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Archive for April, 2013

Robert Morley and Felix Aylmer are the titular ghosts in this British comedy.  They play, respectively, General ‘Jumbo’ Burlap, and Colonel ‘Bulldog’ Kelsoe, two 18th century soldiers, who accidentally kill themselves in the house they have taken on after retirement.  As they were meant to be entertaining Queen Anne prior to their untimely deaths, they are sentenced in the afterlife to remain as ghosts, haunting the house, until a reigning monarch visits…and as the years roll on, and the house is taken on by a variety of tenants, the chances of that happening look ever less likely.

I can’t deny that the plot of this film is pretty thin, and very ludicrous.  However, it really doesn’t matter, because it’s just so entertaining!  Morley and Aylmer are wonderful as the hapless soldiers (who are just as hapless in their afterlife).  The supporting cast are fine on the whole, although Yvonne Arnaud particularly shines as the manageress of a Bordello house.

Over the years (the film ends during World War 2), as well as being used as the aforementioned Bordello, the property is also a home to an Indian Rajah, the home of the Rex T. Farnum circus (no prizes for guessing who the name of the circus was inspired by), a wartime hospital, and a soldiers’ club, and it was amusing the see Jumbo and Bulldog grow ever more despairing of ever attracting a member of the Royal Family to visit their former home.

My only niggle with this film was some very dodgy racial stereotypes, particularly in the part where the property is inhabited by an Indian Rajah.  The depiction of the Rajah (also played by Robert Morley), and depictions of various other nationalities made me wince.  Apart from that however, there were some genuinely funny scenes in this film, and two excellent leads, playing probably the two most unthreatening ghosts of all time, make it worth a watch.

Year of release: 1947

Director: Vernon Sewell

Producer: Louis H. Jackson

Writers: Caryl Brahms (novel ‘No Nightingales), S.J. Simon (novel ‘No Nightingales’), James Seymour

Main cast: Robert Morley, Felix Aylmer, Yvonne Arnaud

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When Chris Stewart flies to Spain and on impulse buys a farm in the Andalucian mountains, he has no idea what he’s taking on.  The farm has no electricity, no running water, no easy access, and to cap it all, the former who sold it to him does not seem prepared to move out any time soon.  However, Chris and his wife Ana set about making the farm their home and their livelihood.  This book tells the true story of Chris and Ana’s move to a different country and lifestyle and how they created their home out of the remote farm.

This book is charming throughout.  Chris is a thoroughly likeable narrator, and I really liked his wife Ana too.  The way of life in the Andalucian mountains is amusingly and affectionately described, and there are a cast of wonderful characters, in the friends and neighbours who become part of Chris and Ana’s lives.

Stewart is very self-effacing and happy to admit to mistakes made in the early part of the rebuilding process, and as hard as some of the tasks they set themselves undoubtedly were, he somehow managed to make the whole process seem extremely inviting.

I wasn’t sure that this would be my kind of book, but I actually found it to be a gentle and sweet story, that was hard to put down.

Author’s website can be found here.)

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This 1985 film features three generations of the Mitchum family.  Robert Mitchum is Jack Palmer, a man who walked out on his family 30 years earlier, and having learned that he has a terminal illness, wants to make his peace with them before its too late.  His son Tom is played by his real-life son Christopher Mitchum, and Tom’s son Johnny, is played by Christopher’s real-life son, Bentley.

In all honesty, there were a lot of things about this film which were quite cringeworthy.  Some of the acting – not Robert Mitchum’s (obviously) was a bit wooden.  And I feel it only fair to warn potential viewers of the TRULY AWFUL 1980s clothing on display!!  I know it was made in 1985, but frankly, there was no excuse for those clothes even then.  (I’m joking obviously – but I truly realised why the 1980s is known as the decade that taste forgot, although obviously that is no reflection on the film itself.)

There was one thing that kept me watching though – and that was Robert Mitchum. He may have been slightly older here than in some of the films for which he was famous, but he never lost his charisma, or his natural talent, and it does shine through.  (And – oh! that voice – I could listen to it all day.)  Claire Bloom is also great as Jack’s ex-wife Sally, and Tess Harper does a good job as Tom’s wife, Gwen.

In all, despite the cheesiness – which is to be expected of many films made at that time – there was actually plenty to enjoy about this movie, and I did find myself drawn in.  It was also interesting to see three generations of one family playing three generations of another family.  Not brilliant maybe, but certainly enjoyable.

Year of release: 1985

Director: Noel Black

Producers: Allen Epstein, Jim Green, Sandra Harmon, Stephanie Austen, Robert Papazian, Milton Sperling, James Veres

Writers: Frederic Hunter, Phil Penningroth

Main cast: Robert Mitchum, Christopher Mitchum, Bentley Mitchum, Tess Harper, Claire Bloom, Merritt Butrick

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Based on a true story, A League of Their Own tells the story of the first female baseball league, which was started when many of the professional male baseball players were away fighting in World War II.  Tom Hanks plays Jimmy Duggan, a washed-up, alcoholic former professional player, who is given the job – which he doesn’t really want – of managing the Rockford Peaches team.  Geena Davis and Lori Petty play sisters Dottie and Kit, who have issues with jealousy, and who are both signed on to play for the team.  Other players on the league are portrayed by Rosie O’Donnell, Madonna, Bitty Schram, and others.  The story shows the league’s progress, from a game of little interest to outsiders, to a popular sport in its own right.

I really enjoyed this film.  All of the actors were perfect, especially Davis, Petty and Hanks.  There was a lot of comedy in the film, but it was also very moving in parts, and I actually did cry.  Baseball gave these women – and Jimmy Duggan – something to live for, and a sense of self-belief, which some of them desperately needed.  It also gave them a sense of camaraderie at a time when many of them had loved ones fighting overseas.  I loved how Jimmy was initially resentful of managing a girls team, but how he came to appreciate their talent, and want to fight their corner with them – his personal story was one of redemption, and I loved the character.

There are lots of baseball scenes in this film, but you do not need to like, or even really understand, the sport to enjoy it (although a basic knowledge of the game might help).

I waited a long time to watch the movie, because I was not sure that I would like it.  However, it gets a definite 10 out of 10 from me, and I do not intend to leave it that long before watching again.  Very highly recommended.

Year of release: 1992

Director: Penny Marshall

Producers: Penny Marshall, Elliot Abbot, Robert Greenhut, Ronnie D. Clemmer, Joseph Hartwick, Bill Pace, Amy Lemisch

Writers: Kim Wilson, Kelly Candaele, Lowell Ganz, Babaloo Mandel

Main cast: Tom Hanks, Geena Davis, Lori Petty, Madonna, Rosie O’Donnell, David Strathairn, Megan Cavanagh, Tracy Reiner, Bitty Schram

 

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In the first book in this series, set in the 1920s, the Honourable Daisy Dalrymple, junior reporter for Town and Country Magazine, is sent to Wentwater Court, for the first in her series of articles about stately homes.  However, her visit turns into a murder investigation when a guest at the Court, Lord Stephen Astwick, is found drowned.  Just about every member of the Wentwater family had reason to want Lord Stephen dead, and Daisy finds herself helping Detective Chief Inspector Alec Fletcher, as he tries to work out what happened.

Fans of cozy English mysteries should thoroughly enjoy this book – I found it delightful from beginning to end.  Daisy herself is a loveable character; her tendency to stick her nose into matters could become annoying, were she not also extremely endearing.  The rest of the characters consist of the Wentwater family and some of their staff, and DCI Fletcher and his two assisting Officers.  They were all distinctive and the DCI was especially lovely – a fact not lost on Daisy herself!

I had fun trying to work out who was responsible for Lord Stephen’s death, and there were enough twists to keep me guessing.  The aristocratic way of life of the Wentwater family was well depicted, although there were a few turns of speech that struck me as a little contrived.  This book was just so damn likeable though, that any little niggles paled into obscurity.

This is not a dark or gritty story (despite the subject matter), and not really a book to be taken seriously, but I definitely enjoyed meeting Daisy, and look forward to reading further books in this series.

(Autor’s website can be found here.)

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I love the theatre, whether the productions are professional or amateur, and shows like this are the reason why.  Willenhall Musical Theatre Company have put on a terrific, fun-filled production of Calamity Jane, which was a joy to watch.

In Deadwood, in the Old American West, Calamity Jane is a match for any of her male counterparts, but despite her tomboy looks and behaviour, she is smitten with Lieutenant Danny Gilmartin.  When she goes to Chicago to bring singing sensation Adelaide Adams, a mix-up causes her to bring back Adelaide’s maid, Katie Brown instead.  After the residents of Deadwood reveal the truth, Katie decides to stay, and she and Calamity become good friends.  However, their friendship is threatened when Danny falls for Katie, and Calamity and her friend Wild Bill Hickok, who also loves Katie, find themselves out in the cold…

Lydia Lavill took on the role of Calamity, and played it with great relish.  Timothy Swallow looked exactly right, and was great as Wild Bill, and credit also should be given to Sam King as Katie Brown, and Will Phipps, who was absolutely wonderful as Francis Fryer (an act booked to appear in Deadwood, but who was mistakenly believed to be a female singer named Frances Fryer).

The staging was wonderfully imaginative, with fantastic sets, and the music is so joyful, with such songs as The Deadwood Stage (Whipcrackaway), It’s Harry I’m Going to Marry, The Black Hills of Dakota, and Secret Love.

All in all, a joyous production which left me with a huge smile on my face.

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Click here for my review of the 1953 film.

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It’s hard to believe that Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical adaptation of Gaston Leroux’s novel is over 25 years old, because in 2013, it still feels as fresh as ever.

Cameron Mackintosh has produced the current show which is touring in the UK, and which I was lucky enough to see at Birmingham Hippodrome, which was an ideal venue in which to see such a spectacular show.

Briefly, the story concerns the mysterious Phantom of the title who falls for Christine Daae, a young chorus girl, who is promoted to lead soprano at the Opera Populaire Playhouse.  The Phantom threatens the life of anyone who comes between him and Christine, but Christine has meanwhile fallen for Raoul, her childhood sweetheart…she fears however that she may never escape the hold of the mysterious Phantom.  (There are far more detailed synopses available online.)

In this production, the Phantom was played by Earl Carpenter, and he was superb in the role.  He elicited just the right amount of fear from the audience, while remaining charismatic and mysterious.  His voice, unsurprisingly, was excellent.  Equally superb were Katie Hall as Christine, and James Bisp as Raoul.  Bisp was actually the understudy, and he was wonderful in the role.  Claire Platt also appeared as the understudy for Carlotta, the soprano who is ousted by the Phantom’s desire to promote Christine.  Carlotta brings comic relief to proceedings, and Platt played the part to perfection.

The supporting cast were also terrific, with not one weak link.

The music is very familiar to audiences nowadays, but it was still mesmerising to hear, and the title song in particular made the hairs on the back of my next stand on end.

Finally, the costumes and stage sets were imaginative and wonderfully designed, with the chandelier which forms part of the story hanging high above the audience.

Overall, it was a wonderful show from start to end, and I would highly recommend it to anybody who enjoys good theatre.  A solid 10 out of 10 from me!

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

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Click here for my review of the 2004 film adaptation.

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