Archive for October, 2014

…Or to give the book its full title: Difficult Men: From The Sopranos and The Wire to Mad Men and Breaking Bad: Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution.

In this fascinating book, Brett Martin discusses what he calls the Third Golden Age of Television – a revolution in television broadcasting, that gave the viewers a new type of protagonist; a man (it was almost always men) who was morally compromised, not always likeable, sometimes acting very much on the wrong side of the law.  In short, a difficult man, the most obvious examples of which include Tony Soprano of The Sopranos, Jimmy McNulty (and many other characters) of The Wire, Don Draper of Mad Men, and Al Swearengen of Deadwood.  And the audience are supposed to care for and root for these characters – not always an easy sell.

Martin demonstrates how, in a reversal of typical roles (such as always good cops, and always evil villains), more complicated protagonists (such as those mentioned above) started emerging in the 1990s.  (Suggestions of such anti-heroes were seen in shows such as NYPD Blue and Hill Street Blues.)  HBO were largely responsible for the start of the Third Golden Age, with The Sopranos being the groundbreaking show that opened the door for those that came after it.  Basic network cable followed suit with shows such as The Shield, Mad Men and Breaking Bad.

The book is fascinating, and hard to put down.  It is packed with details of how the shows were put together, what life was like in the writers’ room, and how various problems were overcome.  Many of the main players in the story were interviewed for the book, which provided insight into their world.

I couldn’t say whether the title of the book is intended to have two meanings, but the term Difficult Men certainly could apply equally to the men (again, it was always men) who created some of these shows.  While they had undoubted talent and vision, it becomes clear that some of them were very difficult to work for or with, due to reasons such as temper, addiction, or various eccentricities.  It makes for interesting reading.

One word of warning: The books contains several spoilers, of varying size, for The Sopranos, The Wire, Deadwood, The Shield, Breaking Bad and Mad Men, so if you are not up to date with any of these shows and want to read the book, it might be best to wait until after you have seen all the episodes.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, and definitely recommend it.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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This um…biopic made for the Lifetime Channel, attempts to tell the story of the romance between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.  I have a particular fascination for Burton, which is why I wanted to watch this film, despite all the flak it has received.  And – well….I’m glad I watched it, because it was entertaining on one level, but probably not on the level that it was hoping for.

The first problem is that an hour and a half is simply not enough time to tell the story of Burton and Taylor, and consequently, events seem pretty rushed, with the main focus seeming to be on their arguments.  The main problem however is with the inexplicable casting of Lindsay Lohan as Elizabeth Taylor.  Now Lohan has had her issues, and I don’t want to pile on to her just for the sake of it.  I was hoping that she would actually be much better than other reviews had led me to believe, but unfortunately those other reviews were right.  She was terribly miscast as Taylor.  It doesn’t bother me that she doesn’t look like Elizabeth Taylor (neither does Helena Bonham-Carter, but she still did a terrific job in the BBC film ‘Burton and Taylor’) – although if a film is going to make constant references to Taylor’s struggle to keep her weight down, it might be worth not having Lohan looking scrawny at the same time.  What annoyed me more was the fact that Lohan didn’t seem to be trying to emulate Taylor in any apparent way.  Her voice was NOTHING like that of Taylor – which was pretty distinctive – and she just seemed to be playing a generic, mainly fictional film star from the era.  In some scenes she was embarrassingly wooden.

Grant Bowler was more of a success as Richard Burton, and did actually do a good job of mastering Burton’s gorgeous voice.  Again, he didn’t really look a lot like Burton, but he did play the part well, and made me feel that with more time to tell the story, and a better leading actress to star opposite, this film could have been more of a success.

For Burton and/or Taylor fans, it’s worth watching for pure curiosity’s sake, but if you are looking for a film about this legendary couple, you would be better off watching the aforementioned BBC production ‘Burton and Taylor’, which focuses on the period in the 1980s when the couple – now divorced – appeared together in the stage play Separate Lives.

Year of release: 2012

Director: Lloyd Kramer

Producers: Larry A. Thompson, Christopher Monger, Kyle A. Clark, Robert G. Endara II, Philip Harrelson, Lina Wong

Writer: Christopher Monger

Main cast: Lindsay Lohan, Grant Bowler, Theresa Russell, David Hunt, Tanya Franks, Andy Hirsch

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This is a fairly low-budget British ‘horror’ film (albeit light on the horror aspect), which Cassie (Christina Ricci) is a young woman knocked over by a car in the sleepy town of Ashby Wake.  When she recovers, she has lost her memory and cannot remember what she is doing in the town.  The woman who knocked her over lets Cassie stay with her and her family, and Cassie forms a bond with the young son, Michael.  However, she is curious and concerned about the strangers who she keeps seeing in the town, but who seem oddly familiar to her, and she enlists the help of a man named Dan (Ioan Gruffudd).  Meanwhile, a buried church is discovered underground, and various members of the Anglican church in the neighbourhood are anxious to discover the mystery behind it.

I watched this film for the sole reason that Ioan Gruffudd was in it.  Horror is not really a favourite genre of mine, and religion is not a subject which would normally draw me to a film.  Nonetheless, I actually found this entertaining enough, despite a few plot holes and unresolved questions.

Christina Ricci was fine as the lead character, although some of the choices that character made seemed unlikely.  Ioan Gruffudd (who surely must have an ageing portrait in his attic, as he looks no different eleven years later than he does in this film) was also good as Dan – actually the best thing about the movie, from  my point of view.

In all, while this film does present more questions than it answers (or more truthfully just leaves some plotlines dangling), it’s an undemanding, slightly hokey experience, and not bad if you are a fan of the genre, or any of the main actors.

Year of release: 2003

Director: Brian Gilbert

Producers: Patrick McKenna, Pippa Cross, Rachel Cuperman, Marc Samuelson, Peter Samuelson, Steve Clark-Hall

Writer: Anthony Horowitz

Main cast: Christina Ricci, Ioan Gruffudd, Stephen Dillane, Kerry Fox, Simon Russell Beale, Peter McNamara


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Top Hat is probably the best loved of all the Astaire and Rogers musicals.  In this fabulous production, the story, and the 30s era are brought vividly to life by a terrific cast, in a whirl of lovely songs courtesy of Irving Berlin, some mesmerising dancing, beautiful costumes and lots of laughs.

The story revolves around American Broadway star Jerry Travers (here by played by Alan Burkitt), who comes to England to star in a new show, and falls for society girl Dale Tremont (Charlotte Gooch).  However, in a comedic case of mistaken identity, Dale believes that Jerry is Horace Hardwick, Jerry’s producer and the husband of her friend Madge Hardwich, which causes complications in their budding romance.

I can’t say enough good things about this show.  After a successful run in the West End, it is now on tour and delighting audiences around the country.  The two leads were both excellent.  Alan Burkitt was a sensation as Jerry – his dancing was flawless and a marvel to watch.  His singing also suited the songs wonderfully.  Charlotte Gooch matched him as Dale, looking and sounding gorgeous, and with some amazing dance moves of her own.

The show is packed with familiar songs, such as Puttin’ on the Ritz, Let’s Face the Music and Dance, and Cheek to Cheek.  The supporting cast were all terrific, with special mentions for Clive Hayward and Rebecca Thornhill as Horace and Madge, John Conroy as Horace’s Butler Bates, and Sebastien Torkia as Alberto Beddini, a clothes designer who is also in love with Dale.  As well as the music and dancing, there was also a lot of humour, and the costumes were so glamorous – a real feast for the eyes.

In short, if you like musical theatre, then you absolutely should see this show.  It’s beautifully and imaginatively staged, and each performance was superb.  If I sound like I’m gushing, that’s because I am.  I’d highly recommend this show, and am already determined to buy tickets to see it later on its tour.

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


Click here for my review of the 1935 film.


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This book is a collection of short stories, the first (and best) being The Snows of Kilimanjaro.  In this sad, wistful tale, a man lies at the base of Kilimanjaro, having developed gangrene in his leg, and being unable to get proper treatment for it.  He is accompanied by his wife, but as he lies dying and we witness his conversations with his wife and his own private thoughts, it becomes clear that his life is full of regret, missed opportunities and unfulfilled dreams.  This story hooked me in, and gave me hope for the rest of the book.

Unfortunately, I didn’t really enjoy the rest of stories – to the extent that I actually put the book down and read some others before continuing.  It’s only that I feel unable to leave a book finished once it’s started that I picked it up again.  Many of the stories are about Hemingway’s semi-autobiographical character Nick Adams, who I found myself unable to warm to.

It’s true that some of the descriptive passages are beautiful, and the dialogue is believable, but the over-riding themes of rugged, macho men doing rugged manly things, and the women who often seem little more than an annoyance to said men, did not appeal to me.

However, apart from the story which lends its title to the book, I did enjoy the story about a young man returning home from war and finding himself unable (and unwilling) to forge a connection with anyone, including family, friends and girlfriends.  On the whole however, while I wouldn’t deny Hemingway’s talent to use words wonderfully at times, his stories were just not a good fit for me.



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In 1950, Lucia Sartori is the most beautiful girl in Greenwich Village, New York.  She is a talented dressmaker at an exclusive store, but is expected to give up her job to get married and become a housewife.  However, Lucia has other ideas, and is determined to be as independent as possible.  That is until handsome and charismatic John Talbot comes into the store and sweeps her off her feet.  Lucia falls hard and falls fast, but she and John have several obstacles to overcome, not least her very traditional family.

I always enjoy Adriana Trigiani’s books, and this one was no exception.  The story is bookended by two short chapters set in the modern day, when an older Lucia tells her story to her young neighbour.  Personally I thought the book would have been better without this framing device, as the ending (of the whole book, rather than the ending of the story of events in the 1950s) seemed a bit contrived, but I really enjoyed the main body of the story.

The character of Lucia was developed well, as were those of her family and friends, especially her boss Delmarr, who I particularly liked.  It was interesting to read about Lucia’s life in a large Italian immigrant family, and to understand her conflict between what was expected of her, and what she wanted to do with her life.  There were a number of twists and turns which I did not expect, and Lucia’s story did not end the way that I expected it to, but was better because of it.  However, without wanting to reveal any spoilers, Lucia did make a decision towards the end of the book, which seemed to undermine decisions and plans which she had made earlier, which was something of a shame, although it was probably understandable under the circumstances.

It is a cosy and undemanding tale, and perfect for curling up with on the sofa.  If you are a fan of Adriana Trigiani or such books, you won’t be disappointed.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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The story is well known – in 1963, young Frances ‘Baby’ Houseman, goes on holiday to the Kellerman resorts in the Catskills, with her parents and sister.  There, she falls for dance instructor Johnny Castle, a man who seems totally mis-matched for her in every way.  It’s a classic film, with Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze taking the lead roles. (Swayze subsequently became a heartthrob for a whole generation of women.)

In my completely unknowledgeable mind, I imagine that this must be quite a challenge to transfer to stage – but my goodness, they certainly managed it.  This show stays extremely faithful to the film (I imagine there would be hell to pay from the audience if it didn’t), and includes all the classic lines and songs.

Roseanna Frascona was adorable as Baby (and looked for all the world like the twin of Jennifer Grey as she appeared in the film), and Gareth Bailey was a wonderful Johnny Castle – the mainly female audience certainly seemed to appreciate him!  His dancing was mesmerising; I could have watched him dance for hours.  Claire Rogers was terrific as Penny, Johnny’s dance partner – with legs that seemingly go on and on!  The rest of the main cast, and the ensemble dancers were also terrific.

This show is sexy, energetic, funny and sweet – and I even had a tear in my eye at the finale.  At the performance I attended, the whole audience gave an extended standing ovation, and it was well deserved.  I’m already looking to see if I can get tickets for further performances while this show is on tour.  Very highly recommended.

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


Click here for my review of this production from May 2015.


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This film is one of many based on Alexandre Dumas’s novel of the same name.  I say ‘based on’ rather than ‘adapted from’ because this is really a very loose interpretation of the novel, with Kiefer Sutherland, Oliver Platt and Charlie Sheen playing, respectively, Athos, Porthos and Aramis, and Chris O’Donnell as D’artagnan.  Tim Curry plays Cardinal Richelieu, Julie Delphy is Constance, and Gabrielle Anwar is Queen Anne, with Hugh O’Connor as King Louis XIII.  Count Rochefort was played by Michael Wincott, and Rebecca De Mornay rounds out the cast as Milady D’Winter.

I wanted to see this film out of curiosity, having recently read the novel, and also having very much enjoyed BBC1’s series The Musketeers (again ‘based on’ the novel, with new storylines for the characters).  In all honesty, I was not expecting to enjoy this film as much as I did – I’m not a big fan of Charlie Sheen, but he was actually rather good as Aramis.  Sutherland and Platt were the best characters, with Sutherland’s Athos suitably melancholy, and Platt’s Porthos typically boisterous and playful.

However, I did feel that O’Donnell was miscast as D’Artagnan.  This is not a criticism of the actor – I’ve enjoyed his performances in other roles – but I did not feel that he was right for this part.  I also did not really enjoy O’Connor’s portrayal of the King, although to be fair I was distracted by his awful hairstyle.  Tim Curry camped it up magnificently as the Cardinal, and appeared to be having a thoroughly good time.  I also really enjoyed Wincott as Rochefort – he stole several of the scenes in which he appeared (and what a fantastic raspy voice)!

The storyline revolves around the musketeers and D’Artagnan having to foil the Cardinal’s plot to form an alliance with England, and unseat the King, but it is really just an excuse for lots of swashbuckling, swaggering, and sword fights.  There’s lots of humour too, and Porthos in particular had me laughing out loud a number of times.

Overall, if you are looking for a faithful adaptation of the book, this is not the film for you.  If you are looking for an amusing adventure film, then you might well enjoy it.

Year of release: 1993

Director: Stephen Herek

Producers: Jon Avnet, Jordan Kerner, Roger Birnbaum, Ned Dowd, Joe Roth, William W. Wilson III

Writers: Alexandre Dumas (based on the novel by), David Loughery

Main cast: Keifer Sutherland, Charlie Sheen, Oliver Platt, Chris O’Donnell, Tim Curry, Hugh O’Connor, Michael Wincott, Gabrielle Anwar, Rebecca De Mornay


Click here for my review of the novel.

Click here for my review of the 1973 film adaptation.


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For anyone not familiar with Mark Kermode’s work, he is the Chief Film Critic for The Observer newspaper, he presents The Culture Show on BBC2, and he is part of ‘Kermode and Mayo’s Film Review’ programme on BBC Radio 5 live.  In this book, he talks about his role as film critic, and more specifically, the role of a film critic in today’s world, where the internet allows pretty much everyone to be a critic about pretty much anything.  And you don’t need to have any specialist knowledge or qualifications to be an internet critic.  (I’m well aware that as a blogger, I’m one of these people that he talks about – I’m not particularly qualified to write about books or movies or theatre, but I do anyway, although I don’t claim to offer anything other than my own opinion, for whatever that’s worth.) So with the growth of blogging, tweeting etc., the role of progressional film critic has come under some threat.

Kermode eloquently  makes the case for the necessity of professional film critics in such a world – he certainly convinced me, although to be fair, I agreed with his point of view in the first place.  He also discusses how advertisement posters for films have now started using quotes from Twitter users as endorsements, and points out the obvious problems with this.  For all this though, Kermode does seem to want to embrace the internet and the rise of online bloggers, is also quick to point out the advantages of it – both to himself and to others.

The book is very well written and engaging, and often very amusing too.  Each chapter is about a specific point relating to the main theme, but Kermode often goes off at tangents, and uses lots of anecdotes to illustrate what he’s saying – at the end of the chapter, everything ties up nicely.

Overall, if you like Mark Kermode’s film reviews, you will like this book.  If you don’t know anything about Mark Kermode or his film reviews, there’s a strong chance you will like this book.  I don’t think you even need to be particularly cineliterate to enjoy it –  my basic knowledge of any film extends as far as whether or not I enjoyed it.  I started reading the book on a long flight, and usually when I’m flying, I end up listening to music, watching a film, or trying to sleep.  However, I found myself not wanting to do any of those things, and instead just wanting to keep reading.  So for me, this was definitely a winner, and I would recommend it.


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This film is also known as The Perfect Catch, and is based on Nick Hornby’s novel Fever Pitch.  The book was originally adapted in 1997, into a film starring Colin Firth as a die-hard fan of Arsenal football (or soccer) team.  The comedy explores how his love for the team affects his romantic relationship.  In this American adaptation, Ben Wrightman (Jimmy Fallon) is a Boston Red Sox fan, who falls for Lindsey Meeks (Drew Barrymore).  However, they initially meet out of the baseball season, so it’s only when the season starts that she realises that she will always have to compete with the Sox for Ben’s affections.

I haven’t seen the 1997 film – I like Colin Firth a lot, but football leaves me cold.  However, I do enjoy baseball, and recently had some wonderful times watching three Red Sox games (two of which were at their home ground, Fenway Park).  You don’t have to be a baseball fan, or a Sox fan to enjoy this film, but I do think it helps.

The movie is set during the 2004 World Series, which the Sox unexpectedly won, thereby beating the Curse of the Bambino.  (In fact, it was originally assumed that the Sox would lose, so when they won, the ending of the film had to be re-written).

I really liked the film.  Jimmy Fallon was terrific as Ben – sweet and affectionate, as long as nothing got in the way of him watching any of his team’s games.  Despite the way that he stretched his girlfriend’s patience to the limit, he was really likeable throughout.  Drew Barrymore was also lovely as Lindsey.  Her character was a workaholic (in many ways, as obsessed with her job as Ben was with the Sox), and in the hands of a different actress, Lindsey might not have been likeable, but Barrymore is very warm and hard to dislike.

There are loads of laugh-out-loud moments, and lots of physical comedy.  The ending is – maybe – quite predictable, but I really liked it anyway, and it was great to see actual players from the Red Sox in the film, although none of them had a speaking part.

It’s an undemanding, but very enjoyable film, great for any time, but especially if you’ve just been, or are planning to go to Fenway Park!

Year of release: 2005

Directors: Bobby Farrelly, Peter Farrelly

Producers: Drew Barrymore, David Evans, Marc S. Fischer, Nick Hornby, Alan Greenspan, Nancy Juvonen, Kris Meyer, Gil Netter, Hal Olofsson, Amanda Posey, Gwenn Stroman, Bradley Thomas

Writers: Nick Hornby (novel), Lowell Ganz, Babaloo Mandel

Main cast: Jimmy Fallon, Drew Barrymore, Jack Kehler, Ione Skye, KaDee Strickland, Marissa Jaret Winokur, Willie Garson, Evan Helmuth

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