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I can’t emphasise this enough – if you are wondering what DID happen six months after the events of the preceding film Before Sunrise, and whether or not Jesse and Celine did meet up as planned, then DO NOT read this review until after watching this film.  It is pretty impossible to review this film without talking about what happened in the nine years between events of Before Sunrise and events of Before Sunset.

So as mentioned, Before Sunset takes place nine years after Before Sunrise (both in the story, and in real life; the first film was made in 1995, and this was made in 2004).  In Before Sunrise, Jesse and Celine meet on a train in Europe, and end up spending the evening together, walking around Vienna, discussing everything they can think of, and gradually falling in love.  At the end of the film they decide to meet again in six months, at the train station in Vienna.

The sequel is set in Paris, and starts with Jesse, who is now a published author, having written a novel about an American boy and a French girl who meet on a train and spend a night together in Vienna – sound familiar? – giving an interview in the Shakespeare and Co. Bookshop.  (Note: This is a REAL bookshop in Paris.  I have visited there, and would recommend…in fact insist…that if you are a book lover and are ever in Paris, you MUST visit this shop.  Really.  It’s incredible – you literally spend all day there, reading, browsing, shopping, talking.)  Anyway, at the end of the interview, he looks up and sees Celine in the shop.  They decide to spend the time before Jesse’s flight home, walking around Paris, and catching up – because, as it transpires, they did not meet up as planned six months after meeting on the train.  It’s clear that there is still a connection and an attraction between the two, but with Jesse now married with a child, things are not as simple as they were nine years earlier.

I loved Before Sunrise, but I definitely preferred Before Sunset.  It’s a sadder film in a way – both characters are older and wiser; they have both been bruised by life, and have realised that things don’t always turn out the way you want or expect them to.  Jesse is in a loveless marriage, and Celine has been in a number of unfulfilling relationships.  They have lost hope to some extent, that life will always be good in the end.  Both of them regret not meeting up when they had arranged to (it is quickly revealed that Jesse did go to the meeting place, but Celine couldn’t as her grandmother died a few days earlier, and she was at her grandmother’s funeral).  In fact, life’s disappointments seem positively etched on Jesse’s face.  It has to be said that Ethan Hawke does not look well here because he’s just so scrawny, but somehow that fits his character who is disillusioned with his life, and cannot forget the beautiful French girl he met years before.  But for all that, there is optimism too.  As Jesse says, his problems are much bigger now than before, but he is better equipped to deal with them.  Celine is harder, more brittle, but still vulnerable and emotional.

As in Before Sunrise, the acting is wonderful.  There are other people in the film, but for the vast majority of it, it’s just Hawke and Delphy exploring Paris, and talking, reconnecting.  It plays out almost in real time (the film is just 80 minutes long, as Jesse has about that much time before he has to leave to catch a flight home), and the conversation seems so natural.  It was scripted, but it feels unscripted.  And very real and believable.

And of course, there’s Paris itself.  They don’t visit the Eiffel Tower or the Arc de Triomphe for example, but instead go to perhaps lesser known places – after all Celine lives there, and Jesse isn’t really interested in sight-seeing, and it really works.  It still shows Paris off as the beautiful city it is, while leaving you free to concentrate on the two main characters.

The ending is again ambiguous (to me anyway – many viewers think that it is not so).  It doesn’t wrap things up in a neat package, but almost lets you decide for yourself what happens – at least until last year, when the third film, Before Midnight, came out, which again picks up their story another nine years later.

This is just a beautiful, romantic film, laced with poignancy and regret, as well as the anticipation that the two feel upon meeting each other again after having such an effect on each other.  If you like films with more talk than action, that make you really feel like you are there in the moment watching two people getting to know each other again, then I would definitely recommend this.  But watch the first one beforehand!

Year of release: 2004

Director: Richard Linklater

Producers: Richard Linklater, John Sloss, Anne Walker-McBay, Isabelle Coulet

Writers: Richard Linklater, Julie Delphy, Ethan Hawke, Kim Krizan

Main cast: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delphy

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Click here for my review of Before Sunrise.

Click here for my review of Before Midnight.

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Ralph Fiennes is Heathcliff in this adaptation of Wuthering Heights, and Juliette Binoche is Cathy.  The story is well known, but in essence, Heathcliff is an orphan rescued by Cathy’s father, and they grow up together and fall in love.  However, Heathcliff is treated like a servant by Cathy’s brother, and Cathy ends up marrying Edgar Linton, a decent man, who she unfortunately does not live.  Heathcliff is both furious and devastated, and wreaks a revenge that will last well into the next generation.

The problem with Wuthering Heights, for me anyway, is that Cathy and Heathcliff are basically horrible, selfish people. He runs off for two years without a word to Cathy, and then gets a huff on when she marries someone else.  She cuckolds the man she marries, and is incredibly disrespectful to him, especially when Heathcliff takes it upon himself to return, and declare it all her fault.  He gets married himself, but treats his wife terribly, beating her up, amongst other things.  Obviously, that is essentially the way the characters are written in Bronte’s novel (sorry, but I don’t buy into all that tragic, undying love story – they both just wanted what they couldn’t have and didn’t care two hoots about who they hurt in their selfishness), and there is only so much that an adaptation can do to make the characters sympathetic.  That all said, there have been enjoyable adaptations of this book, but this was not one of them.

Ralph Fiennes is a fine actor, and does a reasonably good job as Heathcliff.  He is quite menacing, and pretty hateful.  Juliette Binoche however, seems wildly miscast as Cathy.  Her French accent can often be heard, and while she does have a lovely voice, she is very unconvincing as the Yorkshire born-and-bred Cathy.  Also, the point at which Heathcliff strops off and Cathy decides to ruin Edgar’s life (sorry, can you tell that these characters annoy me?) by marrying him, comes far too early in the film, so this great love that supposedly exists between Cathy and Heathcliff does not really seem to be all that deep, or great (or lovely).  Also, there is an annoying, but thankfully only occasional voiceover which narrates part of the story (in particular the parts where there is a jump in the timeline), which is supposed to be that of Emily Bronte.  Bronte herself actually appears as a character, played by Sinead O’Connor, bookending the film, by appearing at the beginning and ending of it.  Her narration at the beginning actually serves to remind the viewer that this is a fictional story.

On the positive side, Simon Shepherd did a great job as Edgar Linton, and Sophie Ward was very good in her minor role as Isabella.  However, the standout performance for me was Ellen, Cathy’s maid, played by Janet McTeer, who shone in every scene that she was in.

I think maybe there is a bit too much story to fit into a film of one hour and 45 minutes, and some of the storyline does seem a bit rushed.  Overall, I would say that this is not a terrible film, but it’s not brilliant.  Worth seeing for McTeer and Shepherd’s performance, but be prepared to want to throw things at the screen every time Heathcliff or Cathy bemoans their lot.

Year of release: 1992

Director: Peter Kosminsky

Producers: Simon Bosanquet, Mary Selway, Chris Thompson

Writers: Emily Bronte (novel), Anne Devlin

Main cast: Ralph Fiennes, Juliette Binoche, Janet McTeer, Sophie Ward, Simon Shepherd, Jeremy Northam, Jason Riddington

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Emma Bau, a Polish Jew, has only been married a few weeks when the Nazis come into her home town, and life as she knows it is changed dramatically.  While her husband Jacob leaves their home to go and work for the Jewish resistance, she is forced to take on a fake name, pretend that she is not Jewish, and live with Jacob’s Catholic aunt, Krysia.  When a chance arrives for her to help the resistance by working in the office of a high-ranking Nazi official, she takes it, but against all her inclinations, finds herself attracted to her boss – and the feeling is mutual.  While the devastating effects of the Nazi regime are being felt all around her, Emma (now known as Anna) must keep up the charade, and cope with her conflicting feelings.

I usually enjoy books set in the WWII, and this was no exception.  I thought it was an easy read, despite the subject matter, and events were moving quick enough that I was drawn in and always eager to find out what had happened.

The story was definitely more plot driven than character driven, and I was never sure how I actually felt about Emma/Anna on a personal level.  Nonetheless, the book does highlight the considerable risks that people took to fight back against the Nazis, and I am always slightly awed by such stories (because yes, these characters were fictional, but there were people who took such risks).  I felt that the author tried to humanise the Kommandant, for whom Emma has such unwanted feelings of attraction; he was almost – almost – likeable, but I couldn’t get away from the fact that he was a Nazi.  However, as Jacob barely featured in the book, he was also not a character about whom I could feel very much.  Krysia, on the other hand was a wonderful character – probably my favourite out of the whole book.

This aside though, I really like the book a lot, and an hour of reading it seemed to pass by in about 20 minutes!  The atmosphere of suspicion and not knowing who could really be trusted was depicted well, and I certainly felt thankful that I never lived through such times or make such decisions as Emma did.

On the basis of this book, I bought another book by Pam Jenoff (actually a prequel to this one, where more is written about the Kommandant’s first wife), and I look forward to reading it very soon.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

 

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Richard Dreyfuss is daredevil pilot Pete Sandich, who specialises in putting out forest fires, and Holly Hunter is his girlfriend Dorinda Durston, who loves him, but worries about his safety, particularly as he shows no real caution when flying.  Pete is killed in an accident, and in the afterlife he meets an angel (for want of a better word) named Hap, played by Audrey Hepburn in her last film role.  Following her advice, he tries to help his girlfriend through her grief, and mentor novice pilot Ted Baker(!), who falls for Dorinda.

I only really wanted to watch this film for Audrey Hepburn’s appearance.  She isn’t in the film for long, but her parts are lovely, and who better than Audrey to play a serene angel?  She had largely retired from acting at this point, and died four years after this film was made, but it is a fitting role for her swan song.

The film itself was hugely enjoyable, but you will DEFINITELY need tissues, because it is a real tearjerker.  Dreyfuss and Hunter are excellent, and the relationship between Pete and Dorinda is really believable.  John Goodman provides excellent support as Pete’s friend Al, who tries to look out for Dorinda after Pete’s death.  And Brad Johnson plays Ted Baker with sympathy.  Although Pete is hearthbroken to think of Dorinda being with someone else, Johnson makes Ted such a nice guy that it’s hard not to root for  him too.

This film is a remake of A Guy Named Joe (1943), and there are also similarities with Patrick Swayze/Demi Moore film Ghost, although Always preceded Ghost.  (I mean honestly, if Unchained Melody makes you cry because of Ghost, I’m sure that Smoke Gets In Your Eyes will have the same effect after watching Always!)

Overall, this is a beautifully acted, gentle and emotional film.  As mentioned earlier, I watched it purely because of Audrey Hepburn, but it is well worth seeing on its own merits.  I definitely recommend it.

Year of release: 1989

Director: Steven Spielberg

Producers: Steven Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall, Richard Vane

Writers: Jerry Belson, Dalton Trumbo (screenplay ‘A Guy Named Joe’), Frederick Hazlitt Brennan (screenplay adaptation ‘A Guy Named Joe’), Chandler Sprague (story ‘A Guy Named Joe’), David Boehm (story ‘A Guy Named Joe’)

Main cast: Richard Dreyfuss, Holly Hunter, John Goodman, Brad Johnson, Audrey Hepburn

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This saga tells the story of the Tolliver and the Warwick families, who are two of the three founding families of the town of Howbutker in the Southern States of America.  Along with the third family, the Dumonts, they agree that if one ever offends the other, they would send a red rose to ask forgiveness.  The other family would send a white rose to say that forgiveness had been granted.  They lived alongside each other as neighbours and great friends, until in 1916, young  Mary Tolliver inherits Somerset, their cotton plantation from her father, against the wishes and expectations of her mother and brother.  A rift develops, and matters are made worse when Mary turns down the proposal of handsome Percy Warwick, the timber magnate.  The scene is set for a story that will have consequences for all  families concerned, and for their future generations.

This book was obviously influenced by Gone With The Wind (a precocious Southern belle, who is determined to save her family’s cotton farm at any cost), but it has its own story to tell.  It relates events from three points of view, and only by reading all of them, does the whole picture become clear.

I enjoyed every page of the book – the story had plenty of twists and a few shocks, and I thought it brought the periods described into clear focus.  I liked most of the characters; Mary (like Scarlett O’Hara before her) was not always easy to warm to, but the book did a good job of explaining things from her perspective.

The writing flowed beautifully, even if it had an occasional tendency to get ‘flowery’ and it was one of those books where I kept thinking, “I’ll read just a few more pages.”  I liked the earlier parts of the story – those set in the 1920s and 1930s, more than the modern(ish) section, which showed how the events of years earlier were still reverberating down through the decades.  Nonetheless, the last part did round things off very well.

Although this is quite a big book at more than 600 pages, it didn’t feel like a long read.  I would recommend it, and will look out for more by Leila Meacham.

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This film spawned two sequels, the most famous of which was An Affair To Remember  (1957) which starred Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr, and which, like Love Affair, was directed by Leo McCarey..  This original version stars Charles Boyer as French playboy Michel Marnet, and Irene Dunne as Terry MacKay.  They meet on board a cruise ship and fall in love, although both are engaged to other people.  Michel and Terry make a pact that they will meet at the Empire State Building in six months, if they both still want to pursue a relationship.  However, tragedy strikes on the day they are due to meet.

Given that Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr are two of my favourite stars, I didn’t think that this film could match up to it’s better known (thanks to being heavily referenced in 1993’s Sleepless in Seattle) remake.  But, while I enjoyed An Affair To Remember a lot, I thought that Love Affair was the better film, and definitely the more moving of the two.  The reason for this (to me anyway) was because of the two outstanding performances of Boyer and Dunne – both of them are able to convey so much emotion with just one look or one small gesture.  Additionally the chemistry between them is almost palpable, and I felt as though I could actually see them falling in love during the cruise.

The film has its comedic moments, but is far more of a romance – and my goodness, it ticks all the boxes in that area!  It had me sobbing at the end, and immediately wanting to watch the whole film again.  Truly lovely, and highly recommended.

Year of release: 1939

Director: Leo McCarey

Producer: Leo McCarey

Writers: Leo McCarey, Mildred Cram, Delmer Daves, Donald Ogden Stewart, S.N. Behrman

Main cast: Charles Boyer, Irene Dunne, Maria Ouspenskaya

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This is the fifth adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s beautifully written novel, of love, affluence, ambition and disillusionment.  I wouldn’t say that I was expecting not to enjoy it, but I was prepared to be disappointed – but how wrong I was!  To my surprise, this was unquestionably my favourite adaptation out of those that I have seen so far, and to my even greater surprise, I also thought that Leonardo DiCaprio was the best Gatsby yet.

As anyone might expect from a Baz Luhrmann production, this film is drenched in colour, noise and flamboyance, which works perfectly when depicting the debauchery and affluence on show, especially at Gatsby’s famous parties.  It’s very stylised, and has a great soundtrack courtesy of Jay-Z, who was also a producer on the film.  (As the story is set in the 1920s, a Jay-Z soundtrack shouldn’t work on paper, but it really comes together to great effect.)

Leonardo DiCaprio is excellent as Gatsby, bringing a real depth to the character.  I also loved Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan.  In comparison to Mia Farrow, who was so irritating in the 1974 film, and Mira Sorvino, who was probably too sympathetic in the 2001 version, Mulligan really shines.  She portrays Daisy’s shallowness well, but also lends an air of regretful nostalgia for what her character let slip out of her grasp years earlier.  Elizabeth Debicki played Jordan Baker, pretty much exactly how I imagined Jordan to be when I read the book, and Joel Edgerton was superb as the cold and cruel Tom Buchanan.

Nick Carraway, who as always, narrates the story was played by Tobey Maguire, and he was great.  (My favourite Nick is still sam Waterston, playing opposite Robert Redford as Gatsby, and Paul Rudd also did an excellent job.)  In this version, Carraway is in hospital being treated for alcoholism, and at the urging of his doctor, writes down the story of Gatsby and the events of that fateful summer.  I wasn’t sure initially how this new approach would play out, but it does work, and allows the character to read more passages from the book than Carraway did in previous versions.

Only a couple of minor niggles – Gatsby’s funeral was not shown at all, but Carraway says that nobody but him attended.  In the book, and in previous versions, Gatsby’s father shows up for the funeral and it’s a touching scene.  Additionally, a small character known as ‘Owl Eyes’ also attends the funeral.  I would have liked to have seen this in the film, but overall there is so much to enjoy that it certainly doesn’t detract from the overall excellence.

I really enjoyed this film.  I would recommend other adaptations to fans of the novel, but I would recommend this version to anybody.  Well worth seeing.

Year of release: 2013

Director: Baz Luhrmann

Producers: Baz Luhrmann, Bruce Berman, Jay-Z, Barrie M. Osborne, Lucy Fisher, Catherine Knapman, Catherine Martin, Anton Monsted, Douglas Wick

Writers: F. Scott Fitzgerald (novel), Baz Luhrmann, Craig Pearce

Main cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan, Elizabeth Debicki, Joel Edgerton, Isla Fisher

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Click here for my review of the novel.

Click here for my review of the 1974 film adaptation.

Click here for my review of the 2000 film adaptation.

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It’s hard to believe that Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical adaptation of Gaston Leroux’s novel is over 25 years old, because in 2013, it still feels as fresh as ever.

Cameron Mackintosh has produced the current show which is touring in the UK, and which I was lucky enough to see at Birmingham Hippodrome, which was an ideal venue in which to see such a spectacular show.

Briefly, the story concerns the mysterious Phantom of the title who falls for Christine Daae, a young chorus girl, who is promoted to lead soprano at the Opera Populaire Playhouse.  The Phantom threatens the life of anyone who comes between him and Christine, but Christine has meanwhile fallen for Raoul, her childhood sweetheart…she fears however that she may never escape the hold of the mysterious Phantom.  (There are far more detailed synopses available online.)

In this production, the Phantom was played by Earl Carpenter, and he was superb in the role.  He elicited just the right amount of fear from the audience, while remaining charismatic and mysterious.  His voice, unsurprisingly, was excellent.  Equally superb were Katie Hall as Christine, and James Bisp as Raoul.  Bisp was actually the understudy, and he was wonderful in the role.  Claire Platt also appeared as the understudy for Carlotta, the soprano who is ousted by the Phantom’s desire to promote Christine.  Carlotta brings comic relief to proceedings, and Platt played the part to perfection.

The supporting cast were also terrific, with not one weak link.

The music is very familiar to audiences nowadays, but it was still mesmerising to hear, and the title song in particular made the hairs on the back of my next stand on end.

Finally, the costumes and stage sets were imaginative and wonderfully designed, with the chandelier which forms part of the story hanging high above the audience.

Overall, it was a wonderful show from start to end, and I would highly recommend it to anybody who enjoys good theatre.  A solid 10 out of 10 from me!

(For more information about this production, please click here.)

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Click here for my review of the 2004 film adaptation.

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This film tells the story of the life of Johnny Cash, covering the years from 1944, when he was a young boy working on his father’s farm, until his groundbreaking concert at Folsom State Prison in 1968.  The film concentrates on Cash’s rise to fame, and addiction to drugs, and his relationships with his first wife Viv, and his second wife, country singer June Carter (later June Carter Cash).

Johnny Cash personally approved Joaquin Phoenix to portray him (having apparently enjoyed Phoenix’s role in Gladiator) and June Carter Cash approved Reese Witherspoon to portray her.  (Sadly both Johnny and June died before the film was released.)  I thought that both Phoenix and Witherspoon were terrific.  Both were nominated for an Oscar for their performances in this film, and Witherspoon actually won.  (Philip Seymour Hoffman won the Best Actor award, beating both Phoenix, and Heath Ledger for his role in Brokeback Mountain.  Personally, I would have loved either Phoenix or Ledger to have won.)

What is quite amazing is that both the leads learned how to play the instruments which Johnny and June Cash played, and they also performed all the singing themselves.  And frankly, I thought they nailed it.  Phoenix may be a reluctant star, but he certainly has bags of talent and charisma.  He gives a note-perfect turn, and I really believed in his performance.

Ginnifer Goodwin was also great as Vivian Cash, Johnny’s long-suffering first wife.  It has been strongly suggested that the character portrayed in this film was unfair to Vivian, and that she was actually far nicer than shown in the film (Johnny and June’s son John Carter Cash, was an executive producer on this film, and he has acknowledged the criticism and said that he wanted to show the love story of his parents.  Roseanne Cash, Johnny and Vivian’s daughter, has been critical of the film also.)

The story was fascinating, showing how Cash always blamed himself for a family tragedy which occurred when he was a young boy, and which contributed to the very strained relationship with his father (Robert Patrick).  It chronicles his early struggles to make it in the music business, and his subsequent success.  Naturally, there is some excellent music throughout!  It is a gripping and sometimes very sad tale, but it is ultimately uplifting.  The chemistry between Phoenix and Witherspoon is almost palpable, and the play off one another very well.

I would have liked to have seen the story continue past 1968, and perhaps show more of Cash’s social and political views; it perhaps concentrated too heavily on the love between Johnny and June, but maybe this film is better viewed as a love story, rather than a complete biography.  Either way, the superb music and atmosphere, and the two incredible performances at the heart of the film make this well worth watching, even for those not familiar with Johnny Cash’s music.

(For more information about Johnny Cash, please click here.)

Year of release: 2005

Director: James Mangold

Producers: John Carter Cash, Alan C. Blomquist, James Keach, Cathy Konrad, Lou Robin

Writers: Johnny Cash (book ‘Man in Black’ – based on) (book ‘Cash: The Autobiography’ – based on), Patrick Carr (book ‘Cash: The Autobiography’ based on), Gill Dennis, James Mangold

Main cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon, Ginnifer Goodwin, Robert Patrick, Waylon Payne

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In this incredibly charming film set in colonial America, William Holden plays David Harvey, a widower who marries a servant girl named Rachel (Loretta Young), so that his son Davey will have a mother figure, and so that she can keep their cabin clean and tidy, provide meals, etc.  It is a marriage of convenience, but when David’s friend Jim (Robert Mitchum) comes to visit and shows an interest in Rachel, David comes to realise what she really means to him.

I only watched this film because it starred two of my favourite actors – William Holden and Robert Mitchum – and what a lucky lucky girl Rachel was to get to choose between the two! However, I was pleasantly surprised, because this is an absolute gem of a movie!  The always excellent Holden perfectly captures the sadness that David feels after the loss of his beloved wife, and Young is great as the woman who feels unwanted, save for the chores she does.  Mitchum is also wonderful as David’s easy-come easy-go friend.  Rounding out the main cast is child actor Gary Gray as little Davey.

The story is gentle and sweet, with some surprising moments of humour, and one of the funniest fight scenes I have ever seen!  It held my attention throughout and I really liked all of the characters.

This film doesn’t seem to get many outings on television, but I would urge anyone to try and catch it if they can.  It is really rather lovely, and I highly recommend it.

Year of release: 1948

Director: Norman Foster

Producers: Jack J. Gross, Richard H. Berger

Writers: Howard Fast (story ‘Rachel’), Waldo Salt

Main cast: William Holden, Loretta Young, Robert Mitchum, Gary Gray

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