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Three bored friends, widowed Alexandra (Cher), newly divorced uptight musician Jane (Susan Sarandon) and single mother of five Sukie (Michelle Pfeiffer) all wish that they could meet an interesting man to shake up their lives in the New England town of Eastwick. Enter the devilishly charming Darryl Van Horne (Jack Nicholson) who not only shakes up their lives, but causes scandal, gossip throughout the neighbourhood, especially upsetting the devoutly religious Felicia, who is the wife of Sukie’s boss.

Darryl seduces all three women and they all stay at his mansion with him, living a life of decadence but when they realise that the town of Eastwick is gossiping about them and calling them all names, they decide that something needs to be done. And then the trouble really starts…

I remember watching this film when it first came out in 1987, and although I had forgotten some of the details, I do recall thinking that it was a lot of fun and visually spectacular, but all kind of fell apart at the end. And this was more or less my feelings on this occasion too, although to say it fell apart is perhaps a bit harsh. The first two thirds of the film are wonderful – the four main members of the cast are superb, especially Jack Nicholson and Cher, and the colour and lavish production are a treat for the eyes. The last third of the film is possibly a bit overblown – I won’t give away what happens in case of spoilers; it may be a fairly old movie by now, but still people will be watching it for the first time – and visual effects seem to take over from the story itself, but it’s still good fun.

Susan Sarandon seems to thoroughly enjoy her role, and the transformation of Jane from a repressed and nervous woman into a sexually adventurous and sensual lady. Michelle Pfeiffer too plays her part as sweet Sukie very well, but it’s Cher as the bohemian, straight talking Alexandra who stood out for me amongst the three female leads. But Jack Nicholson – a man who was probably born for such a part – steals his scenes. Although he is rude and provocative, he does indeed have a lot of charisma and you can see why these women would be attracted to him.

If you like fantasy with your comedy and this one has slipped under your radar, I recommend it – it’s entertaining and amusing, with a great cast.

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Year of release: 1987

Director: George Miller

Writers: John Updike (novel), Michel Cristofer

Main cast: Cher, Michelle Pfeiffer, Susan Sarandon, Jack Nicholson, Richard Jenkins, Veronica Cartwright, Carel Struycken

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friends_with_money_ver5_xlgThis 2008 film is marketed as a comedy/drama/romance, and I’m not really sure that it falls into any of those categories (well, maybe drama). I enjoyed it a lot though, in no small part due to the excellent cast.

Jennifer Aniston is Olivia, the only one of her group of friends who actually doesn’t have money -and who, having left her job as a teacher (for reasons that remain unspecified) is now working as a maid and struggling to make ends meet. She is also the only member of her group who is unmarried, although the marriages of her three best friends range from happy to hateful. There are successful co-authors Christine and David (Catherine Keener and Jason Isaacs) who not only no longer love each other, but don’t seem to even like each other. Their conversations are filed with hate and vicious barbs at each other. Then there is clothing designer Jane and body care entrepeneur Aaron (Frances McDormand and Simon McBurney) who seem generally happy with each other, although Jane is starting to feel old and angry at the world, and almost everyone Aaron encounters thinks that he is gay, and indeed this includes the viewer – well this viewer anyway. Finally there is stay at home wife Franny (who doesn’t need to work because she has a huge trust fund) and accountant Matt (Joan Cusack and Greg Germann) who do actually seem to love each other and have a happy marriage.

The friends try to helo Olivia in various ways – Franny sets her up with a personal trainer named Mike (Scott Can) who right from the beginning is quite obviously a complete swine and only gets worse, and they try to encourage her to get a better job, while being exasperated at her pot-smoking lifestyle.

And that’s more or less it. Lots of things happen, but nothing actually happens if that makes sense. This film is really an exploration of these people’s lives. The kind of scenes that we witness are totally believeable (two of three friends discussing the absent friend), Olivia mooning over a married ex-boyfriend, Christine sobbing over the realisation that she and her husband are no longer happy together…in truth, if you like a lot of action in your films, then this is not one for you. The ending itself is fairly inconclusive. It doesn’t come full circle with a neat conclusion, instead the whole movie is like a slice of life, and the ending is just the point where they’ve stopped showing these lives, but certainly the lives will continue with the little human dramas and triumph that pepper these characters’ stories.

The cast is sublime. Frances McDormand continues to demonstrate exactly why she is so highly regarded – she is one of those actresses who can convey so much with just a facial expression or simple gesture. Catherine Keener’s Christine’s sadness is almost palpable, and Joan Cusack is adorable as Franny, and so real. And if anyone has doubts about Jennifer Aniston’s acting, then there are a lot of films I might direct them to, but I would probably start with this one. She is not always likeable as Olivia, and sometimes I wanted to shake her, but she was absolutely easy to invest in, and just as people do in real life, sometimes I wanted to give her a cuddle and tell her it would all be okay, and sometimes I wanted to yell at her.

Credit also to the male actors – Jason Isaacs played a particularly unlikeable character, but he played him so well. (Isaacs is one of my favourite actors, as he has great range, and is so real in everything he does). Greg Germann was great too as Matt, but I just adored Simon McBurney, who was kind, clever and sweet as Aaron.

In all, I would say that if you like slow paced character studies, rather than high octane thrillers, give this a go. I enjoyed it a lot and hope you do too.

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Year of release: 2008

Director: Nicole Holofcener

Writer: Nicole Holofcener

Main cast: Jennifer Aniston, Frances McDormand, Catherine Keener, Joan Cusack, Simon McBurney, Jason Isaacs, Greg Germann, Scott Caan

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Eight strangers enter a room to take an exam, which will determine which one of them gets a highly desirable job. The invigilator gives them a list of rules which they must follow, and if they break any of the rules they will be automatically disqualified. They are all confused when they turn over their exam papers and realise there is nothing on them…and as tension mounts, it becomes clear that some people will stop at nothing to get the job of their dreams.

This film has everything that I enjoy – it takes place in real time, it’s dystopian by nature (we are told that it is set ‘soon’), it has a small cast, and it all takes place in one location. I was already onto a winner before I even started watching this, and it didn’t let me down! It’s a low-budget British film with a largely unknown cast (Colin Salmon plays the invigilator and Jimi Mistry plays one of the candidates, and they are the two best known names in the cast), which is in no way a criticism. I don’t know why I love films that are set in one small location, but I really do enjoy them – I suspect that it’s the claustrophobic atmosphere – a theme which is really played on in this movie.

I love films that put characters in situations that bring out either their best or worst natures and this certainly does that. Leaders emerge, people’s strengths and weaknesses are revealed, alliances are forged and broken, and people have to make life or death decisions.

As a viewer, we never get to know too much about any of the candidates. Their real names are never revealed; instead they give each other nicknames. In a few cases we may learn a little about their personal lives, but they remain as much a mystery to the viewer as they do to each other.

This film reminded me somewhat of films like Cube or Unknown – the premise is the same …a group of strangers find themselves in a situation and have to work out how to get out of it (or in this case, how to win the coveted prize). Like those films, I enjoyed every moment and it held my attention from beginning to end. If you are a fan of psychological thrillers I would highly recommend this.

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Year of release: 2009

Director: Stuart Hazeldine

Writer: Stuart Hazeldine

Main cast: Colin Salmon, Jimi Mistry, Adar Beck, Gemma Chan, Nathalie Cox, John Lloyd Fillingham, Chukwudi Iwuji, Pollyanna McIntosh, Luke Mably, Chris Carey

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Dustin Hoffman is jingle writer Harvey Shine, in London for his daughter’s wedding, and feeling isolated. He has a strained relationship with his daughter and his ex-wife – who is now happily remarried – and his job is looking shaky. But then he meets lonely airport worker Kate Walker (Emma Thompson), who is jaded by her lack of love life and her mother’s stifling emotional dependence, and maybe, just maybe there might a chance of happiness for the two of them.

I felt that this was a lovely film – not really a comedy although there were some funny scenes, but very poignant and thanks to the two main leads, immensely watchable (it’s a fairly short film at just over 90 minutes, but seemed to pass by in half in hour!) Harvey is not an altogether likeable character – he can be brusque, and he has clearly not been there for his daughter when she has needed him – but Hoffman’s performance still makes you want to root for him, while acknowledging his flaws. In the hands of a different actor, Harvey could have been someone whose happiness meant little to viewers, but I wanted him to be okay and to get his second shot at happiness. And as for Emma Thompson – well, Kate was always the more sympathetic of the two characters, but Thompson’s acting is just sublime. You really felt what she was going through in each scene – the awkward blind date, where friends of the man her friend has set her up with gatecrash the evening, the awkwardness tinged with delight at finding herself at a wedding reception where she barely knows anyone, and the frustration of dealing with her mother (Eileen Atkins) who Kate clearly loves dearly but who obviously feels the need to unleash every thought on her daughter at any given time.

This is a lovely film, which seemed to slip under the radar at the time of release – watch it for the novelty of seeing a film about romance between two people who are over the age of 30 and who don’t necessarily look like they have just sashayed off the catwalk. Watch it for the incredible acting. Watch it to find yourself really caring about these believable, flawed people. Whatever your reason, just watch it!

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Year of release: 2008

Director: Joel Hopkins

Writer: Joel Hopkins

Main cast: Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson, Eileen Atkins, Kathy Baker, James Brolin, Liane Balaban

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In this romcom (actually it’s more of an unrom-com, in that it has the comedy but is not romantic!), struggling writer Josh (Rafe Spall) and high-flyer Nat (Rose Byrne) have a whirlwind romance and get married after seven months. Only then does reality set in and they begin to realise that they don’t know each other that well, and may not be at all compatible. Further complications arise in the shape of Josh’s ex-girlfriend Chloe (Anna Faris) who clearly still loves him, and American businessman Guy (Simon Baker) who has immediate chemistry with Rose when he hires her firm to do some work for him.

There are laughs-a-plenty in this film – and as a warning, if you don’t like crude humour then I’d recommend you avoid this, as there is a lot of crudeness and toilet humour – but as alluded to above, not a whole lot of romance, at least not between the two leads. I did think the main four actors all played their parts remarkably well, even if there was not much chemistry between Josh and Nat. Or maybe that was the point – they seemed to click with other people but not with each other.

Stephen Merchant plays Danny, Josh’s best friend and best man, whose speech at the wedding made me wince with embarrassment, and who always seemed to know exactly the wrong thing to say! Because of this, his scenes were amongst the funniest for me, although possibly amongst the most annoying for some viewers. It’s also worth mentioning Minnie Driver and Jason Flenyng as unhappily married – or are they? – friends of Nat. Minnie Driver has a real talent for comedy and it shows in her acerbic character here. Olivia Colman also shines in her small role as marriage counsellor who obviously has problems in her own relationship!

I won’t spoil the ending but I will say that it was unexpected, and I liked that. Overall, if you are looking for some good belly laughs and an undemanding storyline, then give this a try.

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Year of release: 2013

Director: Dan Mazer

Writer: Dan Mazer

Main cast: Rafe Spall, Rose Byrne, Simon Baker, Anna Faris, Minnie Driver, Jason Flemyng, Stephen Merchant

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As it is the season to be jolly (fa-la-la-la-laaaaa-la-la-la-la) I thought I would give this festive comedy a watch. It stars Matthew Broderick as Dr Steve Finch, an uptight but well-meaning family man, who organises Christmas like a military operation in his determination to make sure his children enjoy it. His more laid-back wife Kelly (Kristin Davis) bemusedly but loyally supports his efforts to manufacture new Christmas traditions and his need to control everything.

Trouble starts when new neighbours Buddy and Tia Hall (Danny DeVito and Kristin Chenoweth) and their twin teenage daughters Ashley and Emily (Kelly and Sabrina Aldridge) move into the house across the road. Buddy – in a somewhat ridiculous plot leap – decides to decorate his house with so many Christmas lights that it will be visible from space (literally not metaphorically!)

Naturally the repressed Dr Finch is not overkeen on this idea, nor on the idea of having the loudmouthed and uncouth Buddy as a neighbour, and his attempts to curb Buddy’s project cause a feud of epic proportions. Meanwhile their wives become great friends and are both exasperated at the childish behaviour of their respective husbands.

As I always do when I finish a film (or book or television show) I went to look at what other people thought of it and WOW! – the reviews for this film are pretty brutal! Suffice to say it probably won’t become a Christmas classic…and while it was a bit daft and not as heavy on the laughs as you might hope, it’s not that bad. I actually thought it was a passable way to spend an afternoon, although if you scratch below the surface of the plot it all falls apart pretty quickly. But there were a few moments that made me giggle, and even though I normally dislike seeing houses that are lit like…erm…a Christmas tree, I had to admit that Buddy’s display was nothing if not impressive.

I will say that I thought Matthew Broderick was perhaps miscast. Admittedly he was supposed to be the straight man to DeVito’s comedic character, but I think Broderick might have toppled over into dull, although I love Kristin Davis and Kristin Chenoweth, and of course Danny DeVito is always good for a few laughs. If you don’t mind a bit of daftness, give it a go – you never know, you might enjoy it!

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Year of release: 2006

Director: John Whitesell

Writers: Matt Corman, Chris Ord, Don Rhymer

Main cast: Matthew Broderick, Danny DeVito, Kristin Davis, Kristin Chenoweth, Alia Shawcat, Dylan Blue, Kelly Aldridge, Sabrina Aldridge

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I watched Noel at Christmas time (Christmas Eve in fact) because it is indeed a Christmas film, and honestly it was just what I wanted to see.

With an impressive cast, including Susan Sarandon, Paul Walker, Penelope Cruz, Alan Arkin and an uncredited Robin Williams, this film tells the story of a number of strangers who are all affected by events that happen over the Christmas season. Sarandon is Rose, a divorced single woman, who divides her life between work and visiting her Alzheimers afflicted mother in hospital. She is lonely and frustrated with her life but help appears where she least expects it.

Walker plays Mike, a New York cop who is madly in love with his fiancee Nina (Cruz) – but his love borders on possessiveness, and his jealousy threatens to ruin their relationship. His life is further complicated by the appearance in it of Artie (Arkin), a cafe owner who seems to know a lot about Mike and becomes fixated on him – but his reasons will not be what you think (I promise!)

Robin Williams plays one of his more tempered and poignant roles as a man who Rose meets while visiting her mother in hospital. A former priest who has lost his faith both in God and in life, he and Rose provide support for each other.

And then there’s Jules (Marcus Thomas) a young man who is haunted by an unhappy childhood and goes to desperate lengths to recreate the one perfect Christmas that he had.

Into the lives of all these people comes a little beauty and a little Christmas magic. I don’t want to post any spoilers in this review, so I won’t say more than that, but I will  say that while this film is undeniably smaltzy in places and you will definitely need to suspend your disbelief in parts, it was also lovely viewing for the Christmas season and definitely left me with a warm fuzzy feeling inside. I will be adding it to my regular Christmas viewing.

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Year of release: 2004

Director: Chazz Palminteri

Writer: David Hubbard

Main cast: Susan Sarandon, Penelope Cruz, Robin Williams, Alan Arkin, Paul Walker, Marcus Thomas

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