Archive for February, 2013

In this 1938 comedy, James Stewart plays Peter Morgan, a college professor.  While on a trip to New York City, he meets nightclub singer/dancer Francey  Brent (Ginger Rogers), and after a whirlwind romance, they get married.  But when he takes her home to meet his family, he finds it difficult to tell his very conservative parents about his wedding…

What a gem of a film this turned out to be.  Stewart and Rogers were both extremely funny and likeable as the mis-matched but devoted couple, and as one thing after another conspired to keep them apart, the laughs kept coming.  An excellent supporting cast – especially Beulah Bondi as Peter’s mother, and James Ellison as his cousin Keith – who has also fallen for Francey – further enhanced the film.

It is a mixture of screwball comedy and romance, and both aspects balance each other out nicely.  It is a very light-hearted film, and I defy anyone not to laugh during it, and not to have a broad smile on their face at the end of it.

Vivacious Lady is not the most famous film featuring either Stewart or Rogers, but it does deserve to be better known.  The cliche ‘they don’t make ’em like that anymore’ is certainly true here.  Sadly, this film doesn’t seem to come on television very often, so if you do see it in programme listings, don’t miss out on the opportunity to watch this delightful picture.

Year of release: 1938

Director: George Stevens

Producer: George Stevens

Writers: I.A.R. Wylie, P.J. Wolfson, Ernest Pagano, Anne Morrison Chapin

Main cast: James Stewart, Ginger Rogers, James Ellison, Beulah Bondi, Charles Coburn, Frances Mercer


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This is a review of a live performance at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London, and which was televised.

The story of Othello is a well known one, combining love, jealousy and betrayal.  Othello (Eamonn Walker) marries Desdemona (Zoe Tapper), and his jealous soldier Iago (Tim McInnery) conspires to make Othello believe – wrongly – that Desdemona has cheated on him.  Othello’s jealousy and rage wreaks devastating results.

What a fabulous production this was – I only wish I could have seen it live, rather than a televised performance.  Eamonn Walker was just superb as the title character – perfectly displaying in the first part of the play exactly why Desdemona has fallen in love with him (quite frankly, who wouldn’t fall in love with him?!)  He is noble, wise and devoted to his wife.  Which makes his breakdown as a result of his belief that his wife has been unfaithful, all the more devastating.  It is truly a stunningly good performance.  The same can be said of Tim McInnery, who played the diabolical Iago with such aplomb, bringing menace and humour to the role.

Zoe Tapper as Desdemona, and Lorraine Burroughs as Emilia both looked beautiful, and were excellent in their respective roles.  In fact, there was no weak link in the cast at all.  The staging was simple but effective, and the costumes were glorious.  But more importantly, the play was incredibly compelling and dramatic – at a little over three hours, it is not a short play, but every minute is worth watching.

I strongly recommend this, especially but not only, for Shakespeare fans.

Year of production: 2007 (first televised in 2008)

Director: Wilson Milam

Writer: William Shakespeare (play)

Main cast: Eamonn Walker, Tim McInnery, Zoe Tapper, Lorraine Burroughs, Sam Crane, Nick Barber

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In this romantic comedy (of sorts), Marilyn Monroe plays saloon singer (or ‘chanteuse’ as she would have it) Cherie.  Don Murray plays Bo, a naive cowboy with no social skills, due to his having lived an extremely sheltered life.  He goes to Phoenix for a rodeo competition, sees Cherie and immediately falls for her.  He decides that whether she likes it or not, they are going to get married, and he’s taking her back with him to live on his ranch!

Marilyn received a lot of acclaim for her role in this film, and it probably is her best work.  She manages to combine innocence with knowingness – Cherie has been promiscuous in the past, but really she is like a young girl waiting for a nice man to come and rescue her.  She and the other main female characters (her friend Vera, played by Eileen Heckart; and Grace, the owner of the diner at the diner at the titular bus stop, played by Betty Field) are what make this film worth watching.

Bo however, was an extremely irritating character – way over-the-top with his whooping and hollering at every moment.  I imagine he was supposed to be childlike in his enthusiasm, but he came across as more childish when it came to what he wanted.  At one stage, he literally lassoes Cherie to prevent her getting on a bus and leaving him, and carries her away despite her protests.  It may have been that in 1956, this was a comedic moment, but watching it in 2013, it is simply silly and were it not SO silly, it would have been disturbing.  Don Murray received an Oscar nomination for this performance, but honestly I can’t see how.  (I feel almost guilty writing this, as Murray is by several accounts, a thoroughly lovely man, but I couldn’t help it – this character really grated on me.)  The performance reminded of Jim Carrey in full manic mode!

Despite this though, the film was quite watchable, and did have a few amusing moments.  It was one I had wanted to see, being a Marilyn Monroe fan, and I’m glad I watched it, but I wouldn’t rush to watch it again.

Year of release: 1956

Director: Joshua Logan

Producer: Buddy Adler

Writers: William Inge (play), George Axelrod

Main cast: Marilyn Monroe, Don Murray, Arthur O’Connell, Betty Field, Eileen Heckart, Robert Bray

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I saw this production at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, in Stratford, on 12th February 2013.  The show that I saw was actually a public understudy run.  This meant that some actors played more than one part (and in one instance, one part was played by two actors).  This is no criticism, and was certainly not confusing.  The public understudy runs are a great way to see a full production for an extremely low price (£5.00 to non-RSC members; £2.50 for RSC members).

The Winter’s Tale is a story of love and misplaced revenge.  It was originally classed as a comedy, but is not now always considered so, although there are some very funny moments in the latter half of the play.  Briefly, King Leontes of Sicilia (wrongly) suspects that his pregnant wife Hermione has been unfaithful with the King’s friend, Polixenes of Bohemia.  He punishes his wife in the most horrible way, but is thrust into despair when he realises that his wife and friend were innocent of any wrong-doing.  Having banished their baby daughter as soon as she was born (believing at the time that she was Polixenes’ daughter, she grows up unaware of her royal heritage, believing that she is the daughter of the shepherd who found her as a baby and brought her up as his own.  However, she falls in love with Florizel – who is the son of King Polixenes…..

Considering that the cast and crew had just four days to prepare for this production, and that everyone was playing a different part to that which they normally play (the understudies are all part of the main cast), this production was excellent.  I was particularly impressed with Phil Snowden, who played the dual roles of Antigonus (the subject of the famous stage direction, “Exit pursued by a bear”) and the old Shepherd, who brings up the baby he finds.  He was distinctive in each role, and provided a lot of humour as the shepherd, aided by his character’s son, the young Shepherd (the two shepherds’ first names are not revealed), played by Kieran Knowles.  Duncan Wisbey, who played Autolycus, a roguish pedlar (and who plays Antigonus in the main cast) was also superb and extremely humorous.  Bethan Walker who in this production played both Hermione and Perdita was very impressive, and I really felt for her Hermione.

This is not my favourite Shakespeare – in some parts of the first half, it is actually quite a disturbing play, with Leontes becoming so doubting of his pregnant wife, and actually punching her in the stomach at one point.  The second half was much lighter, with much of the aforementioned humour to relieve the tension, and the story is rounded off nicely.

The staging was impressive, with a scene of bohemian decadence to show Leontes’ palace.  There was also some considerable use of CGI, which worked well, and for some reason, a huge sort of water tower, the reason for which was unfathomable, but nonetheless it somehow worked.

Overall, I enjoyed the production and thought it was very well done.  Another triumph for the RSC!

(For more information about this production, or the Royal Shakespeare Company, please click here.)

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A series of letters to a fictional niece, who is struggling to read Jane Austen, is the hook on which Fay Weldon hangs this collection of fifteen essays (for want of a better word) about Jane Austen, her life, her novels, and the era in which she lived. This subject is the basis for thoughts about writing, what it means to be an author, and how people approach the art of writing a book; and how readers consider and enjoy books. The author also offers snippets of advice about life and love to her 18 year old niece.

I enjoyed this book a lot. It’s very eloquently written, and easy to take in. I learned about aspects of Jane Austen’s life, and discovered new perspectives from which to read her books. It is certainly not necessary to like – or even to have read – Jane Austen to enjoy this book (indeed, the fictional character it is aimed at is not enjoying reading Austen), but I would imagine that if you have never picked up an Austen novel, this would make you want to.

As you might expect, Weldon is forthright, honest and intelligent. She is also often amusing, and made me think – and also made me want to reread Emma very soon!

I would certainly recommend this enjoyable collection of letters, whether or not you are a fan of Jane Austen.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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This film is based on the life of Karen Blixen (played here by Meryl Street), a Danish woman who, in the early 20th century, entered into a marriage of convenience and moved to Africa to run a coffee plantation with her husband (Klaus Maria Brandauer).  When he abandons her, she starts a romance with free-spirited game hunter Denys Finch-Hatton (Robert Redford).

I first saw this film at the cinema when I was a young teenager, and to be honest, I found it boring; most of the story lines went over my head.  Watching it again now as an adult however, I thought this film was rather beautiful, and very rewarding.  It is so much more than just a romance, although the romantic aspect is beautifully played out.  Without the help of her husband, Karen has to learn to survive on her own wits and intelligence, in a time when it was not easy to be a single woman.  She becomes independent and stronger than she probably ever could have imagined possible.  Redford – who looks as beautiful as ever! – is wonderful as Finch-Hatton (although his character was likely somewhat sanitised for cinema audiences), and the relationship between these two headstrong characters was very believable.

It is a long film – the best part of three hours, and in some parts very slow moving.  It is very much a character driven story, rather than a plot driven story, but it is well worth the investment.  Shot partly  on location in Kenya, the scenery is simply stunning, and made me want to visit the area.

When you have actors like Streep and Redford on board, you know that you are going to get good performances, and they don’t disappoint.  However, I did find Streep’s Danish accent somewhat irritating at first, but got used to it.

It took me a long time to come back to this film, but I am very glad that I did so, and would certainly recommend it to anyone who likes a moving, thought-provoking film.

Year of release: 1985

Director: Sydney Pollack

Producers: Kim Jorgensen, Sydney Pollack, Anna Cataldi, Judith Thurman, Terence Clegg

Writers: Karen Blixen (book ‘Out of Africa’ and other writings), Judith Thurman (book ‘Isak Dinesen: The Life of a Story Teller’), Errol Trzebinski (book ‘Silence Will Speak’), Kurt Luedtke

Main cast: Meryl Streep, Robert Redford, Klaus Maria Brandauer, Michael Kitchen, Malick Bowens, Mike Bugara

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This 2004 adaptation of Shakespeare’s play (originally written as a comedy, although it feels far more like a drama) stars Al Pacino as Shylock (and he is easily the best thing in this film), Jeremy Irons as Antonio, Joseph Fiennes as Bassanio and Lynne Collins as Portia.

The story, in essence, centres on a deal made between Antonio (the merchant of Venice referred to in the title), and Shylock, a Jewish money-lender.  At the time that the story was set, there was much bad feeling between Christians and Jews, and indeed Jews in Venice were required to live in a ghetto of sorts, and to wear red caps in public, to identify as Jewish.  Antonio is approached by his friend Bassanio, who has squandered all of his money on his lavish lifestyle, and wants to borrow money off Antonio in order that he can be a suitor to Portia, a rich heiress – if Bassanio marries Portia, all of her riches will be his.  Antonio cannot lend him the money, but agrees to act as guarantor if Bassanio can borrow the money elsewhere.  Bassanio does so – from Shylock, who attaches a condition to his lending, that if the money is not repaid, Antonio will have to literally forfeit a pound of his flesh to Shylock.

I have watched and enjoyed many Shakespeare film adaptations, and approached this one with high hopes – only, sadly, to have them dashed.  Unfortunately, I found this adaptation to be boring and laborious.  Joseph Fiennes and Lynda Collins were not convincing as Bassanio and Portia; David Harewood played a small part in the film, in which he was great, but sadly he is in it only briefly.  Kris Marshall and Mackenzie Crook did decent enough jobs as Bassanio’s friend Graziano, and Launcelot Gobbo (a young man who works for Shylock), but they were not enough to save this film.

I am however, going to make mention of Al Pacino’s performance, which was simply outstanding.  If the rest of the cast (Jeremy Irons aside – he did a great job) had been as good as Pacino, this film would have been fantastic and one I would doubtless have watched over and over.  Pacino stole every single scene he was in, and engendered real sympathy in me for his character at the end.  Although Shylock is often portrayed and interpreted as a villain, I felt that he was a victim of the times and culture that he lived in, and the craftiness of others.  (Much as I enjoy Shakespeare, I don’t believe that either Bassanio or Portia come acres as very decent or likeable characters in the play).

It looks luscious and colourful, but for me, this film was a case of style of over content.  It may be worth seeing for the performance of Al Pacino, but other than that, this is one I won’t be watching again.

Year of release: 2004

Director: Michael Radford

Producers: Michael Hammer, Peter James, Robert Jones, Alex Marshall, James Simpson, Manfred Wilde, Gary Hamilton, Andrea Iervolino, Pete Maggi, Julia Verdin, Andreas Bajohra, Bob Bellion, Cary Brokaw, Michael Cowan, Jimmy de Brabant, Edwige Fenech, Nigel Goldsack, Luciano Martino, Barry Navidi, Jason Piette, Bob Portal, Jean-Claude Schlim, Clive Waldron, Roberto Almagia, Irene Masiello

Writers: William Shakespeare (play), Michael Radford

Main cast: Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons, Joseph Fiennes, Lynda Collins, Kris Marshall, Zuleikha Robinson, Charlie Cox, Heather Goldenhersh, Mackenzie Crook

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