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Archive for the ‘TV/Film adaptation reviews’ Category

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This film is loosely based on the life of Eugene Allen, who served as a butler in the White House, working for seven Presidents. In this film, Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker) serves eight Presidents, against a backdrop of the Civil Rights movement and the Vietnam War, among other famous American events. Quite simply, it is an amazing and moving film, in part due to the uniformly brilliant cast. Forest Whitaker never disappoints, and Oprah Winfrey is superb as his wife Gloria. There are some odd casting choices – I couldn’t imagine John Cusack playing Nixon I heard that he was in that role – but it worked. The film combines one man’s personal journey, walking a fine line between supporting his oldest son, who is determined to fight for equal rights, no matter what the cost; and working at the White House, where such subversiveness is frowned upon. Amongst the Presidents he works for are JFK, the aforementioned Nixon, and Ronald Reagan (Alan Rickman). The film shows how the job takes it’s toll on Gaines’s family and causes conflicting ideals in his mind.

I loved it – go watch it, I don’t think you will be disappointed!

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Year of release: 2013

Director: Lee Daniels

Writers: Danny Strong, Wil Haygood

Main cast: Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, Lenny Kravitz, Cuba Gooding Jr, Clarence Williams III, David Oyelowo, Colman Domingo, Robin Williams, John Cusack, Alan Rickman, James Marsden

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Based on the book of the same name by Margot Lee Shetterley, which tells the true story of three black female mathematicians who worked at NASA during the Space Race. Katherine Johnson is played by Taraji P Henson, Dorothy Vaughan is played by Octavia Spencer and Mary Jackson is play ed by Janelle Monae. The supporting cast includes Jim Parsons and Kevin Costner.

The film shows a still segregated community where these three inspirational ladies have to withstand sexism and racism in what was very much a white man’s environment. The story of the space race itself is prominent obviously, but more interesting for me at least were the individual stories of these three remarkable women. Lots of moments of humour, and plenty of pathos. I really enjoyed this and highly recommend it.

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Year of release: 2016

Director: Theodore Melfi

Writers: Margot Lee Shetterly (book), Alison Schroeder (screenplay)< Theodore Melfi (screenplay)

Main cast: Taraji P Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kevin Costner, Jim Parsons, Kirsten Dunst

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With a cast including Colin Firth, Michael Caine and Samuel L Jackson, and a script that doesn’t take itself too seriously (or even slightly seriously) this was always going to be a good film, with lots of laughs – not to mention lots of violence and lots of swearing (something to maybe consider if this puts you off).

The Kingsman are a secret spy organisation and Colin Firth is Harry Hart (code name Galahad). The service is looking for a new recruit and Galahad’s nominee is Eggsy (Taron Egerton), a streetwise kid, often in trouble with the police. Eggsy has to pass a series of tests, in a group which consists of upperclass, rich kids, who mostly resent his presence and his success at the tests.

Meanwhile, megalomaniac film producer Richmond Valentine (Samuel L Jackson) has a plan to cull the human race in order to save the planet. Accompanied by his sidekick and bodyguard Gazelle (Sofia Boutella) their plan starts to take hold and only the Kingsman can stop it.

I laughed all the way through this film – it’s absolute ridiculousness works somehow because it acknowledges the outrageousness of the plot throughout. The cast are excellent and seem to be thoroughly enjoying themselves in the roles. If swearing and violence are not off-putting to you and you want to kick back and watch something really funny and action packed, I recommend this film highly.

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Year of release: 2014

Director: Matthew Vaughn

Writers: Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn, Mark Millar (comic book ‘The Secret Service’), Dave Gibbons (comic book ‘The Secret Service’)

Main cast: Colin Firth, Taron Egerton, Samuel L Jackson, Sofia Boutella, Mark Strong, Michael Caine, Samantha Womack, Sophie Cookson

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This HBO movies tells the story of John McCain’s political campaign in 2008, in which he lost out on to Barack Obama for the presidency of the United States of America. Specifically it focuses on his running mate Sarah Palin – the reason for the surprise pick, the difficulties McCain’s staff as well as Palin herself faced, and the way the wheel came off the campaign when it became glaringly obvious that she was a bad choice for running mate.

This is in my top ten of all films, which is quite unusual for me, given that it is a political movie and that it focuses on the Republicans (I very much wanted Obama to win, and have a great admiration for the whole Obama family). The stellar cast really make this work – Woody Harrelson as Steve Schmidt, campaign strategist and advisor; Sarah Paulsen as Nicole Wallace, campaign advisor; Ed Harris as McCain; and – in an absolutely breathtaking performance that never becomes caricature – Julianne Moore as Palin herself.

The film is entertaining, yet uncomfortable viewing at times and utterly compelling throughout.

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Year of release: 2012

Director: Jay Roach

Writer: Mark Halperin (book), Danny Strong, John Heilemann

Main cast: Julianne Moore, Woody Harrelson, Sarah Paulsen, Ed Harris, Peter MacNicol

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This production of King Lear was broadcast live from The Globe Theatre to cinemas around the world – the first time The Globe has done this, but hopefully  not the last. I went to see it at Showcase Cinema, Dudley, in the West Midlands.

King Lear is one of Shakespeare’s best loved tragedies – it starts with the title character demanding that his three daughters demonstrate how much they love him. While the eldest two, Goneril and Regan go over the top with waxing lyrical about how much their father means to them – all the while with their eyes on his riches – youngest daughter Cordelia refuses to bow to his vanity. She, of course, is the most loyal and loving of all three, but Lear, in his anger at her refusal to kowtow, banishes her from his kingdom and his life.

Meanwhile, Edmund, son of the Duke of Gloucester, is angry at his illegitimate state and plans to get rid of his older, legitimate brother Edgar. He tricks his father into believing that Edgar wants to overthrow him.

The play depicts Lear’s descent into madness, and his journey to actually becoming a better man. Kevin McNally, in the title role, was excellent. He was alternately terrifying and sympathetic, funny and pathetic. He plays Lear as a vain old man, blinded by his daughters’ words and unable to see past the deception of Goneril and Regan, who have cleverly played to such vanity.

The supporting cast were all wonderful too – Emily Bruni and Sirine Saba as Goneril and Regan were standouts, and I also liked Burt Caesar as the Duke of Gloucester. Joshua James and Ralph Davis put in strong performances as Edgar and Edmund respectively. Finally Saskia Reeves put in a terrific turn as Kent, Lear’s faithful friend (a male character in the original play), who is also banished from the realm when she expresses anger at his treatment of Regan.

Played out in modern dress, I found this production relatable and enjoyable. It was also surprisingly funny in parts, which I wasn’t expecting given the nature of the play.

Overall I would have to highly recommend seeing this King Lear if you get chance.

 

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Full disclosure: I was on a long flight and simply looking for an undemanding film to pass a couple of hours. I stumbled across Table 19, which I had never even heard of before; however, it featured Lisa Kudrow and Stephen Merchant and I thought it might be worth a watch. Also, I like films that play out in real time or at least over the course of one day or night, so I put this on, not sure what to expect.

The story opens with Eloise (Anna Kendrick) who has been ousted from her role as bridesmaid at her friend Francie’s wedding, due to being unceremoniously dumped by the best man Teddy – who is also Francie’s brother. Deliberating whether or not she should still attend the wedding at all, Eloise eventually decides to go and finds herself seated at Table 19. It soon dawns on everyone at the table that they are the people who nobody really wanted there, the people who were invited out of a sense of duty, the people who should have had the common sense to say they couldn’t attend.

As well as Eloise, there are Diner owners Bina and Jerry Kepp (Lisa Kudrow and Craig Robinson), Facebook friends with the groom’s father, who owns a chain of diners; Francie’s childhood nanny Jo (June Squibb), Renzo Eckberg (Tony Revolori), whose family are distantly acquainted with the wedding party and who has come to the wedding with the hope of finally getting a girlfriend; and Walter Thimble (Stephen Merchant) who is a nephew of the groom and currently on parole.

After an awkward first meeting, the group get to know each other – secrets are revealed, truths come to light – and they start to actually quite like each other. Eloise meets an enigmatic stranger named Huck, but he may not be all he seems…

This film was a very pleasant surprise, and I’m not sure how or why it slipped under the radar and is so little known. Of course I picked it because it was the sort of film I like, but I don’t think I expected to like it quite as much as I did. All of the characters were very well played, and I ended up liking and finding sympathy for each one of this mismatched crew of new friends.

It mixes comedy with poignancy very well and I liked the ending a lot too. Yes, it’s a bit quirky and certainly not the kind of thing everyone likes – if action movies are your thing, then this is probably not the film for you. But if you like a bit of human drama and characters who aren’t afraid to foul up sometimes and laugh at themselves, give it a try!

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Year of release: 2017

Director: Jeffrey Blitz

Writers: Jay Duplass, Mark Duplass, Jeffrey Blitz

Main cast: Anna Kendrick, Lisa Kudrow, Craig Robinson, June Squibb, Stephen Merchant, Tony Revolori, Wyatt Russell,

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Funny Girl is based on the life of Fanny Brice, a singer and entertainer who became famous in the early 1900s. It’s definitely a fictionalised account of Fanny’s life, so if you are after a biography this is not the show to see. But if you are after a couple of hours of great entertainment, delivered by a superb cast, then you should definitely see it.

The story tells how Fanny didn’t fit into the leggy beauty look that people wanted to see on stage, and instead had to rely on her humour and fantastic voice. And the audience loved her! She joined the Ziegfeld Follies and became a main attraction and a huge star. Her private life was less successful – she fell deeply in love with Nick Arnstein, a cad and a gambler, but through it all the show went on, as it always must.

Natasha J Barnes was outstanding as Fanny – she had something of a baptism of fire in the role, being understudy for Sheridan Smith and finding herself thrust into the main role when Smith had to leave the tour for a while under fraught personal circumstances. Barnes has a quick wit, a very expressive face and a cheeky nod and wink, all with perfect comic timing. She is utterly endearing – and that voice! Wow!

Darius Campbell was fetching and charismatic as Nick. Far too smooth a character for my personal taste, but he inhabited the part well and his singing voice was just right too.

Full credit too to Rachel Izen who played Fanny’s mother and almost stole every scene she was in; Myra Sands as family friend Mrs Strakosh and Zoe Ann Brown as another family friend Mrs Meeker. Also to Joshua Lay who played Fanny’s friend, fellow performer and ardent admirer Eddie. His dancing was excellent, and I wished Fanny had ended up with him.

Beautiful songs, with the two most well known probably being People, and the uplifting belter, Don’t Rain On My Parade.

Overall, it’s a feel-good show with some poignant and tender moments. Natasha Barnes fully deserved the standing ovation she got at the end…I highly recommend this production!

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