Archive for November, 2011

This is a fun, if dated, romantic comedy from 1948, starring Cary Grant, and Betsy Drake (in her debut film). The two stars went on to get married afterwards, which probably explains why there was so much chemistry between them here.

Drake plays Anabel Sims, a young woman whose sole ambition in life is to get married. When she bumps into Doctor Madison Brown (Grant) she immediately decides that he is the one for her, and pursues him relentlessly in an attempt to get him to fall for her. Complications arise when she tries to make Brown jealous, and comical misunderstandings ensue.

I did enjoy this film – partly because I simply enjoy watching Cary Grant act, and especially in films such as this, where he can use his considerable comic talents. There’s no doubt however, that the film is very firmly rooted in a different age. The idea that Anabel’s only hope is to land a husband is outdated, and further, the idea that a woman will (and should) use subterfuge, trickery and manipulation to land the man of her dreams is seen as a good thing! Additionally, her plans to net the Doctor involve following his every move (she does indeed follow him day and night, and learns everything about him, including not only where he eats and socialises, but also what his hobbies are, and even what colour his underwear is!) All of this might sit uncomfortably with some viewers, and certainly Anabel’s behaviour would be classed as stalking and entirely unacceptable in the current day. With all that in mind, it’s therefore necessary to take the film at face value and not read too much into it.

It’s actually very funny in parts. Betsy Drake is perfect as Anabel, and it’s a shame that she didn’t go on to have a more illustrious career – she certainly seems to have had the talent for it. Grant of course is terrific, and I loved the character of Madison, who tries to resist Anabel’s aggressive pursuit. I won’t reveal the ending, but it’s a romantic comedy – and Cary Grant is the hero – so you can probably guess what happens. There is a neat little twist though, which reveals Anabel’s ingenuity!

Probably not a film for everyone then, and not Grant’s best by some fair way – but still enjoyable and worth a watch.

Year of release: 1948

Director: Don Hartman

Writers: Stephen Morehouse Avery, Eleanor Harris, Don Hartman

Main cast: Cary Grant, Betsy Drake, Franchot Tone, Diana Lynn

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This book covers one single day in Paris, when three French tutors each walk around Paris with their student for that day.  Sensitive poet Nico’s student is Josie, who has come to Paris to try and mend her broken heart.  Womanising Phillipe’s student is Riley, who has moved to Paris when her husband’s job relocated him there.  She feels lonely and disconnected in Paris, and even more so when she is with her husband.  Elegant and graceful Chantal’s student is Jeremy, the loyal husband of a movie star who finds his wife’s way of life too hectic and noisy for him.

The stories of the three tutors and their respective students are all told separately, so that the book reads more like three short stories than a novel.  Apart from the fact that the tutors all work for the same language school, and that relations between the three of them are complicated (Chantal and Phillipe are in a relationship, but his constant unfaithfulness led to her ending up in bed with Nico), there is little connection between the three stories, except that at some point in the day they separately end up at the same location.

As well as learning or improving their French language skills, each student – and certainly one, possibly two of the tutors – learn somethng about love, passion and loss. 

I wasn’t too sure what to make of this book – the cover image led me to believe it would be in the chick-lit genre, but I wouldn’t class this book as chick-lit.  It is easy reading, but there are some deep insights within the stories.  Paris itself is portrayed subtly but beautifully (with each story there is a map showing where that particular student and tutor walked).

There is some beautiful writing contained within the pages, especially in Jeremy’s story, while Riley’s story contained some sharp humour (and a fairly explicit bedroom scene).  However, as each character is only shown for a few hours of one day – providing little more than a snapshot – I never felt that I got to know any of them particularly well, and therefore felt unable to connect with any of them.

Overall, I would call this undemanding and enjoyable read, but I’m not sure that it’s one that will linger very long in the memory.

(I would like to thank Judging Covers for sending me this book to review.  Judging Covers’ website can be found here.  Ellen Sussman’s website can be found here.)

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This Western is loosely based on a real story.  Gregory Peck plays notorious gunslinger  Jimmy Ringo, who is tired of the life and has come to Cayenne in the hope of reuniting with his estranged wife, and the young son who has never known him.  However, Jimmy’s reputation has preceded him, and there are plenty of young men willing to risk a showdown with Jimmy in order to make a name for themselves.  The woman of the town object to him even being there at all and call upon the Marshal to remove Jimmy, and on top of all that, three vengeful cowboys from a town that Jimmy has just left are hot on his trail.

This film was more enjoyable than I had expected; the only reason I watched it was because Gregory Peck was in it, but I ended up enjoying the story.  Peck is perfect as the weary and cynical Jimmy, who isn’t allowed to forget his former life, as much as he would like to.  He’s gorgeous as always – even with his moustache!  Millard Mitchell was also great as the sympathetic Marshal Mark Street, who has known Jimmy for years.

The whole thing has a moody and somewhat sombre atmosphere, although there was a very amusing scene in the Marshal’s office, when the ladies in the town come down to demand that he removes Ringo.

Far more than a shoot-em-up Western, this is an intelligent and worthwhile examination of a man trying to change the direction of his life.

Year of release: 1950

Director: Henry King

Writers: William Bowers, William Sellers, Andre De Toth, Nunnally Johnson

Main cast: Gregory Peck, Helen Westcott, Millard Mitchell, Jean Parker

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This movie is based on the real life story of Erin Gruwell, a teacher at a tough school in Los Angeles.   Her English class is filled with students who have slipped through the cracks, who have become caught up in gang culture and who are often lucky to make it through the day alive.  When she discovers that only one member of the class has heard of the holocaust, she sets out to teach them about other people who have suffered from intolerance.  She also encourages the class to keep a journal and write about their lives, and in doing so the students learn acceptance of each other.

In this telling of Erin Gruell’s story, Hilary Swank plays the idealistic young teacher, fighting against a system which has already given up on the students (Imelda Staunton is  fantastic in an unsympathetic role as Erin’s Head of Department.)

I actually enjoyed the film a lot, and at times even had tears in my eyes at some of the horrors that the students had to face on a daily basis.  Hilary Swank was perfect as Erin; Scott Glenn was also great as her father, who was torn between his pride at his daughter’s dedication and his fears for her safety.  Patrick Dempsey played Erin’s husband Scott, who found increasingly sidelined by Erin’s job.  In real life Erin Gruell has not been married, and this character was invented for the film.  Perhaps that’s why Dempsey unfortunately seems unnecessary here – he comes across as little more than an unsupportive spouse.

There are definitely some cliches here – lots of them in fact.  There’s also – from the point of a Hollywood movie – nothing new here.  It’s been done before, most famously in Dangerous Minds (1995).  Blackboard Jungle (1955) was one of the first films to cover this subject.  However, the events of Freedom Writers are based on one specific instance, which does add an extra power to the movie.

All in all, more enjoyable than I expected, with some great support from the young actors who played the students.

Year of release: 2007

Director: Richard LaGravenese

Writers: Richard LaGravenese, Erin Gruell (book), Freedom Writers (book)

Main cast: Hilary Swank, Imelda Staunton, Scott Glenn, April L. Hernandez

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Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers made 10 films together, and this one from 1938 is probably one of the least well known.  There’s less dancing in this one than in some of the others (only four numbers), but the film itself is still highly enjoyable, being something of a screwball comedy.

Astaire plays psychiatrist Tony Flagg.  His friend Stephen (Ralph Bellamy) is worried because Ralph’s finance, radio singer Amanda Cooper (Rogers) keeps calling off their wedding.  He asks Tony to treat Amanda, to overcome her reluctance to marry.  However, some of Tony’s methods have unexpected side-effects – and then Tony starts to fall for Amanda himself.

This is a very enjoyable and very funny film.  Ginger Rogers was best known for her amazing dancing, but she really had a flair for comedy too.  She shines in the role of Amanda Cooper, and also looks beautiful.  Astaire is also fine as Tony, but of course with Astaire the real magic is in watching him dance.  I’ve always been more of a Gene Kelly fan, but there’s no denying that Astaire could dance beautifully.  The golf tap dance – shown in the clip above – was a joy to watch, and when he and Rogers dance together, its just glorious.  Luella Gear is also brilliant as Amanda’s Aunt Cora.

The ending is entirely expected, but still nice to see.  This is just a nice, light-hearted film that doesn’t take itself too seriously, with a few lovely dance sequences.  Well worth a watch.

Year of release: 1938

Director: Mark Sandrich

Writers: Allan Scott, Ernest Pagano, Dudley Nichols, Hagar Wilde, Marian Ainslee, Guy Endore

Main cast: Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Luella Gear, Ralph Bellamy, Clarence Kolb

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This books opens on July 15th 1988, when Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew have just met for the first time, and are at the start of a lifelong friendship.  The book then tells the story of Emma and Dexter through every subsequent July 15th, right up until the mid-noughties.  Sometimes they happen to be together on that date, and sometimes they are not even in the same country, but always, somehow, they are each a part of the other’s life and thoughts.

I absolutely adored this book.  The unconventional format worked perfectly – it provided a perfect snapshot of where the characters were at that point in their lives, and made it easy to pick up what had happened in between each July 15th.

The two characters are so fully developed that I really felt like I knew them well at the end of the book.  They have strengths and flaws, sometimes do stupid things, and often feel like they don’t know what they want to do with their lives – in other words, they are like everybody else.  They are also sometimes embarrassingly familiar and I felt myself wince in recognition at some of the things they thought or did.

Emma and Dexter don’t always seem like two people who would even like each other, let alone become close.  Emma is funny, bookish, earnest, intelligent principled, and yes sometimes, self-righteous.  She is very easy to warm to.  Dexter is charming, lazy, irresponsible and often downright thoughtless – at times I wanted to actively dislike him, but somehow Nicholls manages to keep the character just on the right side of sympathetic.

Other friends, lovers, partners, acquaintances figure in the story, and there are several twists which I didn’t see coming (including one which I couldn’t believe; I had to read the same page three times to make sure that I had read it correctly).

The writing is so fluid, combining plenty of humour with poignancy and sadness – all tied up with an ending that I could never have predicted, but which actually was perfect for the story.

I had heard so much hype about this book that I felt almost certain I would be disappointed.  I was wrong – this is one of my favourite reads so far this year.  If you haven’t read One Day yet, I highly, highly recommend it.

(Author’s website can be found here.)


funny, poignant, sad, squirmingly familiar

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This charming musical features Frank Sinatra as Danny Miller, a young Soldier fresh out of the army, who can’t wait to get back home to Brooklyn, where he hopes to become a successful singer.  Danny moves in with school janitor Nick, and meets Anne Fielding (Kathryn Grayson), a music teacher who dreams of becoming an opera singer; and when  Jamie, a shy songwriter from England arrives, Danny offers to help him develop his talent and show him the Brooklyn experience.  The four of them also find time to help a young pianist gain a scholarship to an exclusive musical school.

This is neither Sinatra’s nor Grayson’s best known or most popular musical for MGM, but it is really a lovely film.  Sinatra, who so often plays a heel or a playboy, is really very sweet here (more like Clarence in Anchors Aweigh than Francois in Can-Can), and really makes the viewer warm to him.  He is impossibly good natured throughout, and naturally, sings beautifully.  Kathryn Grayson is great in her role as the feisty Anne, although most opera music leaves me cold, and I didn’t enjoy her songs particularly (although she did a nice duet with Sinatra).  Jimmy Durante as janitor Nick, almost steals the show however, providing a fine comic turn.  Indeed, all of the characters in the film are very likeable.

There’s also an actual story as well, rather than the film being merely a vehicle to showcase the songs – the subplot about the four friends helping pianist Leo win a scholarship is sweet.

Probably an overlooked musical from MGM (who produced all the best musicals), but definitely one with plenty of charm, and it’s well worth seeing.

Year of release: 1947

Director: Richard Whorf

Writers: Isobel Lennart, Jack McGowan

Main cast: Frank Sinatra, Kathryn Grayson, Jimmy Durante, Peter Lawford

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This film noir is one of the four films that real life couple Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall made together.  It’s probably the least popular of the four, which seems fair. There’s a lot to enjoy here, but its mainly because of the quality of the cast – the storyline itself – while an interesting premise – builds coincidence upon coincidence, and is hard to take seriously.

The story revolves around Vincent Parry (Bogart), a man who has escaped from prison where he was sent after being convicted of killing his wife.  He intends to find the real killer, while evading the law.  He is helped by beautiful stranger Irene Jansen (Bacall).  However, Parry knows that his face is too familiar and has to undergo plastic surgery to change his appearance.

The first half of the film has Parry narrating things as they happen, and the audience sees things as he would see them.  This means that while Bogart’s familiar voice is present throughout, its not until after Parry has his surgery that we see his face, at which point the story is told from a third person point of view.  I’m guessing that this method of filming was used, rather than using a different actor to play the character before surgery, and then switching to Bogart afterwards – the result is more effective and worked well.

Of course, Bogart had such charisma and that charisma is a large part of what makes this film enjoyable, because truthfully the audience is asked to suspend a lot of disbelief.  Irene Jansen’s reasons for wanting to help Parry are flimsy, and he later takes a cab, the driver of which just happens to want to help Parry (who he has never met before).  The same driver just happens to know a plastic surgeon who can operate on Parry that night (!), and plastic surgery takes 20 minutes, after which Parry is able to walk a long distance back to Jansen’s home.  Irene just happens to have a friend who was a witness against Parry at his trial…and so on and so on.  There is a nice subplot involving a driver who initially picks up Parry after his escape, believing Parry to be a hitch-hiker, which added to the story.

Overall, the star quality in this film makes it worth watching, but the storyline leaves a lot to be required.  Still worth seeing though for fans of the lead actors.

Year of release: 1947

Director: Delmer Daves

Writers: David Goodis (book), Delmer Daves

Main cast: Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Agnes Moorehead

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In this 1954 film, William Holden plays Bernie Dodd, director of a new musical who wants to hire Frank Elgin (Bing Crosby) to be the main character.  Elgin used to be something of a big star, but due to tragedy in his life has become an alcoholic.  Neither Elgin nor anybody else knows if he will have the commitment or ability to see the role through, but Dodd is determined to give Elgin a chance.  Elgin’s wife Georgie – “just a simple girl from the country” – seems to have too much control of her husband – and clashes with Dodd, who thinks that Elgin would be better off if she wasn’t there. But as the irascible director comes to know Frank and Georgie better, he starts to realise the truth behind their situation.

This is the film which controversially won Grace Kelly the Oscar for Best Actress – beating the favourite Judy Garland (for A Star Is Born – apparently there were just six votes between them).  I have often thought that Kelly is over-rated as an actress, but she actually is terrific here, playing against type.  It isn’t often that she looks frumpy or anything less than beautiful, but here she plays the weary Georgie Elgin, disappointed in life, disappointed in her husband.  She brings all of the character’s pent up frustration to the role and really sets her scenes alight.

Crosby is also great as the desperate Elgin – who wants so much to get his life back on track, but doesn’t know if he has the required strength to do so.  Holden really shines as the blunt but decent Dodd.

Terrific acting all round then, but still the storyline seemed a little clunky and disjointed at times – in the hands of three lesser actors, the film would not have worked for me at all.  The film is adapted from a play, and maybe the storyline plays better on stage.  However, the ending is somewhat downbeat, but still satisfying, and overall while this is not a film I would rush to watch again, I’m glad that I have seen it.

Year of release: 1958

Director: George Seaton

Writers: Clifford Odets (play), George Seaton

Main cast: Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, William Holden

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I haven’t seen this film since it was in the cinema (10 years ago!!), but yesterday decided to revisit it on the small screen.  How glad I am that I did.  I loved it when I first saw it, and wondered if I would still enjoy it – the answer is an emphatic yes!

Nicole Kidman is radiant (and exquisite) as Satine, a high class courtesan at Moulin Rouge in Paris, a club frequented by bohemians, artistes, writers, who call themselves the children of the revolution.  When penniless writer Christian (Ewan McGregor) meets her, they fall in love…but Satine has already been promised to a rich and powerful Duke.  A love triangle ensues, but even as the lovers struggle to stay together, an even darker force is exerting it’s pull on Satine…

I hesitate to use the word extravaganza very often, but in the case of this film, it’s deserved.  The movie combines, energetic, colourful dance routines, with romance, comedy and drama.  The music is all drawn from familiar 20th century sources, although the setting for the film is Paris at the end of the 19th century (seriously, the songs here are from such artistes as Madonna, Nirvana, The Police, Bolan, Bowie – but all given a new and exciting spin).  The colour and energy radiates off the screen, and there are many laugh-out-loud moments of hilarity.  My favourite scene is where Satine, Christian, and their bohemian friends (including Toulouse Lautrec are pitching their idea for a new show to the Duke, in the hope of gaining his financial backing.

The two leads are brilliant.  Nicole Kidman has never looked more beautiful, and has never been so funny and tragic as she is here.  McGregor too is at his most endearing and makes you want to root for his character.  However, special mention must be made of Jim Broadbent, who played Harold Zindler, the manager of Moulin Rouge; and especially John Leguizamo, who played Toulouse Lautrec.  I have only ever seen Leguizamo in one other role – a coke addled Doctor on ER, and I hated him in that role.  Here however, he was fantastic.  What an incredible actor!

The aforementioned soundtrack is fabulous, and the story plays along nicely with a perfect balance of comedy and tragedy.  If you haven’t experienced Moulin Rouge yet (and if you haven’t, then why not?), I really recommend watching this film.  You might love it, you might hate it, but I doubt that you will forget it.

Year of release: 2001

Director: Baz Luhrmann

Writers: Baz Luhrmann, Craig Pierce

Main cast: Nicole Kidman, Ewan McGregor, Jim Broadbent, John Leguizamo

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