03 May 2017

Catch and Release (starring Jennifer Garner)

I’m not sure how this film ended up on my wish-list last year. Probably Amazon recommended it to me, based on the genre of film I like; I don’t think I’d come across any of the cast before, although I don’t always remember the names of actors and actresses.

I was given ‘Catch and Release’ for Christmas last year, and we decided to watch it last night. We knew the theme would be sad, at least initially; the blurb on the back told us that it was about a young woman whose fiancé had just died.

The story starts at the funeral itself, and we see Gray (Jennifer Garner) struggling to hold everything together as she deals with her own grief alongside that of her fiancé’s family and close friends. We learn that he died in some kind of accident while on a men’s weekend away, and that they had parted in anger. Gray escapes from the crowds to hide in the bathroom, only to overhear a very embarrassing incident with one of her former fiancé’s close friends, Fritz (Timothy Olyphant).

The rest of the film is about Gray and her interactions with the three close friends. Dennis (Sam Jaeger) is eager to do anything he can to help. Sam (Kevin Smith) is an irritating and overweight joker, although he too is grieving. Fritz appears not to care at all.

Unsurprisingly, and a little clichéd, Gray uncovers several secrets in her fiancé’s past which both shock and anger her. She starts to wonder if she had ever really known him at all… and gradually gets to know his friends better.

It’s a character-based story, and I liked the pace although it was a bit hard to tell the time-frame. Gray appears to recover rather rapidly, with the shocks she uncovers making her decide to live life to the full rather than becoming miserable.

Other a couple of others who were rather caricatured, we thought the people very believable. The three friends form a good contrast with each other. Every time Sam appears he’s eating very loudly, or talking with his mouth full, and I had to block my ears and close my eyes. It seemed unnecessary to make him so gross, although perhaps it was supposed to be amusing. Far from it with anyone who has misophonia, or who finds bad manners irritating.

I was particularly impressed with Fiona Shaw, who played the mother of Gray’s late fiancé. Her dignity and deep misery were shown perfectly, and we appreciated her gradual softening in the face of other people’s suffering.

Overall the story was really rather sad; Gray, inevitably, moves on although we felt it far too rapid and rather shallow. But the themes, in addition to the main depressing one are about unrequited love, betrayal and lies. It’s a testament to the director and writers that they made a very watchable and (in places) moving film.

Rated 12 (PG-13 in the US), which seems about right. The bedroom scenes are implied rather than explicit, and there’s no violence. Some bad language, mostly profanity.

Review by copyright 2017 Sue's DVD Reviews

27 April 2017

Florence Foster Jenkins (starring Meryl Streep)

Browsing Amazon a while ago, I saw this DVD recommended to me. Reviews, for the most part, were good; in my experience anything starring Meryl Streep is likely to be excellent, and there was the bonus of Hugh Grant. So I put it on my wish-list, and was delighted to receive it (actually the Blu-ray edition) for a recent birthday.

‘Florence Foster Jenkins’ is about a late middle-aged woman - played by Streep - who is clearly not in the best of health. She is loved and protected by her husband who gives monologues in music halls… although we quickly learn that theirs is a rather strange relationship.

The story begins when Florence decides that she wants to take singing lessons again. There are some light-hearted scenes where they interview various applicants for the job of accompanist. The successful candidate, Cosmé McMoon (Simon Helburg), is young and dedicated, and can’t quite believe his good fortune. At least, until the first lesson, when he discovers that Florence’s singing leaves much to be desired…

I had read on the back of the blu-ray that the film is based on a true story. In a way, i wish I hadn’t known that. Part of the bittersweet humour of the film is about the way that everyone conspires to avoid letting Florence know that she really can’t sing. In a fictional setting, with reality suspended, I could have relaxed and probably enjoyed it. As it was, I kept thinking of how awful it would be if - or when - she eventually learned that her loved ones had been deceiving her.

It’s not a film for those with perfect pitch, or who find it painful to hear bad singing. I’m no musician, and I cringed at times. Meryl Streep does a wonderful job portraying Florence; as ever, she takes on the part fully, and the character felt all too flamboyantly real. Hugh Grant, too, while somewhat typecast as her husband, does very well, and Simon Helburg’s expressions as the accompanist are also a delight.

As a film, I’d give it five stars. The pace is good, the story sparkles, and the acting is excellent. But the story itself made me feel uncomfortable, hitting just a tad too close to real situations I’ve come across.

Rated PG in the UK, PG-13 in the US. Some of the implications and conversations are somewhat ‘adult’ although there is nothing explicit. Bad language is minimal and there is no violence; drinking and smoking are commonplace. Based on the content I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone under the age of at least twelve.

Review by copyright 2017 Sue's DVD Reviews

10 April 2017

My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 (starring Nia Vardalos)


Sequels to films can be a disappointment, so I didn’t take much notice when I heard that ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2’ was being produced. It didn’t even have an original title; we very much enjoyed the first ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’, but I expected that this version would be a pale imitation, or perhaps the same over again.

However, reviews were favourable, so when the DVD became available and the price wasn’t too high, I put it on my wishlist, and was given it for Christmas. We were hoping to see it with our younger son but he’s not been around for a while, so last night we watched it with some friends who also liked the first film.

The story involves the same family, but takes place ten years after the epilogue to the first film. Toula (Nia Vardalos) and Ian (John Corbett) are still happily married, although they don’t see much of each other; their daughter Paris (Elena Kampouris) is now 17, and starting to look at university applications. Her grandparents want her to marry a Greek boy, but, like her mother, she wants to be independent and make her own decisions.

The ‘wedding’ in this movie takes place towards the end and turns the story upside down; it’s an amusing twist, although most of the reviews I had read gave spoilers, so I knew it was coming. It didn’t matter, really; the preparations, and the closeness of the Greek family remain amusing, with interludes in the family restaurant, and a couple of episodes where even small children have fun trying to find Greek derivations for words in the English language.

There’s plenty of humour that made us smile, including one or two places where we laughed aloud. Greek culture is clearly caricatured, but so is American culture, and the clashes between the two are shown, although not as obviously as in the first film. And yes, there's much that's a re-hash of what worked so well in the original movie - but we didn't have a problem with that.

It’s a story about marriage, primarily; about the kind of relationship that lasts decades, moving through difficulties and arguments, finding what loyalty and long-lasting love really mean. As such I thought it quite uplifting, in a light-hearted way. Of course some of the scenes are exaggerated, although having lived for nearly 20 years in a country that’s culturally Greek, they’re not as caricatured as some would assume.

It’s also about the balance of culture and freedom, of the empowerment of women, and of the difficulties of letting go of teenagers. But they’re not issues that are pushed; they’re there to be picked up or ignored. The film moves at a good pace, and I found myself quite involved in the family dynamics, oddly disappointed when it ended.

All in all, I thought it was a good film, and pleasant for a relaxed evening’s viewing without too much brain power needed. It helps to have seen the first film, but probably isn’t essential.

Rated 12 (12A in the US) which I think is about right. While there's no nudity or violence, and I didn't notice any bad language at all, there are several suggestive scenes and references, and frank discussions about making babies that would be irrelevant and possibly embarrassing to younger children.

Definitely recommended.

Review by copyright 2017 Sue's DVD Reviews

06 March 2017

She's the One (starring Edward Burns and Mike McGlone)

From time to time I browse the recommendations on Amazon, wondering what new books or DVDs might be recommended. In one such exploration, they suggested I might like this film: it’s twenty years old but I hadn’t previously heard of it. Reviews were mixed, but I quite like some of the actors mentioned, so I put it on my wishlist and was given it for Christmas.

‘She’s the One’ is about two Italian-American brothers called Micky (Edward Burns) and Francis (Mike McGlone). Their father is likeable but quite controlling, and this has led to them veering in different directions career-wise. Micky, who is mostly quite laid-back, is a taxi driver in New York, while Francis has become a high-flying and materialistic businessman.

We soon learn that Francis is married to an attractive woman (Jennifer Aniston) but has mostly lost interest in her, apparently because he spends so much time working, even taking his computer to bed. Micky is not married. He was once engaged, but walked out on his fiancee after he found her in a compromising position with someone else…

To say more would be a spoiler in a film that’s rather low on plot anyway; the two main subplots (a new romance for Micky, and the reason why Francis rejects his wife’s advances) are so bizarre in their detail that they provide the main interest. I’m glad we didn’t read the back of the DVD case, as it gives the entire plot in a couple of sentences.

We were a bit bemused at first, as unlikely events started rolling out. Mickey seems like a likeable person, although as we gradually discover, he and his brother have a love-hate relationship that involves a lot of jealousies and rivalry. Francis, however, is one of the most unpleasant, self-centred characters I can recall seeing on a film of this kind. He does not seem to have any redeeming features; he even chain smokes.

Cameron Diaz plays another extremely selfish and unpleasant character, one who made me cringe in almost every scene involving her. Chemistry is lacking between the various couples, and to have two out of the five principles dislikable made it a strange film to watch.

On the plus side, the pace of the film is good; it’s just over an hour and a half long, and it doesn’t flag. There are some amusing lines too, several that made us smile and one or two that made us chuckle. The ending is positive and encouraging, at least as far as one of the storylines goes.

The amount of bad language and innuendo is excessive in my view and in most cases unnecessary, other than to give this a 15 rating (R in the United States) despite minimal violence and no overt sexuality or nudity. I can’t imagine it would appeal to anyone under the age of 15 anyway.

As a commentary on modern society (or, at any rate, the society of the mid-1990s when this was produced) it's a bit depressing, but perhaps the conclusion makes up for it.

Review by copyright 2017 Sue's DVD Reviews

27 February 2017

Man Up (starring Lake Bell and Simon Pegg)

Once again, this is a DVD that was recommended to me by Amazon, so I put it on my wishlist. I was given it for Christmas, and we decided to watch it last night. Billed as a ‘romantic comedy’ we realised that this phrase covers all sorts, from bittersweet poignant films with just the odd moment of wry humour through to those where the romance is minimal and the comedy element, whether humorous or not, more significant.

However, ‘Man Up’ managed to fit the bill perfectly. The storyline is that of a potential romance: it takes place over just one day. There’s humour too, with a somewhat ridiculous premise: a girl ends up on someone else’s blind date.

Nancy (Lake Bell) is fed up of dating and heartbreak, and as we meet her at the start of the film, she is keen to avoid too much partying or being set up with guys. On the train, on the way to help her parents celebrate an important anniversary, she realises someone has left a book behind. In an attempt to return the book, she is mistaken for the girl concerned by the rather nervous Jack (Simon Pegg). He thinks she is Jessica, a friend-of-a-friend ten years younger than Nancy, and Nancy doesn’t get a chance to tell him the truth at first. Before long, she doesn’t want to…

The film then takes them to bars and clubs, as they get to know each other and find a great deal in common. It could have been silly or trite, but the dialogue is fast-paced and the chemistry between the two is exceptionally strong. There are humorous moments, although nothing that made us laugh aloud, and the whole is a light-hearted romp, with dramatic tension as we know that, at some point, Nancy is going to have to confess…

I was surprised how much I enjoyed this film, as the story itself is pretty thin, and there is rather more bad language than I’m comfortable with. There's also a great deal of innuendo, most of which isn’t necessary, and which is - I assume - what gives it a 15 rating in the UK, and as high as R in the United States. There’s no nudity as such, nor any scenes of intimacy or violence. It could have been suitable for younger teenagers and I thought it a pity that the writer and director felt it necessary to include so many overt sexual references and swearing.

Still, that’s my only gripe. Inevitably there are caricatures: I thought Nancy’s parents rather too sweet, and the real Jessica (Ophelia Lovibond) is sickly-sweet, self-centred and not very intelligent. The barman Sean (Rory Kinnear) would be creepy if he wasn’t so exaggerated. But it doesn’t matter; the two principals work so well together that the rest are in the background, and reality can be somewhat suspended for the course of the film.

We watched the documentary on the DVD after the end of the film, and were astounded to learn that Lake Bell is American; while there are hints of that in the way she plays Nancy, we would not have guessed from her accent, which sounds flawlessly British.

Recommended, if you don’t mind the ‘adult’ content.

Review by copyright 2017 Sue's DVD Reviews

20 February 2017

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (starring Daniel Radcliffe)

We had a bit more time available than usual, so decided to watch a film that’s been waiting in our drawer for quite some time. I was reluctant at first to see the Harry Potter films; I did watch the first couple at the cinema, but found the second one rather disturbing, and when I heard that the later ones were ‘darker’, I determined not to see them.

However they came out on DVD, and since I have enjoyed the books so much, we decided to acquire the DVD versions to watch at home - a much less disturbing scenario than the cinema. It’s a while since we watched the fifth in the series, ‘Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix’, but despite the dark ending I thought it excellent. So finally we sat down to watch the sixth film.

It’s some time since I’ve read the book ‘Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince’, indeed more than time for a re-read. But the benefit of that is that although I remembered the main plot points, and the dramatic ending, I have forgotten all the details and conversations, so wasn’t disturbed by finding the film - as is inevitably the case - rather different from the film.

The story opens with high drama, as parts of London are being destroyed, and people are becoming terrified. We don’t meet Harry at the Dursleys this time; instead Professor Dumbledore takes him on some visits, in particular trying to persuade an old friend, Professor Slughorn, to come and work at Hogwarts.

After a short stay at his friend Ron Weasley’s, with yet more problems arising, Harry and friends set out for school, discovering high security everywhere.

There’s not much action taking place in the classroom, other than the lab where Harry discovers an old textbook that belonged to the mysterious ‘half-blood prince’. He is now clearer as to what his destiny is likely to be, and a lot more grown up than in previous films.

There’s low-key love interest in the book, with some jealousies and a lot of ‘snogging’, though mostly off-stage and what’s scene is fairly discreet. There’s minor bad language too, in a few places, but the reason for the UK ‘12’ rating is, I assume, that there’s a lot of suspense and some violence, with a lot that would be very disturbing if seen by a sensitive child who did not know what was coming. The US rating is PG, perhaps because there's no 'strong' language, or nudity.

The acting is excellent, and I found myself caught up in the story, hardly noticing two and a half hours going by. The pace was rapid but not so much that I got lost; it helps, of course, to have read the book, and to have been aware of what happened earlier in the series.

All in all we thought it extremely well done, preparing the way for the finale, which is in two parts and which we have still to watch.

Highly recommended, but in my opinion it's best to watch the earlier ones (or read the books) first.

Review by copyright 2017 Sue's DVD Reviews

16 February 2017

As Good As It Gets (starring Jack Nicholson)

This is another of those films that was recommended to me by Amazon based on my previous viewing preferences. It sounded intriguing so I put it on my wishlist, and was given it for Christmas. We decided to watch it last night.

‘As good as it gets’ stars Jack Nicholson as the obsessive-compulsive Melvin. He isn’t just paranoid about germs and cracks in the roads; he is an aggressively unpleasant and bigoted man who is rude to - and about - everyone he comes across. However, and rather bizarrely, he is also a highly successful romantic novelist.

One of his neighbours (Greg Kinnear) is an artist with a dog whom Melvin particularly dislikes. However after a very unpleasant incident, Melvin finds himself looking after the dog… and slowly a slightly more human side emerges. I found Melvin decidedly annoying at first: not for his OCD but for his extreme rudeness, and never really warmed to him.

The storyline is all rather unlikely, involving a waitress (Helen Hunt) in a restaurant who tolerates Melvin’s strange quirks. Minor characters include a sick child, a flamboyant agent, a somewhat clingy (though helpful) mother, and a friendly doctor. They are all somewhat caricatured, which made it easy to remember who was whom.

The film was made in 1997 so it’s inevitably somewhat dated - the old-fashioned telephones are a giveaway clue. Moreover, some of the racist, homophobic and other similarly bigoted lines, while presumably meant to be funny, are a bit shocking; as are the cheers when someone is thrown out of a restaurant.

Still, there’s a little slapstick humour and some nicely done asides that work well. Overall it’s quite a light-hearted film despite the one scene of violence and some quite serious issues. It’s very well made, and while I found it hard to see any chemistry between the two main characters, it was overall an enjoyable film. Helen Hunt and Greg Kinnear are both excellent, but I never entirely believed in Jack Nicholson, even though he delivers some of the best lines (and won an Oscar for his role).

The rating is 15 which I would say is right: while there are no extreme scenes of intimacy or overt nudity, there’s a great deal that’s implied, and a lot of suggestive (and indeed overt) dialogue. There is one violent scene and also a few instances of ‘strong’ language. In the United States the rating is PG-13, which surprised me, as their censors are usually stricter than those in the UK.

Review by copyright 2017 Sue's DVD Reviews

08 February 2017

How About You? (starring Hayley Attwell)

This is one of the DVDs that Amazon recommended to me some months ago, based on what I liked already. The blurb suggested a feel-good film with some humour as well as some more serious parts; the front cover suggested a light Christmassy story. I put it on my wishlist, and was given it for Christmas.

We were tired last night and wanted to watch something short and fairly light, and at just under 90 minutes, ‘How about you?’ looked as if it would be ideal. I was particularly interested to note that it’s based on a story by Maeve Binchy; I couldn’t recall it, but, later, found it in her short story collection ‘This Year it will be Different’.

The film is almost all set in a care home for the elderly, run - and owned - by a young woman called Kate (Orla Brady). She’s constantly stressed, because four of her long-term residents are rude and unhelpful. This means that potential newcomers are put off, some current residents are so upset that they leave, and even staff don’t stick around. Finances are tight and there’s a constant threat of being closed down by the overzealous health and safety officer.

It’s nicely produced with a good pace, but the first half hour is quite depressing rather than humorous. It doesn’t help when Kate’s younger and somewhat irresponsible sister Ellie (Hayley Attwell) asks for a job; she persuades Kate to take her on despite a tense relationship, and Ellie comes up against the unpleasant quartet more than once.

As Christmas approaches, most of the residents leave to stay with family and friends, and staff are given a break. Kate expects to stay with the four difficult folk, then an emergency crops up and Ellie, to her horror, is left in charge.

Two of the people who remain are the spinster sisters, Heather (Brenda Fricker) and Hazel (Imelda Staunton) who spend their time bickering and being rude in a loud way. Then Georgia (Vanessa Redgrave) makes constant demands for cocktails, and plays the diva whenever she can. The fourth of the difficult quartet is Donald (Joss Ackland), who expects a cooked breakfast at 6.00 every morning...

Naturally enough, as it’s supposed to be a feel-good film, Ellie’s outspokenness breaks down some barriers, although she also creates more tensions in other ways. The second half of the film is somewhat lighter than the first part, and there are moments that made us smile, although it certainly isn’t ‘hilarious’ as the blurb suggests.

The film is darker and, in places, sadder than the original story and while the ending was positive and quite encouraging, we wished we had been aware that it was a serious film with one or two lighter moments rather than being a light-hearted one overall.

The acting is great, the pace just right, the music works well, even if the repetition of the title song becomes a trifle old. I liked the mild Irish accents too. There were several instances of ‘strong’ language, which, along with some recreational drug usage, gives this film a 15 rating in the UK; neither feature in Binchy’s original story.

On the whole we enjoyed it, and will no doubt see it again some time.

Review by copyright 2017 Sue's DVD Reviews

03 January 2017

Along Came Polly (starring Ben Stiller and Jennifer Aniston)

Staying with relatives for a few days, they suggested watching a DVD one evening. We had not heard of this one, but it was a new arrival in the household and we hoped that it would make an undemanding, possibly amusing watch for ninety minutes or so.

‘Along came Polly’ stars Ben Stiller as a rather uptight risk assessor called Reuben. It opens, as the titles are showing, with scenes from his wedding day to the ‘perfect’ Lisa, a girl he has wooed gradually over four years. The film proper starts when they are on the beach on the first day of their honeymoon… and disaster, for Reuben, ensues.

Confused and hurt he returns home and is persuaded by his close friend Sandy (Philip Seymour Hoffman) to go to a social event, where he bumps into Polly (Jennifer Aniston), someone he has not seen since junior high school. He takes this as a sign that he should perhaps move on and start dating again, but he is very nervous indeed…

Polly turns out to be Reuben’s polar opposite, a free spirit who lives a bohemian life, and who likes to take all kinds of risks. Alongside their growing relationship Reuben is trying to evaluate whether or not his company should ensure a wealthy businessman who spends his leisure time taking as many dangerous risk as possible.

Most of the humour is mild slapstick, with some rather uncomfortable bathroom scenes that I didn’t find amusing at all. I also really didn’t like the way that Polly’s elderly ferret kept bumping into things. But still, the chemistry is good between the two principals, and there’s some nice scripting. The film moves at a good pace, and if the ending is somewhat predictable, it’s satisfactory.

As a story about opposites attracting, it’s perhaps caricatured; most of the minor characters and subplots are strongly so. Nonetheless it gives rise to some interesting questions about how far it makes sense to avoid risks, and what commitment means.

The film is rated 12 (PG-13 in the US), presumably for bedroom scenes and implications, and a bit of rear-view nudity. There's minor violence a couple of times too, but I don't recall any 'strong' language, which is quite refreshing for a film made this century. Unlikely to be of any interest to children, other than perhaps the unpleasant bathroom scenes.

A pleasant evening’s light viewing, but not a film I’d necessarily want to see again.

Review by copyright 2017 Sue's DVD Reviews