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