Archive for August, 2011

The psychiatric hospital in Roscommon, Ireland is due to be shut down, and it is the task of Doctor William Grene to assess all the patients in order to see if they can be released back into the community, or if they will have to go to the new hospital when it is built.  He becomes preoccupied with trying to uncover the history of a 100 year old patient, Roseanne McNulty, and with trying to determine the circumstances that led to her being put into the hospital in the first place.  He is one of two narrators of the story, and in giving his account of events, he not only uncovers the secrets of Roseanne’s past, but also talks about difficulties in his own life and marriage.

Roseanne, who has spent over half of her life in the institution chronicles her life, from her childhood with her beloved father, and then the marriage which she believed would bring her happiness, despite the fact that she was a Presbyterian and married into a Catholic family, who were largely unwelcoming to her.  As the book covers the 1920s and 1930s extensively, she talks about the troubles in Northern Ireland and the impact it had both on herself, the lives of the people around her and the country as a whole.

I’m not really sure what I thought of this book, and I don’t even know if I really enjoyed it or not.  I was initially ambivalent towards both narrators, but while I warmed up to Roseanne and ended up feeling for her, I never felt able to like Doctor Grene.  For a man who was entrusted with the care of others, he seemed far too wrapped up in his own worries and troubles, and often seemed to use 20 words when one would do.  (Put another way, he was not nearly as interesting a character as he could have been.) Roseanne’s use of grammar also grated on me somewhat – her descriptions seemed clunky at times, which made reading it slightly laborious.  I don’t think this was the fault of the author of the book, rather it was a trait of the character he created.

The story itself was interesting enough, but I felt that it could have been shortened and would have benefitted from some editing  I had little interest in Doctor Grene’s marital woes and didn’t feel that they added anything to the book.

There was a twist at the end, which I did work out (but not too far before it was revealed), which I felt was just slightly too unbelievable, but nonetheless it did tie things up fairly neatly.

There have been many extremely favourable reviews of this book, and my opinion places me in the minority in that I found it slightly disappointing.  I wouldn’t want to put anyone else off reading it, but it wasn’t one that I particularly enjoyed.


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Cary Grant, a Commander in the US Army stationed in Honolulu during World War II, is granted four days leave, together with three of his fellow army colleagues, and they decide to head to San Francisco.  There, they just want to relax and forget about the horrors of war for a while, but they keep getting pestered by various people who want them to rally the home front and give interviews in order to promote the war effort. Meanwhile, Commander Crewson (Grant) realises that he is falling in love with the fiancee of a rich shipyard magnate…

This 1957 movie was not well received, and time doesn’t seem to have been particularly kind to it either.  However, I thought it was better than many reviews would have you believe.  It does suffer somewhat due to the fact that it doesn’t seem to know whether it wants to be an out-and-out comedy, a romantic comedy/drama, or an attempt to highlight the suffering and sacrifices made during the war.  Jayne Mansfield is one of the supporting actresses, and while she does her best with her part, I found her irritating and something of a caricature in this film (I accept that she often portrayed the stereotypical dumb blonde, but she was a better actress in other films than she seemed here).

Suzy Parker plays Gwinneth Livingston, the engaged woman who falls for Crewson. Her performance has been criticised for being ‘flat’ but I thought she was fine in the role (she reminded me of Deborah Kerr, and after watching the film I discovered that Kerr had in fact dubbed Parker’s voice).

The film is saved by Cary Grant, who is always likeable and charming in such roles, and provides some much needed comic relief, although I would hesitate to call this a comedy film.  Ironically the fact that the film is far from one of his best, actually highlighted his charisma and talent – in the hands of a lesser lead actor, the film could have been a real disappointment.  However, due to Grant’s appearing in almost every scene, and peppering the movie with his legendary charm, it becomes watchable if not memorable.

Overall, this is not a dreadful film – but considering the talent involved (directed Stanley Donen, and actors Grant and Mansfield) it could have been so much better.  Still worth a watch though if you are a fan of any of the stars.

Year of release: 1957

Director: Stanley Donen

Writers: Luther Davis (play), Frederic Wakeman (book), Julius J. Epstein

Main cast: Cary Grant, Jayne Mansfield, Suzy Parker, Ray Walston, Larry Blyden

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This review relates to the 2009 two-part adaptation of Emily Bronte’s novel, which starred Tom Hardy as Heathcliff, and Charlotte Riley as Cathy.  (Minor spoilers for the storyline may be contained herein.)

It’s taken me a long time to see this, I admit partly because of some of the negative reviews it received when it first aired.  However, I wish I had watched it earlier, because I really enjoyed it very much.  The story is of course very well known, but briefly, it concerns the love between Heathcliff and his step-sister Cathy – a love which was all-consuming, very intense, and affected not just the two characters, but all around them as well, leading to jealousy, revenge and tragedy.

Tom Hardy was excellent as Heathcliff – it was easy to see how someone could fall in love with him as a young man, before loss and ill-treatment by other members of the family caused him to turn bitter and angry.  He was charming and likeable, but he was also entirely believable as an older Heathcliff, determined to make Cathy’s family suffer for the misery they had visited upon him.

Charlotte Riley was lovely as Cathy – a beautiful young girl with a promising future, but who seemed destined for one path in life despite wanting to choose another.  The chemistry between the two main characters was easy to see (and it’s no surprise to learn that after meeting on this production, they became a couple in real life).

Support was provided by Sarah Lancashire, who was excellent as Nelly, Cathy’s maid (and subsequently the maid to Cathy’s daughter Catherine).  Lancashire is a really amazing actress, who always brings her roles to life, and she made a big impact in this show.  Additionally, Andrew Lincoln plays Edgar, who becomes Cathy’s husband, but never the true love of her life.  He is an actor who I sometimes find quite wooden, but he was very good here.  Burn Gorman played Hindley, the brother of Cathy who always resented Heathcliff’s intrusion in their lives, and he was superb.  He totally encapsulated the cruel and spiteful nature of the character, and made me dislike him intensely.

The whole production is very atmospheric – which I think is very important in any telling of this tale – and the Yorkshire moors where the story is set is portrayed beautifully.  There is plenty of emotion – love, happiness, anger, shock, grief – and it all makes for a very moving and enjoyable production.  And it made me cry!

If you’re a fan of the book (or even if you’re not), and haven’t seen this yet, I highly recommend that you watch it.

Year of release: 2009

Director: Coky Giedroyc

Writers: Emily Bronte (book), Peter Bowker

Main cast: Ton Hardy, Charlotte Riley, Andrew Lincoln, Sarah Lancashire, Burn Gorman

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This non-fiction book was written after the author spent a number of months living with a family in Kabul.  The head of the family is Sultan Khan, a bookseller who has defied the authorities for years to sell books to the citizens of Kabul.  The book essentially describes normal life for the family, with each chapter concentrating on a different event or aspect of life.

The writing flows very easily and almost reads like a novel.  It’s constantly interesting, but always frustrating.  Sultan is liberal in many ways – he believes in encouraging knowledge and education, and is glad when women achieve governmental positions. He believes in banishing the uncomfortable burka, and is an intelligent and cultured man.  But for all that he believes would be good for society, he still treats his own family – particularly the females – as second class citizens.  He takes a second wife (a young teenage girl), although he already has a loyal and intelligent wife who is devastated at his choice to marry again, and his youngest sister Leila is treated as barely more than a slave, for little or no appreciation.

The oppression of women is a constant theme throughout the book.  For example, when a man decides that he wants to marry a particular woman, he has to approach her parents or the head of her family with his monetary offer for their daughter.  The potential bride has no say in whether she will marry the man or not.  Indeed, brides to be are not even supposed to look their husband in the eye prior to the wedding.

While I could not like Sultan, due to his treatment of his family, he was certainly an interesting character.  However, the character for whom I most cared was certainly Leila.  Reading about her life made me very thankful for my own life.

The book also features some interesting information regarding the history and culture of Afghanistan, and it’s easy to read style make this a book which I can heartily recommend to anyone who is interested in the country and the lives of those who dwell within it.

Shocking at times and always thought provoking – I definitely recommend this book, and will be keeping my eyes open for further work by this author.

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Laurence Olivier directed this 1957 movie, and starred in it alongside Marilyn Monroe. These two screen icons may seem mis-matched, and indeed in the film they play a mis-matched couple.  However, while it may not be one of the more popular films of either of the main stars, it does have a charm all of its own.

Olivier plays the Prince Regent of Carpathia, a fictional Balkan nation, who has come to London in 1911 with his young son the King, for the coronation of King George V. The night prior to the coronation he meets showgirl Elsie Mariner (Monroe), and invites her to dinner.  However, their romancing hits a few obstacles – the Regent Prince’s preoccupation with political business, Elsie’s lack of knowledge of regal etiquette, and of course, the coronation itself.

The filming of this movie also hit a few obstacles – Olivier did not get on at all with Marilyn, and grew impatient with her moods and her tardiness.  For Marilyn’s part, she suffered a miscarriage during filming.  She also had a number of health problems, and the medication she took for them caused her weight to fluctuate (for much of the film, she wears a stunning white dress – at least three copies of the dress in differing sizes were used, in order to accommodate her weight fluctuation).  However, despite all this, the film is actually rather lovely.  Olivier is fine in his role – he hams it up somewhat, but that seems entirely appropriate for a romantic comedy such as this; but the acting honours really have to go to Marilyn Monroe.  It’s a shame that this is one of her less well-regarded films, because she really is on top form here.  Whether Elsie is telling the Prince Regent off for being unromantic, or whether she’s practising a dance while believing that she is alone in the room, or whether she is trying unsuccessfully to manoeuvre her way around various waiters after realising that she is the Prince Regent’s only dinner guest, she simply sparkles.  She looks beautiful (like always), her acting is superb and while Marilyn’s comedic skills are often justly celebrated, she displays more depth in certain scenes, and I found it impossible not to love her character.

If you are a fan of either of the stars of this film and have not yet seen this film, I recommend that you seek it out – you might be pleasantly surprised!

(This was the only film that Marilyn made outside of America, and her time in England is the subject of the upcoming film ‘My Week With Marilyn’ starring Michelle Williams as Monroe, and Kenneth Branagh as Olivier.)

Year of release: 1957

Director: Laurence Olivier

Writers: Terrence Rattigan (play and screenplay)

Main cast: Marilyn Monroe, Laurence Olivier, Jeremy Spenser, Sybil Thorndike


Click here for my review of My Week With Marilyn.


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This is one of Marilyn Monroe’s most popular films – and it’s easy to see why.  Tom Ewell plays Richard Sherman, a married man whose wife and son go away for the summer, and he finds himself tempted by the beautiful woman (Marilyn Monroe) who moves into the apartment upstairs from where he lives…

This film appears in the American Film Institute’s list of top 100 comedies, and it deserves its place.  Marilyn looks stunning and again shows off her comedic skills. Tom Ewell is brilliant as Sherman – a part that could easily have been annoying in the hands of a less skilled actor.  Sherman talks to himself incessantly, and is constantly imagining himself being an irresistable object of affection for women.  The two actors work really well together, and have a real chemistry, but the whole time the viewer is reminded that Sherman is really something of a dreamer.

There are several laugh-out-loud moments in the film, and Marilyn with her blend of childlike innocence and woman-like seductiveness, really shines.  From the moment she first appears on screen, she makes the character her own, and it’s really hard to imagine any other actress playing this part.  Special mention also to Robert Strauss, who plays a slovenly janitor; he only takes a small part in this film, but is very funny.

So what happens at the end?  Well, you’ll just have to watch it to find out – and if you haven’t seen this classic comedy yet, I definitely recommend that you do so!

Year of release: 1955

Director: Billy Wilder

Writers: George Axelrod (play), Billy Wilder

Main cast: Marilyn Monroe, Tom Ewell, Evelyn Keyes, Robert Strauss

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Loosely based on the novel  ‘The Lady of the Camellias’ by Alexandre Dumas, fils, this 1936 film stars Greta Garbo as Marguerite Gautier, a Parisian courtesan, who falls in love with Armand Duval (Robert Taylor), but is promised to the ruthless Baron de Varville (Henry Daniell).  As Camille’s health starts to fail her, she must choose which man she wants to be with – but Armand’s father (Lionel Barrymore) does not want his son to marry Marguerite, and asks her to sacrifice her love in order to set him free.

This film astounded me – I had no idea that I would enjoy it so much.  It’s listed in the AFI’s top 100 romantic films, and with good reason – this is real romance, and the film is uplifting, sad, moving and sweet all at the same time.

All of the cast are great, but this is Garbo’s picture – this woman could ACT.  She was not a conventional beauty, but she was absolutely stunning and luminous in this role. Robert Taylor did a fine job as Armand, who is stunned by the force of his love for her, and confused and angry at the turn that events take.  While all of the supporting cast were good in their roles, I must mention Laura Hope Crews, as Marguerite’s friend Prudence (but like most of her friends, Prudence is only in the friendship for what she herself can get out of it).

Paris looks lovely and the costumes are divine.  The score is also lush and romantic and absolutely fitting for such a love story.  Anyone who is a fan of true romance in the movies must see this film – highly recommended.

Year of release: 1936

Director: George Cukor

Writers: Alexandre Dumas, fils (book), Zoe Atkins, Frances Marion, James Hilton

Main cast: Greta Garbo, Robert Taylor, Henry Daniell, Laura Hope Crews

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This is the true story of Chris McCandless, a young man with a good education, from a well-to-do family, who in 1990, left home without letting anyone know where he was. After travelling around the Southwest of American, in 1992 he entered the Alaskan wilderness intending to leave his old life behind and live off the land.  Chris changed his name, gave away all of his money and all but the most essential of his possessions, and set off into the wild.  Later that year his emaciated body was found in the wilderness by hunters; Chris’s dream had been the cause of his death.  This book pieces together how Chris spent his final two years, using his journals, and the memories and accounts of people he met during his travels.  It also discusses the effect that the whole experience had on Chris’s family, and looks at what might have caused him to abandon everything he knew for everything he didn’t.

The book also takes Chris’s life as a starting point for an examination of why certain people are drawn to such risky pursuits, and what would make someone want to pursue such a solitary and dangerous lifestyle.

I found the parts about Chris and his experiences very interesting.  I never felt that I really understood what motivated him; his family problems and frustration at the consumerist lifestyle might have caused him pain, but they were not especially unusual and would not necessarily make someone so drastically abandon their life.  Reading the words of people who Chris met was also very interesting – clearly he was a charismatic man, who seemed to have a great effect on people who he met, although he also liked his own company.

There was a section about other explorers who have lost their lives in similarly ambitious and dangerous pursuits, and this was one of the most fascinating parts of the book.

Sometimes the writing seemed slightly dry – for instance when explaining the difference between two very similar plants, one of which is poisonous and one of which isn’t – and I found myself losing interest.  However, overall this was a compelling if somewhat frustrating (due to the fact that the reader could never really empathise with Chris McCandless) book, and I would certainly recommend it.

(For more information about Christopher McCandless, please click here.)


Click here for my review of the 2007 film adaptation.


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Cary Grant is Nick Arden, a man whose wife was believed to have drowned seven years earlier.  After having her officially declared dead, he marries Bianca Bates (Gail Patrick), but on the very day of their wedding, his former wife Ellen returns home and Nick realises that his wife didn’t die after all.  His old feelings for her are reawakened, but how can he tell Bianca that his wife has come back?  And how will Nick feel when he finds out that Ellen hasn’t been alone for the past years, but actually lived on an island with Steve Burkett (Randolph Scott)…?

This is exactly the type of screwball comedy that Cary Grant excelled at.  His facial expressions, double takes, and the way he mutters away to himself are hilarious.  Irene Dunne is also brilliant as the newly returned Ellen, and it’s not hard to see why she and Grant made three films together in total – their on-screen chemistry is brilliant, and they are both excellent leads.

I should also mention Granville Bates, who played the judge who married Nick and Bianca after declaring Ellen officially dead, and who has to subsequently sort out the entangled mess.  Although he played only a small part, Bates came dangerously close to stealing all of the scenes he was in.

The whole storyline is totally unbelievable and that’s probably the point.  But it gives rise to lots of giggles and laughter, and this is a thoroughly enjoyable film, with Cary Grant’s magic sprinkled all over it.  Highly recommended.

Year of release: 1940

Director: Garson Kanin

Writers: Bella Spewack, Sam Spewack, Leo McCarey, Garson Kanin, John McClain

Main cast: Cary Grant, Irene Dunne, Randolph Scott, Gail Patrick

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This 1948 gangster/film noir movie has Humphrey Bogart in fine form as Frank McCloud, a world weary ex-soldier who comes to visit the family of a dead comrade at their hotel, only to find that the establishment has been taken over  by a team of gangsters, led by Johny Rocco (Edward G. Robinson).  Bogart’s real life wife, Lauren Bacall plays Nora Temple, the widow of Frank’s friend, and Lionel Barrymore is her father-in-law.  Tensions rise between the hotel owners and Frank, and the gangsters, until events must surely reach a climax…

This is not normally my favourite genre of movie, but the excellent cast make it compelling viewing.  Bogart is superb as Frank, who has already seen too much violence and doesn’t want to get involved in more. Bacall is sultry and sensual as Nora Temple, and Barrymore is just excellent as James Temple.  Edward G. Robinson is also suitably menacing as Johnny, and Claire Trevor as Johnny’s alcoholic girlfriend, deservedly won an Oscar as Best Supporting Actress for her part.

The film is set almost entirely within the hotel, with just a few outdoor scenes, and this serves to crank up the tension.  Throughout most of the film, you can sense the atmosphere between the two parties.

Plotwise, it is actually quite thin – the gangsters want to escape to Cuba, the hotel owners just want to get out of the situation alive, but they don’t want the gangsters to get away with their crimes (which mount up as the film progresses).  The enjoyment of the film comes from the different characters and the dynamic between them.  Acting was generally less subtle and more theatrical when this film was made, but here the subtle nuances and fleeting looks between characters makes this film deeply layered and lends to the claustrophobic atmosphere.

There’s not much more you need to know about the plot – but this is definitely a film worth seeing, as much for the uniformly excellent cast as for the storyline itself.

Year of release: 1948

Director: John Huston

Writers: Maxwell Anderson (play), Richard Brooks, John Huston

Main cast: Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Edward G. Robinson, Lionel Barrymore

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