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Archive for September, 2015

This Woody Allen directed contemporary musical, which boasts a star-studded cast revolves around the love lives of an extended family, and takes place in Manhattan, Paris and Rome.

I only really wanted to watch this film because Tim Roth is in it, and I wasn’t sure whether I was going to enjoy it – I’ve not actually seen many Woody Allen films – but in fact it is utterly charming and really rather lovely.

The story is narrated by Djuna (known to everyone as DJ, and played by Natasha Lyonne). She starts by introducing the viewers to her family – stepfather Bob (Alan Alda), mother Steffi (Goldie Hawn), step-sisters Skylar (Drew Barrymore), Lane (Gaby Hoffman) and Laura (Natalie Portman) and step-brother Scott (Lukas Haas). Not forgetting her actual father Joe (Woody Allen).

While Holden (Edward Norton) and Skylar get engaged, Joe is bemoaning the demise of his latest relationship, and DJ decides to set him up with Von (Julia Roberts) the patient of DJ’s friend’s psychiatrist mother! Von is in an unhappy relationship, and Joe is determined to win her over.

Meanwhile, Lane and Laurie are both in love with the same young man, Bob is distraught that son Scott is turning into a young conservative, despite have extremely liberal parents, and DJ is busy falling in love with various young men. Things get even more complicated when recently paroled prisoner Charles Ferry (Tim Roth) turns up!

The cast mostly sing all their own songs (Barrymore is dubbed) and all the songs are well known musical classics. Obviously these actors are not professional singers, but for the most part they hold their own pretty well – in fact Goldie Hawn and Ed Norton apparently had to be told NOT to sing as well as they were able, as they were not believable as the characters randomly bursting into song which they were meant to be portraying.

There is also some quite amazing dancing, with lots of extras (obviously professional dancers) being used – and this film also contains probably the happiest funeral scene you will ever see! There is also a quite stunning dance towards the end of the film, featuring Goldie Hawn and Woody Allen – it is very cleverly and beautifully done.

The whole cast shines, but I would give special mention to Alan Alda and Goldie Hawn, and also to Tim Roth, who has a great time with his own relatively small role. Edward Norton is also terrific in a role that is very much unlike the kind of parts we are used to seeing him play.

Overall, if you are looking for a film that will make you laugh and feel warm and happy inside, I would strongly recommend you give this one a go. I loved it.

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Year of release: 1996

Director: Woody Allen

Writer: Woody Allen

Main cast: Alan Alda, Natasha Lyonne, Goldie Hawn, Edward Norton, Drew Barrymore, Woody Allen, Julia Roberts, Tim Roth, Gaby Hoffman, Natalie Portman, Lukas Haas

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Hannah has decided that today is the day she is going to leave her husband Tom; their once happy marriage has disintegrated to such a point that she feels they can no longer work things out, and she is looking forward to following her dream of teaching in Tanzania. But today is also the day that Tom has a stroke and Hannah feels that she cannot leave. A sense of duty compels her to remain and try and help her husband through his recovery, but as they face the future together, Tom is determined to try and fix their marriage and make Hannah fall in love with him again.

This book is told in both the present day, starting with Hannah’s discovery of her husband on their bedroom floor, clearly in serious pain, and in flashbacks which show how Hannah and Tom’s relationship started and developed and subsequently went wrong. I really enjoyed both storylines, and really enjoyed watching how these characters found and lost each other in the confusion of starting new jobs, moving into a new house and dealing with all the other problems that life can bring.

I thought both Hannah and Tom were pretty sympathetic characters – although Tom has clearly not been treating Hannah well prior to the start of the story, we the reader only ‘meet’ him at the time of his stroke, and the flashback chapters do serve to illustrate his point of view, so he is not quite the awful person that he could have been if the story were only told from Hannah’s point of view. The first part of the story actually made me cry as I tried to imagine the terror and uncertainty that both Tom and Hannah would feel as he had a stroke at the young age of 32, and realised that life might never be the same.

The writing flowed well, and I gobbled up huge chunks of the story at a time – I had to stop myself from peeking forward a few pages at times, which is always the sign of a good book.

My only slight criticism would be I wasn’t overkeen on some of the other characters. I liked Tom’s friend Nick, but his sister Julie and Hannah’s friend Steph were irritating (and Steph felt at times like a bit of a cliche). However, I feel churlish even really pointing this out, because overall this was a moving and absorbing read, which I would highly recommend. This is Katie Marsh’s debut novel, and I look forward to reading future books by her.

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Anyone who is old enough to remember the mid-late 70s knows who John Lydon aka Johnny Rotten is. Famous – or infamous – for being the lead singer of the Sex Pistols, and then forming Public Image Ltd, Lydon is now almost as well known for his TV appearances on shows like I’m A Celebrity….Get Me Out of Here, Shark Attack, Goes Ape, and even Question Time. Not to mention those Country Life butter advertisements!

As the title suggests, this is indeed his life uncensored and in his own words. (The Anger is an Energy line comes from the PiL song Rise, which is one of my favourite songs.) So much in his own words in fact, that this book feels more like it has been dictated – I think this works, because when I am reading someone’s autobiography I like to feel that I can hear their own voice reciting it, and in this instance I certainly could.

Lydon tells the story of his life pretty much chronologically, although there are intermittent chapters where he gives his thoughts on other aspects of life. It all rattles along entertainingly though, and he is certainly not averse to naming names and giving opinions about people he has met, good or bad. He’s almost shockingly frank regarding his feelings about certain persons (Malcolm McLaren does not come out of it well, and neither does ex-PiL bandmate Keith Levene.) However, his pacifist leanings and his generosity towards others may surprise those who only know him as the angry young punk who fronted the Sex Pistols, swore on live TV and sang songs about anarchy.

I can’t say I agree with everything he says, but I do have a certain respect for him after reading this book, because at least HE agrees with everything he says – he is not in the business of false diplomacy or modesty. I enjoyed reading about his relationship with his long-term partner Nora, to who he is clearly devoted.

Overall, I would say this is an enjoyable and entertaining ride through one man’s life – it did feel like a bit of editing in the middle  of the book might have helped, but essentially, while you might say a lot of things about John Lydon, one thing you can’t say is that he is ever boring. If you have any interest in the Sex Pistols, PiL, or the music industry in general, I would recommend this book.

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Set in the 1930s, this comedy revolves around Maurice and Arthur (Oliver Platt and Stanley Tucci), two out of work actors who stow away on a cruise ship when they are wrongly accused of assaulting the famous actor Jeremy Burtom (Alfred Molina). However, Burtom is also on the cruise ship, along with a cast of colourful characters, which means that the situation goes from bad to worse for the two hapless heroes.

With a supporting cast including Billy Connolly, Campbell Scott, Allison Janney, Tony Shalhoub and Steve Buscemi, you might think that this couldn’t go wrong – and it doesn’t. Well, for the characters it does, but with hilarious results for the viewer.

Tucci and Platt are incredibly funny as Arthur and Maurice, looking for all the world like a modern day Laurel and Hardy (and by coincidence, played by actors called Stanley and Oliver too!) There is a lot of slapstick and the whole film has a very zany feel to it, with all the cast giving it their all. Campbell Scott was for me, the funniest character, as a German member of staff. I have admired him as an actor for a long time, but this is the first time I have seen him in an out-and-out comedy, and he totally stole all of his scenes.

I watched this film on my own, and when I do that, it’s rare for me to actually laugh out loud (very common apparently) but this film actually did make me do that on several occasions. I loved the farce, the cleverness of the lines and the absurdity of the situation. This film has definitely gone straight into my top ten films of all time.

Highly recommend, especially for fans of slapstick, or the old silent comedy films of Laurel and Hardy or The Marx Brothers. Brilliant!

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Year of release: 1998

Director: Stanley Tucci

Producers: Jonathan Filley, Elizabeth W. Alexander, Stanley Tucci

Writer: Stanley Tucci

Main cast: Stanley Tucci, Oliver Platt, Campbell Scott, Steve Buscemi, Alfred Molina, Lili Taylor, Tony Shalhoub, Teagle F Bougere, Allison Janney, Matt McGrath, Richard Jenkins, Billy Connolly

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The Normal Heart is a fictionalised account of a gay activist, who tried to raise awareness of AIDS in New York in the early 1980s. Ned Weeks (Mark Ruffalo, in a role based on The Normal Heart’s writer Larry Kramer) is horrified when gay men start dying of what is called Gay Cancer, and he starts a HIV Advocacy group, in an attempt to get the government to take notice, and to help raise awareness. Weeks prefers a more outspoken way of tackling the problem, unlike many of his fellow members of the group, some of whom are not openly gay, and this causes tension amongst them. During this time, Weeks falls in love with Felix (Matt Bomer) a journalist who is also frustrated at the restrictions on what he can write about.

The film also stars Jim Parsons as Tommy (based on Rodger McFarlane), a friend of Ned, Taylor Kitsch as Bruce (based on Paul Popham), another member of the Advocacy group, Julia Roberts as a Doctor who tries to raise awareness (based on real life Doctor Linda Laubenstein). Albert Molina also appears as Ned’s brother, who loves him but struggles to understand his lifestyle or the crusade he has set himself upon.

Well – wow! It’s hard to describe just how fantastic I thought this film was. It was heartbreaking and inspiring all the at the same time. Kramer wrote the play which the film is adapted from, in 1985, at which time the AIDS crisis was in full flow. I cannot imagine how it must have felt to watch his friends dying in such numbers, and yet to be more or less ignored by the government. Mark Ruffalo really portrayed the frustration and anger that Ned Weeks felt. Matt Bomer won a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor as Felix, and it was totally deserved. (Ruffalo was also nominated for Best Actor). Jim Parsons – best known for the role of Sheldon Cooper in comedy The Big Bang Theory – was a revelation here, and brought a lot of warmth to the film

I could probably wax lyrical about this film all day long, but for anyone with the slightest passing interest in the AIDS crisis, or the political and social reaction to it, this is an absolute must-see. Keep a box of tissues handy – you WILL cry. Very highly recommended to all.

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Year of release: 2014

Director: Ryan Murphy

Producers: Jason Blum, Dante Di Loreto, Dede Gardner, Ryan Murphy, Brad Pitt, Mark Ruffalo, Scott Ferguson, Gina Lamar, Ned Martel, Alexis Martin Woodall

Writers: Larry Kramer (play), Ryan Murphy

Main cast: Mark Ruffalo, Matt Bomer, Jonathan Groff, Taylor Kitsch, Joe Mantello, Stephen Spinella, BD Wong, Julia Roberts, Jim Parsons, Alfred Molina, Finn Wittrock

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Dr Kate Forster (Sandra Bullock) leaves the lake house which she loves so much, to go and live in the city in Chicago. She leaves a letter for the next resident, who is Alex Wyler (Keanu Reeves). He replies and the two start a correspondence which turns into a romance – however it seems that the two will never be able to meet, as Kate is writing the letters in 2006, while Alex is reading them in 2004. Is there a way they can be together, or are they forever destined to remain separated by the years?

There are all kinds of reasons not to like this film. Some people say Reeves is a wooden actor – I think this is a bit harsh. He’s likeable in the role, and certainly good enough to make me root for Alex and Kate. And then there’s the whole time-travel element…yes if you think too much about it, it might give you a headache. The first time I saw this film I kept thinking, “But what about…”, “Well, how did they….”, “Hang on a moment…” etc. But the second time I watched it, I ignored all that and just decided to enjoy the film for what it is.

And what it is is a lovely, sweet romantic film, with two incredibly likeable leads – oh, and a very cute dog, who seems to be able to cross time zones!

Naturally, there are obstacles for the couple to overcome – and that’s before you factor in that they are communicating across two years – and yes you obviously have to suspend your disbelief, but if you can do that, and you are a fan of gentle, romantic films, then I would definitely recommend giving this one a look.

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Year of release: 2006

Director: Alejandro Agresti

Producers: Bruce Berman, Dana Goldberg, Mary McLagen, Erwin Stoff, Doug Davison, Roy Lee, Sonny Mallhi

Writers: Eun-Jeong Kim (motion picture ‘Siworae’), Ji-na Yeo (motion picture ‘Swore’), David Auburn

Main cast: Sandra Bullock, Keanu Reeves, Christopher Plummer, Ebon Moss-Bachrach

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Skunk Cunningham (Eloise Laurence in her debut role) is a young diabetic girl living with her older brother Jed and her single father Archie, in an anonymous city in London. Also living in the house is Kasia (Zana Marjanovic) a babysitter/housekeeper, who has an on again-off again relationship with boyfriend Mike (Cillian Murphy). Their neighbours are the Buckleys (Denis Lawson and Clare Burt) and their emotionally handicapped son Rick (Robert Emms) and the Oswalds (widowed father Bob, and his three wayward daughters, Saskia, Susan and Sunrise).

When Skunk witnesses a mindless act of violence, her life starts to change. As the film progresses, the reason for the attack she sees is revealed and events in the little cup-de-sac soon spiral out of control.

Anyone who has seen this film or read the book it is based on, and who has also read/watched To Kill a Mockingbird, will see the comparisons between the two. After watching the film, I found an online interview with Daniel Clay who wrote the book ‘Broken’, where he said that he took the characters of TKAM as a starting point for his novel.

Despite the bleak subject matter (and it only gets more bleak as the story progresses), I really enjoyed this film. Tim Roth is, as ever, excellent and is by far the most likeable adult character in the show – a hard-working solicitor, who is trying his hardest to bring up his children well, while also attempting to resolve the tensions in his road.

However, the whole cast is superb and nobody puts a foot wrong. Rory Kinnear is brilliant as the brutal, impulsive and reckless father of the Oswald girls (who are all, frankly, despicable). Cillian Murphy is an actor who has slipped under my radar until now,  but I enjoyed his performance a lot.

Plaudits have to be given to young Eloise Laurence however, as Skunk, upon whose shoulders the story largely hangs. I loved the easy father-daughter relationship between her and Archie, and her acting was incredibly natural and believable – hard to believe it was her screen debut.

If I had any criticism, it would be that there was perhaps just a little too much going on towards the end – that said, I was completely absorbed in what was unfolding, and did not get bored or restless at any point.

I’m not going to give away the ending, but I will say that while some reviewers didn’t like it, I definitely did. I thought it was beautifully and sensitively done, and there was a definite lump in my throat (actually, I just out and out cried!)

Overall, an excellent acting debut, solid acting from the whole cast, and genuine tension make this a must-see.

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Year of release: 2012

Director: Rufus Norris

Producers: Peter Hampden, Norman Merry, Joe Oppenheimer, Peter Raven, Wendy Bevan-Mogg, Tally Garner, Bill Kenwright, Dixie Linder, Nick Marston

Writers: Daniel Clay (novel), Mark O’Rowe

Main cast: Eloise Laurence, Tim Roth, Rick Buckley, Rory Kinnear, Martha Bryant, Faye Daveney, Clare Burt, Denis Lawson, Bill Milner, Rosalie Kosky, Zana Marjanovic, Cillian Murphy, George Sargeant

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