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Changes to my posts

This blog originally started as a review site for the books I read, and over time expanded to include film and theatre reviews. As I far prefer to do book reviews than film or theatre, I am still going to post pictures from plays/films I watch but keep my actual reviews to a minimum – basically a brief synopsis, and my general thoughts on the acting, storyline etc. (This seems to make more sense to me as lately I have been watching lots of films and not reviewing any of them!) So be prepared for an onslaught of film posts as I play catch up on those I have missed posting about previously…

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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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It’s 1912, and the Torrington family are at their grand old house Sterne, for daughter Emerald’s 20th birthday. Once rich, but now on the verge of financial ruin, Emerald’s stepfather has gone to try and borrow money to save the property. Meanwhile, Emerald, her thoughtless brother Clovis, their manipulative mother Charlotte and eccentric youngest child Smudge are awaiting the arrival of their guests. But the evening is interrupted by a group of strangers who arrive at Sterne. They have been in a train accident and there is nowhere else for them to go while they await help from the railway company.

With little choice, the Torringtons invite the rag-tag group of victims into the house, but before long events take a strange turn and the family start to wonder if they have invited something more malevolent into their home. Over the course of an evening and a night, secrets are revealed, true colours are shown and everybody learns something about themselves and each other.

I’m not entirely sure what to make of this book. I definitely enjoyed it and it was a fairly quick read for me; however it started out as one thing and then took a different turn. If you asked me to put it into a particular genre, I would struggle – it is described as a dark comedy of manners (and it certainly was funny in parts – the descriptions made me giggle, often). However there was a more sinister undertone, and a definite sense that evil was never too far away from the Sterne house.

I felt that the characters were well described, if not all particularly likeable. My favourite characters were Smudge, and siblings Patience and Ernest. Most of the others featured somewhere on a scale of unpleasant to horrible.

I enjoy books that take place in a single location, and also books that take place in a short span of time, so for me this was ideal. I was never able to predict exactly what was going to happen next, although I did guess the twist at the end- that said, their were clues to the twist throughout the story.

Reviews for this book seem very mixed, and I can see why it would not appeal to people. It’s hard to get a hold of, and almost defies description. However, I liked it a lot – certainly enough for me to seek out other work by this author. I would recommend with caution.

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This movie is a an affectionate homage and occasional parody of those Doris Day/Rock Hudson movies from the 1960s – the most famous being Pillow Talk, which this film reminded me of.

Renee Zellweger is Barbara Novak, an author who has just released her book ‘Down With Love’ which is all about how women don’t really need men, and how they can be just as cavalier in their relationships as men are. This turns her into an overnight celebrity and she seizes the opportunity to publicly criticise Catcher Block (!) (Ewan McGregor), famous journalist and notorious ladies man.

Catcher is determined to exact revenge and sets out to make Barbara fall in love with him – she has never actually seen him so he assumes a fake identity and starts to romance her. Inevitably the deceit starts to unravel and revelation piles upon revelation…

I personally thought this was an absolute gem of a film, although it received only a lukewarm reception when it first came out. Zellweger and McGregor are perfectly cast in their parts and have terrific chemistry. The film is very colourful and playful throughout, perfectly recapturing the mood of those movies which it is playfully paying tribute to.

There are some terrific one-line zingers, and some unexpected twists, and at times I was genuinely laughing out loud. And Tony Randall – who co-starred in those Day/Hudson collaborations pops up here too! David Hyde Pierce plays the role that Randall tended to play in the original films, which is that of best friend/neurotic co-worker, and he is perfect for that part.

This is definitely one I will want to watch again and again.

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Year of release: 2003

Director: Peyton Reed

Writers: Eve Ahlert, Dennis Drake

Main cast: Renee Zellweger, Ewan McGregor, Sarah Paulson, David Hyde Pierce

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I’ve read novels by Emily Barr in the past and always enjoyed them. However, it had been a few years since I’d tried one, so when I picked The Sisterhood off my shelf (where it had been languishing for SEVEN years!) I wasn’t sure whether I’d like it – after all, tastes change and I know that mine have. My fear was unfounded however – after a slow start due to my own time constraints, I rattled through this book and found it hard to put down. Without giving too much away, the premise is as follows:

London: Liz Greene’s relationship has just fallen apart in a horrible and irrevocable manner. Depressed and lonely she has a one night stand and becomes pregnant.

Bordeaux: Helen Labenne and her brother Tom have just discovered that their mother had a child years before they were born. Bored with her privileged lifestyle, Helen decides to go to London to track down her sister Elizabeth Greene…

The book may start off in almost a chick-lit style, but it becomes apparent early on (and should already be apparent to anyone who has read Emily Barr before) that this is a much darker story, with sinister undertones and plenty of tension. It’s clear from the beginning that Helen has some issues, and an unconventional way of looking at things, but as she begins to insinuate herself more and more into Liz’s life, it gets twistier and creepier.

Unfortunately I can’t say much more without giving away spoilers, and spoilers can really ruin a book like this. However, I can say that the book is told from both Helen and Liz’s points of view – they take alternating chapters – and later, Helen’s mother Mary also narrates some ‘flashback’ chapters.

As the story builds to its climax, there are some huge twists – including one which I definitely saw coming, and one which I most definitely did not!

Overall, a very enjoyable read and one I would recommend to fans of psychological thrillers. My only niggling complaint is that the prologue does kind of give something away unnecessarily, but other than that I liked this book a lot.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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This collection of letters from Nina Stibbe to her sister Victoria spans five years (1982 – 1987), and begins when 20 year old Nina moves from Leicestershire to London to become the live-in nanny to Sam and Will, the two young sons of editor/journalist Mary-Kay Wilmers.

Reading like a cross between Adrian Mole and Bridget Jones (as the letters do form a diary of sorts), this book is extremely funny (frequently) and frank. I particularly loved how almost every letter contained snippets of information between Nina, Mary-Kay, Sam, Will and other people (including, frequently, Alan Bennett who was not only a neighbour, but also a very regular visitor to the house).

I did start to make notes of some of the funniest parts, to quote in this review, but when I realised that there were parts I wanted to quote on every couple of pages, I had to stop otherwise I would have been making notes as much as I was reading the book.

As well as liking Nina very much, I also loved Mary-Kay, Sam and Will, who were all clearly intelligent and quick thinking. Nina was – by her own admission – not brilliant at cooking or cleaning, but clearly the family felt that she fitted in with them perfectly, so much so that even after she stopped being nanny to the boys and left to pursue a Literature degree, she subsequently moved back in to live with them.

It’s true that the letters contain a lot of the minutiae of family life, and often not much at all happens, and some reviews have been critical of this, but for me part of the attraction of the book was precisely that, and the fact that Nina could make such humdrum events so amusing.

I would highly recommend this book, and already know that I will be buying some copies of it for Christmas presents.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

 

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Made In Britain was a television film, which was part of a series. It is notable for its unflinching and shocking portrait of a 16 year old Neo-Nazi, an anarchist who cares for nothing and no-one. Trevor is racist – at the beginning of the film he is in Court for throwing a brick through a Pakistani man’s window – has respect for nobody and nothing, and routinely causes criminal damage for the fun of it. The film is also notable because it features the screen acting debut of Tim Roth. Looking back now, it is no surprise that Roth is considered one of Britain’s best and most versatile actors, but at the time, he was an unknown – albeit an unknown who blasted onto TV screens and blew the audience away with how good he was in the role of Trevor.

The story is bleak – Trevor has no real future other than one behind bars; he knows it, the staff at the Residential Assessment Centre he is sent to know it, and he has no desire to change things for himself. As I may have mentioned before, I adore Tim Roth – I think he is fantastic in everything and makes any film worth watching. The beauty of his performance here is that even watching it today when he is well known, Roth disappears and all you can see is Trevor. Such is the brilliance of his performance.

The thing about this film is – although the main character is despicable, although he rejects any and all help which is offered to him, even though he commits some awful crimes and drags his room-mate Errol down with him – it’s also clear that Trevor is bright, he can see through people’s words and motives and his intelligence frustrates those who would try to discipline him.

Fair warning – the film features a LOT of swearing, some revolting attitudes and plenty of aggression. If you don’t like the idea of it, then definitely avoid watching Made In Britain. But if you do choose to watch it, it will be hard not to be drawn in, not to watch in horror and resignation, and even not to root for Trevor to find some kind of redemption. 30+ years has not lessened the impact of this film. I highly recommend it.

Year of release: 1982

Director: Alan Clarke

Producers: Patrick Cassavetti, Margaret Matheson

Writer: David Leland

Main cast: Tim Roth, Terry Richards, Bill Stewart, Eric Richard, Sean Chapman

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