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Posts Tagged ‘drama’

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In 2004, during a weekend away for her father Sean’s 50th birthday celebrations, three year old Coco Jackson disappears – apparently taken from the house where she slept with her twin sister Ruby and other children in the middle of the night. A huge media campaign follows but Coco is never found.

Twelve years later, following the sudden death of Sean Jackson, the truth about what really happened on that weekend is slowly revealed as his family and friends prepare for his funeral.

I really enjoyed this book a lot. Psychological thrillers are a favourite genre of mine but they can also be a real let-down when they venture into the realms of the ridiculous. However, this book seemed actually plausible and I think that may have been due to the writing. And, sadly, possibly also due to the fact that there have been some high profile disappearances of children over the years. Alex Marwood is a journalist and I can’t help wondering if this case was at least inspired by one particularly famous child disappearance.

There is a dual storyline – the first part set in 2004 and told from the point of view of various characters. The truth of what happened is drip-fed bit by bit. The second part is set in 2016 and is narrated by Mila, one of Sean’s daughters from his first of four marriages. As Mila reconnects with Ruby, the twin sister of Coco, she revisits her own past and deals with her feelings about her father and the fragile ties that can bind a family together.

In any event, it’s an absorbing read. Sean Jackson is a deeply unlikeable, narcissistic and selfish character and indeed most of the adult characters in this story are the same. Pity the children who had the misfortune to be part of their families. Speaking of those children though, I did love Mila and enjoyed her character development. I also adored Ruby, who was entirely believable as both a typical teenager and a young girl who had had to live with survivor’s guilt her whole life.

As mentioned earlier, I did think that the final twist was pretty predictable, but there were still a few surprises along the way, and the writing was great and kept me reading on and on.

Overall I would highly recommend this book, and will definitely look out for more by Alex Marwood.

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Hotshot New York City Lawyer Ellen (Alison Sweeney) receives a letter that her late grandmother wanted to be delivered to a man in a sleepy town in Maine. Determined to fulfil her grandmother’s wish Ellen travels to Maine and finds a different way of life, where she learns more about her grandmother’s youth, and more about herself in the process.

Given that this is a Hallmark romance, if you don’t guess the outcome within the first 20 minutes, then I can only assume that you have never seen any romance in your life before! Seriously the ending is completely obviously almost from the beginning, but you know what? It doesn’t detract from the charm of this lovely story.

It’s your typical fish-out-of-water story, although ironically this fish falls into the bay in the first few minutes of the film, and is rescued by handsome local Roy Cumberland (Marc Blucas).

Naturally she and Roy keep running into each other and there is an undeniable attraction, but she has her own boyfriend, a successful young man with political ambitions – not to mention her pushy mother – waiting for her back home. Which way of life will Ellen choose?

What sets this story higher than others of a similar genre is a very likeable cast – I loved Alison Sweeney and Marc Blucas, and I also liked the rest of the locals in Maine (particularly Samantha Ferris as the feisty owner of the inn where Ellen stays during her vacation). Shirley Jones pops up as Alison’s late grandmother – don’t worry this is not a supernatural element, just imagined conversations that Ellen has with her from time to time. The scenery was also gorgeous and quite made me want to get away to the countryside and back to nature for a while.

If you’re not into romantic comedy-dramas, then this film is not for you! But if you want something to make you smile, with a sweet storyline, then give it a whirl, you might be surprised how much you enjoy this one.

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Year of release: 2016

Director: Kristoffer Tabori (as K T Donaldson)

Writers: Mary Simses (novel), Melissa Salmons

Main cast: Alison Sweeney, Marc Blucas, Shirley Jones, Samantha Ferris

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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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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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This film opens with Leanne (Saoirse Ronan), who was kidnapped at the age of 4 and has lived with her benevolent but disturbed abductor Ben (Jason Isaacs) for 17 years, being returned to her parents, having escaped/been discovered at Ben’s home (it is never made clear how she gets away). Her mother Marcy (Cynthia Nixon) and father Glen (David Warshofsky) are delighted to have her home, but their joy soon turns to heartbreak as they realise that they don’t know their daughter – renamed Leia by Ben – at all, and not only does she not remember them, but she also identifies more with Ben, who has been her sole companion for most of her life. As the family struggle to find a way to tread this unfamiliar ground, events take a sinister turn in Marcy’s desperation to make a connection with her daughter.

I enjoyed this film a lot, despite the disturbing subject. The acting – particularly from Ronan, Nixon and Isaacs (albeit Jason Isaacs took a small role, with his character’s life with Leia being told in flashback and just one scene in the present day) was outstanding, and really made me invest in the characters.

It is a slow moving story, certainly not a film for fans of action movies, but I found that that suited the mood perfectly. The ambiguous ending also fitted the rest of the film, and I found myself thinking about this film and the characters for several days after viewing it.

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Year of release: 2015

Director: Nikole Beckwith

Writer: Nikole Beckwith

Main stars: Saoirse Ronan, Cynthia Nixon, Jason Isaacs, David Warshofsky

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Skunk Cunningham (Eloise Laurence in her debut role) is a young diabetic girl living with her older brother Jed and her single father Archie, in an anonymous city in London. Also living in the house is Kasia (Zana Marjanovic) a babysitter/housekeeper, who has an on again-off again relationship with boyfriend Mike (Cillian Murphy). Their neighbours are the Buckleys (Denis Lawson and Clare Burt) and their emotionally handicapped son Rick (Robert Emms) and the Oswalds (widowed father Bob, and his three wayward daughters, Saskia, Susan and Sunrise).

When Skunk witnesses a mindless act of violence, her life starts to change. As the film progresses, the reason for the attack she sees is revealed and events in the little cup-de-sac soon spiral out of control.

Anyone who has seen this film or read the book it is based on, and who has also read/watched To Kill a Mockingbird, will see the comparisons between the two. After watching the film, I found an online interview with Daniel Clay who wrote the book ‘Broken’, where he said that he took the characters of TKAM as a starting point for his novel.

Despite the bleak subject matter (and it only gets more bleak as the story progresses), I really enjoyed this film. Tim Roth is, as ever, excellent and is by far the most likeable adult character in the show – a hard-working solicitor, who is trying his hardest to bring up his children well, while also attempting to resolve the tensions in his road.

However, the whole cast is superb and nobody puts a foot wrong. Rory Kinnear is brilliant as the brutal, impulsive and reckless father of the Oswald girls (who are all, frankly, despicable). Cillian Murphy is an actor who has slipped under my radar until now,  but I enjoyed his performance a lot.

Plaudits have to be given to young Eloise Laurence however, as Skunk, upon whose shoulders the story largely hangs. I loved the easy father-daughter relationship between her and Archie, and her acting was incredibly natural and believable – hard to believe it was her screen debut.

If I had any criticism, it would be that there was perhaps just a little too much going on towards the end – that said, I was completely absorbed in what was unfolding, and did not get bored or restless at any point.

I’m not going to give away the ending, but I will say that while some reviewers didn’t like it, I definitely did. I thought it was beautifully and sensitively done, and there was a definite lump in my throat (actually, I just out and out cried!)

Overall, an excellent acting debut, solid acting from the whole cast, and genuine tension make this a must-see.

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Year of release: 2012

Director: Rufus Norris

Producers: Peter Hampden, Norman Merry, Joe Oppenheimer, Peter Raven, Wendy Bevan-Mogg, Tally Garner, Bill Kenwright, Dixie Linder, Nick Marston

Writers: Daniel Clay (novel), Mark O’Rowe

Main cast: Eloise Laurence, Tim Roth, Rick Buckley, Rory Kinnear, Martha Bryant, Faye Daveney, Clare Burt, Denis Lawson, Bill Milner, Rosalie Kosky, Zana Marjanovic, Cillian Murphy, George Sargeant

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One rainy November evening, a young mother is bringing her five year old son Jacob home from school when she lets go of his hand for a second. Long enough for him to get killed by a hit-and-run driver, who becomes the subject of a police investigation.

Devastated by her memories and haunted by her past, Jenna Gray moves to a remote cottage in Wales, where she tries to get over her grief. And bit by bit she starts to find a new purpose in her life – but just as she finally sees light at the end of the tunnel, her past comes back to find her.

I’ve had to be deliberately ambiguous about the plot of this book, because I don’t want to give anything away. However, if you are a fan of psychological thrillers, then I would highly recommend it. I thought the plot was very clever, and all of the characters – particularly Jenna and DI Ray Stevens, the man in charge of the investigation into Jacob’s killer – were very well depicted and easy to invest in.

There are multiple narrators in this book – Jenna tells the story in the first person, while a third person narrator describes the police investigation and delves into the personal life of Ray Stevens. A third narrator enters the story at a later point, but to say who would reveal too much.

The author was actually in the Police Force, and it shows in her knowledge and descriptions of police procedure. I also liked how she revealed the story bit by bit, and for the first time in a while when reading a novel, I had to stop myself from looking a few pages ahead, because I really wanted to know what was going to happen.

The blurb on the cover as well as every review I’ve read of this book state that there is a big twist, so I don’t think I’m revealing anything new by saying that here – however, I think I would have enjoyed it even more if I hadn’t known there was something twisty coming. The twist itself was cleverly written, and had I not been expecting it I would have been totally thrown.

This is an accomplished debut, and I will definitely be looking out for further books by Clare Mackintosh.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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