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Archive for January, 2015

This movie spans the years of 1981 – 1989, and focuses on a group of gay men in Los Angeles, during the emergence of devastating effects of AIDS.  The film begins with the friends learning about a new disease which seems to affect gay men, and they speculate on whether it could be caused by drugs (poppers) or other factors.  As the years go by – each one depicted in a vignette, updating the viewer on what is now going on with the character’s lives – several of the group grow sick and die, while the others have to learn to cope with the loss and the implications for themselves.

I admit that I really wanted to see this because the always excellent Campbell Scott is in it.  I had thought that he was a supporting character, but in actual fact, he is one of the biggest parts, and he is wonderful in it.  He plays the part of Willy, a man who has to watch as he loses good friends to this awful cruel disease, but he also has to confront his own prejudices (a scene where he visits one friend in hospital, and goes to the bathroom to frantically wash every part of himself that the friend has touched during a hug is particularly uncomfortable, especially now that people know that AIDS of course cannot be transmitted by touch – but this scene is set at a time when people were still unsure of how you could ‘catch’ the illness, and paranoia had set in).

Bruce Davison was also excellent – heartbreakingly so – as a man who has to watch his lover’s worst fears come true.  Davison was nominated for an Oscar for his role, and deservedly so.

Other members of the uniformly wonderful cast include Patrick Cassidy, John Dossett, Mary-Louise Parker, Stephen Caffrey, Mark Lamos and Dermot Mulroney.

Speaking for myself, I was only young – maybe 12 or 13 – when we first learned about this scary new disease called AIDS.  This meant that growing up, my generation was always aware of this spectre, and it was therefore always something to think about.  I guess that makes us luckier than those who were some years older, and only learned about AIDS when they may have already been exposed to it.  I think this film perfectly captured the terror and confusion that surrounded AIDS, as well as the prejudices that came with it.

It is a beautifully made, wonderfully acted, incredibly moving film about a disease that changed everything.  I highly, highly recommend it.

Year of release: 1989

Director: Norman René

Producers: Lydia Dean Pilcher, Lindsay Law, Stan Wlodkowski

Writer: Craig Lucas

Main cast: Campbell Scott, Patrick Cassidy, John Dossett, Bruce Davison, Mary-Louise Parker, Stephen Caffrey, Dermot Mulroney, Mark Lamos

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This is the second book by actor and producer Rob Lowe.  Having read his autobiography ‘Stories I Only Tell My Friends’ and really enjoyed it, I was very much looking forward to reading his follow-up, and I’m happy to say that it didn’t disappoint.

In ‘Love Life’, Lowe shares stories and anecdotes from his life, both personal and professional.  He is a very engaging narrator, thoughtful and contemplative, but also very witty (his story about dressing as Bigfoot on a camping trip with his children was wonderfully told and incredibly funny).

Other stories involve his musings on marriage – from being a playboy with an addiction problem in his 20s, to being a sober, happily married father of two 25 years later; being involved in a tv show which is rapidly heading toward oblivion, and making a monumental script cock-up on stage in the West End.  He talks with pride of his two sons, and the chapter where his older son goes away to college was very moving.

Maybe I’m biased – I really like Lowe as an actor; he is very versatile, and equally able to do both comedy and drama, and understandably, he does discuss his acting career here – but I think I would have enjoyed this book even if I was not especially a fan of his.

As mentioned earlier, this is not an autobiography, and nor does it claim to be, but it does provide more insight into his character and his philosophy.  It’s a thoroughly enjoyable read, and I would definitely recommend it.

 

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May 1983 – 14 year old Cynthia Bigge wakes up the morning after an almighty row with her father, and discovers that her entire family – her mother, father and brother have disappeared.  The mystery is never solved, and for 25 years, Cynthia has to live with not knowing what happened to them.  Are they dead? Alive?  Did they just choose to leave her, or did some other fate befall them?

2008 – Cynthia appears in one of those hokey true-crime television shows, which revisits the mystery of her family’s disappearance, and soon afterwards, strange things start happening – a phone call from someone saying that they know where her family are; her father’s old hat suddenly appearing in their house, and other events.  Is someone playing cruel games with Cynthia, or is they mystery finally about to be solved?

Apart from the very brief prologue describing the night of the disappearance from Cynthia’s point of view, the rest of the story is narrated by her husband, a high school English teacher named Terry.  Cynthia and Terry have a more-or-less happy marriage, and an eight year old daughter named Grace, but the mystery of what happened to her parents and brother has haunted Cynthia for years, to the extent that when odd events occur, Terry questions Cynthia’s sanity.

If you are a fan of thrillers/whodunnits, then I’d recommend this story.  Sometimes the writing is a bit cliched, and I did figure out the ending before the big reveal, but there was plenty here that kept me entertained.  The writing flowed well, and I read huge chunks at a time, because I was eager to find out what happened (and if my guesses were correct).  The plot sometimes veered close to being ludicrous, but I just went with it, and enjoyed it anyway.  As with most books in this genre, I would not read it again, because it’s more about the destination rather than the journey, so once you know who ‘dunnit’ there’s not much point in re-reading.  Terry was a decent enough narrator, although not a particularly interesting character (to me anyway), but this book is definitely more plot driven than character driven, so the fact that he did not make a huge impression on me did not really matter.

All in all, it’s not brilliant, but it’s an enjoyable diversion and I’d read more by Linwood Barclay.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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This four part mini-series, adapted from Elizabeth Strout’s novel of the same name, stars France McDormand (who also bought the rights to the novel, and was executive producer) as the titular character, and spans 25 years of Olive’s life in small town Maine.  It also stars Richard Jenkins as her husband Henry, John Gallagher Jr as her son Christopher, and a large cast of other supporting characters.

It’s not an easy watch, but my goodness, this series was so compelling that I could not bear to tear my eyes away and watched all four hour long episodes in one sitting.  Olive is not always a likeable character; in fact most of the time, she is downright rude, and often cruel to those around her, especially Henry.  Despite everything, her husband loves her dearly, and never stops trying to show his affection.  In contrast to his wife, Henry is kind, compassionate and good-hearted – as the town pharmacist, he is popular and well-loved in the community, although the same cannot be said of his wife.  Nonetheless, Olive is always, ALWAYS an interesting character.  She is capable of occasional kindness, but never of warmth, and she cites her family’s history of depression as one reason for this.

The whole cast, but particularly McDormand and Jenkins, were absolutely stunning and heartbreaking.  I really felt for poor Henry, who Olive spoke to so harshly, and also for her son Christopher, who as he grows up, finds his own way of dealing with the coldness of his mother.  Despite everything, I ended up feeling sorry for Olive, as she ends up alienating almost everyone (although she would have hated to be pitied).  The show featured other people who live in the same town as Olive, and how she and Henry interact with them – the storyline about a former student of hers named Kevin Coulson was particularly touching, and Cory Michael Smith put in a truly touching performance in the role.

This is not the show to watch if you are in need of cheering up, but if you like good drama, and outstanding acting, then please see this if you can.  It is one of the best mini series I have ever watched, and I will definitely return to it at a later date.

Year of release: 2014

Director: Lisa Cholodenko

Producers: Frances McDormand, Jane Anderson, Gary Goetzman, Tom Hanks, Steve Shareshian, David Coatsworth

Writers: Elizabeth Strout, Jane Anderson

Main cast: Frances McDormand, Richard Jenkins, John Gallagher Jr., Peter Mullan, Zoe Kazan, Cory Michael Smith

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This film is an adaptation of the first half of Alexandre Dumas’ novel (the sequel, The Four Musketeers deals with the second half of the novel).  It stars Michael York as the young D’Artagnan, and Oliver Reed, Frank Finlay and Richard Chamberlain, as Athos, Porthos and Aramis respectively.  Milady DeWinter is played by Faye Dunaway, Constance de Bonacieus is played by Raquel Welch, and the villains Cardinal Richelieu and Rochefort are played by Charlton Heston and Christopher Lee.  There is a also a splendid supporting cast including Spike Milligan, Roy Kenner and Simon Ward.

The plot revolves around the D’Artagnan being tasked by Constance to retrieve some diamonds which Queen Anne (Geraldine Chaplin) has given to the Duke of Buckingham (Ward) before King Louis XIII (Jean Pierre Cassel) realises that they are missing.  It is of course, all part of the Cardinal’s plan to get rid of Anne.  D’Artagnan enlists the help of his three friends, and they run into all sorts of obstacles on the way.

This film was an excellent adaptation, and thoroughly enjoyable, thanks in no small part to George MacDonald’s excellent screenplay.  There was plenty of action, but also lots of humour – including some of the slapstick variety, and some which wouldn’t seem out of place in a Carry On film – and I really enjoyed watching it.  I literally laughed out loud on several occasions (watch out for the chess match, with dogs playing all the chess pieces)! The acting was also terrific.  Before watching, Michael York seemed (to me) to be an odd choice to play D’Artagnan, but he fitted into the role perfectly, blending the character’s enthusiasm and hotheadness to great effect.  Richard Chamberlain was very good as Aramis, and Frank Finlay was a wonderful Porthos, but for my money, Oliver Reed stole almost every scene he was in, with his excellent portrayal of the melancholy drunkard Athos.

Staying true to the book, the actual Musketeers themselves are sometimes not on screen for longish periods of time – despite the title, this is really D’Artagnan’s story, and accordingly, York is the main actor, and he carries the responsibility very well.

If you are a fan of the book, or indeed a fan of comedy, please give this film a look.  I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.

Year of release: 1973

Director: Richard Lester

Producers: Alexander Salkind, Ilya Salkind, Michael Salkind, Wolfdieter von Stein

Writers: Alexandre Dumas (novel), George MacDonald Fraser

Main cast: Michael York, Oliver Reed, Richard Chamberlain, Frank Finlay, Faye Dunaway, Raquel Welch, Spike Milligan, Roy Kinnear, Jean Pierre Cassel, Geraldine Chaplin, Charlton Heston, Christopher Lee

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Click here for my review of the novel.

Click here for my review of the 1993 film adaptation.

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This adaptation of Ira Levin’s novel seems to have attracted some negative reviews, but I liked it.  This may be in part due to the fact that I haven’t read said novel (horror is not really my genre), and neither have I seen the acclaimed 1968 film adaptation, starring Mia Farrow (because, well…horror is not really my genre).  I only watched this latest adaptation – released as a two-part mini-series (four parts in the UK) because it starred Jason Isaacs, who I always find to be a very talented and versatile actor, but I enjoyed the production on its own merits too.

Briefly, the story – which apparently does have some differences to both the novel and the 1968 film – revolves around a young woman named Rosemary Woodhouse (Zoe Saldana), who moves to Paris with her husband Guy (Patrick J. Adams), after suffering a devastating miscarriage.  They become friends with a wealthy and influential couple named Roman and Margaux Castavet (Jason Isaacs and Carole Bouquet respectively), and suddenly their lives seem to take an upward turn.  However, when Rosemary falls pregnant again, matters take a sinister turn…

I thought the cast were all very good, although the stand-outs were definitely Jason Isaacs and Carole Bouquet, who both had just the right mixture of charisma and menace.  Zoe Saldana was great as Rosemary (and looked incredibly beautiful), and Patrick J. Adams did a fine job as Guy.  I also particularly enjoyed Olivier Rabourdin as the Police Commissioner, who Rosemary enlists for help.  Christina Cole was good (as ever) as Rosemary’s friend Julie, although she did not have as much to work with as some of the other characters.

Paris was the perfect setting for this mini-series (although I understand that the neither the novel nor the 1968 film were set there).  The dark atmospheric filming made it both creepy and beautiful, and on a personal  level, I am very fond of Paris and always enjoy looking at it and seeing it in films or television shows.

Having read other reviews, it seems that this series was better received by people who are not familiar with the book or earlier film, so if you haven’t read/seen these, I would definitely recommend that you give this production a go.  The only thing that let it down slightly for me was that a few plot points in the last hour felt a bit rushed, but overall I liked this a lot.

Year of release: 2014

Director: Agnieszka Holland

Producers: Zoe Saldana, Mariel Saldana, Cisely Saldana, Andrew Balek, Robert Bernacchi, Joshua D. Maurer, Stephane Sperry, David A. Stern, Alixandre Witlin, James Wong, Tom Patricia

Writers: Ira Levin (novel), Scott Abbott, James Wong

Main cast: Zoe Saldana, Patrick J. Adams, Jason Isaacs, Carole Bouquet, Christina Cole, Olivier Rabourdin

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As the subtitle (Tales from Tinseltown) suggests, this book by former James Bond and Simon Templar actor Sir Roger Moore, is a collection of stories and anecdotes from his life and career, as well as some stories that he was told himself, and others which he admits are probably apocryphal.

It’s an enjoyable and easy read, but I definitely doubt the veracity of some of his tales (even those which he does not admit are probably untrue).  For example, when talking about Frank Sinatra, he says that when Frank died, Frank’s wife Barbara and daughter Nancy were with him.  However, Frank’s other daughter Tina, states quite clearly in her own book, how none of Frank’s children were with him at the time of his death, and how much that upset them.  More enjoyable are the stories which Sir Roger was personally involved in, as the details of these are obviously much more likely to be correct.

Obviously given the subject, there are loads of famous Hollywood stars, many of whom are no longer with us, mentioned throughout, and this makes for a gossipy – but never malicious – kind of book.  Sir Roger does come across as a genuinely nice man, who doesn’t take himself too seriously, and enjoys high-jinks and practical jokes on set.  This is not the book to read if you are looking for his autobiography (and nor does it claim to be), although he does talk about various stages in his career.

I would recommend this book to fans of Sir Roger, or to anyone interested in Hollywood gossip, but I wouldn’t take all of it as completely accurate.

(For more information about Sir Roger Moore, please click here.)

 

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