Archive for March, 2013

Last time I saw Jonathan Slinger at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, he was playing Malvolio in the comedy Twelfth Night – and he very nearly stole the show.  Here, he takes on an entirely different role – that of Hamlet, the tortured, grieving young Prince of Denmark, who seeks to avenge the death of his father, who Hamlet is convinced was killed by Claude, the brother of Hamlet’s father.  Claude is now married to Hamlet’s mother Gertrude, and is also King of Denmark.

This particular performance seems to have divided the critics and the audience; I fall firmly on the side of ‘loved it’.  The play was enthralling throughout, and the whole cast were excellent.  Slinger was outstanding – his Hamlet teetered on the thin line between sanity and madness; his grief and fury at the loss of his father, and the subsequent rapid remarriage of his mother were all too believable.  He also injected some humour into some of his exchanges and mannerisms.  The whole cast was actually wonderful – as well as Slinger, I loved Pippa Nixon as Ophelia, who loved Hamlet but was tragically caught up in his extreme emotions, and who eventually suffered a breakdown with terrible consequences.  Alex Waldmann was perfect, and very endearing as Horatio, Hamlet’s kind (and rational) friend, and Robin Soans provided some great comedy as Polonius.

For this production, the play was set in the 1960s, with one character wearing a CND symbol on his coat, and Hamlet sharing a spliff with his old friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.  The stage was made to look like a gymnasium, complete with the necessary fencing equipment needed for the final scenes.

My favourite scenes were the famous ‘To Be or Not to Be’ soliloquy, and the final devastating scenes.  After the tense build-up, the showdown needed to be dramatic and shocking – and it was.

All in all, a wonderful production, and I recommend it whole-heartedly to fans of the play, and fans of good drama.

(To find out more about this production, or about the Royal Shakespeare Company, please click here.)


Click here for my review of the 2000 film adaptation of Hamlet.


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Famous for being the film upon which Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan film, You’ve Got Mail (1998) was based on (and also the film upon which the Judy Garland/Van Johnson musical, In the Good Old Summertime (1949) was based on), The Shop Around the Corner was itself adapted from a play called Parfumerie, by Miklos Laszlo.

The film is set in Budapest, and tells the story of two employees at the same store, who do not get on with each other, but who, unbeknownst to them, are each other’s anonymous penpal.  Through their letters, the two correspondents fall in love with each other, but will love win through when their real identities are revealed?

James Stewart plays Alfred Kralick (presumably meant to be Hungarian, but uses his instantly recognisable American accent throughout!) and Maureen Sullavan is Klara Novak (also with an American accent!)  Actually, my mention of the accents is in no way intended as a criticism – I do believe that you have to suspend disbelief in certain circumstances, and in actual fact, this is a delightful and thoroughly charming film.

It is a romantic comedy, but make no mistake – there are themes of loneliness, adultery, suicide and betrayal running through the story, which somehow balance perfectly with the funnier and sweeter moments.  James Stewart is perfect in roles like this – sometimes Alfred can be irascible, and sometimes he can be insensitive, but he also conveys vulnerability and honesty.  Sullavan was also very endearing as Klara, the young lady falling in love with a man she has never met (or at least, who she believes she has never met), and who has high hopes for their future.  However, what really elevates this film above others of the genre is the excellent supporting cast.  Frank Morgan as Hugo Matuschek – the owner of the store – is by turns funny and sad.  His performance has real pathos, and heart.  Also terrific is Felix Bressart, as Alfred’s friend and co-worker Pirovitch, and William Tracy as errand big Pepi Katona.

The ending is lovely, if somewhat predictable, but what does it matter if we know all along how things are going to turn out.  In a film like this, the joy is not in reaching the destination, but the journey we take to get there.  And it’s a lovely journey, filled with great moments.  Highly recommended.

Year of release: 1940

Director: Ernst Lubitsch

Producer: Ernst Lubitsch

Writers: Miklos Laszlo (play ‘Parfumerie’), Samson Raphaelson, Ben Hecht

Main cast: James Stewart, Maureen Sullavan, Frank Morgan, Felix Bressart, William Tracy, Joseph Schildkraut, Inez Courtney, Sara Haden

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Patty O’Neill (Maggie McNamara) is an aspiring actress, who meets successful architect Don Gresham (William Holden) at the top of the Empire State Building, and ends up back at his apartment, where he hopes to seduce her, but she is determined not to let that happen!  Complications arise in the shape of Don’s ex-fiancee Cynthia (Dawn Addams), who lives in the apartment above Don, with her father, the bordering-on-alcoholic playboy David Slater (David Niven).  When David Slater sets eyes on Patty, he decides he fancies her for himself, and the stage is set for some sparkling comedy.

At the time of its release, this film was considered to be risqué, due to its use of the words, “virgin,” “seduce,” and “mistress.”  It was in fact the first post-Hayes Code film to use these words, and was banned from certain cinemas, due its use of these words.  Obviously, by today’s standards, it is very tame, but if it has lost some of its shock value, it certainly has not lost any of its comedy.

McNamara is lovely as Patty – a sweet, and somewhat naive girl, who nonetheless has a habit of blurting out whatever pops into her head, be it appropriate or not!  (I was shocked to discover that McNamara committed suicide at the age of just 49 – she simply fizzed with life and wit in this role.)  Holden is great as the increasingly frustrated Don, and Niven was surely made for the role of Slater.  All three leads bounce off each other terrifically; they are the main parts of a very small cast, and in the hands of different actors, this might not have been nearly so successful, but it works brilliantly.  The only weak link in the cast was Addams as Cynthia, but as Cynthia is only a minor character, this did not affect my overall enjoyment of the film.

The film is an adaptation of a play, and I can certainly see how this would work on stage, as the vast majority of the action takes place in Gresham’s and Slater’s respective apartments, with just a couple of scenes outdoors, on top of the Empire State Building.  There is much running around and misunderstanding, and a lot of the humour comes from the rivalry between Don and David.  Holden was at his glorious best in the 1950s (frankly, I don’t know how Patty could have resisted Don), and Niven’s comedic touch is spot on – he has terrific one-liners!

Overall, the film is an absolute joy and delight, and definitely one I would recommend.

Year of release: 1953

Director: Otto Preminger

Producer: Otto Preminger

Writer: F. Hugh Herbert (play and screenplay)

Main cast: William Holden, David Niven, Maggie McNamara, Dawn Addams

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This film tells the story of the life of Johnny Cash, covering the years from 1944, when he was a young boy working on his father’s farm, until his groundbreaking concert at Folsom State Prison in 1968.  The film concentrates on Cash’s rise to fame, and addiction to drugs, and his relationships with his first wife Viv, and his second wife, country singer June Carter (later June Carter Cash).

Johnny Cash personally approved Joaquin Phoenix to portray him (having apparently enjoyed Phoenix’s role in Gladiator) and June Carter Cash approved Reese Witherspoon to portray her.  (Sadly both Johnny and June died before the film was released.)  I thought that both Phoenix and Witherspoon were terrific.  Both were nominated for an Oscar for their performances in this film, and Witherspoon actually won.  (Philip Seymour Hoffman won the Best Actor award, beating both Phoenix, and Heath Ledger for his role in Brokeback Mountain.  Personally, I would have loved either Phoenix or Ledger to have won.)

What is quite amazing is that both the leads learned how to play the instruments which Johnny and June Cash played, and they also performed all the singing themselves.  And frankly, I thought they nailed it.  Phoenix may be a reluctant star, but he certainly has bags of talent and charisma.  He gives a note-perfect turn, and I really believed in his performance.

Ginnifer Goodwin was also great as Vivian Cash, Johnny’s long-suffering first wife.  It has been strongly suggested that the character portrayed in this film was unfair to Vivian, and that she was actually far nicer than shown in the film (Johnny and June’s son John Carter Cash, was an executive producer on this film, and he has acknowledged the criticism and said that he wanted to show the love story of his parents.  Roseanne Cash, Johnny and Vivian’s daughter, has been critical of the film also.)

The story was fascinating, showing how Cash always blamed himself for a family tragedy which occurred when he was a young boy, and which contributed to the very strained relationship with his father (Robert Patrick).  It chronicles his early struggles to make it in the music business, and his subsequent success.  Naturally, there is some excellent music throughout!  It is a gripping and sometimes very sad tale, but it is ultimately uplifting.  The chemistry between Phoenix and Witherspoon is almost palpable, and the play off one another very well.

I would have liked to have seen the story continue past 1968, and perhaps show more of Cash’s social and political views; it perhaps concentrated too heavily on the love between Johnny and June, but maybe this film is better viewed as a love story, rather than a complete biography.  Either way, the superb music and atmosphere, and the two incredible performances at the heart of the film make this well worth watching, even for those not familiar with Johnny Cash’s music.

(For more information about Johnny Cash, please click here.)

Year of release: 2005

Director: James Mangold

Producers: John Carter Cash, Alan C. Blomquist, James Keach, Cathy Konrad, Lou Robin

Writers: Johnny Cash (book ‘Man in Black’ – based on) (book ‘Cash: The Autobiography’ – based on), Patrick Carr (book ‘Cash: The Autobiography’ based on), Gill Dennis, James Mangold

Main cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon, Ginnifer Goodwin, Robert Patrick, Waylon Payne

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On the morning of Nick and Amy’s fifth wedding anniversary, Amy disappears and foul play is suspected.  As the police investigate, fingers are pointed straight at Nick; all the evidence suggests that he has hurt Amy (or worse), and as he protests his innocence, nobody, including the reader, is sure who to believe.

There is a split narrative, with Nick describing events on the day of and the days following the disappearance, and also talking about his marriage to Amy, and through Amy’s diary entries leading up to their fifth wedding anniversary.  Through their two voices, a tale is told of two people who meet, fall in love and get married, and seem to have it all – until they don’t.  Until job losses, financial worries and parental problems threaten their happiness, and slowly but surely, the truth is revealed.

It’s really hard to review this book, because I think it is absolutely essential that there are no spoilers for anyone reading it.  However, I will say that I really really liked the first part, where it was never quite clear what had happened.  Then comes a twist, and a change of pace, which I initially was quite disappointed by, and I thought that the book would suffer because of it – but I was wrong.  The level of tension was kept up, and I found the book hard to put down.

I thought the characters were really well written, even if I didn’t particularly like some of them.  (Nick was not that likeable, and Amy’s parents were vomit inducing!)

My only gripe with this book was the ending, which, while well written, and which was actually very clever when I look back at it, didn’t satisfy me,  but I can’t say why without giving away important plot points.  Overall though, this book was a terrific read, and I will be seeking out Gillian Flynn’s other works.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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Marion (Vanessa Redgrave) and Arthur (Terence Stamp) play a married couple, who love each other very much, despite being very different.  She is outgoing, cheerful – and terminally ill.  He is reserved, unable to show his feelings, and well…grumpy.  She is a member of a choir of pensioners known as the OAPz (with a ‘z’ to make it street, as explained by the choir leader Elizabeth, played by Gemma Arterton), which Arthur adamantly refuses to get involved with.  Is it too late for Arthur to change his mind and honour his wife’s wishes by becoming involved with the choir, and mend his relationship with their son James (Christopher Eccleston)?  Time will tell in this sad, but ultimately uplifting film.

I saw this on a whim, and expected to quite enjoy it – but I absolutely loved it.  It is by turns hilarious (the free concert in the park where the choir showcase their talents to the locals is so funny that I was crying with laughter) and heartbreaking (Stamp conveys so much feeling with just one look or one small gesture).

With a cast that includes Stamp, Redgrave and Eccleston, it will come as no surprise that the acting is truly excellent.  I was not familiar with any other films featuring Gemma Arterton, so I was not sure what to expect, but she was actually lovely as the young lady who is much more able to connect with the pensioners than people her own age.

People will sometimes describe a film as unbelievably sad, but this is better than that – it is believably sad.  Stamp and Eccleston are truly marvellous as the devastated husband and son of Marion.  Their heartbreak manifests itself as resentment, withdrawal and anger, and you just can’t help rooting for these people to find some relief.

I cried several times throughout, but the comical scenes complemented the sad ones perfectly, and as mentioned above, despite the subject matter, the film is really very uplifting.  Totally, definitely recommended.

Year of release: 2012

Director: Paul Andrew Williams

Producers: Christian Angermayer, Marc Hansell, Sean Kelly, Tara Moross, Alistair Ross, Ricky Sans, Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein, Ken Marshall, Philip Moross, Christopher Billows, Rachel Dargavel, Caroline Levy, Jens Meurer, Jona Wirbeleit

Writer: Paul Andrew Williams

Main cast: Vanessa Redgrave, Terence Stamp, Christopher Eccleston, Gemma Arterton

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Roy Hobbs is a baseball player who comes almost out of nowhere in the 1930s, to join the New York Knights, who are going through a losing streak.  Nobody has ever heard of Hobbs, who has never played professionally, but his talent for the game is undeniable, despite him being nearer retirement age for the sport, than a youthful rookie.  As the film shows, his career was halted for a while by an unforeseen tragedy, but that doesn’t stop his determination to be the best baseball player in history.

This is a beautifully shot, wonderfully acted film, with an air of magic about it.  Robert Redford, at nearly 50 years of age, may have been slightly too old to play Hobbs, but it doesn’t matter at all – partly because he looks so youthful, and partly because he embodies the role so completely.  Glenn Close is Iris, the sweet woman from his past, and Kim Basinger is Memo, the avaricious girl who dates him after he becomes famous.

This is certainly a baseball movie, but you do not have to be a fan of the sport to appreciate and enjoy the film (although personally speaking, Baseball is about the only sport which I can enjoy watching).  In fact, the sport scenes are very enjoyable, and I could feel the excitement and tension of the players and the crowd.

I loved Redford as the gruff but brutally honest Hobbs, and Close as the young lady he almost left behind.  Basinger was great in an extremely unsympathetic role, and Wilford Brimley and Richard Farnsworth gave excellent support as Pop Fisher and Red Blow, the manager and co-owner of the NY Knights, and his assistant.  The always superb Robert Duvall also makes the most of his role as Max Mercy, an unscrupulous sports journalist.

Not just a sports movie, but an allegory for life, this film was unexpectedly delightful and moving.  As a Redford fan, I was bound to enjoy it, but it exceeded my expectations, and I would certainly recommend it.

Year of release: 1984

Director: Barry Levinson

Producers: Philip M. Breen, Roger Towne, Mark Johnson, Robert F. Colesberry

Writers: Bernard Malamud (novel), Roger Towne, Phil Dusenberry

Main cast: Robert Redford, Robert Duvall, Glenn Close, Kim Basinger, Wilford Brimley, Richard Farnsworth


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Susie Boyt has been a fan of the legendary Judy Garland – who died five months after Boyt was born – for as long as she can remember. In this book, she talks about her own life (although this is not an autobiography) and how her love of Garland has affected her.

WARNING: This review is probably going to become a rant!

I expected to like this book. I wanted to like it, I really did. But I couldn’t. Not only did I dislike the book, I actually got annoyed and irritated with it. I had expected an amusing memoir about fan-worship of a star, with a metaphorical rolling of the eyes by the author at the lengths she would go to in the name of that fan-worship. What I actually read was a lot of self-indulgent, over analytical wittering. (Perhaps I should partly blame myself for not realising beforehand what type of book this was.)

Lets make no bones about this – the author is not just a fan of Judy Garland, she is obsessed (something which she herself acknowledges). Baking a pie? She instantly thinks of a speech from a Garland film where Garland likens herself to a pie, and recites the speech over and over in her head, desperately making sure she has the words right. Washing up? Remember that scene where Judy Garland washed up? And it’s not enough to just remember the scene – Boyt analyses the scene and breaks it down – what did it mean? What was Judy conveying? Boyt mentions kind words spoken by characters played by Judy Garland and attributes them to Garland herself, seemingly unable to distinguish between Garland and the character. She also sends out questionnaires to other Judy-fans (the hyphen is important; Boyt mentions her Judy-work, her Judy-friends, etc.) asking such questions as ‘What has Judy taught you?’ ‘What qualities do you share with Judy?’ ‘What would you have done to help Judy if you could?’ ‘What would you say to Judy if you could?’ and so on.

She also divides Garland’s fans into bad fans (apparently those who dare to make a point about Garland’s drug use or other personal problems), good fans (those who only focus on the positive aspects of Judy Garland’s life) and crazy-good fans. She mentions one ‘crazy-good fan’ who wrote to Grace Kelly’s family shortly after Grace died tragically young and unexpectedly, and demanded that Grace’s Oscar which she won for The Country Girl, be sent to the Garland family where it truly belonged (Kelly and Garland were both nominated for the Oscar and Kelly, controversially, won). Is that a good fan? Not to me – crazy maybe; rude, spiteful, downright insensitive, definitely.

The author acknowledges her own obsession with Garland, and also acknowledges that other people may have different obsessions. On which subject she says, “It is possible that the object of your obsession is unequal to your heroic feelings, as mine will never be and that you are a tiny bit (and I whisper this) misguided in your choice, but your feelings are good and true, I see that.” Blimey! Patronising much? I recognise that Boyt was perhaps saying that to the obsessive, nobody else’s obsession can ever match up, but all the same, this was the point where I almost abandoned this book. (Later on, she describes doing ‘Judy-work’ in a library and looking round at the other patrons, who are doing their own work. They are swiftly dismissed with “it’s clear they just don’t love their work as I do….”)

Boyt also met with Garland’s daughter, Liza Minelli, to whom she complained that people were only ever interested in her father (Boyt’s father is the late artist, Lucien Freud). Minelli said that she understood exactly how that felt, in an obvious reference to people only being interested in Judy Garland. “But, but, but….” I thought, “Isn’t that exactly what Susie Boyt is doing? She is only interested in Liza Minelli because of who her mother is, and yet she complains about that behaviour in other people.”

Everything was taken so personally in this book; after Garland’s death, her friend Mickey Rooney said that if people had taken her to their hearts a bit earlier, she might still be alive. Boyt says that she takes this as a personal reproach, although she acknowledges that she was just five months old when Judy Garland died.

Boyt hates it that people exploited Judy Garland, but yet this whole book felt slightly exploitative. Garland is used an excuse for Boyt to wax lyrical about her own thoughts. Garland’s addiction to drugs is the basis for Boyt writing about sympathy, the nature of sympathy, when sympathy should be given and who by, and what form it should take (what is bad sympathy and what is good sympathy). This confused me – doesn’t the giving of sympathy depend on a lot of things? What kind of person the sympathiser is; what kind of person they are sympathising with is, what has happened to elicit sympathy, the relationship between the two people, etc. etc.

This is not the book to read if you want to find out more about Judy Garland – I would recommend you find a good biography instead, if that is your aim. There are aspects of Garland’s life contained within, but it seems to be written for people who are already very familiar with her life.

Sorry for the rant. We all have books we like and don’t like, but it’s rare for a book to actually annoy me to this extent. I never give up on a book once I’ve started it, so I did see this one through to the bitter end, but unfortunately I don’t feel able to recommend it to anyone else.

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I saw this show at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre, on 2nd March 2013.  For anyone who doesn’t know the story, it revolves around the imminent marriage of socialite Tracy Lord.  Events are complicated by the arrival of her first husband, C.K. Dexter Haven, and a journalist named Mike Connor, who has been sent to do a magazine article on the wedding.  Tracy realises that she has unresolved feelings for Dexter, and there is further trouble when she finds herself attracted to Mike!  It was adapted into a film starring Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant and James Stewart, in 1940, and it was again adapted, this time into a musical starring Grace Kelly, Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra.  This play is an adaptation of the musical.

It was a wonderful performance.  Michael Praed was fantastic and just right for the role of Dexter (resembling Cary Grant’s portrayal more than Bing Crosby’s), and Sophie Bould was perfect as the cool and critical Tracy, who becomes warmer as the story with it’s unexpected romantic entanglements proceeds.  Daniel Boys struck just the right note as Mike, and Alex Young was great as Liz Imbrie, the photographer who accompanies Mike, and whose love for him is clear to everyone except Mike himself.  There was not a single weak link in the whole cast, which also included Teddy Kempner as Tracy’s alcohol sizzled Uncle Willie, Marilyn Cutts as Tracy’s mother Margaret, and Craig Pinder as her disgraced father Seth.  Katie Lee played Dinah, Tracy’s spunky and intelligent younger sister, and reminded me of the character as portrayed in The Philadelphia Story; she was terrific.  In the performance that I saw, George Kittredge, Tracy’s dull-as-dishwater fiancé, was played by the understudy Steven Butler.  He was extremely good in the role.

Finally, I must mention the rest of the cast who played the staff of the Lord household, and who put on some amazing dance displays, and performed some wonderful songs.  In fact, all of the cast had lovely voices, and brought the songs to life.

I thought the scene changes were highly effective, with the use of the revolving stage – the sets were imaginative and very evocative of the era.

This was a very high-energy, feel-good show, and I was laughing and smiling all the way through.  I saw a matinee performance, and I could easily have gone to see the show again that same evening, and would have thoroughly enjoyed it.  A wonderful show from beginning to end.

(For more information about this production, please click here.)


Click here for my review of the 1940 film The Philadelphia Story.

Click here for my review of the 1956 film High Society.


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In this incredibly charming film set in colonial America, William Holden plays David Harvey, a widower who marries a servant girl named Rachel (Loretta Young), so that his son Davey will have a mother figure, and so that she can keep their cabin clean and tidy, provide meals, etc.  It is a marriage of convenience, but when David’s friend Jim (Robert Mitchum) comes to visit and shows an interest in Rachel, David comes to realise what she really means to him.

I only watched this film because it starred two of my favourite actors – William Holden and Robert Mitchum – and what a lucky lucky girl Rachel was to get to choose between the two! However, I was pleasantly surprised, because this is an absolute gem of a movie!  The always excellent Holden perfectly captures the sadness that David feels after the loss of his beloved wife, and Young is great as the woman who feels unwanted, save for the chores she does.  Mitchum is also wonderful as David’s easy-come easy-go friend.  Rounding out the main cast is child actor Gary Gray as little Davey.

The story is gentle and sweet, with some surprising moments of humour, and one of the funniest fight scenes I have ever seen!  It held my attention throughout and I really liked all of the characters.

This film doesn’t seem to get many outings on television, but I would urge anyone to try and catch it if they can.  It is really rather lovely, and I highly recommend it.

Year of release: 1948

Director: Norman Foster

Producers: Jack J. Gross, Richard H. Berger

Writers: Howard Fast (story ‘Rachel’), Waldo Salt

Main cast: William Holden, Loretta Young, Robert Mitchum, Gary Gray

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