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Archive for the ‘Film Reviews’ Category

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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When Anna Leonowens is brought to Siam (now Thailand) in the 1860s, to be governess to the King of Siam’s many children, there is initially a culture clash between Anna and the King.  Both have preconceptions about the other’s respective country, and when Anna is not given the house which she was promised in her contract, she threatens to leave.  However, she falls in love with the children, and decides to stay, and both the King and Anna come to regard each other with respect and warmth.

Anna Leonowens was a real person, and this film is based on the novel Anna and the King of Siam, by Margaret Landon.  That novel was based on the diaries of Anna Leonowens, but it should probably be noted that the events are today disputed.  Also, this film was considered so offensive to the Royal Family of Thailand, due to its historical inaccuracies, that it is actually banned there.

As pure entertainment however, this film did tick all the boxes for me.  I would have liked to have seen more Thai actors playing Thai (Siamese) roles, and if this film were to be made today, hopefully that would happen.  Here, we have Deborah Kerr, who I always enjoy watching, as Anna, and Yul Brynner as the King.  Incredibly, this is the first Yul Brynner film I have ever seen, and any future ones will have a lot to live up to, because I absolutely adored his portrayal of the King (even if a lot of dramatic licence was used in his character).  There was real chemistry between the two leads, and Brynner was really funny throughout; I particularly enjoyed his boyish insistence that Anna’s head always be lower than his, and his constant, and sometimes inappropriate use of the phrase “etcetera, etcetera, etcetera,” after he hears Anna use it when she arrives, and she tells him what it means.  Incidentally, Brynner played the same role on stage, in over 4000 performances –  no wonder he inhabited the character so well, and with such charisma.

The film is also beautiful to look at, with an explosion of colour, and there is always lots happening on screen.  In addition, there are some lovely songs, including Shall We Dance? and Getting to Know You.  I also liked the beautifully danced, and wholly inaccurate interpretation of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which was put on for the benefit of a visiting English envoy.

Don’t watch this film if you genuinely want to learn more about the events or period upon which it is based.  But if you like musicals, and want to listen to some lovely songs, and watch a terrific central performance, then give it a try.  I’ll definitely be watching it again in the future.

Year of release: 1956

Director: Walter Lang

Producers: Darryl F. Zanuck, Charles Brackett

Writers: Margaret Langdon (novel ‘Anna and the King of Siam’), Ernest Lehman, Oscar Hammerstein II

Main cast: Yul Brynner, Deborah Kerr, Rita Moreno, Martin Benson, Rex Thompson

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This film is very loosely based on the life of Jane Austen, prior to her becoming a successful author.  Jane (Anne Hathaway), whose mother wants her to marry a rich man, meets and falls for penniless lawyer Tom Lefroy (James McAvoy).  Their relationship inspires her writing, and in particular, her novel Pride and Prejudice (called here by its original title of First Impressions).

If you are looking for a biography of Jane Austen, this film is not it.  In fact, the real Jane only referred to Tom Lefroy in a couple of letters to her older sister Cassandra, so this film merely seems to take that as a jumping off point, from which to create a love story.  The subject of the story could just as easily have been a fictional character, but I imagine that to make it about Jane Austen drew in fans of the author (it’s what made me want to watch it).

Although it received quite bad reviews, I did enjoy the film for what it was.  Anne Hathaway is an unusual choice to play Jane Austen, but I thought she did well, and her accent was convincing; had I not known that she is American, I would have believed she was English based on this film.  James McAvoy was also very good as Tom Lefroy, and I thought the two of them had good chemistry.  The supporting cast consists of several well known names, including Maggie Smith, Julie Walters, Laurence Fox, James Cromwell and Anna Maxwell Martin – unfortunately all of them were somewhat under-used, but made the most of their parts.

I found it interesting that the first part of the film mirrored somewhat the plot of Pride and Prejudice – a headstrong and intelligent girl is determined to marry for love, while her mother implores her to marry a rich man, who can support her and her family.  Indeed, Jane is portrayed very much as a Lizzie Bennet type character, and there were also some witty lines and comic scenes.

The second part of the film is more dramatic, and anyone who knows much about Jane Austen’s life, will know whether or not the romance with Lefroy works out.  I thought the ending was a bit too long, and the film could have ended about 30 minutes earlier, but all the same, it tied up all the loose ends nicely.

Overall, an enjoyable film – if you are a Jane Austen fan, approach with caution and be aware that it is very much an imagined version of this part of Jane’s life, but if you are okay with that, then give it a watch.  You might be pleasantly surprised.

Year of release: 2007

Director: Julian Jarrold

Producers: Jeff Abberley, Julia Blackman, Nicole Finnan, Tim Haslam, Joanna Anderson, Robert Bernstein, Graham Broadbent, Noelette Buckley, James Flynn, Morgan O’Sullivan, Douglas Rae, James Saynor

Writers: Jane Austen (letters), Kevin Hood, Sarah Williams

Main cast: Anne Hathaway, James McAvoy, Maggie Smith, Julie Walters, Laurence Fox, James Cromwell, Ian Richardson, Anna Maxwell Martin, Lucy Cohu, Joe Anderson

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This television movie is based on the real life story of Jennifer Corbin, wife of dentist Bart Corbin.  Jennifer was killed in an apparent suicide, but her sister Heather is convinced that Bart murdered her.  As events unfold, the truth about the Corbins’ marriage is revealed in flashback, and shows that Jennifer was having an internet affair, while Bart cannot deal with rejection.  It is only through Heather’s determination, and the tenacity of the investigating detectives that the truth is finally revealed.

I accept that this film does not break any new boundaries, and in many ways is a typical ‘Lifetime’ movie.  However, the great performances of the cast elevate it to much better than average.  Rob Lowe is such a talented, versatile actor, and here he plays the charming but controlling Corbin to perfection.  Lauren Holly also does a great job as Jennifer’s sister Heather, and Yannick Bisson (who I adore from TV’s Murdoch Mysteries) puts in a nice supporting performance as Bart’s brother Bobby.  Detective Roche, the lead detective in the investigation is well played by Michelle Hurd.  Jennifer herself is played by Stefanie von Pfetten.  She was a new face to me, but handled the part of the troubled Jennifer very well.

The story starts with Jennifer’s death, and all evidence points to suicide.  Having no knowledge of the actual tragic events behind this film, I was not sure whether in fact she had killed herself, or if as her sister suspected, she had been murdered – and if she had been murdered, then who was responsible?

Overall, I would say the film is engaging and certainly very watchable.  I would definitely recommend it to fans of Rob Lowe – it may not be his most popular or well-known role, but as always, he gives it everything, and is very convincing.

Year of release: 2009

Director: Norma Bailey

Producers: Scott W. Anderson, Stanley M. Brookes, Damian Ganczewski, Juliette Hagopian, Jim Head, Nicholas Tabarrok

Writers: Ann Rule (book), Fab Filippo, Donald Martin, Adam Till

Main cast: Rob Lowe, Lauren Holly, Michelle Hurd, Stefanie von Pfetten, Yannick Bisson, Mary Ashton, Marc Bendavid

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