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Archive for the ‘Film Reviews’ Category

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If you’re looking for a film that challenges you, surprises you and throws lots of twists at you…yeah, you’re going to need to look elsewhere. This film is exactly what you’re going to expect it to be, and you’ll know it from the first 20 minutes. BUT, that’s something that you tend to find with rom-coms – it’s not the ending that gets you, it’s the journey that takes you there. And as entertaining journeys go, this one is not half bad. I watched this on a Saturday night, after a busy week, when I wanted something undemanding and not in any way distressing to watch. If that’s what you want too, then this film is ideal.

Former best friends Faye and Lydia (Michele Scarabelli and Jennifer Juniper Angeli) have been at loggerheads for the past ten years, opening rival bakeries in Emeryville, Ohio, and competing against each other in the annual pumpkin pie contest. In the latest contest they decide that their children Casey and Sam (Julie Gonzalo and Eric Aragon) should take over their roles, compete against each other and pass the feud down to the next generation. But Casey and Sam start to fall for each other, and can’t reveal their romance for fear of upsetting their mothers.

I liked the film a lot, because I knew what it was going to be when I started it, and that was exactly what I needed. Yes, it’s predictable and a bit contrived, but it does have a particular charm that kept me watching. Julie Gonzalo was lovely as Casey and I could definitely identify with her lack of culinary skills! Eric Aragon was less convincing as Sam but this didn’t really detract from my enjoyment. What can I say? I like rom-coms, I like knowing what’s going to happen and I like a happy ending.

Overall, an enjoyable but totally unsurprising movie. Perfect for those nights when you want something entertaining that doesn’t take too much brain work!

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Year of release: 2016

Director: Steven R. Monroe

Writer: Nina Weinman

Main cast: Julie Gonzalo, Eric Aragon, Michele Scarabelli, Jennifer-Juniper Angeli

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In this three part drama, Helen McCrory plays Julie, a 44 year old married mother of two, who falls in love with Aaron, a young man in his mid-20s. They meet because Julie is a wedding planner at a posh hotel, and Aaron is a wedding guest devastated that a girl he dated is now marrying his brother. However, their relationship takes them both by surprise and Julie finds herself with a dilemma on her hands – does she stay in her stale marriage where she feels underappreciated, or does she take a chance and leave with the young man who makes her feel alive? And can such a romance ever really survive in the real world?

I enjoyed this a lot, but there is no denying that it is not the cheeriest of watches. The first episode moves fairly slowly as it sets up the background to the romance, but the second and third episodes pick up the pace. However, it bounces back and forth between moments of joy and bliss, and moments of sadness and anger. And it always seemed that just as Julie was about to find a chance at real happiness something would come along to throw her off course.

The acting was pretty much excellent. Helen McCrory was excellent and utterly believable as Julie. Sean Gallagher was also great as her husband, who has problems of his own, which impact on their lives. Callum Turner was also great as Aaron, although as a woman of a similar age of Julie, I struggled to see the attraction! Yes he was nice looking but he was also sulky and a bit self-absorbed. Nick Dunning and Deborah Findlay came across well as his parents, who struggled to understand his attraction to this older married woman, although his mother had some understanding of what it was to want to feel passionate and alive again.

I’m not going to spoil the ending for anyone, but I will say that it was the most believable ending I could have imagined for this couple. Would I recommend it? Well yes, probably – but be prepared to feel on a bit of a downer afterwards.

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Year of release: 2012

Director: Gaby Dellal

Writer: Tony Marchant

Main cast: Helen McCrory, Callum Turner, Sean Gallagher

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I first saw this film when it came out in 1985, and thought it was well past overdue another look. I do believe that this was the film that first made me aware of Daniel Day-Lewis, and upon rewatching it, it’s easy to see the star quality that subsequently helped him become such a huge name, and a three time winner at the Oscars.

My Beautiful Laundrette tells the story of the homosexual, mixed race love affair between Omar (Gordon Warnecke) and Johnny (Daniel Day-Lewis). Omar is a young man trapped between two cultures and indeed two relatives – his alcoholic father, who has both intelligence and integrity, and his capitalist uncle, who has money but considerably less scruples. Johnny is one of a group of thugs, but he genuinely wants to change his ways, and like Omar is trapped between the world that he came from and the world that he is moving into. Together they revamp Omar’s uncle’s rundown laundrette, but with both of them with a foot in two worlds, and unable to reveal their relationship to their nearest and dearest, their lives get complicated and fraught with tension.

I should say that this film is so much more than the relationship between the two men. It’s also a social commentary, with some scenes of racism that were uncomfortable to watch. Seeing Omar skirt on the fringes of his uncle’s employee Salim’s criminal enterprise, while Johnny was simultaneously trying to become a better person was an interesting comparison, as was witnessing the success of Omar’s uncle, compared to the dismal life that his father led, despite being the more intelligent and principled of the two men.

The film definitely portrayed an authentic atmosphere of living in a run-down neighbourhood with few prospects, and the frustration of feeling trapped, but through it all, the hopefulness of Omar and Johnny both in their relationship and in their business came through.

I would say that some of the acting was not brilliant, but Daniel Day-Lewis was (of course) outstanding, and special credit also to Roshan Seth as Omar’s father.

I definitely enjoyed this film and highly recommend it.

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Year of release: 1985

Director: Stephen Frears

Writer: Hanif Kureishi

Main cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Said Jeffrey, Gordon Warnecke, Roshan Seth

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Tom Riley plays DI Will Wagstaffe, the officer in charge of an investigation into a brutal murder and a number of brutal assaults in London. It doesn’t take long before Will and his team realise that suspected paedophiles are being targeted, and the race is on to find out who is exacting their own vigilante justice. Meanwhile Will himself is haunted by his own demons, as he struggles to cope with the murder of his own parents several years earlier.

This tv film was a one off, although it almost feels like the pilot for a series; if it was made into a series, I would certainly watch it. I thought Tom Riley was excellent in the main role – both believable as a police officer and also in his personal life as he tried to come to terms with the fact that he would soon have lived longer since his parents’ murder that he had lived before the horrific event that changed his life for good. I also thought that his loving but tense relationship with his sister Juliette (Charlotte Riley, no relation) was very well portrayed. Both siblings have been affected in different ways by the family tragedy and although they clearly love each other, they sometimes struggle to understand each other.

The crime aspect of the story was very well done, and I was kept guessing until the end. The only thing that spoiled it slightly for me was that the ending did seem a bit cliched and stretched the boundaries of belief somewhat. Despite this though, overall the film was well acted and there were plenty of things to keep the viewer guessing.

I hope that this isn’t the last we have seen of Will Wagstaffe and his team – I will be looking out for more feature length tv films with these characters.

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Year of release: 2016

Director: Colin Teague

Writer: Chris Lang

Main cast: Tom Riley, Charlotte Riley, Edward Akrout, Tom Brooke, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, Miranda Raison

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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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