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Archive for the ‘Film Reviews’ Category

Vivacious Lady stars a young James Stewart as botany professor Peter Morgan and Ginger Rogers as the title character – a nightclub singer named Francey. When Peter and Francey meet, it’s love and first sight and they impulsively get married. However, Peter is then faced with the prospect of telling his conservative parents – not to mention his fiancee Helen! – what he has done. Lots of comedy ensues as he struggles to find the right time, and the couple have to hide their romance.

This film is a sparkling delight from start to finish. James Stewart is just so bloody likeable and sincere in everything he ever did, and Ginger Rogers had perfect comic timing, which made her shine in a hilarious fight scene. Not that she has the monopoly on physical comedy in this film – Stewart’s character getting drunk is terrific (he does a splendid drunken scene two years later in The Philadelphia Story) and there is a wonderful dance scene with Rogers, James Ellison as Peter’s cousin Frank, and Beulah Bondi as Peter’s mother Martha.

With Charles Coburn playing Peter’s father, who takes an instant dislike to Francey, and great turns from Frances Mercer as Helen, this is a great cast who all seem to be enjoying themselves. And this certainly translates to the viewer, because I can’t imagine anyone finishing this film without a smile on their face.

In short, this is called a classic for a very valid reason. If you like films from this genre, then don’t miss this one!

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In the forests of the Pacific Northwest, Ben Cash (Viggo Mortensen) and his six children live off the grid, hunting and scavenging for their food. He ‘homeschools’ the children, and teaches them survival techniques, giving them dangerous knives and other weapons as presents.

However, when the death of Ben’s wife Leslie forces them to take a trip back to civilisation for her funeral, there is a distinct clash of cultures between their way of life and that of Leslie’s family (and indeed Ben’s own family). For while Ben has taught his children how to survive life or death situations, they are socially inept, as demonstrated by their eldest son when he meets a girl who has a crush on him.

The film raises the question of whether what Ben is doing is fair and right for his children, or whether it is a form of abuse. At least two of the children rebel against his authority and he is left with difficult decisions.

It would be easy to hate Ben for what effectively amounts to brainwashing, and for his almost smug attitude towards other people – for example when his sister’s two sons are unable to tell him what the Bill of Rights is, he calls down his eight year old daughter, who breaks it down for them without a second thought. But Viggo Mortensen is such a talented and subtle actor that while it’s one thing to see what damage Ben is – albeit inadvertently and with the best of intentions – doing to the children, we can also sympathise with him to an extent. But we can also understand the frustration of Leslie’s parents (Frank Langella and Ann Down), who are also basically very decent people.

With splendid acting from all concerned, and a compelling central character, this might not be as funny as you might expect, but it’s compelling and never gets boring. It’s almost two hours long, and felt half the time to me. Recommended.

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Ghost Town stars Ricky Gervais – in his first Hollywood role – as Bertram Pincus, an irascible, antisocial dentist, who has little interest in other people. However, after a standard hospital operation he suddenly finds that he is able to see ghosts. Everywhere. And they all want something from him. Recently deceased Frank (Greg Kinnear) is desperate to stop his widow Gwen (Tea Leoni) remarrying, and begs Pincus to help break up her relationship. Pincus agrees merely to get Frank off his back, but starts to realise that not only is Gwen’s finance a decent man, but that Bertram himself is developing feelings for her.

Whether or not you enjoy this film is going to depend largely on whether or not you enjoy watching Ricky Gervais. For my money, he is a superb comedian and I’ve never watched anything he has done without thoroughly enjoying it. He’s irritable but also very relatable and brings pathos to the role of Pincus, especially towards the end of the film. Tea Leoni and Greg Kinnear are also both excellent in their roles. There is a lot of humour to be found here, and when the film ended I had a big smile on my face.

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Chronic (2015)

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Chronic features Tim Roth as palliative care nurse David, who looks after terminally ill or severely disabled persons in their own home, having one patient at a time. It follows him through looking after three patients and it is clear that he cares very deeply about his work, and also about the people he nurses. The power here is not always in what is said, but in the silences and in the mundane and sometimes unpleasant tasks that he carries out, without complaint. Make no mistake, this film does not flinch from showing the realities of people nearing the end of life, or unable to look after themselves. In one scene for example, a patient soils herself due to medication, and David is showing carefully soaping her and cleaning her mess up afterwards. In another scene, he is washing a man who is unable to do it for himself; the patient is in the shower room, naked and entirely vulnerable. Indeed, so intimate and private are these moments that I almost felt voyeuristic, as though I was intruding on someone’s life, when I had no right to.

For the always wonderful (in my biased opinion!) Roth, this is possibly a career best performance. Despite his dedication to his vocation, David is not always entirely likeable. He lies easily to strangers – he untruthfully refers to one of his patients as his wife for example – and seemingly has no friends, apart from his patients while he was looking after them. His own history is drip fed to the viewer, which does make his behaviour more understandable.

For some people, this film will be hard to watch. I could feel the pain and helplessness of the characters, their lack of dignity, and the sense of futility for their families, which manifested itself in different ways. One niece asks David about her aunt, underscoring the fact that she didn’t get to know her aunt well when she was alive, and she is aware that David knew her better than her own family.

It’s a stunning film, with an ending that took my breath away. I’m giving no spoilers here because I believe it deserves to be viewed completely unspoiled, which is how I saw it. I liked the ending; other reviewers didn’t. Overall though, this film will stay with me for a long time, and I would highly recommend it.

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Chef, written by, directed by and starring Jon Favreau, is the kind of movie you need to watch if either (a) you’re a foodie, (b) you need a feel-good funny movie, or (c) both.

Favreau is Carl Casper, chef at a prestigious restaurant, has a public meltdown after a restaurant critic writes a savage review of his food, and quits his job. Initially bereft, he buys a food truck and travels through (part of) America, providing the opportunity for  himself to get back to cooking creatively and to reconnect with his son.

It sometimes teeters on the edge of over-sentimentality, but never quite tips over. I loved the energy and colour. Carl is likeable even when he isn’t, thanks to Favreau’s geniality. A great supporting cast – Sofia Vergara as Carl’s ex-wife Inez, Emjay Anthony as his son Percy, and a brilliant turn from the fabulous John Leguizamo as Carl’s best friend Martin – add to the enjoyment. Also, watch out for a very funny turn from Robert Downey Jr.

My one slight criticism of Chef is that it may be slightly over-long. But it’s always enjoyable and good fun, and I highly recommend it.

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I am reviewing these two TV movies (made for the Hallmark Channel) together, as they are the first two films in a new mystery series and feature the same main characters.

Jeff Jackson (Jesse Metcalfe is a former Boston PD detective who has retired early and moved to Martha’s Vineyard where he grew up and now hopes to live a quiet life. Zee Madeiras is a Doctor on the Vineyard and former childhood friend of Jeff. Her father is the Vineyard Chief of Police, who asks for Jeff’s help in solving crimes. In A Beautiful Place to Die, a young man is found floating in the harbour and it becomes apparent that he was murdered…the night before he was seen arguing with the children of a wealthy businessman, but they are not the only people with a reason to want him dead. As the suspects mount up, Jeff and Zee find themselves uncovering secrets and facing danger…

In Riddled With Deceit, a rare and expensive emerald brooch, which was stolen years before from the family of Zee’s best friend, is returned, only to be promptly stolen again. Jeff and Zee assist the police with looking for the thief, but before long it has also turned into a murder enquiry…

If you are a fan of murder mysteries set in beautiful places – for me, I love shows like Midsomer Murders, set in the Cotswolds; Death in Paradise (Caribbean), Shakespeare and Hathaway (Stratford-upon-Avon) – then this is the series for you. Admittedly all of the above examples are English shows, but if those are your kind of thing then I think you would enjoy these two movies. Although set on Martha’s Vineyard, they were not filmed there – but the scenery is beautiful nonetheless and the mysteries are engaging enough to keep you interested, while still being a fairly undemanding and fun watch.

If you want a really gritty realistic crime drama, then maybe give these a miss, but otherwise, see what you think – you might enjoy them!

(NB: These films are based on books from Phillip R Craig, who wrote a series of Martha’s Vineyard Mystery books. I’ve not read any of them, but might be tempted to give one a whirl).

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After her boyfriend cheats on her, Martha (Anna Kendrick) is devastated – until she meets Francis (Sam Rockwell), a man who seems perfect for her in every way. Well…in almost every way. Because Francis is a hit-man. But he’s a charismatic hit-man who is bored with the lifestyle, believes murder is wrong and now has a penchant for killing those people who hire him.

Unfortunately, Hooper (Tim Roth), an old colleague of Francis, is determined to kill our hero, and things are further complicated by a mob family who want to hire Francis to kill the leader so that the stupid younger brother can take over.

Reading the above synopsis, you would be forgiven for thinking that this film is a drama, or a thriller. You probably wouldn’t expect it to be a rom-com, but that’s what it is. There is a lot of violence, so if thats off-putting to you, then you might want to give it a miss. But there’s an equal amount of comedy to balance it out, and I did genuinely laugh out loud several times.

I love Tim Roth – he is just electrifying to watch – and his role here was extremely funny, and he sets the precedent for this in the first scene. Sam Rockwell is also brilliant, and ideal for the role of Francis. We can understand why Martha is so drawn to him, even after she realises what he does for a living. And Anna Kendrick was a delight too. I won’t mention all of the supporting cast, but there was not a bad performance among them.

I really enjoyed this film and would definitely recommend it. (Special shout out to the excellent use of the song ‘My Type’ by Saint Motel – great track used to great effect).

 

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I’m not sure how this film managed to slip under the radar to the extent that it has. After all, it stars two very well known actors, and one of them is Keanu Reeves – a man who it’s virtually impossible to dislike (it might even be illegal at this point!)

Anyway, I love Keanu and I think Winona Ryder is a terrific actress in this kind of role so I looked forward to watching this film, and I wasn’t disappointed. Frank (Reeves) and Lindsay (Ryder) meet up when they both travel to the same destination wedding – one which neither of them wants to attend. Initial animosity turns to friendship and affection, but both have tainted views of relationships and want to insulate themselves against pain, so determine that they should not get involved.

if that sounds angsty, the film itself isn’t. It’s charming, very funny and unusual in that Frank and Lindsay are the only two characters who actually speak throughout the film. It’s so cleverly done though, that it was only after I had finished watching that I actually realised this. There are other people in it of course – but they don’t have lines.

Both characters have the potential to be very unlikeable. Frank is a narcissist, and Lindsay verges on neurotic – so casting two likeable actors was a smart move on the part of the filmmakers, because while you are not blind to their very human flaws, you also actually do care about these characters and get invested in their story (at least I certainly did).

It’s a rather lovely film, and I would certainly recommend it.

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45 Years is a British film, about a couple named Geoff and Kate Mercer, who have been married for 45 years. The story takes place over the week leading up to their anniversary party.At the beginning of the week Geoff receives a letter telling him that the body of his former girlfriend Katya, from before he ever met Kate, has been found perfectly preserved in a mountain glacier.

The news has a profound effect on Geoff, making him angry and frustrated, and in turn upsetting his wife – although he is largely oblivious to the effect it has on Kate.

Tom Courtenay and Charlotte Rampling are outstanding in this understated film about a seemingly happy marriage which is thrown into a quiet and civilised crisis. It actually focuses more on the effect that Geoff’s behaviour has on Kate, than the news of Katya’s discovery upon Geoff, and Rampling’s acting is such that it is hard not to empathise with her pain and jealousy.

This is certainly not an action packed film – in one sense, not a lot happens, but so MUCH happens on Kate’s face, in her thoughts – which we sense through her expressions. It’s weirdly compelling and hard to tear your eyes away from – at least that was how I found it. So it’s bleak and sad, but also the actions of both main characters are so utterly understandable.

If you don’t need lots of action and special effects in your films, but enjoy a thoughtful character study, give this little known gem a try, and revel in acting at it’s finest.

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This under-the-radar British film delivered far more than I expected, largely due to the (always excellent) Maxine Peake in the lead role.

Peake is Charlotte, for whom a bad day – where she gets passed over for promotion – turns into an absolutely disastrous and terrifying one, when she arrives home and finds her cleaner smoking in Charlotte’s apartment. This leads to a confrontation with tragic consequences.

Things go from disastrous to even more disastrous as Charlotte desperately tries to cover her tracks, and finds herself in situations she could never have imagined, and looking after a young child – something she clearly has no experience with and no clue what she is doing. Eventually she calls her estranged sister Sarah (Christine Bottomley) to help, but things get (even more) worse with the arrival of shifty security guard Roger (Blake Harrison).

I really enjoyed this film – if enjoyed is the right word. It was certainly compelling; it shocked me right from the off, and although Charlotte was initially a deeply unsympathetic character, Peake’s performance was exemplary, and showed just how an ordinary person can end up in a horrific situation.

With a small main cast (the only other major character was the baby!) and a claustrophobic atmosphere, as well as tight pacing, this film had a lot of elements that I  really like in a movie. It is undoubtedly bleak (I watched an episode of Gilmore Girls afterwards to put me back into a lighter mood!), but it is definitely worth a watch.

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