14 December 2016

Stalker

Stalker 1979
  • Director: Andrei Tarkovsky
  • Based on novel Picnic Roadside by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky
  • Cast: Aleksandr Kaydanovsky, Anatoly Solonitsin, Nikolay Grinko, Alisa Freyndlikh
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor in:
    • Anatoly Solonitsin – Solaris
    • Nikolay Grinko – Solaris
  • Why? A classic
  • Seen:  Once before. Now 11 December 2016 with Hal and YW in our read-book-see-film group

             The book was a surprise. Slangy, 50’s western kitsch, only mildly interesting, mainly because of the impact it probably had when it came out in the 70’s. Aliens come to Earth then just leave, ignoring us completely. How insulting!
       In the film, it’s not even certain that the Zone was created by aliens, could just be a meteorite.  Not a good change, why did Tarkovsky do that?
       The Stalker’s wife is in despair because he’s going back into the Zone despite his promises not to. it’s illegal. He could get ten years in prison. The Author and the Professor have hired him to guide them in. They make their way through mud and run-down buildings. A town in ruins. Guards shoot at them as they enter the Zone.
       It goes on and on and on, slowly! They talk a lot but it’s almost impossible to know which one of them is speaking. Gradually we get a little of the background and the legends about the Zone.
       It’s all very mystical and atmospheric and symbolic (I suppose). There’s a room where everyone finds happiness, their deepest wish comes true. The Stalker warns them to be careful but they don’t listen.
       When I saw this the first time I was probably willing to be impressed by the mysterious and philosophical, and the Great Tarkovsky. Now, frankly, I don’t have the patience for a film that starts with a complaining hysterical wife and continues for three hours with three middle-aged men wandering about uttering supposed profundities in search of some meaning.
       It’s interesting at times but more often it’s annoyingly superficial, babbly, querulous and quasi-religious.
       We agree. The book was better. And we didn’t much like the book.

1 ½ * of 5


Life During Wartime

Life During Wartime 2009
  • Director: Todd Solondz
  • Based on novel: by no
  • Cast: Shirley Henderson, Michael Kenneth Williams, Allison Janney, Michael Lerner, Dylan Riley Snyder, Ciarán Hinds, Paul Reubens, Emma Hinz, Charlotte Rampling, Ally Sheedy
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor in:
    • Shirley Henderson – Filth, Doctor Who, Shakespeare Re-Told The Taming of the Shrew, Harry Potter, Tristram Shandy, 24 Hour Party People, Topsy-Turvy, Trainspotting, Rob Roy
    • Michael Kenneth Williams – The Road, The Wire, Gone Baby Gone, The Sopranos, Bringing Out the Dead
    • Allison Janney – The Help, Juno, The Hours, American Beauty, 10 Things I Hate about You, The Ice Storm
    • Ciarán Hinds – The Woman in Black, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows II, Hustle, Margot at the Wedding, Hallam Foe, Amazing Grace, The Calendar Girls, Road to Perdition, Titanic Town, Jane Eyre, Cold Lazarus, Mary Reilly, Excalibur
    • Charlotte Rampling – Melancholia, Never Let Me Go, Great Expectations, Lemming
  • Why? sequel to Happiness
  • Seen: 9 December 2016 

Happiness was a very strange movie but I liked it. It was about anything but happiness.
If anything, this one is even weirder. I can’t find words. The opening scene: Omar (from The Wire, Williams, here called Alan) in a restaurant with his wife Moaning Myrtle of the Harry Potter films (Henderson, here called Joy). Alan tells her that he has stopped doing perverted things. Well, almost. He only does them on Sundays.
A mother (Janney) tells her ten-year-old son about her sexual arousal with a new gentleman friend.
A rough looking character (Hinds) is getting out of prison.
What is this? I don’t know if I’m meant to remember Happiness (same characters, different actors). After a while it starts coming back. Three sisters who love and hate each other. Suicide, paedophilia, homophobia. The stories weave in and out.
The cast is a mix of very good actors and the acting, for all the deliberate stiltedness and melodrama, is fascinating. The result is an odd mix of the tragic, the absurd, and the silly. For me it doesn’t quite work. But the acting is so unusual, therefore


3 * of 5

Room

Room 2015
  • Director: Lenny Abrahamson
  • Based on book by Emma Donaghue
  • Cast: Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Sean Bridges, Joan Allen, William H. Macy
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor in:
    • Brie Larson – Scott Pilgrim vs the World
    • Jacob Tremblay – Nothing yet but I expect to see more of him
    • Joan Allen – The Bourne Legacy, Pleasantville, FaceOff, The Ice Storm, In Country, Peggy Sue Got Married
    • William H. Macy – Cake, The Lincoln Lawyer, Bobby, The Cooler, State and Main, Happy Texas, Pleasantville, Boogie Nights, Fargo, The Client, Benny and Joon
  • Why? Curious, having read the book
  • Seen: 3 December 2016      

       Jack is five years old today. Ma says they’re going to make a birthday cake. Perfectly ordinary. Except that Ma and Jack are confined to a single room and are dependent on Old Nick for everything.
       Ma does her best to make life seem normal for Jack, and for him it is because he knows nothing else. He tries to make sense of what’s real (everything in Room) and what’s pretend (everything outside Room).
       Old Nick comes and goes. He demands gratitude for everything he brings them. He’s violent. He punishes them for disobeying him by cutting off the electricity.
       Ma tries to explain the world outside to Jack. ‘We can’t go on living like this, and I need your help,’ she says. She explains how she was kidnapped by Old Nick and imprisoned in his garden shed. She’s been there for seven years. She has a plan for escape.
       It’s very low-key and evenly paced. It’s an insane kidnap and rescue story, and the psychological effects on the victims are realistically and unsentimentally portrayed. It goes on too long but it’s a good adaption of the book. The acting is superb, especially by the boy Jacob Tremblay. It misses full scores because it’s more interesting than gripping.

4 * of 5   



Winter's Tale

Winter’s Tale 2014
  • Director: Akiva Goldsman
  • Based on book by Mark Helprin
  • Cast: Colin Farrell, Russell Crowe, Jessica Brown Findlay, William Hurt, Will Smith, Jennifer Connelly
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor in:
    • Colin Farrell – Fright Night, The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus, In Bruges, Daredevil,
    • Russell Crowe – Les Misérables, Robin Hood, A Good Year, A Beautiful Mind, Proof of Life, Gladiator, L.A. Confidential
    • Jessica Brown Findlay – Downton Abbey
    • William Hurt – Humans, Robin Hood, Into the Wild, A History of Violence, The Village, Changing Lanes, Sunshine, Smoke, The Accidental Tourist
    • Will Smith – I Am Legend, Wild Wild West, Men in Black, Independence Day
    • Jennifer Connelly – Creation, He’s Just Not that into You, The Day the Earth Stood Still, House of Sand and Fog, A Beautiful Mind, Pollack, Requiem for a Dream, Mulholland Falls
  • Why? The title. I know it has nothing to do with Shakespeare but it’s worth a try. Colin Farrell is good.
  • Seen: 27 November 2016      

       Destiny and magic and a long-haired Colin Farrell in New York, 2014. Sudden switch to 1895. Man, woman, child, doctor, exam, immigrants turned away. A baby left behind.
       Back and forth. A battle between good and evil, fought one life at a time.
       1916. Colin Farrell again, this time a thief, Peter (he’s the baby), running from a murderous mob, rescued by a magical white horse. Switch to Beverly, ill but her fever causes her to see radiant light everywhere. She’s alone in her mansion. Peter starts to burgle the place. She offers him tea. He falls in love. She tells him she’s dying.
       Russell Crowe is the vicious mob leader, Pearly, an agent of the devil (Will Smith).
       It’s all very romantic and magical. Exciting, violent at the end (why, oh why, these silly fistfights?) and completely unlikely. But it has its charm and it is in fact interesting and not without humour.
       It’s far from Shakespeare but it’s quite sweet. The flying white horse is cool. We could all use one of them.
      
3 * of 5   




28 Days Later

28 Days Later 2002
  • Director: Danny Boyle
  • Based on novel: by no
  • Cast: Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris, Christopher Eccleston, Brendan Gleeson, Megan Burns, Leo Bill
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor in:
    • Cillain Murphy – Transcendence, The Dark Knight Rises, Inception, The Dark Knight, Sunshine, Batman Begins, Cold Mountain, Girl with the Pearl Earring
    • Naomie Harris – Spectre, Skyfall, Small Island, Pirates of the Caribbean, 28 Days Later, White Teeth
    • Christopher Eccleston – Fortitude, Doctor Who, 28 Days Later, The Others, eXistenZ, Elizabeth
    • Brendan Gleeson – Edge of Tomorrow, the Harry Potter films, In Bruges, Kingdom of Heaven, The Village, Troy, Cold Mountain, Gangs of New York, Twenty-Eight Days Later, My Life So Far, The Butcher Boy, Michael Collins, Brave Heart, The Snapper
    • Megan Burns – Liam
    • Leo Bill  Mr Turner, A Long Way Down, Alice in Wonderland, Becoming Jane, Kinky Boots, Vera Drake, Gosford Perk
  • Why? cast and director
  • Seen: once before. Now 25 November 2016 

Danny Boyle can’t be accused of making the same kind of film time after time. I can’t think of any two that are alike. What they have in common is that they’re all good.
In this one animal rights activists release research chimpanzees who have been infected with rage. The quickly ensuing epidemic is quick, violent and deadly. Twenty-eight days later Jim wakes up after a bicycle crash in a deserted hospital in a deserted London.
Society is gone, nearly everyone is dead. There are a few survivors. Some are crazed and diseased and dangerous. Two uninfected, Selena and Mark, rescue him from attack.
We go from the low-key revelations of the horror to sudden attack in which Mark is infected and Selena kills him. ‘You have thirty seconds to kill an infected. Survival is all that matters.’
They set out to survive.
It’s slow-paced with eruptions of violence and suspense. This is a thoughtful, thought-provoking, believable and gripping pandemic thriller. One of the best in its genre.


4 * of 5

25 November 2016

The Lady in the Van

The Lady in the Van 2015
  • Director: Nicholas Hytner
  • Based on book by Alan Bennett
  • Cast: Maggie Smith, Jim Broadbent, Alex Jennings, Deborah Findley, Roger Allam, Frances de la Tour, David Calder
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor in:
    • Maggie Smith – My Old Lady, Hotel Marigold 1 and 2, Downton Abbey, the Harry Potter films, The Quartet, Becoming Jane, Keeping Mum, Ladies in Lavender, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, Gosford Park, David Copperfield, Tea with Mussolini, The First Wives’ Club, Richard III, Sister Acts 1 and 2, A Room with a View, Quartet (1981), Oh What a Lovely War, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
    • Jim Broadbent – Filth, the Harry Potter films, Another Year, The Young Victoria, Vera Drake, Gangs of New York, Moulin Rouge, Bridget Jones’s Diary, Topsy-Turvy, Little Voice, Smilla’s Sense of Snow, Richard III, The Crying Game, Enchanted April, Life Is Sweet, Black Adder, Brazil
    • Alex Jennings – Cranford, The Queen, A Midsummer Night’s Dream
    • Deborah Findley – Cranford, Jane Eyre
    • Roger Allam – The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone, Endeavour, The Tempest (on stage and DVD), The Book Thief, The Woman in Black, Shakespeare and the Brits, Pirates of the Caribbean On Stranger Tides, Henry IV Parts One and Two, The Queen, V for Vendetta
    • Frances de la Tour – Vicious, Hugo, Harry Potter, Alice in Wonderland, The Book of Eli, Cold Lazarus
    • David Calder – many TV series, The World Is not Enough
  • Why? Maggie Smith
  • Seen: 12 November, 2016 with Hal and YW in our read-book-see-film group      

       Miss Shepherd is a mad, fanatically Catholic, extremely smelly, extremely demanding and nasty old woman who lives in a van. Alan Bennett is a thoroughly kind playwright. She exploits him, and everyone, ruthlessly. She ends up parked in his driveway, outside his house in Camden Town.
       Alan Bennett himself adapted his small gem of a book into this film. There are more characters, more stories, more details, more depth of character and background.
       It’s very funny, very sad, very British and one asks oneself, ‘What would I do?’ I’m quite sure I wouldn’t be as kind as Alan Bennett, though he himself sees his relationship with Miss Shepherd as a failure, a weakness, timidity. The years pass, her exploitation continues relentlessly. He loses patience at times but there she remains.
       The film raises difficult questions about what we as individuals and as a society do with people like Miss Shepherd who make it so difficult to be kind. It’s a credit to us humans that there are so many who are kind anyway.
       Maggie Smith is, as always, magnificent. Alex Jennings is excellent as Alan Bennett. The whole cast is good.

5 * of 5   



The Boat that Rocked

The Boat that Rocked 2009
  • Director: Richard Curtis
  • Based on book: no
  • Cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Tom Sturridge, Bill Nighy, Tom Brooke, Rhys Darby, Nick Frost, Katherine Parkinson, Chris O’Dowd, Ike Hamilton, Kenneth Branagh, Tom Wisdom, Jack Davenport, Ralph Brown, Rhys Ifans, Talulah Riley, January Jones, Emma Thompson
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor in:
    • Philip Seymour Hoffman – The Hunger Games 1-4, The Invention of Lying, Cold Mountain, Punch-Drunk Love, Almost Famous, State and Main, Flawless, Happiness, The Big Lebowski, Boogie Nights, Scent of a Woman
    • Tom Sturridge – Henry VI (The Hollow Crown), Far from the Madding Crowd, Being Julia
    • Bill Nighy – The Best Exotic Hotel Marigold 1 and 2, Harry Potter, Love Actually, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Girl in the Café, The Boat that Rocked, Shaun of the Dead, The Constant Gardener, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Auf Wiedersehn Pet, Kiss Me Kate, Longitude, Fairy Tale a True Story
    • Tom Brooke – Henry V (The Hollow Crown), Young Victoria, Hustle,
    • Rhys Darby – Flight of the Concords
    • Nick Frost – The World’s End, The Huntsman’s Winter War, Hot Fuzz, Kinky Boots, Shaun of the Dead
    • Katherine Parkinson – Humans, Extras
    • Chris O’Dowd – Vera Drake
    • Kenneth Branagh – Wallander, My Week with Marilyn, Valkyria, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Rabbit-Proof Fence, Shackleton, How to Kill Your Neighbour’s Dog, Love’s Labour’s Lost, Wild Wild West, Hamlet, Othello, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Much Ado About Nothing, Swing Kids, Dead Again, Henry V, The Fortunes of War
    • Jack Davenport – Pirates of the Caribbean, The Libertine
    • Rhys Ifans – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows I, Elizabeth the Golden Age, Shipping News, Human Nature, Notting Hill
    • Talulah Riley – Inception, Doctor Who
    • January Jones – Mad Men, Love Actually
    • Emma Thompson – Beautiful Creatures, Harry Potter, An Education, Last Chance Harvey, Brideshead Revisited, Stranger than Fiction, Nanny McPhee, Angels in America, Love Actually, Wit, The Winter Guest, Sense and Sensibility, The Remains of the Day, Much Ado About Nothing, Peter’s Friends, Howards End, Dead Again, Impromptu, Henry V, The Fortunes of War, Tutti Frutti
  • Why? Kenneth Branagh
  • Seen: Once before. Now 4 November 2016      

       1966. BBC plays less than 45 minutes of rock and pop music a day. Intolerable! Long live Pirate Radio in the Atlantic! Without it Britain would surely not have survived.
       This is the saga of one of the pirate ships, Radio Rock. A boat populated by characters each more misfit than the next. All played by lots of good British (and a couple of American) actors.
       Enter the evil Sir Alister – a smug, tyrannical right-wing politician played by Branagh – who is going to shut them down.
       In fact, I love the BBC, warts and all, and I’m not overly fond of commercial radio. This film has too many silly and often sexist jokes, and the story is basically thin.
       But it is often funny, the characters are generally likeable or enjoyably unlikeable, the actors are great and the music is, well, 60’s music. The 60’s are highly overrated but they did have good music.

3 * of 5   


Shallow Grave

Shallow Grave
  • Director: Danny Boyle
  • Based on novel: by no
  • Cast: Ewan McGregor, Christopher Eccleston, Kerry Fox, Ken Stott, Keith Allen, Colin McCredie, Gary Lewis
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction
    • Ewan NcGregor – Mortdecai, The Impossible, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, The Ghost Writer, Stay, Star Wars I-III, Big Fish, Young Adam, Moulin Rouge, Little Voice, Velvet Goldmine, A Life Less Ordinary, Brassed Off, Trainspotting
    • Christopher Eccleston – Fortitude, Doctor Who, 28 Days Later, The Others, eXistenZ, Elizabeth
    • Kerry Fox – Mental, Bright Star, An Angel at My Table
    • Ken Stott – The Hobbit films, The Girl in the Café, Fever Pitch, For Queen and Country, King Lear
    • Keith Allen – Case Histories, 24 Hour Party People, The Others, Train Spotting, Kafka
    • Gary Lewis – Billy Elliot, Case Histories, Merlin, Filth, Gangs of New York, East Is East, My Name Is Joe, Carla’s Song
  • Why? cast and director
  • Seen: once before. Now 28 October 2016 

One of the stranger movies we’ve seen it has nevertheless stayed with me and I’ve been wanting to watch it again for some time. Having just watched Eccleston in his Doctor Who role and thinking it wasn’t right for him (Doctor Who is and always will be David Tennant to me) I’m looking forward to seeing him in a role suited to his admirable acting skills. And I always want to see Ewan McGregor.
Three friends share a flat in Glasgow (and what a flat!) and are looking for a fourth roommate.  They grill their prospective lodger with bizarre and cruel interrogations and reject them all. Until Hugo. They accept him, he moves in and promptly commits suicide. They find him in his room with a suitcase packed with cash.
Juliet (Fox) is a laid-back but professionally cool doctor. David (Eccleston) is a straight-laced trustworthy accountant. Alex (McGregor) is half-mental journalist who talks them into keeping the money.
But they must get rid of the body. Alex insists they should chop it up. In a series of macabre and funny scenes they manage this and life goes on. And then falls apart.
It’s weird, surrealistic, suspenseful and at times scary. It’s a compelling film with compelling performances, especially by the starring trio. The visual effects are suggestive, stark, frantic at times, colourful and dark. It’s a psychological thrill way beyond the ordinary.


4 * of 5


Everything You Want

Everything You Want 2005
  • Director: Ryan Little
  • Based on novel: no
  • Cast: Shiri Appleby, Nick Zano, Alexandra Holden, Orlando Seale
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor in:
    • Shiri Appleby – Roswell
    • Alexandra Holden – Six Feet Under, Sleepy Hollow for 10
  • Why? I have no idea
  • Seen:  21 October 2016      

       There must be a reason I bought this DVD but now I don’t remember at all. None of the names are familiar. So now I’m curious.
       Oh, yes, Liz from Roswell! I’d forgotten her name. That must be why.
       She’s an art student, Abby. There are several other young people. It’s all very American-college-y, which is usually annoying.
       As is this one. Complete with annoying parents, flaky roommate and an obnoxious guy who is no doubt going to replace Abby’s thoroughly nice British boyfriend. Oh, that’s why the boyfriend is so perfect. He doesn’t exist.
       This is an awful movie. I really do not like the obnoxious guy. At 42 minutes, we ask each other if we can endure watching the rest.
       The answer is no. We fast forward to the inevitable ending when the perfect boyfriend tearfully tells her good-bye and real life still-obnoxious guy wins Abby’s love.
       Because I liked Roswell and Liz I won’t give this the 0* this deserves.


1* of 5

17 October 2016

The Decoy Bride

The Decoy Bride 2011
  • Director: Sheree Folkson
  • Based on story by Sally Phillips
  • Cast: Kelly Macdonald, David Tennant, Alice Eve, Dylan Moran, Michael Urie, Sally Philips, Frederico Castelluccio, Maureen Beattie
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor in:
    • Kelly Macdonald – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, No Country for Old Men, Nanny McPhee, Tristram Shandy, The Girl in the Café, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Finding Neverland, Gosford Park, Elizabeth, Trainspotting
    • David Tennant – Doctor Who, Fright Night, Hamlet, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Bright Young Things
    • Alice Eve – Starter for 10
    • Dylan Moran – Tristram Shandy, Shaun of the Dead, Black Books, Notting Hill
    • Sally Philips – Bridget Jones’s Diary, Born Romantic, Kiss Me Kate
    • Frederico Castelluccio – The Sopranos
  • Why? David Tennant, Kelly Macdonald
  • Seen:  14 October 2016      

       Generally, I avoid any movie with the word bride in the title but with David Tennant and Kelly Macdonald I have no qualms whatsoever.
       And oh look, Black Books’ Dylan Moran as well!
       Film star Lara Tyler and best-selling author James Arber are going to get married but the paparazzi won’t leave them in peace so they decide to wed secretly in a faraway place.
       Cut to unlucky-in-love Katie throwing her engagement ring into the sea and returning to Hegg, her native island off the end of the Outer Hebrides, just in time for the wedding of her old boyfriend.
       She’s roped into writing a guidebook about Hegg because a mysterious conference is being arranged. No surprise – it’s the secret wedding and Hegg is chosen by Lara because James’s latest best-selling but not very good novel takes place there, though James had never set foot on the island, doing all his research via Google.
       Katie and James, well…it is a silly romantic comedy. But it’s funny, it’s absurd, the dialog is mostly in Scottish English, the characters are all quirky and loveable and the whole thing is quite wonderful.
       It is, after all, David Tennant and Kelly Macdonald. It has to be loved.

4 ½ * of 5



Cinderella

Cinderella 2015
  • Director: Kenneth Branagh
  • Based on the fairy tale and Disney film
  • Cast: Lily James, Cate Blanchet, Helena Bonham-Carter, Richard Madden, Nonso Anozie, Stellan Skarsgård, Sophia McShera, Holliday Grainger, Derek Jacobi
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor in:
    • Lily James – Downton Abbey
    • Cate Blanchett – Robin Hood, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, I’m Not There, Notes on a Scandal, Babel, Little Fish, The Aviator, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Heaven, The Shipping News, The Gift, The Man Who Cried, Elizabeth, Elizabeth the Golden Age
    • Helena Bonham-Carter – Les Misérables, Great Expectations, Life’s Too Short, Harry Potter, Toast, The King’s Speech, Alice in Wonderland, Absolutely Fabulous, Enid, Terminator Salvation, Sweeny Todd, Corpse Bride, Conversations with Other Women, Big Fish, Planet of the Apes, Fight Club, Keep the Aspidistra Flying, Twelfth Night, Frankenstein, Howards End, Hamlet, A Room with a View
    • Nonzo Anozie – Brighton Rock, Happy-Go-Lucky, Atonement
    • Stellan Skarsgård – The Railway Man, River, Mamma Mia, Melancholia, Thor, Pirates of the Caribbean, King Arthur, Dogville, The Glass House, Dancer in the Dark, Amistad, Good Will Hunting, Breaking the Waves, Den enfaldige mördaren
    • Sophia McShera – Downton Abbey
    • Holliday Grainger – Jane Eyre, Merlin
    • Derek Jacobi – Vicious, Last Tango in Halifax, My Week with Marilyn, The King’s Speech, Doctor Who, Nanny McPhee, Peter Ackroyd’s London, Gosford Park, Gladiator, Hamlet, Dead Again, Henry V, Hamlet, Richard II, I Claudius
  • Why? Kenneth Branagh
  • Seen: 14 October, 2016.      

       If this wasn’t Branagh I would never watch it. I was upset when I read that he was directing a Cinderella film. My immediate reaction: ‘Do Shakespeare!’
       And then it got quite good reviews. So here we sit, Hal reluctantly, me grudgingly. I want Shakespeare.
       I’ve always found Cinderella to be unbearably sweet and good. Branagh is too skilful to portray her so shallowly – surely?
       But no. Cinderella is dreadfully sweet and good. The evil stepmother and stepsisters are nastily evil. And the prince – anonymously handsome and bland.
       But it’s lavish and colourful and the costumes are imaginative (although her ball dress is traditional and absolutely hideous; I wouldn’t be caught dead in it). It has humour and Bellatrix Lestrange is all in white instead of black and scatter-brained and kind instead of instead of murderously villainous. She makes a fabulous fairy godmother and it’s worth watching all the saccharine just to watch her. Stellan Skarsgård is fun too and Cate Blanchett clearly enjoys vamping it up as the wicked stepmother.  Kindly Daisy of Downton Abbey as one of the stepsisters adds spice. The transformation from magic carriage etc.  back to pumpkin etc. is amusing and exciting. It actually gets quite dramatic at the end.
       So, all right, it’s worth seeing.
       But really. I mean it, Sir Ken – Shakespeare! Now!

3 * of 5.  



10 October 2016

The Hollow Crown Richard III

The Hollow Crown – Richard III 2016
  • Director: Dominic Cooke
  • Based on the plays by William Shakespeare
  • Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Sophie Okonedo, Keeley Hawes, Judi Dench, Ben Daniels, Ivanno Jeremiah, Phoebe Fox
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor in
    • Benedict Cumberbatch – August Osage County, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Small Island, Creation, The Other Boleyn Girl, Atonement, Amazing Grace, Starter for 10, To Kill a King
    • Sophie Okonedo – The Slap, Skin, Hotel Rwanda, Dirty Pretty Things
    • Keeley Hawes – Upstairs Downstairs, Under the Greenwood Tree, Macbeth Retold, Tristram Shandy, Our Mutual Friend, Cold Lazarus, Karaoke
    • Judi Dench - Philomena, Spectre, Hotel Marigold 2, Vicious, Hotel Marigold, My Week with Marilyn, Pirates of the Caribbean On Stranger Tides, Jane Eyre, Cranford, Nine, Quantum of Silence, Notes on a Scandal, Casino Royale, Mrs Henderson Presents, Ladies in Lavender, Die Another Day, The Shipping News, Chocolat, The World is Not Enough, Tea with Mussolini, Shakespeare in Love, Tomorrow Never Dies, Mrs Brown, Hamlet, Golden Eye, Middlemarch, Henry V, A Handful of Dust, A Room with a View, Macbeth, 84 Charing Cross Road
    • Ben Daniels – Merlin
    • Ivanno Jeremiah - Humans
  • Why? Shakespeare
  • Seen: 8 October 2016 
By now we’ve seen several Richard IIIs, a charming Richard, a smarmy arched-eyebrowed Richard, a chatty matey Richard, a subdued Richard who whispers, ‘A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse.’
In the Hollow Crown Henry VI Part Two Benedict Cumberbatch gave signs of being a hateful crazed Richard. Here he smiles a lot, when he’s not spitting in rage.
There is a lot of dramatic music, running down wide stone stairways in flowing robes, dark and shadowy interiors and meaningful close-up facials, but the first hour goes slowly and fails to grip.
We watch Richard gradually, then more quickly, lose his sanity, but Cumberbatch rather overdoes the insanity bit.
Okonedo, Hawes, Dench and Fox are all very good as the various queens. They make it possible for Cumberbatch to do, at times, a decent Richard. Without them, sorry, he’s not a very strong Richard. But then Richard is such a magnificent character that it’s a tall order for any actor to do him justice.  Maybe it’s too much to expect any one actor to portray a charming, arched-eyebrowed, chatty, matey, subdued and whispering Richard.  It would take, say a…David Tennant. Now that I would dearly like to see.

3 ½ * of 5 



The Hollow Crown Henry VI Part Two

The Hollow Crown – Henry VI Part Two 2016
  • Director: Dominic Cooke
  • Based on the plays by William Shakespeare
  • Cast: Tom Sturridge, Sophie Okonedo, Anton Lester, Adrian Dunbar, Stanley Townsend, Ben Miles, Mariah Gale, Keeley Hawes, Benedict Cumberbatch, Kyle Soller
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor in
    • Tom Sturridge – Far from the Madding Crowd, The Boat that Rocked, Being Julia
    • Sophie Okonedo – The Slap, Skin, Hotel Rwanda, Dirty Pretty Things
    • Anton Lesser – Endeavour, Wolf Hall, Pirates of the Caribbean On Stranger Tides, The Girl in the Café, Twelfth Night, King Lear,
    • Adrian Dunbar – Richard III, The Crying Game, Morse, My Left Foot
    • Stanley Townsend – Quirke, Happy-Go-Lucky, Flawless, Hustle, Inside I’m Dancing, The Libertine, Moll Flanders
    • Ben Miles – V for Vendetta, Hustle, Keep the Aspidistra Flying
    • Mariah Gale – Hamlet (with David Tennant)
    • Keeley Hawes – Upstairs Downstairs, Under the Greenwood Tree, Macbeth Retold, Tristram Shandy, Our Mutual Friend, Cold Lazarus, Karaoke
    • Benedict Cumberbatch – August Osage County, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Small Island, Creation, The Other Boleyn Girl, Atonement, Amazing Grace, Starter for 10, To Kill a King
    • Kyle Soller - Poldark
  • Why? Shakespeare
  • Seen: 7 October 2016

The War of the Roses has broken out in earnest. Militant Queen Margaret leads the forces of the pious pacifist King Henry, when she’s not smooching with Somerset (until he’s beheaded).
There are a lot of heads rolling, a lot of clashing swords as one after another of the nobles of the houses of York and Lancaster are slaughtered. The spirit of revenge thrives. Truces are broken, betrayals abound. Family strife alternates with fierce family loyalty. And then strife again.
Much is changed from the plays which leads to a thin beginning but then it picks up. The confrontation between Henry and Richard of York in the parliament chamber is very dramatic. Again Okonedo and Sturridge are very strong and Cumberbatch shows promise as the traumatised young Richard (III to be, next play).
It moves more quickly and more coherently than Part One. Well done.

4* of 5



3 October 2016

84 Charing Cross Road

84 Charing Cross Road 1987
  • Director: David Jones
  • Based on book by Helene Hanff
  • Cast: Anne Bancroft, Anthony Hopkins, Judi Dench, Ian McNeice, Connie Booth
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor in:
    • Anne Bancroft – The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone, To Be or Not to Be, The Elephant Man, The Graduate, The Miracle Worker
    • Anthony Hopkins – Thor, Bobby, Proof, The Human Stain, Titus, Meet Joe Black, Surviving Picasso, The Remains of the Day, Howards End, The Silence of the Lambs, Othello, The Elephant Man, The Lion in Winter
    • Judi Dench  – Philomena, Spectre, Hotel Marigold 2, Vicious, Hotel Marigold, My Week with Marilyn, Pirates of the Caribbean On Stranger Tides, Jane Eyre, Cranford, Nine, Quantum of Silence, Notes on a Scandal, Casino Royale, Mrs Henderson Presents, Ladies in Lavender, Die Another Day, The Shipping News, Chocolat, The World is Not Enough, Tea with Mussolini, Shakespeare in Love, Tomorrow Never Dies, Mrs Brown, Hamlet, Golden Eye, Middlemarch, Henry V, A Handful of Dust, A Room with a View, Macbeth,
    • Ian McNeice – Valkyria, From Hell, Longitude, David Copperfield, A Life Less Ordinary, Nicholas Nickleby
    • Connie Booth – Monty Python, Fawlty Towers
  • Why? Like the book
  • Seen: Two or three times previously. Now: 1 October, 2016 with Hal, YW and KW in the read-book-watch-movie group      

       A must for book lovers, letter writers and Anglophiles. I won’t tell you the story. If you don’t know it, look it up. But I will tell you it’s about a bookshop known for out-of-print rare books in London and a NW writer who loves rare books. It’s a true story, though sadly the bookshop no longer exists.
       The book is a gem. The film gives a fair attempt at living up to it. Hopkins and Bancroft are perfect choices. Dench plays quite a small role and in the beginning she’s almost unrecognisable but she already has the Dench voice.
       One complaint. There are unnecessary additions in the film. I wish they hadn’t done that. It seems they felt they had to pad the story but they could have done that by developing what’s already there in the book.
       At times though it touches the essence of the book and thereby the heartstrings. It too is a small gem in its way. Less than perfect but a great pleasure to watch.

3 ½ * of 5.  






The Hollow Crown Henry VI Part 1

The Hollow Crown – Henry VI Part One
  • Director: Dominic Cooke
  • Based on the plays by William Shakespeare
  • Cast: Max Bennett, Hugh Bonneville, Adrian Dunbar, Michael Gambon, Philip Glennister, Sally Hawkins, Anton Lester, Laura Morgan, Sophie Okonedo, Tom Sturridge, Stanley Townsend, Ben Miles, Samuel West
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor in
    • Max Bennett – Endeavour
    • Hugh Bonneville – Downton Abbey, Lost in Austen, Bonekickers, Daniel Deronda, Notting Hill, Tomorrow Never Dies, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein
    • Anton Lesser – Endeavour, Wolf Hall, Pirates of the Caribbean On Stranger Tides, The Girl in the Café, Twelfth Night, King Lear,
    • Adrian Dunbar – Richard III, The Crying Game, Morse, My Left Foot
    • Michael Gambon – Fortitude, Quirke, The Quartet, Harry Potter 3-8, The King’s Speech, The Book of Eli, Brideshead Revisited, Cranford, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Being Julia, Angels in America, Gosford Park, Longitude, Sleepy Hollow, Mary Reilly, A Dry White Season
    • Philip Glennister – Cranford, Kingdom of Heaven, Island at War, The Calendar Girls, The Other Boleyn Girl,
    • Sally Hawkins – Jane Eyre, Never Let Me Go, An Education, Happy-Go-Lucky, Little Britain, Twenty Thousand Streets under the Sky, Vera Drake, All or Nothing
    • Sophie Okonedo – The Slap, Skin, Hotel Rwanda, Dirty Pretty Things
    • Tom Sturridge – Far from the Madding Crowd, The Boat that Rocked, Being Julia
    • Stanley Townsend – Quirke, Happy-Go-Lucky, Flawless, Hustle, Inside I’m Dancing, The Libertine, Moll Flanders
    • Ben Miles – V for Vendetta, Hustle, Keep the Aspidistra Flying
    • Samuel West – Longitude, Notting Hill, Howards End
  • Why? Shakespeare
  • Seen: 30 September 2016 

It’s a pity these films hadn’t been released yet when we read the history plays recently but now they’re here and we’re certainly not going to wait until we’ve read the plays next time around. That will be a couple of years at least. So regard this as part of the history plays suite.
The heroic (and warmongering) Henry V has died young leaving the child Henry VI at the mercy of rivalling lords and the loss of all the French territories conquered by his father. Shakespeare condenses Henry’s long life and reign into three plays. The Hollow Crown squashes them into two films. It was a confusing and bloody time. Shakespeare’s plays are confusing and bloody. So too is this film.
Shakespeare’s blustery and comical portrayal of English military leader Talbot is scaled down to a simple noble ill-fated soldier here and Shakespeare’s wonderfully cheeky and tragic Joan of Arc is reduced to a rather boring fanatic. A pity. She’s one of my favourite Shakespeare characters. [1]

Sophie Okonedo shines as the strong-willed Margaret (though here too the direction makes her more nasty than politically astute), beloved by Henry, hated by his court for being French and not only not bringing a dowry but costing even more loss of French territories. [2] Tom Sturridge is very good as the foolish, weak, pious young king. The whole cast, chosen from England’s theatrical elite, makes this mess of a play almost understandable and the characters come alive. Especially commended are Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins as the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester.
The production shows explicitly several things that are only hinted at in Shakespeare – usually a mistake, here as well – and several important complexities are compacted into incomprehensibility.
In short, this is a flawed production and not as good as the first Hollow Crown series. But still, it’s worth seeing.  


3 ½  * of 5 




[2] Margaret is fantastic character. One of Shakespeare’s best portrayals. See my text pages 25-32 in Shakespeare Calling – the book (links above)

26 September 2016

The Long Kiss Goodnight

The Long Kiss Goodnight 1996
  • Director: Renny Harlin
  • Based on book: no
  • Cast: Geena Davis, Samuel L. Jackson, Yvonne Zima, Craig Bierko, Patrick Malahide, David Morse
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor in:
    • Geena Davis – Hero, A League of Their Own, Thelma and Louise, The Accidental Tourist, Tootsie
    • Samuel L. Jackson – Jumper, Inglourious Basterds, 1408, Extras, Kill Bill 2, Star Wars Attack of the Clones, Changing Lanes, Star Wars the Phantom Menace, The Red Violin, The Negotiator, Jackie Brown, A Time to Kill, Die Hard, Pulp Fiction, True Romance, Jurassic Park, Lethal Weapon, Jungle Fever, Mo’ Better Blues, Sea of Love, Do the Right Thing, Coming to America, Ragtime
    • Craig Bierko – Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
    • Patrick Malahide – Endeavour, Brideshead Revisited, Extras, Billy Elliot, The World Is Not Enough, Middlemarch, Morse, Black Adder
    • David Morse – Dancer in the Dark, The Green Mile, The Negotiator, Contact, Twelve Monkeys, The Indian Runner
  • Why? A favourite of its kind
  • Seen:  Two or three times before. Now 25 September 2016      

       One of the wildest movies we’ve seen. We were surprised the first time by how much we enjoyed it. Now that we know what’s coming we’re just going to enjoy it again.
       Samantha Caine (Davis) leads a quiet family life as a schoolteacher and a member of the PTA in a small New England town but she has a lot of scars and no memory from before eight years ago. She has a daughter but no memory of the father.
       Switch to foul-mouthed tough guy sleazy private detective blackmailer Mitch Hennessy (Jackson) who’s divorced with a son.
       Needless to say their paths cross and very bad very violent men are after Samantha, who goes off with Mitch to find out who she was in her past. It seems her name was Charley and they’re out to get her.
       And so the wild ride starts. She discovers a very lethal automatic weapon in the suitcase Mitch has recovered from her former landlady. She also discovers some very lethal skills with knives. She learns that Mitch is an ex-cop, an ex-con and lifetime loser. Not a match made in heaven.
       But together they survive one violent attack after another. She is told by a friend – or is he an enemy? – that she was a trained assassin for the US government. But whose side was she really on? How much can she trust the bits of memory that come back to her?
       It’s mad and funny and outlandish and ridiculous and exciting. Geena Davis and Samuel L. Jackson are terrific. This won’t be the last time we watch this film

3 ½ * of 5.  


PS Let this be a lesson – schoolteachers can be much more dangerous than they look.