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Archive for June, 2013

This book is a basically a lifestyle and looks guide, with Audrey Hepburn as inspiration (and really, who better?).  There are also several stories from Audrey’s life (although, as is stated in the introduction, this is not a biography).  Split into sections such as clothes, home, romance, etc., the book tells us what Audrey would do (hmm…) and gives advice on how readers can be more like Audrey.  At this point, it seems fair to point out that I am a big fan of Audrey Hepburn, both as an actress, and a person.

What I liked about it: This book is adorably pretty, if unashamedly girly (but it is aimed squarely at women); it’s about Audrey, who is so adored by many, including myself; there is quite a lot of biographical info in here; some of the tips are do-able.

What I didn’t like about it: You need money (lots) to do some of the things suggested, although by no means all of them; the book encourages people to find their own style while also telling readers how to adopt Audrey’s style (!?); there is quite a lot of ‘filler’ – for example, a list on how to tell the differences between Audrey and that other great actress named Hepburn, Kate.  It’s a fair bet that anyone reading this already knows which one is which, after all; it assumes a lot about what Audrey would have liked or things she would have done, were she still with us.

Overall, it’s a nice book for fans, if for no other reason than it will look lovely on a bookshelf.  However, I think the time spent reading it would be better spent on reading a good biography of Miss Hepburn, or watching some of her films.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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Married couple Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward play opposite each other in this frothy comedy from the 1960s.  After watching it, I read a few reviews and was quite surprised to see some of the vitriol directed towards this film, with it being described in some places as Newman’s worst film.  I suspect there are a few reasons for such animosity; (1) Anyone who thinks this is Newman’s worst film has clearly not seen The Silver Chalice – which Newman himself was not a fan of! (2) Paul Newman was in some iconic and wonderful films, and any that fall somewhat short of those standards may receive short shrift, and (3) Admittedly, this film is not very Newman-esque.  Anyway….I liked it quite a lot more than I expected to.

Woodward plays Samantha (Sam) Blake, a buyer for a clothes store, who is constantly being mistaken for a man, due to her short haircut and masculine clothes.  She travels with Paris with her boss and colleague in order to look at the new fashions, so that her store can copy them.  Newman is Steve Sherman, a womanising sports journalist who disgraces himself with his boss’s wife, and gets sent to Paris, basically so that he is out of the boss’s way!  They meet each other, and there is an instant antagonism between them.  When Sam has a makeover, Steve fails to recognise her and mistakes her for a call girl, who he decides to interview in order to write a column about her profession.

It’s a nice little comedy, with both stars seeming to have a lot of fun with their roles.  The storyline is pretty bonkers, and not particularly credible, but I’m not sure that it’s supposed to be.  Actually the film reminded me a lot of some of the comedies from the 30s and 40s.  There were plenty of witty lines, and it was colourful and fun, and Thelma Ritter provided excellent support.  I did think that Woodward looked FAR more attractive before her makeover – and whatever the script said, she did not look like a man at all – but the story still kind of worked, because she could not have been mistaken for a call girl before the makeover.  I’m not sure what that says about makeovers – probably, just be careful where you go for one!

Strangely, there was not a whole lot of chemistry between Newman and Woodward, unlike in The Long Hot Summer, where their chemistry was positively sizzling.  However, this may have been because they were antagonistic and untruthful to each other for much of A New Kind of Love.  The ending was somewhat predictable, but no less fun for that.

Ultimately, it is a forgettable film, but it is fun and well worth watching.

Year of release: 1963

Director: Melville Shavelson

Producer: Melville Shavelson

Writer: Melville Shavelson

Main cast: Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Thelma Ritter, Eva Gabor, George Tobias

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Shakespeare’s goriest play is by no means his most popular one, and I can imagine that some people would find it too distasteful to watch (I had my reservations, initially), but as this production, directed by Michael Fentiman proves, it can be successfully brought to the stage.

Briefly the storyline concerns the titular character who has returned triumphant from the war against the Goths in Rome.  He slays a son of Tamora, queen of the goths, in revenge for his fallen soldiers.  She in turn urges her two remaining sons to rape Titus’s daughter Lavinia (which they do in the most horrific fashion, also cutting out her tongue and cutting off her hands so that she cannot identify her attackers).  Titus’s sons are then framed for this grievous crime, and executed.  When Titus discovers the truth, he swears revenge on Tamora and her sons, and – well, it’s safe to say he gets it, although it’s also safe to say that there are no real victors in this play, which ends in a bloodbath (a bloodbath that is as uncomfortably amusing as it is wince-inducing).  Sounds bloodthirsty?  It was, and at the time that it was written, there was a great public appetite for such plays, and Shakespeare was obviously happy to provide one.

This production certainly made me grimace on occasion, but it was extremely compelling and watchable, and even managed to include some dark humour – no mean feat in such a gory play.

Stephen Boxer made an excellent world-weary Titus, whose descent into madness is clear to the audience.  The rest of the cast were also superb in their roles, especially Katy Stephens as the vengeful Tamora, John Hopkins as a very amusing Saturninus, and Kevin Harvey as Aaron – a truly detestable, and strangely charismatic character!  Rose Reynolds was also heartbreaking as the tortured Lavinia, who never finds the happiness she is owed after her brutal attack, and the murder of her husband.

Titus Andronicus is not a play for everyone, and I would recommend that people are aware of the storyline before going to see it.  However, I found it extremely watchable (even if I watched some parts through my fingers!) with excellent performances all round.

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

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This film spawned two sequels, the most famous of which was An Affair To Remember  (1957) which starred Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr, and which, like Love Affair, was directed by Leo McCarey..  This original version stars Charles Boyer as French playboy Michel Marnet, and Irene Dunne as Terry MacKay.  They meet on board a cruise ship and fall in love, although both are engaged to other people.  Michel and Terry make a pact that they will meet at the Empire State Building in six months, if they both still want to pursue a relationship.  However, tragedy strikes on the day they are due to meet.

Given that Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr are two of my favourite stars, I didn’t think that this film could match up to it’s better known (thanks to being heavily referenced in 1993’s Sleepless in Seattle) remake.  But, while I enjoyed An Affair To Remember a lot, I thought that Love Affair was the better film, and definitely the more moving of the two.  The reason for this (to me anyway) was because of the two outstanding performances of Boyer and Dunne – both of them are able to convey so much emotion with just one look or one small gesture.  Additionally the chemistry between them is almost palpable, and I felt as though I could actually see them falling in love during the cruise.

The film has its comedic moments, but is far more of a romance – and my goodness, it ticks all the boxes in that area!  It had me sobbing at the end, and immediately wanting to watch the whole film again.  Truly lovely, and highly recommended.

Year of release: 1939

Director: Leo McCarey

Producer: Leo McCarey

Writers: Leo McCarey, Mildred Cram, Delmer Daves, Donald Ogden Stewart, S.N. Behrman

Main cast: Charles Boyer, Irene Dunne, Maria Ouspenskaya

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One morning, mild-mannered Harold Fry receives a letter from a former colleague named Queenie, who he has not seen for some 20 years.  The letters informs him that she is in a hospice, and is dying of terminal cancer.  Harold writes a letter back, and sets out to post it, but when he gets to the postbox, he decides to keep walking on to the next one.  And then he decides to walk a bit further, and his short walk eventually turns into a journey on foot from his home in Devon, to where Queenie is, in Berwick-upon-Tweed.  Though the going gets tough, Harold knows that somehow or other he has to walk to Queenie, and that as long as he keeps walking, she will keep living.

I had heard so many good things about this book, and was really looking forward to reading it.  The story is lovely, although a little far-fetched occasionally.  Harold meets many other people en route to save Queenie, and he realises that like him, everyone has regrets and worries in their lives, and that sometimes what we see on the surface tells us nothing about a person.

For Harold, the journey is metaphorical as much- as it is physical.  He believes that his walk can save Queenie, but he also seems to be seeking redemption for himself. As his walk unfolds in the pages, so does his history, and we learn all about the tragedies he has faced, the situations which he wishes he could change, his regrets about his relationship with his son, and the cause of a rift between himself and his wife Maureen.

At times the book is achingly sad, and at other times oddly uplifting.  I liked it a lot, but I was not as taken with it as I expected to be. (I had read reviews from people saying that the story had caused them to re-evaluate their lives, and it had made them cry.)  Having read so many positive things about the book, I would say that this puts me in the minority as it did not move me to tears, and while I would certainly recommend it, I would not say it particularly moved me.

It’s still an enjoyable story though, and I will be looking out for more by Rachel Joyce.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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This is the fifth adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s beautifully written novel, of love, affluence, ambition and disillusionment.  I wouldn’t say that I was expecting not to enjoy it, but I was prepared to be disappointed – but how wrong I was!  To my surprise, this was unquestionably my favourite adaptation out of those that I have seen so far, and to my even greater surprise, I also thought that Leonardo DiCaprio was the best Gatsby yet.

As anyone might expect from a Baz Luhrmann production, this film is drenched in colour, noise and flamboyance, which works perfectly when depicting the debauchery and affluence on show, especially at Gatsby’s famous parties.  It’s very stylised, and has a great soundtrack courtesy of Jay-Z, who was also a producer on the film.  (As the story is set in the 1920s, a Jay-Z soundtrack shouldn’t work on paper, but it really comes together to great effect.)

Leonardo DiCaprio is excellent as Gatsby, bringing a real depth to the character.  I also loved Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan.  In comparison to Mia Farrow, who was so irritating in the 1974 film, and Mira Sorvino, who was probably too sympathetic in the 2001 version, Mulligan really shines.  She portrays Daisy’s shallowness well, but also lends an air of regretful nostalgia for what her character let slip out of her grasp years earlier.  Elizabeth Debicki played Jordan Baker, pretty much exactly how I imagined Jordan to be when I read the book, and Joel Edgerton was superb as the cold and cruel Tom Buchanan.

Nick Carraway, who as always, narrates the story was played by Tobey Maguire, and he was great.  (My favourite Nick is still sam Waterston, playing opposite Robert Redford as Gatsby, and Paul Rudd also did an excellent job.)  In this version, Carraway is in hospital being treated for alcoholism, and at the urging of his doctor, writes down the story of Gatsby and the events of that fateful summer.  I wasn’t sure initially how this new approach would play out, but it does work, and allows the character to read more passages from the book than Carraway did in previous versions.

Only a couple of minor niggles – Gatsby’s funeral was not shown at all, but Carraway says that nobody but him attended.  In the book, and in previous versions, Gatsby’s father shows up for the funeral and it’s a touching scene.  Additionally, a small character known as ‘Owl Eyes’ also attends the funeral.  I would have liked to have seen this in the film, but overall there is so much to enjoy that it certainly doesn’t detract from the overall excellence.

I really enjoyed this film.  I would recommend other adaptations to fans of the novel, but I would recommend this version to anybody.  Well worth seeing.

Year of release: 2013

Director: Baz Luhrmann

Producers: Baz Luhrmann, Bruce Berman, Jay-Z, Barrie M. Osborne, Lucy Fisher, Catherine Knapman, Catherine Martin, Anton Monsted, Douglas Wick

Writers: F. Scott Fitzgerald (novel), Baz Luhrmann, Craig Pearce

Main cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan, Elizabeth Debicki, Joel Edgerton, Isla Fisher

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Click here for my review of the novel.

Click here for my review of the 1974 film adaptation.

Click here for my review of the 2000 film adaptation.

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The elusive Doctor Annick Swensen has been living amongst the Lakashi tribe in the tangled waters of the Brazilian Rio Negro River, where the women are able to get pregnant and give birth right until the end of their lives.  Dr Swensen is conducting research regarding their fertility and how whatever enables them to reproduce into their 70s, can be used for a fertility drug in the Western world.  But nobody has heard from Dr Swensen for a long time, nobody can contact her in her remote destination, and when scientist, Doctor Anders Eckman went out there to find her and determine how the research was coming along, all that came back was a curt letter informing them that he had died and been buried there.  His colleague Marina Singh is dispatched there to find out what happened to Anders, and to ascertain the progress of Dr Swensen’s work.  Reluctantly she goes, and what she discovers changes her whole world.

I had previously read Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett, and had loved that book, so although the synopsis of State of Wonder did not interest me as much, I wanted to read it….and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  There is something about Patchett’s writing – it is so descriptive and evocative, without being ‘flowery’ – and her characters are so utterly believable, that I could  not help but be drawn in.

The book is written in the third person, but from Marina’s point of view, and I liked her a lot.  She was a sympathetic character – far more so than Dr Swensen, who (intentionally, I’m sure) was written as undoubtedly brilliant, but headstrong and blunt to the point of rudeness.

The story is detailed and so much happens, and I was carried along by all of it.  The ending was not what I expected, and not really what I wanted (I don’t think it’s giving anything away to say that it is somewhat downbeat), but it worked.

Overall I really enjoyed this, and will be certainly be looking out for more books by Ann Patchett.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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