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I’ve had this film on my planner for ages, and somehow never fancied watching it. But today, with a lazy day to myself, I finally took the plunge – and I have to say, it exceeded all of my expectations, made me feel every emotion, and was well….generally brilliant.

Greg (Thomas Mann) is a high schooler who is determined to avoid all the typical cliques and instead stays on the periphery of all high school groups (such as the jocks, the geeks, the stoners, etc). He doesn’t like to get close to people and his only friend – although Greg doesn’t like the word ‘friend’ so instead uses the term ‘co-worker’ – is the titular Earl (R J Cyler). The two of them spend their time making so-bad-they’re-good spoof movies such as Brew Velvet, A Sockwork Orange, Yellow Submarine Sandwich, and (my particular favourite title) 2.48pm Cowboy.

When Greg’s mother tells him he must be friends with Rachel (Olivia Cooke), a schoolmate who he hardly knows and who has been diagnosed with leukaemia, he is initially reluctant, but what starts out as an awkward situation soon becomes a real connection. Earl is also drawn into the friendship.

Given that the film is narrated by Greg, and Rachel is the centre of his and Earl’s attention, it’s actually the character of Earl who I found most interesting. On the surface he seems like a bit of a slacker, but he reveals surprising depth and perception.

It’s a beautifully told story – it did make me laugh and also made me cry. Most importantly, it made me feel for all of the characters – the three main characters, Rachel’s mom Denise (played by the always brilliant Molly Shannon), even the relative small character of their teacher Mr McCarthy (Jon Bernthal). They are all believable, fully fleshed out characters. The three youngsters – all of which actors were unknown to me – were brilliant, and the supporting cast did a great job too.

I really enjoyed this film and have no hesitation in recommending it.

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Otilla McGregor needs to sort her life out. She drinks too much, she is in a relationship with her married boss, her sister has severe mental health problems – but she is determined to sort her life out and get herself together.

I listened to this as an audiobook narrated by Colleen Prendergast. It’s told from the point of Otilla, and employs a type of ‘scrapbook’ method to tell her story; this encompasses emails, snapchats, text messages, letters to the Little Book of Happy (makes sense when you’re listening/reading!) and conversation transcripts with her therapist.

The narration was excellent – Prendergast really got under the skin of Otilla and helped make her into a believable and likeable character. The story itself was also interesting and I liked the deviation from conventional narration, although I think this may work better as a physical book rather than an audiobook.

I would say however, that this is NOT a book to listen to if you need cheering up! As mentioned above, Otilla drinks way too much, her love life is a mess, she thinks that she may be to blame for her sister’s mental and emotional problems, her father passed away a few years earlier and she misses him terribly, her mother has her own problems….on top of all this, Otilla’s best friend Grace is an enabler who believes the only reason to give up alcohol is so that when you go back to it, you get drunk quicker and for less money. Otilla works in a cancer care hospital, so even several of the lesser characters have serious problems.

For all this, although at times I did wonder how much more misery could be stuffed into one book, the story did hold my attention throughout. I adored her new potential boyfriend, and really rooted for Otilla.

I’ve heard good things about other books by Annaliese Mackintosh and would certainly read/listen to more of her stories.

 

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Alison, Jeff and their 15 year old daughter Katherine, have a happy and charmed life. They have money, security and genuinely love each other. Katherine is a school lacrosse star, an excellent student, and a popular girl. She is also the absolute centre of her mother’s universe – so that universe feels torn apart when one day a man knocks at their door and tells Alison that Katherine is the biological daughter of him and his deceased wife – it turns out that there was a mix up at the hospital, and that Alison and Jeff are the biological parents of his daughter Olivia. Even worse, Katherine may have inherited the gene that caused the cancer which killed his wife.

The family are thrust into a nightmare as Katherine comes to terms with new siblings, a new history, and worst of all trying to decide whether to take the test which will determine whether she has the dangerous gene.

I wanted to read this book for two reasons – first I thought the premise sounded really interesting. Second, I had read another book by Adele Parks many years ago, and had really enjoyed it. Unfortunately, The Stranger In My Home turned out to be a bit of a let down.

I listened to the novel as an audiobook, read by Rachel Atkins. Overall her narration was good, but there were a lot of whispered parts which made it difficult to hear, and I had to go back a little on quite a few occasions to listen again. (Now, admittedly I listen to my audiobooks when I’m out running, so there is traffic and other outside noises around, but I doubt that I am particularly unusual in listening to a book outside.)

The main reason I couldn’t really enjoy the book was the main character. Alison is the narrator for the most part – there is the occasional flashback to her early life, which is an attempt to explain her devotion to her daughter…I say devotion, but it’s actually more like an obsession. Of course mothers love their children more than it is possible to express, but my goodness this was one obsessed mother. And she never missed an opportunity! By the end of the book I was quite sick of hearing Katherine’s name.

The other problem was that after the initial shock, the book slowed down to a snail’s pace and for ages nothing really happened except teenagers being moody and Alison obsessing about her daughter. In the last part of the book, there is a sudden plot twist, which unfortunately struck me as preposterous, but nonetheless did come as a complete surprise. But for me it was much too little and way too late.

I didn’t hate this book enough to give up on it, but for some reason I feel able to listen to audiobooks even while finding them less than enjoyable. And despite my more scathing than I intended review, it wasn’t awful. it was just far from what it could have been and basically underwhelming.

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Basically – Richard Gere plays Will Keane, a 48 year old successful restauranteur and well known playboy. Winona Ryder plays Charlotte Fielding, a 22 year hat designer, who has a terminal heart condition. And they fall in love. After navigating various minefields, such as the age difference, and his inability to keep it in his pants, things go well until tragedy ensues.

In all honesty I should have hated this film. I’m not even sure why I watched it – I wanted to watch something uncomplicated and romantic one afternoon and I picked this. I didn’t hate it, as it turns out, but there were things that would have narked me were I not in such a chilled out mood when I watched it. For one – there’s a lot of corny dialogue. Also – Will’s character is a bit of a heel, who at at least one point in the film, she should have kicked into touch. The ending was not only predictable, but actually inevitable, but it made me cry (I cry a LOT at films).

If corny films aren’t your thing, then I definitely do not recommend this. If you can get past that and do fancy something undemanding, then maybe….

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Year of release: 2000

Director: Joan Chen

Writer: Allison Burnett

Main cast: Richard Gere, Winona Ryder, Anthony LaPaglia, Elaine Stritch, Vera Farmiga

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Full disclosure: The first time (and only time until now) that I watched this film was when it first came out in 1991, at the cinema.  At that time, it resonated strongly with me, because I was head-over-heels in (unrequited) love with a young man, who was very ill and was receiving chemotherapy.

So 23 years later, in entirely different circumstances, I was not sure if I would enjoy it as much as I did previously.  It did however have the advantage of starring Campbell Scott, who is an actor I always enjoy watching.  He plays Victor Geddes, a 28 year old man who has had Leukemia for 10 years.  He hires Hilary (Julia Roberts) as a carer, to help him with the debilitating effects of his treatment.  They end up falling in love when Victor is in remission, but when he becomes ill again, their relationship is put under tremendous strain.

As it turned out, I did enjoy watching this film again.  Admittedly, it is flawed in places, and the Hilary character in particular is a bundle of cliches, but despite this, it is still a very moving and emotional story.  Campbell Scott was always a perfect choice to play Victor, and he did an excellent job at portraying the young man’s frustration and anger, as well as his determination to enjoy whatever time he has left.  He has a beautiful fragility and gentleness about him, and it is easy to understand how he and Hilary – who come from entirely different backgrounds, and initially struggle to understand each other – end up falling in love.  At one point, he decides that he is no longer going to receive treatment for his disease, and is going to let things play out as they will.  His feelings are entirely reasonable, but so are those of Hilary and his father, who don’t want him to give up.

Overall, I would say that this is a film well worth seeing, but make sure you have tissues handy, because you will cry.

Year of release: 1991

Director: Joel Schumacher

Producers: Sally Field, Mauri Syd Gayton, Duncan Henderson, Kevin McCormick

Writers: Marti Leimbacj (novel), Richard Friedenberg

Main cast: Campbell Scott, Julia Roberts, Vincent D’Onofrio, Colleen Dewhurst

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One morning, mild-mannered Harold Fry receives a letter from a former colleague named Queenie, who he has not seen for some 20 years.  The letters informs him that she is in a hospice, and is dying of terminal cancer.  Harold writes a letter back, and sets out to post it, but when he gets to the postbox, he decides to keep walking on to the next one.  And then he decides to walk a bit further, and his short walk eventually turns into a journey on foot from his home in Devon, to where Queenie is, in Berwick-upon-Tweed.  Though the going gets tough, Harold knows that somehow or other he has to walk to Queenie, and that as long as he keeps walking, she will keep living.

I had heard so many good things about this book, and was really looking forward to reading it.  The story is lovely, although a little far-fetched occasionally.  Harold meets many other people en route to save Queenie, and he realises that like him, everyone has regrets and worries in their lives, and that sometimes what we see on the surface tells us nothing about a person.

For Harold, the journey is metaphorical as much- as it is physical.  He believes that his walk can save Queenie, but he also seems to be seeking redemption for himself. As his walk unfolds in the pages, so does his history, and we learn all about the tragedies he has faced, the situations which he wishes he could change, his regrets about his relationship with his son, and the cause of a rift between himself and his wife Maureen.

At times the book is achingly sad, and at other times oddly uplifting.  I liked it a lot, but I was not as taken with it as I expected to be. (I had read reviews from people saying that the story had caused them to re-evaluate their lives, and it had made them cry.)  Having read so many positive things about the book, I would say that this puts me in the minority as it did not move me to tears, and while I would certainly recommend it, I would not say it particularly moved me.

It’s still an enjoyable story though, and I will be looking out for more by Rachel Joyce.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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This 1985 film features three generations of the Mitchum family.  Robert Mitchum is Jack Palmer, a man who walked out on his family 30 years earlier, and having learned that he has a terminal illness, wants to make his peace with them before its too late.  His son Tom is played by his real-life son Christopher Mitchum, and Tom’s son Johnny, is played by Christopher’s real-life son, Bentley.

In all honesty, there were a lot of things about this film which were quite cringeworthy.  Some of the acting – not Robert Mitchum’s (obviously) was a bit wooden.  And I feel it only fair to warn potential viewers of the TRULY AWFUL 1980s clothing on display!!  I know it was made in 1985, but frankly, there was no excuse for those clothes even then.  (I’m joking obviously – but I truly realised why the 1980s is known as the decade that taste forgot, although obviously that is no reflection on the film itself.)

There was one thing that kept me watching though – and that was Robert Mitchum. He may have been slightly older here than in some of the films for which he was famous, but he never lost his charisma, or his natural talent, and it does shine through.  (And – oh! that voice – I could listen to it all day.)  Claire Bloom is also great as Jack’s ex-wife Sally, and Tess Harper does a good job as Tom’s wife, Gwen.

In all, despite the cheesiness – which is to be expected of many films made at that time – there was actually plenty to enjoy about this movie, and I did find myself drawn in.  It was also interesting to see three generations of one family playing three generations of another family.  Not brilliant maybe, but certainly enjoyable.

Year of release: 1985

Director: Noel Black

Producers: Allen Epstein, Jim Green, Sandra Harmon, Stephanie Austen, Robert Papazian, Milton Sperling, James Veres

Writers: Frederic Hunter, Phil Penningroth

Main cast: Robert Mitchum, Christopher Mitchum, Bentley Mitchum, Tess Harper, Claire Bloom, Merritt Butrick

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