Archive for December, 2012

Dan Hilles has a problem.  Since splitting up with his girlfriend Stacey, he just can’t seem to get any….you know what.  Yes, as the days turn into weeks, he realises he is experiencing a sexual drought.  Fortunately, he has his three best friends, Rob, Ollie and Jack, to help him find the girl who will finally end the dry spell.  But try as they might, Dan just can’t seem to seal the deal, and he finds himself in all manner of embarrassing, dangerous, and (for the reader anyway) hilarious situations.  So will he find the girl he’s looking for – I mean, just how long can a drought last?!

This book is described as lad-lit, but that shouldn’t put off female readers.  I chuckled my way through it from beginning to end, and it did make me laugh out loud on occasion, which is something that doesn’t happen very often!

The writing flowed well, as Dan lurched from one unfortunate situation to another.  I also liked the main characters.  The book is narrated by Dan – a regular guy who likes hanging out with his mates – and through his eyes, we really get to know his friends and colleagues.  The only character I wasn’t keen on was Jack, but he still provided some comical moments.

Admittedly, I guessed fairly early on where the story was heading (although the ending still had a nice subtle twist to it), but that didn’t really matter, because the journey to get there was so much fun.  An enjoyable read, that I would definitely recommend.

(I would like to thank the author for sending me a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.   Under no circumstances did this affect my opinion or review of the novel.  Steven Scaffardi’s website can be found here.)

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Taken from the same source material as the (far better known) film Chicago, this film feature Ginger Rogers as Roxie Hart – a woman who admits to killing her boyfriend, even though she didn’t, because of the publicity it will bring her. She is convinced that with top lawyer Billy Flynn on her side, she won’t be found guilty, and instead relishes the attention that is lavished on her. The story is told in flashback by a reporter (George Montgomery) who was a rookie when the Roxie case was big news, and is now reflecting on the story of his career….

I really enjoyed this film. At about an hour and 15 minutes, it rattles along nicely, and Ginger Rogers once again gets to prove that her talent was solely in her dancing; she was a great actress too. The subject matter is relevant – perhaps more so – in today’s world, where celebrity culture is such that people will do almost anything to get into the public eye. Here, a woman accused of murder is turned into an instant celebrity!

Ginger does get chance to show off her dancing skills on a couple of occasions, but it should be noted that this film is NOT a musical. It is though, an amusing comedy with a satisfying ending, and I enjoyed it a lot. Fans of Chicago should definitely check this film out.

Year of release: 1942

Director: William A. Wellman

Producer: Nunnally Johnson

Writers: Maurine Dallas Watkins (play ‘Chicago’), Nunnally Johnson, Ben Hecht

Main cast: Ginger Rogers, George Montgomery, Phil Silvers, Adolphe Menjou

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Basically a book of mini-biographies laced with anecdotes about some of the most famous – or infamous drunks.  With entries from as far back as Alexander the Great, most entries are about people from the 19th and 20th centuries – a few of whom are still with us.

The usual suspects are all here – Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Frank Sinatra, Robert Mitchum, Ozzy Osbourne, Francis Bacon, Tallulah Bankhead, Calamity Jane – the list goes on.

There are tales of harmless drunks, downright nasty drunks (there seemed very little to like about George C Scott, who became frighteningly violent to both men and women when drunk), fighting drunks – Sinatra and Mitchum, and drunks who threw away their career for the bottle – the tale of John Barrymore was ultimately pathetic and sad – and tragic drunks – Edgar Allen Poe, who died young and in mysterious circumstances, and Frances Farmer, a promising actress whose addiction led to horrific treatment in an asylum, are two examples.

And then there are the reformed drunks – Alice Cooper and Ozzy Osbourne to name just a couple.

I enjoyed the book – it’s certainly not taxing, and as each entry is between 3 – 7 pages long, it’s easy to skip through it quite quickly.  I would doubt the veracity of some of the tales contained within the pages – and I never realised just how many slang terms there were for the word ‘drunk’, but I’m sure they’re all in the this book!  Overall, a quick and enjoyable read.

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I love watching Christmassy movies at Christmas time, and this is one of the best!  Janet Leigh is Connie, a young widow who lives with her cute young son Timmy.  She is going out with Carl, who wants to marry her, but Connie is not sure.  When she meets Steve (Robert Mitchum) and accidentally gets him sacked from his job in a department store, they become friends.  As their feelings grow, Connie has to choose between Carl and Steve.

Sounds like a romantic drama, but actually this is a lovely, touching light comedy.  I loved all three main stars – especially Mitchum, who was adorable and sweet, in a role which was something of a departure.  Janet Leigh looks beautiful, and is gorgeous as Connie.  Wendell Corey is great as the reliable and straight laced Carl…but young Gordon Gebert as Timmy was a real scene-stealer!  This young boy was just adorable – so cute and cheeky!  There were some genuinely funny moments – I couldn’t stop giggling at the scene where Steve and Carl first meet – their awkwardness with each other was so funny and well played by both actors.

This was the perfect film to relax with in the holiday season – I’m planning on making it part of my Christmas movie schedule every year..it may not be as well known as other classics like It’s A Wonderful Life, or Miracle on 34th Street (both of which are excellent films), but Holiday Affair is a thoroughly enjoyable way to spend an hour and a half.  Highly recommended!

Year of release: 1949

Director: Don Hartman

Producer: Don Hartman

Writers: John D. Weaver (story “Christmas Gift”), Isobel Lennart

Main cast: Robert Mitchum, Janet Leigh, Wendell Corey, Gordon Gebert

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This is an interesting novella, which left me with mixed – but generally positive – feelings about it.  Cambridge alumnus Oliver visits his former tutor, the elderly Theo Parmitter, and Theo starts to tell him the story of a painting hanging on his wall, which depicts a carnival scene in Venice.  Overall, there are three narrators – Oliver, Theo and a Countess who used to own the painting before it came into Theo’s possession.  Between them, they reveal the secret of the painting – or not so much, because it wasn’t really a secret – after about a third of the book, I guessed pretty much what was going to happen.

In less than 150 pages, Susan Hill has certainly crafted an interesting story, with plenty of atmosphere.  It was very easy to read (and could easily be read in one sitting) and enjoyable overall, but the ending was no surprise, which may be why at the end of it, I was slightly bemused.  Maybe I was hoping for some kind of shock denouement.

This is definitely a story where the pleasure is in the journey, not the destination.  Worth reading; satisfying, but not spectacular.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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This book – set in the 1950s and 1960s, is a charming coming-of-age story.  It tells the story of (and is narrated by) Tara Jupp, a young girl who grows up in the shadow of her older sister Lucy’s beauty.  However, Tara has one thing that Lucy doesn’t have, and that is a fabulous singing voice.  When she is discovered by the record making husband of an old friend, Tara is spirited from her home in Cornwall, to the bright lights of London, where she is transformed into Cherry Merrywell, the city’s latest singing sensation.  Tara attends glamorous parties, meets exciting men (falling in love with two of them), and experiences the effect of fame…but will she be able to keep hold of who she really is, or will Tara Jupp be lost forever to Cherry Merrywell?

I was looking forward to reading this book, as I had thoroughly enjoyed Eva Rice’s previous novel, The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets.  In fact, some of the characters from that book are also in this one (but this novel is not a sequel, and you do not have to have read the previous book prior to reading this one).  I was glad that I read it – I enjoyed the story a lot.

Tara was an endearing and loveable narrator, and I felt that the author really captured all the pain, pleasure and confusion of being a teenager.  I also liked the frustrating but impossible-not-to-like Lucy; and Clover, Tara’s mentor in London.

The feel of the 1960s came through well, and there was a lovely nod to the Rolling Stones, who of course broke onto the scene in spectacular fashion in 1962.

The story flowed beautifully, and although the book came in at over 500 pages, it did not feel like a particularly long novel (and there was no sense of ploughing through it, which I sometimes get with books of that length, if they don’t hold my attention). There were a couple of places where I felt it could have done with a bit of editing – Tara’s age in relation to Lucy seemed to jump about a bit (unless it was me getting confused), and at one point a character was telling a story from his childhood which he said happened when he was three, but in the very next paragraph, it was happening when he was five!  However, I should perhaps mention that my copy of the book was a proof copy, and it may well be that these slight errors are not in the finished copy.

Overall, this was a delightful and sweet story of a young girl’s adolescence, lived in extraordinary circumstances.  I would recommend it, and I look forward to reading more of Eva Rice’s novels in the future.

(I would like to thank the author for sending me a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.)

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Although I will watch the occasional film in this genre, noir is not my favourite type of film.  However, Robert Mitchum is an actor who I always enjoy watching, so I thought that I would give this film a go – and it was definitely worth watching.

Mitchum plays Jeff Bailey, a mysterious man, who ekes out a living operating a petrol station in a small town.  When someone from his past comes looking for him, Bailey explains to his girlfriend Anne (Virginia Huston), how he used to work as a private detective, but when a gangster employed him to find his missing girlfriend, Bailey ended up falling in love with the woman (Jane Greer) himself.  He had hoped to escape this past, but now ends up agreeing – under sufferance – to do one last job for the gangster, Whit (Kirk Douglas)…

I liked this film a lot – as with all good films in this genre, it is not quite clear at first who can be trusted and who is double crossing who.  Mitchum is PERFECT as Bailey – a man who has seen too much and is tired of his old life.  He just wants to settle down and live a quiet life with Anne, but fate is against him.  Kirk Douglas is also excellent as the slimy but charismatic Whit; he infuses the character with an undertone of danger – you are never quite sure what he might do next.  Jane Greer, as Kathie, Whit’s ex-girlfriend, and the woman who Bailey falls for against all better judgement, rounds out the main cast very well.  It is the only role I have ever seen her in, but she is super, and looks stunning.

Humphrey Bogart wanted to do this role originally but the studio he was contracted to did not buy it, and he lost out.  Mitchum was actually the fourth choice for the part – which is interesting, as I cannot imagine anybody doing a better job.  This film received lots of acclaim, but sadly today does not seem to well known.  That’s a shame – this is a film that I would certainly recommend to anybody, if they get a chance to watch it.

(N.B. This film was originally released in the UK under the title ‘Build My Gallows High’)

Year of release: 1947

Director: Jacques Tourneur

Producers: Robert Sparks, Warren Duff

Writers: Daniel Mainwaring (as Geoffrey Homes) (book), James M. Cain, Frank Fenton

Main cast: Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer, Kirk Douglas, Paul Valentine

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This review refers to the 2006 film adaptation of Shakespeare’s play, directed by Kenneth Branagh. There are some excellent synopses of the story online, but in essence it concerns the love between Rosalind, the daughter of Duke Senior, who is usurped from his court by his brother Duke Frederick. Rosalind is forced to leave the court – accompanied by her friend Celia, daughter of Frederick – and live in the forest, where Orlando, who was lovestruck from the first moment that he met Rosalind, is trying to find her. As with many of Shakespeare’s plays, mistaken identity is a factor – Rosalind pretends to be a boy named ‘Ganymede’ and offers counsel to Orlando, to help him get over Rosalind. Around this central story are other sub-plots of love, romance, and the search for happiness and meaning.

In this version, the story is transported to Japan – this was a move which received mixed reviews. For my part, I thought it worked beautifully, affording some wonderful scenery, which was photographed beautifully. Bryce Dallas Howard was beyond stunning as Rosalind – she was luminous, and it was easy to see how Orlando became so entranced by her. Romola Garai played Celia, Rosalind’s best friend, and was great in the part, amply demonstrating why she is carving out a career as a respected actress. In truth, it is hard to select just one member of the cast as stand-out, as they were uniformly excellent. Brian Blessed starred as both Duke Senior and Duke Frederick, and made the two characters very distinctive, showing the harshness and cruelty of Frederick, and the kindly gentleness of Senior. Kevin Kline shines as a melancholy lord, and Alfred Molina puts in a great turn as Touchstone, a court fool (jester of sorts) who accompanies Rosalind and Celia when they leave the court. Other terrific performances include David Oyelowo as Orlando and Adrian Lester as Oliver (Orlando’s brother).

I also loved the epilogue in which the fourth wall is well and truly broken in a lovely way. Overall, this was a delightful, colourful, romantic adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s comedies, and I highly recommend it both to fans and non-fans of the Bard.

Year of release: 2006

Director: Kenneth Branagh

Producers: Kenneth Branagh, Judy Hofflund, Simon Moseley

Writers: William Shakespeare (play), Kenneth Branagh

Main cast: Bryce Dallas Howard, Romola Garai, Brian Blessed, David Oyelowo, Kevin Kline, Adrian Lester, Alfred Molina


Click here for my review of the televised live performance of the play at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in 2009.

Click here for my review of the play at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, in May 2013


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