I forked out a pound and brought it back to Cyprus.

We thought it would make ideal viewing for an afternoon when we were both somewhat tired but wanted to snuggle up on the sofa together. I hoped it would be uplifting, but hadn’t expected it to be such a thoroughly enjoyable film, if perhaps a tad slow to get started.

Streep stars as Jane Adler, a contentedly divorced woman who has three young adult children, and is about to experience an empty nest. Her ex-husband Jake (Alex Baldwin) is rather irritating, although smooth-talking, and is now married to a much younger woman, who has a rather hyperactive small son.

Jake and Jane find themselves meeting at mutual friends’ parties, and then at the graduation of one of their sons Jane is priding herself on being relaxed and polite around him, when circumstances throw them together one night, and they wonder whether there’s still a spark of attraction….

Steve Martin, meanwhile, plays an architect who is designing and overseeing a major extension to Jane’s house. His character is very like most other parts he has played: charming, a little shy, and prone to clumsiness. That was fine in this film, as he provided a very likeable contrast to the somewhat bumptious and jealous Jake. But of course Meryl Streep’s part is the most complex and also the most interesting; as ever, she plays it to perfection, utterly believable in the role of a middle-aged, attractive woman who is a great cook and slightly over-protective mother, but rather insecure about relationships.

There were a couple of places (involving Steve Martin) where we laughed out loud; his timing is excellent, and he worked well with Streep. Jake and Jane’s future son-in-law Harley (John Krasinski) was a surprising hit too, a likeable young man who saw things he shouldn’t have done, and if a little exaggerated in his role, did it very well. I found myself warming to him rather more than their three children, who never really developed characters of their own.

The pace wasn’t rapid, and there wasn’t a whole lot of plot, but until the end I wasn’t certain where it was going to go. It was quite emotive at times, and we were both totally absorbed in the film. Bad language was pretty mild and although there are several intimate bedroom scenes, they are tastefully done, with implications rather than anything explicit.

I was surprised that it had a 15 rating (R in the US): there’s no violence at all, nor anything remotely frightening. I suppose it’s due to there being a fair amount of drinking and some use of soft drugs, although mainly for comic effect. However as the plot features a middle-aged romance, it’s unlikely to appeal to teenagers.

All in all this made a nicely made and enjoyable ‘rom com’ - recommended to anyone who likes this genre.

Review by copyright 2016 Sue's DVD Reviews

04 September 2016

A Good Year (starring Russell Crowe)

I was staying with a friend; she suggested a film one evening, when her daughter was there and we were all feeling quite tired. I hadn’t seen this one and it looked interesting, so we watched it, and while it was a bit slow at first I liked it very much by the end.

‘A Good Year’ is about a high-flying and somewhat cold-blooded businessman called Max (Russell Crowe). We see a flashback of him to start with, a young boy (Freddie Highmore) learning to play good chess and taste good wine with his beloved Uncle Henry (Albert Finney). But then the story moves forward to his adult life, and we see the adult Max buying and selling stock, putting people out of business, and caring almost nothing for anything or anyone else.

Max (receives a message that his uncle has died and left him his entire estate. At first he decides to sell, but then makes the trip to France to meet his lawyer… and events conspire to keep him at the estate rather longer than he expected.

The overall storyline is somewhat predictable; it’s a fairly well-worn theme to have someone forced into a more relaxed lifestyle and discover what is really important to them. It could have been jaded, but I thought it was very well done. Perhaps Max is a bit too obnoxious at times, but there’s supposed to be a bit of humour in it. I don’t find that kind of thing amusing, but then it makes the scenes where he’s caught at the chateau more acceptable somehow. Those who like slapstick would probably find some of them quite funny; they were nicely done without going on too long.

There are one or two unexpected events that add to the change-of-heart storyline, and some that’s predictable, including a romance. I don’t know that I’d want to see it again, but it was pleasant to watch, and some of the scenery is sumptuous.

Rated 12 (PG-13 in the US) which I think is a tad low; there’s quite a bit of bad language and, if nothing actually explicit, a great deal of implied suggestive content. There are also scenes of a young child tasting wine, which could be shocking in some contexts. I’d have rated the film as 15. However it’s unlikely to be of interest to anyone under the age of about 18 or even older.

Review by copyright 2016 Sue's DVD Reviews

03 September 2016

The Hundred Foot Journey (starring Helen Mirren and Om Puri)

I was staying the weekend with a friend, and she suggested watching a DVD one evening. She pulled out a few of her favourites, and suggested this one. I hadn’t seen it, but it sounded interesting, and Helen Mirren is always worth seeing.

'The hundred foot journey' is about a young man called Hassan (Manish Dayal) who works as a cook in his father’s restaurant, initially in India. We meet the family as they move to Europe after a devastating attack, and the first half hour or so is a chapter of problems, some of them mildly amusing in a schadenfreude kind of way. It’s very much a paternalistic extended family, ruled over by the delightful Papa (Om Puri).

Eventually they decide to settle in a small French village and buy a derelict restaurant which they upgrade and convert…

Unfortunately they are opposite - 100 feet away from - a high class French restaurant which has a coveted Michelin star, and is owned by Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren). Her chefs are highly trained and look down on other kinds of food and cooking - all except for Marguerite (Charlotte le Bon), a sous-chef in training, who is rather attracted to Hassam, and takes an interest in what he’s doing.

Hassan, it turns out, is not just a good cook but has a stunning gift for tasting spices and getting things exactly right; the culinary equivalent of perfect pitch, as one review put it.

There’s not a whole lot of plot; it’s character-based and mainly features the conflict between the two restaurants, as well as the inevitable clash of culture as French and Indian cuisines compete. Those looking for fast action or excitement would do better to look elsewhere, but for those who enjoy light but somewhat thought-provoking dramas, this is an excellent example. The ways that the conflict is eventually resolved are not all predictable,and some of the onscreen chemistry is quite powerful,

There are some caricatures, inevitably, but as a study of culture and character, I thought this excellent. Uplifting, and with the benefit of some stunning scenery. I was thinking that it would be a good one to add to our collection at home, only to realise that in fact it had been on my wishlist, and I have a copy already. Definitely one to re-watch.

This film is rated PG, which slightly surprised me as there are some quite intense and disturbing scenes, albeit brief. However there are no explicit scenes, and almost no bad language, which raises it still further in my estimation. I doubt if a child would be interested in this film anyway, but other than the intense scenes, there’s nothing unsuitable for even quite young children.

Review by copyright 2016 Sue's DVD Reviews