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Archive for February, 2016

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It may be easy to forget nowadays, but Liza Minnelli could stun an audience with her loveliness and her incredible dancing and singing. This film is proof of that.

Minnelli is Mavis Turner, a former Broadway dancer, who has moved to New York State and teaches a tap dancing class, made up of a group of very different women (Julie Walters, Jane Krakowski, Sheila McCarthy, Andrea Martin, Carol Woods, Ellen Green, Robyn Stevan) and including one man, Geoffrey (Bill Irwin). Shelley Winters is the stern pianist Mrs Fraser.

The class allows the group to bond and find confidence in themselves and each other, and when they are given a chance to star in a large stage show, they have to pull together to make sure that they put on a terrific performance, despite being convinced that they are not capable of doing it.

Meanwhile, each of them have their own personal problems to deal with and overcome.

I adored this film. Truly adored it. Liza Minnelli was not only lovely as Mavis, but blew me away with her stunning solo dance halfway through the film. The rest of the cast were also wonderful, especially the incredible Bill Irwin, as the shy Geoffrey.

For fans of tap dancing such as myself, this is a real treat, and the finale is a joy to be viewed and viewed again.

Highly, highly recommended.

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Year of release: 1991

Director: Lewis Gilbert

Writer: Richard Harris

Main cast: Liza Minnelli, Julie Walters, Shelley Winters, Bill Irwin, Carol Woods, Jane Krakowski, Sheila McCarthy, Andrea Martin, Robyn Stevan, Ellen Green

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This story is told in two storylines, both of which are narrated by Jennifer Doyle aka Lola Nightingale. In 1916, Jennifer accompanies her roguish father from England to America, where she is given a job with the wealthy de Saulles family. It is there that she meets and falls deeply in love with Rudolfo Gullielmi, a dancer employed by the family, who is having a relationship with Mrs de Saulles.

1926, Jennifer goes by the name Lola Nightingale, Rodolfo is now known to the world as film superstar Rudolph Valentino, and at the beginning of the book, they have just been reunited after a decade apart. Jennifer/Lola has been in love with ‘Rudy’ for the whole time, and throughout the rest of the book she proceeds to describe the events that transpired between 1916, when Rudy vanished from her life, and 1926, when he reappeared.

I enjoyed the book, and thought that the writing was engaging and flowed well. However, I veered between sympathy for and annoyance with Jennifer, who was her own worst enemy. She knows that she drinks too much and dabbles in drugs, which are doing her ambitions as a bidding scriptwriter no good, and she also becomes involved with a horrible abusive man, who is a drug dealer to the stars.

Anybody who knows about Rudolph Valentino’s life and death, will have a certain knowledge of what happens in the ending of the book. I personally really enjoy fiction books that are based around real people and events, and I liked the fact that at the end of the book, the fates of all the real people in its pages (such as Mr and Mrs de Saulles) is revealed.

Overall, while I didn’t love the central character, I did really enjoy the story and am looking forward to reading more by Daisy Waugh.

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When their friend Cookie (Thandi Newton) overdoses after using heroin for the first time, musicians Spoon (Tupac Shakur) and Stretch (Tim Roth) decide it’s time to kick their addiction, get into a government rehab program and finally get clean. However, it is easier said than done, as their good intentions are thwarted by bureaucracy and red tape at every turn. Not only that, but a local drug lord (Vondie Curtis-Hall) has it in for them, and staying one step ahead of him is not easy…

I watched this film purely because Tim Roth is in it, and honestly I was just expecting a fairly enjoyable way to pass a couple of hours. From the outset though, this film exceeded all my expectations and I would probably now put it in my top ten films of all time.

It’s a comedy, and there were several scenes which made me laugh out loud. That said, it’s definitely not a light-hearted comedy – there’s a serious point to be made about how hard it is to get help for addiction (bearing in mind this film is nearly 20 years old, I can not be sure how realistic it is nowadays), and there is a lot of violence, albeit most of it does take place off-screen.

Although there are a lot of characters, it’s basically Tim Roth and Tupac Shakur’s film. I knew Tim Roth would be great, because…well, he ALWAYS is – and he was – but I have never seen Tupac’s acting before, and I was really surprised by how talented he was. Often when singers turn to acting, the results are less than stellar, but Tupac brought just the right about of comedy and angst to the role. He and Tim Roth bounced off each other perfectly, with Stretch (Roth) being the more wild and impulsive character, while Spoon (Shakur) was the one attempting to keep him in line.

Kudos too to Vondie Curtis-Hall as D-Reper, the drug lord who Spoon and Stretch found themselves on the wrong side of – Curtis-Hall also wrote and directed this film, so he is obviously a multi-talented man.

If you are not offended by swearing or drug references, I would definitely recommend this film. I give it a solid 10 out of 10.

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Year of release: 1997

Director: Vondie Curtis-Hall

Writer: Vondie Curtis-Hall

Main cast: Tim Roth, Tupac Shukar, Thandie Newton, Vondie Curtis-Hall

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This book artfully blurs fact and fiction to create an interesting novel. It is narrated in part by Martin Strauss, a man who in the present day, has just learned that he has a medical condition which will cause him to eventually lose his mind; he will be unable to distinguish between memory and imagination, or to put it another way, he won’t know what is fact and what is fiction.

Martin introduces himself to the reader as the man who killed Harry Houdini, not once, but twice. In telling his story, the reader also learns the story of Houdini (although be warned…while some parts of this are absolutely truthful, other parts are fictionalised). The chapters alternate between Martin in the current day, Martin in 1926/27 and Houdini’s life.

What is true – and what forms a large part of Houdini’s story here – is that Houdini was intent on debunking so-called mediums and psychics. He was concerned that a lot of powerful people were reliant on the advice they received from psychics, and was determined to reveal spiritualism as being fake and the people that practiced it as fraudulent. Unsurprisingly, this made him a lot of enemies, and that thread is a strong feature throughout this book.

I enjoyed the parts about Houdini, which are told in the third person, but I think I actually preferred the parts about Martin Strauss. In this book, Strauss is the man who famously punched Houdini in the stomach, shortly after which Houdini died (although it is now known that he actually died as the result of appendicitis, which  may or may not have been aggravated by an unprepared for punch). Strauss is an entirely fictional character 0 in real life, the man who threw the punch was named J Gordon Whitehead.

For me, the real theme of the book is memory – what is real, what we construct for ourselves, and how we separate fact from fiction. We know from the beginning that Strauss is an unreliable narrator, but he also knows this and is desperate to impart the truth to Houdini’s daughter Alice (the result of an illicit liaison; it turns out the famous escapologist was also a rampant womaniser) before it is too late.

The ending does contain a twist which I certainly did not see coming, and I’m still not sure how I actually feel about it. Much the same as I feel when watching a magic trick, I know that I have had somehow had the wool pulled over my eyes, but I’m still trying to go back through events in my mind, working out where exactly the trick was pulled off.

Overall, this is an interesting story and well written. I think I would like to read more by Steven Galloway.

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This non-fiction work has been made famous by the BBC series of the same name which was based on Jennifer Worth’s memoirs. Being a big fan of the series, I was eager to read the book, and I was not disappointed.

If you have seen the series, many of the stories and characters contained within this book will be familiar to you; if you haven’t seen it (first of all, why not?!) and second of all, it doesn’t matter a jot. The book preceded the show and therefore you don’t need any prior knowledge to enjoy this book.

Rather than a chronological account, the author tells many different stories from her time at Nonnatus House in the East End of London as a midwife. Many of the stories are heartwarming and amusing, but there are also some tragic tales – the story of Mary, a young girl who ran away from Ireland to escape abuse only to find a worse fate waiting for her in London, is heartbreaking.

I felt that the characters of the Nuns of Nonnatus House were well described, although I didn’t feel that I learned much about Jennifer (Jenny) herself. It is clear from her writing that she was well-educated and intelligent, but other than that, she is largely reticent about her private life. However, the real heart of this book lies in the East End characters and indeed the East End itself – I feel that she brought the time period to life very well, and overall I thoroughly enjoyed the book.

Highly recommended.

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