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Posts Tagged ‘loneliness’

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I watched Noel at Christmas time (Christmas Eve in fact) because it is indeed a Christmas film, and honestly it was just what I wanted to see.

With an impressive cast, including Susan Sarandon, Paul Walker, Penelope Cruz, Alan Arkin and an uncredited Robin Williams, this film tells the story of a number of strangers who are all affected by events that happen over the Christmas season. Sarandon is Rose, a divorced single woman, who divides her life between work and visiting her Alzheimers afflicted mother in hospital. She is lonely and frustrated with her life but help appears where she least expects it.

Walker plays Mike, a New York cop who is madly in love with his fiancee Nina (Cruz) – but his love borders on possessiveness, and his jealousy threatens to ruin their relationship. His life is further complicated by the appearance in it of Artie (Arkin), a cafe owner who seems to know a lot about Mike and becomes fixated on him – but his reasons will not be what you think (I promise!)

Robin Williams plays one of his more tempered and poignant roles as a man who Rose meets while visiting her mother in hospital. A former priest who has lost his faith both in God and in life, he and Rose provide support for each other.

And then there’s Jules (Marcus Thomas) a young man who is haunted by an unhappy childhood and goes to desperate lengths to recreate the one perfect Christmas that he had.

Into the lives of all these people comes a little beauty and a little Christmas magic. I don’t want to post any spoilers in this review, so I won’t say more than that, but I will  say that while this film is undeniably smaltzy in places and you will definitely need to suspend your disbelief in parts, it was also lovely viewing for the Christmas season and definitely left me with a warm fuzzy feeling inside. I will be adding it to my regular Christmas viewing.

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Year of release: 2004

Director: Chazz Palminteri

Writer: David Hubbard

Main cast: Susan Sarandon, Penelope Cruz, Robin Williams, Alan Arkin, Paul Walker, Marcus Thomas

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Famous for being the film upon which Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan film, You’ve Got Mail (1998) was based on (and also the film upon which the Judy Garland/Van Johnson musical, In the Good Old Summertime (1949) was based on), The Shop Around the Corner was itself adapted from a play called Parfumerie, by Miklos Laszlo.

The film is set in Budapest, and tells the story of two employees at the same store, who do not get on with each other, but who, unbeknownst to them, are each other’s anonymous penpal.  Through their letters, the two correspondents fall in love with each other, but will love win through when their real identities are revealed?

James Stewart plays Alfred Kralick (presumably meant to be Hungarian, but uses his instantly recognisable American accent throughout!) and Maureen Sullavan is Klara Novak (also with an American accent!)  Actually, my mention of the accents is in no way intended as a criticism – I do believe that you have to suspend disbelief in certain circumstances, and in actual fact, this is a delightful and thoroughly charming film.

It is a romantic comedy, but make no mistake – there are themes of loneliness, adultery, suicide and betrayal running through the story, which somehow balance perfectly with the funnier and sweeter moments.  James Stewart is perfect in roles like this – sometimes Alfred can be irascible, and sometimes he can be insensitive, but he also conveys vulnerability and honesty.  Sullavan was also very endearing as Klara, the young lady falling in love with a man she has never met (or at least, who she believes she has never met), and who has high hopes for their future.  However, what really elevates this film above others of the genre is the excellent supporting cast.  Frank Morgan as Hugo Matuschek – the owner of the store – is by turns funny and sad.  His performance has real pathos, and heart.  Also terrific is Felix Bressart, as Alfred’s friend and co-worker Pirovitch, and William Tracy as errand big Pepi Katona.

The ending is lovely, if somewhat predictable, but what does it matter if we know all along how things are going to turn out.  In a film like this, the joy is not in reaching the destination, but the journey we take to get there.  And it’s a lovely journey, filled with great moments.  Highly recommended.

Year of release: 1940

Director: Ernst Lubitsch

Producer: Ernst Lubitsch

Writers: Miklos Laszlo (play ‘Parfumerie’), Samson Raphaelson, Ben Hecht

Main cast: James Stewart, Maureen Sullavan, Frank Morgan, Felix Bressart, William Tracy, Joseph Schildkraut, Inez Courtney, Sara Haden

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Maggie Wilson moved to Brighton to make a fresh start…but it doesn’t seem to be working.  She has no friends, no boyfriend, lives in a horrible basement flat, and the well paid job with American Express which she’s told her family about doesn’t exist.  But she can hardly let on that she’s working as a stripper in a seedy bar.  In short, Maggie is lost and lonely – but one day she accidentally discovers a way of eavesdropping on her neighbours Libby and David.  Soon she is absorbed in their lives.  Even though they are barely aware of her existence, she knows all about their secrets, their arguments and their plans for the future.  When she discovers that they are planning to move to Cuba, Maggie wonders how on earth she will cope with their absence…so to her it seems obvious that the only thing to do is follow them, get to know them, and make them be her friends….

I was totally gripped by this book, and felt drawn into the story from the very first page.  The narrative switches between Maggie’s point of view, told in the first person; and Libby’s point of view, told in the third person.  I felt that Maggie was an utterly believeable character, and the blurring of the lines between what was real, and what Maggie saw as real, was portrayed in an all too realistic fashion.  Tragic events in her past have led her to the point where she is now unable to form proper relationships with people, and she is about to learn that you can’t force people to be the kind of friend you want them to be.  While she wasn’t an easy character to like, she was certainly an interesting one to read about.  However, to say much more about her would be to give away too much of the story.

I felt more ambivalent towards Libby.  She seemed to have a decent life, and a nice husband, yet she was never happy.  But as the story progressed, she was fleshed out and became a character who I could sympathise with and like.  Her husband David was also entirely believeable, as an honest and decent man, but with human flaws.

The story takes place mainly in Havana, Cuba, which I can only assume the author knows well, as she really brought the place to life.  The early part of the book was set in Brighton, which was also portrayed well, but the main part of the story does not unfold until the characters reach Cuba.  Maggie’s backstory unfolded gradually alongside the narrative of events that were happening at the time the story was set, and I felt that that helped the reader understand her actions, even when it was impossible to agree with them.  There was a sinister undertone running throughout the story, and I did find that it was one of those books which was hard to put down.  The writing flowed beautifully and at no point did I lose interest.  I did think that the ending was slightly anti-climactic, but overall this was a gripping story, and I would certainly recommend this author to others.

(A quick note about the cover: I rarely comment on the covers of books, but in this instance I did feel that the cover was not really suggestive of the content.  The picture was perhaps suited to something more in the chick-lit genre, which this book most certainly is not!)

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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1984: 10 year old junior detective Kate Meaney spends her days wandering around Green Oaks Shopping Centre, in Birmingham, looking for suspicious activity.  Living with her disinterested grandmother after the desertion of her mother and the death of her father, Kate finds it hard to make friends and her closest confidante is her toy monkey, Mickey.

2003: Kurt, a security guard at Green Oaks Shopping Centre, who has few friends and suffers with a sleep disorder, is haunted by the image of a little girl with a toy monkey, which he sees on the security camera at the centre, and which invokes memories of young Kate Meaney, who went missing almost 20 years earlier.  Meanwhile, Lisa – a manager at Your Music, in the shopping centre finds a toy monkey stuffed behind a pipe in the centre, and is also reminded of when Kate disappeared.  Gradually, the truth of what happened all those years ago is revealed…

I really liked this book.  I had a particular interest in reading it as the author is local to the area where I live, and I am very familiar with the shopping centre on which the book is partly based. 

The first part of the story centred on Kate Meaney and her life.  All she wants to do is become a detective – and maybe find someone who understands her.  The only friends she has are Teresa – a schoolfriend, who for different reasons to Kate is also something of an outsider, and Adrian – the son of the local newsagent.  Kate feels largely invisible, and certainly it seems as if she is often overlooked by others.

The second part of the book shifted to life at the shopping centre, and in particular for Lisa and Kurt, who don’t know each other, but become friends.  The author used to work at just such a shopping centre, and it shows through in some of the anecdotal stories of awkward or eccentric customers, and the trivial incidents which get blown out of all proportion. There was a lot of humour in this section of the book, but also a lot of tenderness.  Both Lisa and Kurt seem to be drifting through their lives, finding little satisfaction anywhere and having let go of all of their dreams.

I thought the three main characters of Lisa, Kurt and Kate were all very well drawn, and the author seems to have a real talent for getting into the minds of these slightly off-beat characters. 

The writing also flowed beautifully and I found the book hard to put down.  Most of the chapters are short and choppy, which makes it a quick and absorbing read.  I also particularly liked the little thoughts of various anonymous people around the centre, some of which were very funny and some of which were sad or poignant.  One of the things that did jump out at me was how for some people, a huge shopping centre such as the one in this book becomes almost the centre of their lives.  It’s a social meeting place, a way of avoiding boredom, somewhere where people can become anonymous and get lost in the crowds.

The book isn’t perfect – a couple of the things that happened struck me as too unrealistic – but it was a very enjoyable read, and I will certainly be looking out for more work by Catherine O’Flynn.

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