Archive for June, 2012

This book follows Roland of Gilead, the gunslinger of the title.  As the book opens, he is chasing a mysterious figure known as the man in black (it’s not Johnny Cash, unfortunately).  As the book tracks Roland’s journey so far, bits of his background are revealed, as well as more about the world which he inhabits.  It is a world which is similar to earth in many ways, but there are some glaring differences.  Indeed, there is something other-wordly and mystical about it, almost as though it is a parallel universe.  As for Roland’s background, we learn that he was brought up in the ruling classes of his world, but that that world has all but disappeared now.  Roland’s journey to track the man in black will lead him to his ultimate destination, The Dark Tower…

This book is the first in Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, and while I quite enjoyed it, I was left with an overall feeling of confusion, and that the book raised more questions than it answered.  I can accept that in one way, as presumably any questions will be answered in subsequent books in the series.  I quite like the dystopian feel of the book, but my main problem with it is that I never felt that the characters were particularly well drawn.  I got a sense of Roland’s character, but he remained resolutely distant – it was impossible to engage with the character on any level. 

Also, the glimpses of Roland’s childhood still didn’t really explain how he had come to be in the position he was in – of the last gunslinger.  Again, I assume that this will be revealed in a subsequent book. 

The writing certainly flowed easily and I found myself able to read huge chunks of the book at a time.  I quite enjoyed the almost dreamy like quality of the writing, and while I was left a bit non-plussed when I finished the book, my attention was caught enough to read at least the next book.  However, I would not recommend this to someone wanting to read Stephen King for the first time – I don’t think the book is anywhere near as good as say, The Green Mile.  It’s worth bearing in mind however, that King was just 19 years old when he started writing The Gunslinger, and he himself has said that it is some of his worst work.  Give it a try if you like dystopian fiction – it’s not for everyone, but you just might like it!

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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This is the second of three films which paired Doris Day and Rock Hudson. They play advertising executives Carol Templeton and Jerry Webster, who work at rival agencies on Madison Avenue. Carol is furious when Jerry snaffles a client from under her nose, and when she hears that Jerry is hoping to land the campaign for a new mystery product called Vip, she is determined to beat him to the contract. Trouble is, Vip doesn’t exist. Jerry created a campaign which was never supposed to see the light of day, for a product which hasn’t been invented, but the campaign is a huge success and he has to create a product for it! When Carol meets Jerry for the first time, she mistakes him for the scientist who she believes has invented Vip, and sets out to win the contract to sell his product. Needless to say, chaos ensues…

This is the perfect film to watch if you want something frothy, undemanding and light-hearted – and there are a lot of laughs. Rock Hudson was never the most gifted of actors, being somewhat wooden, but his good looks and easy charm meant that he was just fine for this role. He also has great chemistry with Doris Day. She is great as the indignant Carol, and looks gorgeous throughout (despite someone’s disastrous decision to have her wear a series of increasingly unattractive hats!) Tony Randall plays a great supporting role as Jerry’s hapless boss, Pete Ramsey.

It’s worth noting that despite the somewhat outdated ideas of relationships and a woman’s role, Doris Day plays a strong minded and intelligent woman, of independent means – something that you didn’t necessarily see a lot of in films from that era (although she frequently played such parts).

The film is also something of a satire on the consumer culture (and was maybe slightly ahead of its time in that respect). I mean, there is an advertising campaign for a product – nobody knows what the product even is (!) and yet people are fighting for the right to sell the product, and desperate to get their hands on it!

The ending is probably predictable, particularly for fans of this genre, but that doesn’t make it any the less enjoyable.

Overall, this is a sparkly comedy, which bounces along nicely and provides some extremely amusing moments. It would probably appeal more to women than to men, but it’s a film that I would certainly recommend.

Year of release: 1961

Director: Delbert Mann

Producers: Robert Arthur, Martin Melcher, Stanley Shapiro

Writers: Stanley Shapiro, Paul Henning

Main cast: Doris Day, Rock Hudson, Tony Randall, Edie Adams

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There have been several individual biographies written of the six wives of Henry VIII.  Here, Alison Weir has pulled all of their stories together, and has created a biography of all six women, and their marriages to King Henry.  The events are told in chronological detail, which is a great help, as the timeline for his marriages can sometimes seem confusing!

Alison Weir writes so fluidly and eloquently that despite the huge amount of facts crammed into this story – dates, names, places – it never gets boring.  All the details are here, but the book never feels bogged down in them.  Indeed, it is such an engaging story that it sometimes reads almost like a novel.  As well as the six very different women who he married, the book also gives huge insight into Henry’s reign, and offers a more realistic portrayal of the man, rather than the gluttonous lech that he is often portrayed as.  As cold hearted a man as Henry VIII could undoubtedly be, it is worth remembering the times in which he lived, when such things that seem abominable to us today, were viewed as quite normal.  It is also clear that he could be a very generous and charismatic man, and that certainly, he loved his country and took his role as head of that country very seriously.

The author gives a balanced view of all the wives, as well as Henry himself, and indeed, his children.  I felt that I really got to know the characters, and the distinct personality of each wife was clearly described.  The book has clearly been extensively and exhaustively researched, with sources listed clearly at the back of the book.

I would have no hesitation in recommending this remarkably well written and descriptive biography.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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This film was not directed by Alfred Hitchcock. But it could have been…I feel that certainly it must have been influenced by Hitchcock. All the Hitchcockonian (is that a word?) traits are there: a crime that does not turn out as it’s supposed to, the requirement of huge suspension of disbelief, jarring music to signal that SOMETHING SIGNIFICANT is happening, and of course, a beautiful blonde bombshell. In this case, the bombshell in question is Marilyn Monroe. She plays Rose Loomis, a woman who has come to Niagara with her emotionally unbalanced husband George (Joseph Cotten). However, Rose is scheming with her young lover, to murder her husband so that she and said lover can be together. Enter young couple Ray and Polly Cutler (Casey Adams and Jean Peters), on a belated honeymoon, who end up getting entangled in the Loomis’s unhappy marriage, and the fall out from Rose’s plan.

I actually did enjoy this film a lot, even though it was hard to take seriously. Marilyn Monroe is stunning and certainly looks the part of a femme fatale – all pillar box red lipstick (even when she has just woken up in the morning), and practically busting out of her very clingy clothes. I really really like Marilyn in comedies (and I do believe that she was under-rated as a comic actress). I’ve seen her in other dramas, where she did much better work than here, but in Niagara, she becomes a caricature, and at times overacts quite obviously. Casey Adams, as the husband in the honeymooning couple was beyond annoying. He seemed to spend most of the film grinning inanely and came across as nothing so much as an overgrown schoolboy.

However, Jean Peters and Joseph Cotten were both superb – Stevens in particular. I actually thought that Stevens’ character Polly, who was a demure but witty and compassionate wife, looked far more attractive – although certainly not as striking – than Rose. Peters also played the part extremely well, not being too over the top, but remaining believeable in an unbelieveable plot. Cotten also excelled as the brow beaten husband of Rose, at the end of his tether, and seemingly aware that things between them were not going to end well.

The storyline is hard to take seriously, but not hard to enjoy, with the requisite twists for such a film. The ending came somewhat abruptly – but I liked it. And with a total running time of just over an hour and half, the scripting is nice and tight, and the plot moves quickly, thus holding interest.

Overall, despite it’s obvious flaws, this is a film which is well worth watching at least once.

Year of release: 1953

Director: Henry Hathaway

Producer: Charles Brackett

Writers: Charles Brackett, Walter Reisch, Richard L. Breen

Main cast: Joseph Cotten, Marilyn Monroe, Jean Peters, Casey Adams

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Morgan Spurlock, best known for his documentary Supersize Me, approaches a new subject with this documentary film – product placement and advertising. He aims to show the viewer the process of how products come to featured in blockbuster films, and the compromises that the film-makers have to make in order to receive the money from the product makers. The twist here is that this whole documentary film is paid for by those who make the products he features in this film!

It’s an interesting concept, and there are a lot of laughs, as Spurlock approaches many companies to see if they would be interested in having their products placed in his film, for a sizeable fee. Many companies – including McDonalds, Coke and Pepsi – didn’t even return his calls. Many did – Volkswagen, for instance – but only to say that they weren’t interested. However, he did manage to interest several other companies in taking part, including: Pom Wonderful, Mane ‘n Tail (who did not pay to be included, but provided free product to be shown in the film), Sheetz, Amy’s Kitchen, The Aruba Tourism Authority and Ban Deodorant.

For me, the most interesting aspect of the film was how companies make the film-maker bend to their will, when it comes to depicting their products. Understandable in a way – who wants their products to look useless or inferior to others on the market? However, at one point in the film, Spurlock approaches Pom Wonderful with three ideas on how he was going to feature their product (a drink made from Pomegranate juice) in his film. They shot down all three ideas, and basically told him how they wanted it shown. In other words, for the money they pay, the manufacturers of products can have a significant impact on how a story is told. So the film-maker has to compromise his integrity and ‘sell out’ at least a little.

It’s an interesting documentary – Spurlock is always an engaging and witty presenter. However, while I enjoyed watching it, I didn’t really feel that it told me anything that wasn’t already obvious to anyone who gave a bit of thought to the subject (although, how many of us really do think about it?). Of course, manufacturers will want their products shown in the most positive light, of course, they’re going to pay for the privilege, and in that case, then naturally they will have some say over the completed film. Spurlock shows his pitches to various companues, and also talks to a number of film-makers, producers and other experts, to get their thoughts on the subject.

It all kinds of folds in on itself though, if you really think about the concept. The film actually is Spurlock asking people to finance his film. They’re financing a film, which is basically him asking them to do that! Nonetheless, it’s entertaining and witty, and worth watching, especially if you are a fan of Spurlock’s other work.

Year of release: 2011

Director: Morgan Spurlock

Producers: Keith Calder, Jeremy Chilnick, Elyssa Hess, Eliza Hindmarch, Abbie Hurewitz, Jonathan McHugh, Morgan Spurlock, Sebastian Weinberg, Jessica Wu

Writers: Morgan Spurlock, Jeremy Chilnick

Main cast: Morgan Spurlock, Noam Chomsky, Peter Berg, J J Abrams, Quentin Tarantino

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This film stars Robert Mitchum and Deborah Kerr…and that’s about it, apart from numerous extras who don’t have any real dialogue.

Mitchum is the Mr Allison of the title, an American Marine, who finds himself marooned on an island in the Pacific ocean, in World War II. The only other person on the island is Sister Angela, a nun who was also marooned there a few days earlier. Although the two of them have no common ground, with only each other for companionship, they form a friendship and affection for each other. But when the Japanese arrive on the island, they face a very real danger.

Before I go any further with this review, I have to say…I LOVED this film. Loved it. The cast (all two of them), the characters, the storyline – everything. Deborah Kerr is great as Sister Angela. The character had a gentle and kind nature, but also some real backbone, and a subtle sense of humour. This made her the perfect counterpoint to Mitchum’s Mr Allison, who was straight-talking, brave, heroic, and yes I admit it – very sexy! (Mitchum might not have been a conventional heart-throb, but my goodness he had something, and it’s very obvious here!)

The film reminded me in some ways of The African Queen – both directed by John Huston, both set during WWII, both have a main cast of just two characters with little in common, who find respect and affection for each other. However, while there are undoubtedly similarities, both films also have plenty of their own character and individuality, and the main parts in both films are played to perfection.

I started watching Heaven Knows, Mr Allison, with no expectations at all. I thought it sounded like a nice little film to pass a couple of hours away, but within about 10 minutes, I was totally pulled into the story and invested in the characters. It’s no exaggeration to say that this film has shot straight into my top five films of all time (alongside the aforementioned African Queen)! It left me with a warm happy feeling, and I will absolutely watch this again in the near future.

If you haven’t seen this delightful movie, I strongly suggest that you do so at the earliest opportunity!

Year of release: 1957

Director: John Huston

Producers: Buddy Adler, Eugene Frenke

Writers: Charles Shaw (book), John Lee Mahin, John Huston

Main cast: Robert Mitchum, Deborah Kerr

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This review relates to the mini-series made in 1992, chronicling the life of Frank Sinatra. The Executive Producer of the series was none other than Tina Sinatra, Frank’s youngest child. The story starts when Frank is 10, and is singing in bars to entertain the customers, and it finishes in 1974.

Frank is played by Philip Casnoff, a Broadway and tv/film actor. It must have been formidable to take on such a role (Casnoff met Sinatra on set), but Casnoff did a fine job. He looked enough like Ol’ Blue Eyes, to be believable, and rather than trying to do a straightforward imitation, it seemed more as though he was trying to capture the essence of Sinatra. He was excellent in the role, and was nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance.

Other stand-out cast members were Gina Gershon as Frank’s long-suffering first wife Nancy (Tina’s mother), and Olympia Dukakis as Dolly, Frank’s formidable mother. Marcia Gay Harden also does a great job as Frank’s second wife, Ava Gardner.

Considering that Tina Sinatra was at the helm, this series is a surprisingly warts-and-all look at Sinatra’s life. It captures the pain suffered by Nancy at her husband’s distance and specifically his penchant for other women, and also portrayed the tempestuous relationship between Frank and Ava.

However, I would say that this is best enjoyed if you already have some knowledge of Sinatra’s life. This is because while the series lays out the early days of his career, and how he built his way to the top, the later years are covered much quicker (his marriage to Mia Farrow is shown from first meeting to divorce in a total of about 10 minutes). There is also little shown of his friendship with Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr, although the series does show the breakdown of the friendship between Frank and Peter Lawford, after John F Kennedy – for whom Frank had campaigned vigorously – rejected an offer to stay at Frank’s house, for which Peter, who was married to JFK’s sister, got the blame.

Needless to say, the music is excellent, and the atmosphere and excitement that this exciting new singer caused, is well shown.

Overall, I would strongly recommend this series to any fans of Sinatra, and I thoroughly enjoyed watching it.

Year of release: 1992

Director: James Steven Sadwith

Producers: Tina Sinatra, Stanley Neufeld, Richard M. Rosenbloom

Writers: William Mastrosimone, Abby Mann

Main cast: Philip Casnoff, Gina Gershon, Marcia Gay Harden, Olympia Dukakis, Bob Gunton

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This film is notable for being Jack Lemmon’s big-screen debut, and also for being way ahead of its time in terms of celebrity culture. In this romantic comedy, he plays film-maker Pete Sheppard, who, while filming in Central Park, NYC, meets Gladys Glover (Judy Holliday), a model who has just lost her job, and is considering leaving New York and going back to her home town. After their brief chat, Gladys decides to rent a billboard and put her name on it. Just her name, nothing else. Before long, she becomes a celebrity, although nobody is sure exactly what it is that she does, but she is invited on to tv chat shows, and even has the Air Force name a plane after her! Trouble is, that all of the stardom that she so craved and now has, causes friction between her and Pete, who have become friends, and harbour a deep affection for each other. Pete recognises the shallowness of her fame for what it is, but Gladys has trouble seeing past the fact that everybody finally knows who she is. She also has to cope with the unwanted attentions of Evan Adams III (Peter Lawford), a businessman who wants to get together with Gladys for his own nefarious ends.

The film is very enjoyable, and both Judy Holliday and Jack Lemmon are great in their roles. There is real chemistry between them, and although they are divided by their opinions on Gladys’ fame, they are both very endearing. I kept rooting for them to get their act together, and for Gladys to realise what was important to her.

The storyline seems more relevant today than ever, highlighting as it does the nature of celebrity; people become famous for being famous, or they become stars because the public are told that they should like these people. What does Gladys actually do to get invited to give her opinions on a tv programme? Why does she deserve to have an Air Force plane named after her? In this day and age, it seems that people are always getting famous, despite not having any job, or indeed the talent and intelligence required for such a job.

However, this film is not a serious study – it’s a comedy and a very sweet and charming one. Jack Lemmon definitely had the likeability factor, and this film demonstrates that it was there for him right from the beginning. Judy Holliday is perfect also, and Peter Lawford is just fine as the horrible Evan.

Overall, definitely a film I would recommend!

Year of release: 1954

Director: George Cukor

Producer: Fred Kohlmar

Writer: Garson Kanin

Main cast: Judy Holliday, Jack Lemmon, Peter Lawford

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1996, Romeo and Juliet, one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays, and certainly a very famous love story, was given the Baz Luhrmann treatment. The setting was moved to Florida in the current day, although the original Shakespearean text was retained.

Leonardo DiCaprio plays Romeo, and Claire Danes is Juliet. Support is provided by – amongst others – John Leguizamo, as Tybalt (and he very nearly steals the movie), Harold Perrineau as Mercutio, and Paul Sorvino and Brian Dennehy as Juliet’s father and Romeo’s father respectively.

The story is well enough known for me not to write a very lengthy synopsis here, but in effect, it is the tale of Romeo and Juliet, the children of warring families, who fall in love and secretly marry. I don’t think it’s too spoilerish to say that things don’t end well!

I have seen this film before, and thoroughly enjoyed it. However, it had been so long since I watched it that I decided to revisit it, and being a big fan of Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge (also starring Leguizamo in a scene stealing role), I expected that Romeo + Juliet would be a big hit for me. Unfortunately I came away thinking that sometimes it’s best not to revisit films you loved years earlier! In this instance, I felt that the film was a triumph of style over substance. It certainly looks fantastic, and for the most part, the Shakespearean language manages not to feel out of place in the present day setting.

As one might expect from a Baz Luhrmann film, this picture is full of colour and flamboyance, and it boasts an impressive soundtrack (the Des’ree song, ‘Kissing You’ which plays over Romeo + Juliet’s first meeting, is particularly lovely). Some of the acting is terrific – the aforementioned Leguizamo, Pete Postlethwaite and Mariam Margolyes are all excellent – and Sorvino and Dennehy are fine as the warring heads of the two families. In truth, the weak links in the cast are DiCaprio and Danes. DiCaprio is a gifted actor, but I don’t think he was right for the part of Romeo, and Claire Danes was fine as Juliet in the beginning, but as things got worse for her character, I lost interest in her portrayal.

On balance, I would say that this film is worth seeing, purely for the different take on Shakespeare’s work (there are SO many ways in which his plays can be performed and interpreted), but I prefer the more classic telling of this love story, rather than the modernised flashy version. Still, if it gets anybody interested in learning more about William Shakespeare, that can only be a good thing.

Year of release: 1996

Director: Baz Luhrmann

Producers: Baz Luhrmann, Jill Bilcock, Martin Brown, Catherine Martin, Gabriella Martinelli

Writers: William Shakespeare (play), Craig Pearce, Baz Luhrmann

Main cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Claire Danes, Harold Perrineau, John Leguizamo, Paul Sorvino, Brian Dennehy

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This stars William Holden as Mark Elliott, a married American journalist in Hong Kong, in 1949. He falls in love with a widowed Doctor, Han Suyin (Jennifer Jones), who is of both British and Chinese descent (although Jones herself was all-American). They face opposition to their inter-racial relationship, and Elliot’s marital status and his job also threaten to tear them apart.

William Holden has become one of my favourite stars – I feel that he was under-rated as an actor, whereas Jennifer Jones was over-rated. She is not as convincing as Holden, although she does display some talent, because in real life, the two of them did not get on at all during the making of this film, but you wouldn’t know it from seeing them on screen together!

The storyline moves along nicely – couple meet, fall in love, face numerous obstacles to their happiness, and in the end…well, I wouldn’t want to spoil the ending for you. There were a few humorous moments, and a lot of moving ones. I did feel the film captured that feeling of falling in love with someone who you have recently met, and Holden was excellent in one of the two lead roles.

Not my favourite William Holden film (that would definitely be Sunset Boulevard), but well worth seeing if you are a fan.

Year of release: 1955

Director: Henry King

Producer: Buddy Adler

Writers: Han Suyin (book), John Patrick

Main cast: William Holden, Jennifer Jones

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