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Archive for the ‘Film Reviews’ Category

This um…biopic made for the Lifetime Channel, attempts to tell the story of the romance between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.  I have a particular fascination for Burton, which is why I wanted to watch this film, despite all the flak it has received.  And – well….I’m glad I watched it, because it was entertaining on one level, but probably not on the level that it was hoping for.

The first problem is that an hour and a half is simply not enough time to tell the story of Burton and Taylor, and consequently, events seem pretty rushed, with the main focus seeming to be on their arguments.  The main problem however is with the inexplicable casting of Lindsay Lohan as Elizabeth Taylor.  Now Lohan has had her issues, and I don’t want to pile on to her just for the sake of it.  I was hoping that she would actually be much better than other reviews had led me to believe, but unfortunately those other reviews were right.  She was terribly miscast as Taylor.  It doesn’t bother me that she doesn’t look like Elizabeth Taylor (neither does Helena Bonham-Carter, but she still did a terrific job in the BBC film ‘Burton and Taylor’) – although if a film is going to make constant references to Taylor’s struggle to keep her weight down, it might be worth not having Lohan looking scrawny at the same time.  What annoyed me more was the fact that Lohan didn’t seem to be trying to emulate Taylor in any apparent way.  Her voice was NOTHING like that of Taylor – which was pretty distinctive – and she just seemed to be playing a generic, mainly fictional film star from the era.  In some scenes she was embarrassingly wooden.

Grant Bowler was more of a success as Richard Burton, and did actually do a good job of mastering Burton’s gorgeous voice.  Again, he didn’t really look a lot like Burton, but he did play the part well, and made me feel that with more time to tell the story, and a better leading actress to star opposite, this film could have been more of a success.

For Burton and/or Taylor fans, it’s worth watching for pure curiosity’s sake, but if you are looking for a film about this legendary couple, you would be better off watching the aforementioned BBC production ‘Burton and Taylor’, which focuses on the period in the 1980s when the couple – now divorced – appeared together in the stage play Separate Lives.

Year of release: 2012

Director: Lloyd Kramer

Producers: Larry A. Thompson, Christopher Monger, Kyle A. Clark, Robert G. Endara II, Philip Harrelson, Lina Wong

Writer: Christopher Monger

Main cast: Lindsay Lohan, Grant Bowler, Theresa Russell, David Hunt, Tanya Franks, Andy Hirsch

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This is a fairly low-budget British ‘horror’ film (albeit light on the horror aspect), which Cassie (Christina Ricci) is a young woman knocked over by a car in the sleepy town of Ashby Wake.  When she recovers, she has lost her memory and cannot remember what she is doing in the town.  The woman who knocked her over lets Cassie stay with her and her family, and Cassie forms a bond with the young son, Michael.  However, she is curious and concerned about the strangers who she keeps seeing in the town, but who seem oddly familiar to her, and she enlists the help of a man named Dan (Ioan Gruffudd).  Meanwhile, a buried church is discovered underground, and various members of the Anglican church in the neighbourhood are anxious to discover the mystery behind it.

I watched this film for the sole reason that Ioan Gruffudd was in it.  Horror is not really a favourite genre of mine, and religion is not a subject which would normally draw me to a film.  Nonetheless, I actually found this entertaining enough, despite a few plot holes and unresolved questions.

Christina Ricci was fine as the lead character, although some of the choices that character made seemed unlikely.  Ioan Gruffudd (who surely must have an ageing portrait in his attic, as he looks no different eleven years later than he does in this film) was also good as Dan – actually the best thing about the movie, from  my point of view.

In all, while this film does present more questions than it answers (or more truthfully just leaves some plotlines dangling), it’s an undemanding, slightly hokey experience, and not bad if you are a fan of the genre, or any of the main actors.

Year of release: 2003

Director: Brian Gilbert

Producers: Patrick McKenna, Pippa Cross, Rachel Cuperman, Marc Samuelson, Peter Samuelson, Steve Clark-Hall

Writer: Anthony Horowitz

Main cast: Christina Ricci, Ioan Gruffudd, Stephen Dillane, Kerry Fox, Simon Russell Beale, Peter McNamara

 

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This film is also known as The Perfect Catch, and is based on Nick Hornby’s novel Fever Pitch.  The book was originally adapted in 1997, into a film starring Colin Firth as a die-hard fan of Arsenal football (or soccer) team.  The comedy explores how his love for the team affects his romantic relationship.  In this American adaptation, Ben Wrightman (Jimmy Fallon) is a Boston Red Sox fan, who falls for Lindsey Meeks (Drew Barrymore).  However, they initially meet out of the baseball season, so it’s only when the season starts that she realises that she will always have to compete with the Sox for Ben’s affections.

I haven’t seen the 1997 film – I like Colin Firth a lot, but football leaves me cold.  However, I do enjoy baseball, and recently had some wonderful times watching three Red Sox games (two of which were at their home ground, Fenway Park).  You don’t have to be a baseball fan, or a Sox fan to enjoy this film, but I do think it helps.

The movie is set during the 2004 World Series, which the Sox unexpectedly won, thereby beating the Curse of the Bambino.  (In fact, it was originally assumed that the Sox would lose, so when they won, the ending of the film had to be re-written).

I really liked the film.  Jimmy Fallon was terrific as Ben – sweet and affectionate, as long as nothing got in the way of him watching any of his team’s games.  Despite the way that he stretched his girlfriend’s patience to the limit, he was really likeable throughout.  Drew Barrymore was also lovely as Lindsey.  Her character was a workaholic (in many ways, as obsessed with her job as Ben was with the Sox), and in the hands of a different actress, Lindsey might not have been likeable, but Barrymore is very warm and hard to dislike.

There are loads of laugh-out-loud moments, and lots of physical comedy.  The ending is – maybe – quite predictable, but I really liked it anyway, and it was great to see actual players from the Red Sox in the film, although none of them had a speaking part.

It’s an undemanding, but very enjoyable film, great for any time, but especially if you’ve just been, or are planning to go to Fenway Park!

Year of release: 2005

Directors: Bobby Farrelly, Peter Farrelly

Producers: Drew Barrymore, David Evans, Marc S. Fischer, Nick Hornby, Alan Greenspan, Nancy Juvonen, Kris Meyer, Gil Netter, Hal Olofsson, Amanda Posey, Gwenn Stroman, Bradley Thomas

Writers: Nick Hornby (novel), Lowell Ganz, Babaloo Mandel

Main cast: Jimmy Fallon, Drew Barrymore, Jack Kehler, Ione Skye, KaDee Strickland, Marissa Jaret Winokur, Willie Garson, Evan Helmuth

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Marlon Brando is Johnny Strabler, the leader of a motorbike gang who arrive in the (fictional) town of Wrightsville, California, and, initially just being boisterous are welcomed (or at the least, tolerated) by the residents.  However, when the gang’s behaviour turns dangerous and threatening, the town’s residents decide to take matters into their own hands.  Meanwhille, Johnny meets a young woman named Kathie (played by Mary Murphy), who works in the local cafe, and despite their very different background and lifestyles, there is an attraction between them.

I wasn’t sure whether I would really like this film, but I ended up thoroughly enjoying it.  Brando epitomises 50s rebellion, and (sorry to be shallow) he oozes sex appeal.  I loved his portrayal of Johnny, as a man who is more than what he appears on the surface; it’s clear that Johnny has not known much love and affection in his life, and is looking for something to rebel against (when asked, “What are you rebelling against?” he answers, “Whaddaya got?”).  He almost steals every scene he is in, and would have done, were it not for the fine performance of Mary Murphy as Kathie, who is very attracted to Johnny, but doesn’t understand his lifestyle.  Robert Keith is also notable for his role as Chief Bleeker, the town’s only law enforcement officer, who seems unable to cope with the gang.

The story takes place over just a few days, and despite feeling somewhat aged (but come on, this film is 61 years old!), the film captures the tension and claustrophobic atmosphere of the town.

Overall, this was a pleasant surprise for me, and a film that I would definitely recommend, not only for it’s excellent performances, but also for being a classic, and one of the first films to highlight the issue of gang violence.

Year of release: 1953

Director: Laslo Benedek

Producer: Stanley Kramer

Writers: Frank Rooney (short story), John Paxton, Ben Maddow

Main cast: Marlon Brando, Mary Murphy, Robert Keith, Lee Marvin, Jay C. Flippen, Hugh Sanders, Ray Teal

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This British horror film was directed by Martin Kemp, better known for his music career in Spandau Ballet, and his acting career (The Krays, Eastenders, amongst others).  Also known as Exposé, it is based on a 1976 film called The House on Straw Hill (alternative name Trauma).

Paula (Anna Brecon) is a writer, struggling with her second novel.  At her publisher’s suggestion, she goes to stay at an old house which belongs to her uncle, in order to concentrate her mind.  When an assistant named Linda (Jane March) turns up to help Paula, everything seems fine at first, but it soon becomes clear that Laura is dangerously unbalanced.

I am not normally a fan of horror films, but I watched this because the delectable Colin Salmon is in it.  It was actually pretty entertaining, and held my attention throughout (it’s a short film, coming in at just under 80 minutes).  I would say that it is more of a psychological horror, than a gory horror – and there are definitely no ghosts or ghouls here.

Anna Brecon did a decent job as Paula, and Colin Salmon was great as Leo, Paula’s counsellor and friend.  Occasionally, the dialogue was a bit clunky, but overall it was enjoyable enough, and there was a twist which I should have seen coming, but didn’t.

It’s not the best of its genre, but if you are a fan of thrillers (rather than out-and-out horrors), then I would say that this film is worth an hour and a half of your time.

Year of release: 2010

Director: Martin Kemp

Producers: Kevin Byrne, James Kenelm Clarke, Will Horn, Ciaran Mullaney, Gareth Mullaney, Billy Murray, Gary Phillips, Simon Phillips, Mark Vennis, David Beazley, Johnathan Sothcott, Danny Young

Writers: James Kenelm Clarke, Martin Kemp, Jonathan Sothcott, Phillip Barron

Main cast: Anna Brecon, Jane March, Jennifer Matter, Billy Murray, Colin Salmon, Linda Hayden

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Jane Hayes (Keri Russell) is a Jane Austen obsessed, unlucky in love American, who decides to travel to Austenland – a British Austen-themed resort, where clients can totally immerse themselves in the Regency period, and find romance.  However, when she gets there, nothing is quite what she expects.

Based on Shannon Hale’s book of the same name, and with a similar theme to the 2008 mini-series Lost In Austen, this film is a lot of fun, and you don’t need to be a Jane Austen fan to enjoy it.  It’s definitely played for laughs, and it’s fair to say that some of the characters are completely over-the-top (Jennifer Coolidge as a fellow holidaymaker is ridiculously funny).  I can see how it would polarise audiences – reviews were very mixed, with many Austen fans hating it – but I thought it was a perfect way to spend an hour and a half, if you are able to switch your brain off and just enjoy the ride.

Russell was sweet and very likeable as the heroine of the story, and the aforementioned Coolidge provided much of the humour.  Jane Seymour was suitably acidic as Mrs Wattlesbrook, the manager of the resort, who treats Jane like a second class citizen, because Jane has not paid for the most expensive package available.  James Callis and Ricky Whittle, as two of the actors employed to play Regency gentlemen to the female guests were also enjoyable.

Jane finds herself torn between two men while staying at the resort – Martin the groom, played by Bret McKenzie, and Henry Nobley, with definite shades of Mr Darcy (he is offhand and cool at first, but soon finds himself becoming fascinated by Jane), played by JJ Feild.  They were both ideal for their parts, with neither Jane nor the viewers sure whether they are being themselves, or playing a role which they were hired for.

The ending is perhaps a little bit predictable,  but the same goes for most rom-coms, and in any event, it was nicely done.  If you like romantic comedies, and don’t want to take the plot seriously, this is a very enjoyable film.

Year of release: 2013

Director: Jerusha Hess

Producers: Robert Fernandez, Dan Levinson, Meghan Hibbett, Stephanie Meyer, Gina Mingacci, Jared Hess, Jane Hooks

Writers: Shannon Hale (novel), Jerusha Hess

Main cast: Keri Russell, Jennifer Coolidge, JJ Feild, Bret McKenzie, James Callis, Ricky Whittle, Georgia King, Jane Seymour

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Real life couple Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor star as married couple George and Martha, in this intense and absorbing film adaptation of Edward Albee’s play.  Fuelled by alcohol, and years of resentment, disappointment and bitterness, the couple take verbal swipes at each other, and drag young couple Nick and Honey (George Segal and Sandy Dennis) into their drama – manipulating the younger couple, as well as each other.

This film left me feeling as though I had been through an emotional wringer, but for all that, it was very satisfying, and impossible to stop watching.  Taylor and Burton are both wonderful (if anyone has doubts about whether or not Elizabeth Taylor could act, watching this film will put paid to any reservations).  Martha is, by her own admission, loud and vulgar – the kind of person you avoid at parties, because you know they’re a nightmare when they’ve had a few drinks.  Initally, George seems the more reasoned and put-upon member of the couple, but it becomes clear that in fact, he is just as cruel (crueller, probably) than Martha, and knows exactly how to push her buttons.  Both of them are obviously disappointed by the path their lives have taken, and in each other.  They have both obviously failed to live up to each other’s expectations.  Nick and Honey are both fascinated and repelled by the warring couple – and George and Martha seem to get some kind of perverse pleasure out of making Nick and Martha uncomfortable.  Nick is a young professor at the college where George is also a professor, and while George’s career has not taken him where he and Martha hoped that it would, he sees Nick as a threat – a younger, more handsome man, ready to usurp George.  Martha is quick to exploit this.

Sandy Dennis was wonderful as Honey, who was the most sympathetic character of the four.  That is not to say that she was particularly likeable, but whereas the other three actually came across as unpleasant, Honey is merely irritating, especially to her husband, who clearly does not find her stimulating, either intentionally or physically.  But despite the behaviour of George and Martha, I did find myself feeling sympathetic towards them, especially as the story progresses, and you see that they are acting more out of frustration and dashed hopes, than any kind of intrinsic nastiness.

There are just four members of the cast throughout (to be exact, six people appear on screen, but the other two appear for about 30 seconds each, and one of them doesn’t have any lines), and there is a general feeling of claustrophobia and tension throughout the film.  The glaring close-ups on people’s faces, and fact that it is filmed in black and white rather than colour – quite unusual for 1966 – add to the general atmosphere.

I found the film emotionally draining, and after finishing it, felt like I needed to watch something light-hearted and funny, but Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is also compelling viewing, thanks in large part to the skill of Taylor and Burton, and the screen chemistry between them.  Definitely recommended.

Year of release: 1966

Director: Mike Nichols

Producer: Ernest Lehman

Writers: Edward Albee (play), Ernest Lehman

Main cast: Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, George Segal, Sandy Dennis

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