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Set in 1953/54, this film stars Julia Roberts as Katherine Watson, a graduate student from California, who takes a position teaching Art History at Wellesley College, Massachusetts.  The females under her tutorage are surprised by her subversive attitude (by their standards), and her progressive beliefs, as they all think that they are destined to be wives, mothers and nothing more.  The faculty are unhappy about her teaching methods, with the exception of Italian tutor Bill Dunbar (Dominic West), a charismatic but irresponsible man who has a reputation for sleeping with his students, especially Giselle (Maggie Gyllenhaal) who is clearly still stuck on him.  The main characters apart from Katherine and Bill are four students, namely Giselle; Joan (Julia Stiles), an intelligent young woman with a yearning to study Law, but who believes that a woman cannot have a career and marriage; Betty (Kirsten Dunst), a particularly spiteful young lady, who is a product of her overbearing mother; and Connie (Ginnifer Goodwin), a sweet-natured girl, who despairs of ever finding a man who loves her.

This film caught my eye purely because Dominic West is in it; as one of my favourite actors, he never disappoints, and as expected, was great here – as indeed was the whole cast.  All four of the main student characters were perfectly played, and I particularly liked Goodwin’s Connie.  Dunst was also outstanding as Betty, even if I could not stand her character for most of the film (nonetheless, her actions are understandable, if not excusable).  I’ve seen some reviews which suggested that Julia Roberts was not well-cast as Katherine Watson, but I beg to differ.  I enjoyed her in this more rounded and human role than some that she played earlier in her career, and enjoyed her chemistry with Dominic West.  Marcia Gay Harden and Juliet Stevenson were wonderful in supporting roles, as Katherine’s housemates, respectively another tutor, and the school nurse (who is fired for providing the students with contraception).

The film was inspiring too – there were some funny moments, and a surprising amount of tear-inducing scenes (I had to watch the last few scenes through my tears).  It was thought-provoking and emotionally satisfying, and I thoroughly enjoyed it from the first scene to the last.  Very highly recommended.

Year of release: 2003

Director: Mike Newell

Producers: Joe Roth, Richard Baratta, Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas, Paul Schiff, Deborah Schindler

Writers: Lawrence Konner, Mark Rosenthal

Main cast: Julia Roberts, Kirsten Dunst, Julia Stiles, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Ginnifer Goodwin, Dominic West, Juliet Stevenson, Marcia Gay Harden

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This (sadly little-known) drama-comedy mockumentary follows the fortunes of a travelling theatre company, who are performing a modern and subversive adaptation of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.  It’s a behind-the-scenes look at the main players, including the egotistical and rather unpleasant Greg (Ferdy Roberts), and the heavy drinking and irresponsible, but ultimately likeable ‘Oz’ Oscar (Oliver Dimsdale), who started the company.  The characters are all too believable, with the sometimes tense and claustrophobic atmosphere that one can feel when cooped up with the same people day in, day out, clearly shown.  I liked Suzie (Sandy Foster), the understudy, who despite being the only person who had to audition to join the company, is never given her chance to shine (with Greg giving his own non-actor wife a part in the play rather than offer it to Suzie), and the other understudy Tony (Alex Avery), who is given a chance to shine, despite not being up to the part.

With actors Dominic West and Romola Garai playing themselves, giving their opinion on the company and the play, the realism is heightened.  There are moments of comedy and some moments of pathos, mainly courtesy of Oscar, and it ends on a somewhat downbeat note, although that does not detract from the general enjoyment of the film.

I would say that a basic knowledge of the play Twelfth Night would help when watching this, although it is probably not a necessity.  However, do not watch it expecting to learn what Twelfth Night is about, because it probably won’t help!

This is definitely a film for fans of Shakespeare, and even more so for fans of theatre in general, and how things operate after the curtain comes down.  I really enjoyed it, and will certainly be watching it again in the future.  (I wish it were better known; with many of the cast having acted in Shakespeare productions in real life, and all of the cast doing such a great job, it deserves more exposure.  I was not even able to find a trailer for the film to post with this review, so you’ll just have to take my word for it that it is well worth seeing.)

Year of release: 2012

Director: Simon Reade

Producers: Simon Reade, Guy de Beaujeu

Writers: Simon Reade, Guy de Beaujeu, William Shakespeare (play ‘Twelfth Night’)

Main cast: Oliver Dimsdale, Ferdy Roberts, Nicholas Tennant, Alex Avery, Sandy Foster, Poppy Miller, Victoria Moseley, Gemma Saunders

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After ruining her sister’s wedding and crashing a limousine, Gwen Cummings (Sandra Bullock) is sentenced to 28 days in a rehab centre, to work through her alcohol and drug dependency.  Initially resistant to the idea, Gwen eventually realises that she does have a problem, and starts to re-examine her life.

I admit that much as I like Sandra Bullock, I expected this film to be riddled with cliches, and only watched it because Dominic West is in it, and that in itself makes a film worth watching!  However, the film itself was a pleasant surprise.  Sandra Bullock, who is usually so likeable and sweet, played the part of Gwen really well, and the process of coming to accept and learn how to beat her demons did not unfold at the breakneck speed which I anticipated.  Having never been in a rehab centre, I cannot truthfully say how realistic it was, but it felt believable.

West plays Gwen’s boyfriend Jasper, who is almost certainly as dependant on drugs and alcohol as she is, but not being the one who is sentenced to rehab, does not take any time to look at his own life.  If there is a villain of the piece, he is probably it, but in truth, Jasper is not so much a bad person, as irresponsible and unrealistic about what a sober life means for Gwen.  I thought West did a very good job in a not especially likeable role.  Viggo Mortensen also provided great support as Eddie, a professional baseball player who is also in rehab, and Steve Buscemi was excellent (if slightly under-used) in an uncharacteristically sombre role as a counsellor at the centre.

The story bounced along nicely, and there were a few genuinely moving moments (I definitely had tears in my eyes a couple of times).  The only character who I felt was over-the-top, and who seemed to be there only to provide comic relief was Gerhardt (Alan Tudyk) as an apparently sex-obsessed fellow patient.  Although his monologue about forks in the road and forks in general was quite funny – more so when you realise that Tudyk actually improvised that scene.

Overall, well worth watching – it’s an entertaining, sometimes moving film, with a great cast.

Year of release: 2000

Director: Betty Thomas

Producers: Jenno Topping, Celia Costas

Writer: Susannah Grant

Main cast: Sandra Bullock, Viggo Mortensen, Dominic West, Azura Skye, Steve Buscemi, Alan Tudyk, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Margo Martindale

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Breaking the Mould is a made-for-television film, about the development of penicillin.  When people think of penicillin, they automatically think of Alexander Fleming, and this film is an attempt to tell the true story behind the medical breakthrough and credit those who were very involved, but largely forgotten.  It must be said that Fleming does not come out of this film too well!

Initially I watched it only because Dominic West was in it, and I admit that I did wonder if it would hold my attention, but it was actually very interesting.  West plays Howard Florey, the Australian pharmacologist and pathologist, who in 1938, was interested in Fleming’s earlier discovery of penicillin, which Fleming had abandoned several years earlier, believing that it had little application.  Together with Ernst Chain, a German biochemist, and scientist Norman Heatley, Florey determined to work out how to manufacture large quantities of penicillin.  Despite problems with funding and money flow, the team battled on.  Florey was also again patenting the formula, as he believed that to do so would make the cure too expensive for many people.

After all of their efforts, Fleming – who is portrayed as something of a glory-hunter  – ends up taking most if not all of the credit for what the others have achieved, although Florey and Chain did share the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine with Fleming, in 1945.

The film tells the story simply, and held my interest throughout.  It showed the human element of the story, as well as the scientific parts, by depicting the early trials which were carried out on hospital patients (not always with successful results).  As the events took place during World War 2, everyone was very aware of the possibilities for treating wounded soldiers, and were equally anxious that the formula for extracting penicillin did not fall into enemy hands.

At an hour and 20 minutes long, this is an informative and interesting film, which made me want to learn more about the men behind the science.

Year of release: 2009

Director: Peter Hoar

Producers: Charlotte Bloxham, Pier Wilkie, John Yorke

Writer: Kate Brooke

Main cast: Dominic West, Oliver Dimsdale, Joe Armstrong, Denis Lawson, John Sessions, Kate Fleetwood, Amanda Douge

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Set in 1921, this film stars Rebecca Hall as a sceptic named Florence Cathcart, who makes her living exposing con artists who pose as mediums, or who claim to have witnessed ghosts.  When she is approached by history professor Robert Mallory (Dominic West), who believes that there is a ghost haunting the school where he teaches, and that the ghost is responsible for the death of a student, she travels to the school with the intention of proving that the ghost does not exist.  However, strange happenings start to make her question her own beliefs.

I’m not a huge fan of horror or ghost films – I only watched this because Dominic West, of whom I am a big fan, was in it – but this movie was actually very enjoyable, even if it did get a bit muddled towards the end.  It certainly isn’t a scary film, and there are no bloody or gory scenes, although it is very atmospheric.  There were, as you might expect, a number of ‘red herrings’ to make you question what was happening, and I particularly liked the very end, which provoked some discussion (I’m giving nothing away though!)  The characters each have their own inner struggles to deal with and overcome – Mallory for example, punishes himself for surviving the war in which he fought, while many of his friends died.  Florence has issues stemming from her childhood, and it becomes clear that they are not the only ones with secrets.

Above all, it was worth watching for the excellent performances of the entire cast.  West, Hall, together with Imelda Staunton and Isaac Hempstead Wright are all outstanding, and if you are a fan of any of these actors, I would recommend watching this film.

Year of release: 2011

Director: Nick Murphy

Producers: Jenny Borgars, Will Clarke, Olivier Courson, Robin Guise, Peter Hampden, Norman Merry, Joe Oppenheimer, Peter Raven, Carole Sheridan, Joanie Blaikie, Sarah Curtis, Ed Rubin, Julia Stannard, David M. Thompson

Writers: Stephen Volk, Nick Murphy

Main cast: Dominic West, Rebecca Hall, Imelda Staunton, Isaac Hempstead Wright, Joseph Mawle

 

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This story is based on a graphic novel, which in turn was based on the Spartan battle against the Persians in 480 BC. Gerard Butler played King Leonidas, who leads his 300 Spartan warriors against a Persian army of thousands upon thousands.  Lena Headey plays Leonidas’s wife, Queen Gorgo, who stays behind while her husband goes to battle, and attempts to rally the council into sending reinforcements to help him.  Dominic West plays Theron, a corrupt councilman who is Spartan, but who is really in cahoots with the Persians.

I didn’t really expect to enjoy this film, and I only really watched it because Dominic West is in it, but I found myself totally drawn in, and really liked it.  It is quite obvious that the film is based on a graphic novel; it still has that ‘look’ about it.  All of the cast do a fine job, and I don’t want to even think about how hard Butler must have trained to get himself into such incredible shape for this film.  Dominic West, one of my favourite actors, plays a distinctly unsavoury character in this film, but as ever, I thought he was great in it.

It’s certainly quite bloodthirsty, and there are a few scenes of nudity also, which did not bother me, but might be worth bearing in mind for some viewers.  Most of the action is centred around the actual fighting itself, but it’s so artistically done, that it never gets boring.

I liked it.  I liked it so much that I would definitely watch it again, and would recommend it to others.

Year of release: 2006

Director: Zack Snyder

Producers: William Fay, Craig J. Flores, Scott Mednick, Frank Miller, Deborah Snyder, Thomas Tull, Ben Waisbren, Mark Canton, Bernie Goldmann, Gianni Nunnari, Jeffrey Silver, Wesley Coller, Nathalie Peter-Contesse, Silenn Thomas, Steve Barnett, Josette Perrotta

Writers: Frank Miller (graphic novel), Lynn Varley (graphic novel), Zack Snyder, Kurt Johnstad, Michael Gordon

Main cast: Gerard Butler, Michael Fassbender, Lena Headey, Dominic West, David Wenham, Tom Wisdom, Rodrigo Santoro

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I’ll preface this review by saying that after watching this film, I read several other reviews of it, and it seems that the film was widely panned (for it’s storyline, not for the acting, which was impressive throughout). Julianne Moore plays Telly Paretta (yes, you read that right, her name is Telly), a woman grieving for her son Sam, who died in a plane accident 14 months earlier. But her husband Jim (Anthony Edwards) and her psychiatrist Dr Munce (Gary Sinise) both tell her that Sam never existed and that she has created years worth of memories about a child she never had. Is Telly delusional – or is the she only person who isn’t? She meets Ash (Dominic West), who she says also lost a child in the same plane crash that Sam was in, and although he is initially sceptical, he ends up helping her – but the search for the truth will take them to places they never could have imagined.

I’ll be honest – I only watched this film because Dominic West was in it, but I’m glad I did. It starts out as a psychological drama, and then takes a sharp turn into sci-fi territory. Sci-fi is not a favourite genre of mine, but I liked this, because it wasn’t all about spaceships, UFOs and little green men. There was a sense of menace to the whole sci-fi element, precisely because of what you don’t see.

The acting was great – with a cast like the aforementioned Moore, West and Sinise, and support from Alfre Woodward, how could it be anything else? Telly’s character was well developed – is she imagining or remembering her son – and if she is remembering him, why can’t anybody else?

There were a couple of moments which genuinely made me jump in shock, and the storyline was pacy enough to keep my interest throughout. I’m at a loss to understand the slating it has had in other reviews, but I accept that the ending was somewhat incongruous, and left some plot holes. Nonetheless, this was an enjoyable thriller, and I would certainly watch it again at some point in the future.

Year of release: 2004

Director: Joseph Ruben

Producers: Bruce Cohen, Todd Garner, Dan Jinks, Steve Nicolaides, Joe Roth

Writer: Gerald Di Pego

Main cast: Julianne Moore, Dominic West, Gary Sinise, Alfre Woodward

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