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This modern day fairy tale stars Ioan Gruffudd and Toni Collette as Alec and Zooey Morrison, a couple who are struggling to conceive and who are finding that it is causing problems in their marriage.  After they talk about fostering a child, a seven year old boy named Eli turns up on their doorstep, saying that the foster agency has sent him.  As he becomes a part of their family, he brings happiness back into their lives, but Eli has one final surprise for them.

This is a really lovely gem of a movie – it has no explosions, no special effects, just solid performances throughout, and lots of emotion (honestly it had me in tears a few times).  Gruffudd and Collette were terrific as a couple going through a very hard time – their pain was almost palpable.  There was a twist at the end which I feel obliged not to give away, but suffice to say that while I don’t always enjoy such twists, it fitted perfectly here.

In addition to the three leads (Maurice Cole is adorable in his debut role as Eli), there is great support from Richard E. Grant, as a mysterious man who seems to know all about the Morrisons, and Anne Reid and Hayley Mills as Zooey’s mother and the foster home manager respectively.

This seems to be a little known film, but if you get the chance to watch it, I would definitely recommend that you do!  Not only is it very moving, but at the end, I had a big smile on my face.

Year of release: 2011

Director: Jonathan Newman

Producers: Hale Coughlin, David Mutch, Alice Dawson, Deepak Nayar

Writer: Jonathan Newman

Main cast: Ioan Gruffudd, Toni Collette, Maurice Cole, Richard E. Grant

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In 1956, Marilyn Monroe came to England to make a film with Sir Laurence Olivier.  The film was The Prince and the Showgirl, based on the Terence Rattigan play The Sleeping Prince.  Monroe wanted to work with Olivier, who directed and starred in the movie, because she thought it would give her credibility as an actress, and Olivier was initially equally as keen – so much so that Olivier’s wife Vivien Leigh was worried that her husband would have an affair with Marilyn.  She needn’t have worried as it turns out; the most overwhelming feeling that Marilyn roused in Olivier was that of annoyance – at her lateness, her constant fluffing of lines, her moods on set…it’s safe to say that making the film was probably not an enjoyable experience for either of them.  (The Prince and the Showgirl is regarded as far from the best thing that either actor worked on, although I personally really liked it).

During filming, Marilyn’s recent marriage to playwright Arthur Miller already seems to be crumbling, and when Miller flies back to America, Marilyn turns to third director Colin Clark, for comfort.  The two end up spending the titular week together.  Colin Clark wrote two books about the making of the film – one of which excluded the week with Marilyn, and one of which concentrated solely on that week.  The second book is the basis of this film.  I have no idea how much of the book is truthful, and I was – perhaps unfairly – sceptical about some of the things he wrote, which made their way into this film – but nevertheless I found the film enjoyable from start to finish.

Playing Marilyn Monroe is a tall order for any actress, but fortunately Michelle Williams was up to the task.  She captures Marilyn’s mannerisms and voice very well, and more importantly, shows Marilyn as more than just the dumb blonde which she was often portrayed as.  She also demonstrates Marilyn’s extreme vulnerability and need to be liked (“Shall I be her?” she asks Colin, when they are surrounded by fans while on a day out, before breaking out Marilyn’s sexy poses and million dollar smile).

Kenneth Branagh was also brilliant as Laurence Olivier – in a cast full of brilliant actors, he stole the film for me.  I loved every one of his scenes; his exasperation at Monroe was entirely understandable – I adore her, but frankly she must have been a nightmare to work with – but he is not incapable of sympathy for her.  He also shows Olivier’s fear that he himself is getting too old for this business, and that his popularity belongs to days gone by.  I always enjoy watching Kenneth Branagh, and this is one of my favourite performances of his.

As Colin Clark, Eddie Redmayne had the unenviable task of making the audience care about someone who they had likely never heard of, when there were two characters in the film who were international stars.  I think Redmayne pulled it off.  There are other actors who probably could have done as good a job, but he was great – especially when you consider that other actors on this film included the aforementioned Branagh and Williams, as well as Dame Judi Dench (wonderful and absolutely adorable as Dame Sybil Thorndike, who also starred in The Prince and the Showgirl) and Zoe Wannaker (in a flawless performance as Marilyn’s acting coach Paula Strasberg, wife of Lee Strasberg, who is known as the father of method acting.  Strasberg’s constant presence on the set, and her undermining of Olivier’s direction proved to be another bone of contention between the two stars).

I really enjoyed seeing the scenes from The Prince and the Showgirl being acted out, and My Week With Marilyn acts as a nice sort of companion piece to that film.  Overall, great performances throughout and an interesting and touching story make My Week With Marilyn a film well worth watching.

Year of release: 2011

Director: Simon Curtis

Producers: Simon Curtis, Kelly Carmichael, Christine Langan, Jamie Laurenson, Ivan Mactaggart, Cleone Clark, Mark Cooper, David Parfitt, Colin Vaines, Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein

Writers: Colin Clark (books ‘My Week With Marilyn’ and ‘The Prince, The Showgirl and Me’) Adrian Hodges

Main cast: Michelle Williams, Eddie Redmayne, Kenneth Branagh, Judi Dench, Dominic Cooper, Richard Clifford

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Click here for my review of The Prince and the Showgirl.

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This is the third (and maybe last?) film in the series that started with Before Sunrise, and continued with Before Sunset.  Just as Before Sunset was set nine years after Before Sunrise, both in the story and in real life, so Before Midnight was made and set nine years after Before Sunset.  This review contains MAJOR spoilers for Before Midnight, and minor spoilers for Before Sunrise and Before Sunset.

Jesse and Celine have been a couple since the events of the previous film, and have twin seven year old daughters.  They live in Paris, but for this film is set in the Greek Peloponnese peninsula, where they have been staying for six weeks.  It starts with Jesse at the airport with his son Henry (Hank).  Hank has been spending the summer with Jesse and Celine and is now heading home to Chicago, and Jesse is concerned that he is not more available for his son, and that he does not see Hank as much as he would like.  Meanwhile Celine is at a career crossroads – she has been offered a job with the French government, and is considering taking it.

Like the two preceding films, Before Midnight is very dialogue heavy, and the acting is superb, with the two leads perfectly portraying all the frustrations, concerns and observations of their situation(s).  Unlike the other two films however, there is quite a lot of interaction with other characters, especially in the first half of this film.  There is one scene where they eat dinner with their hosts in Greece, and other people who are also stopping there, where they all talk about love, life and relationships.  It’s wonderfully acted and enjoyable viewing, but it does feel slightly unusual to see Jesse and Celine interacting with other people (particularly in some scenes where they are separately interacting with others).

It moves into more familiar territory when Jesse and Celine walk around the city together, and talk about what the future might hold for them.  They then go to a hotel room which has been booked for them, and this is where the tension which has been bubbling under the surface for so much of the film, breaks free, and their relationship really seems to be under threat.

I cannot say that I didn’t enjoy this film, and if you have seen the other two, you kind of HAVE to watch this one.  However, whereas the others left me with a feeling of optimism and possibility, this one was a bit of a downer.  Obviously Jesse and Celine have been together for a long time and have the day-to-day responsibility of looking after their daughters, as well as Celine’s job worries and Jesse’s concerns about his son.  In short – things are no longer all hearts and flowers, because reality has well and truly set in.  That’s normal and expected.  But I came away from Before Midnight thinking that if there is a fourth film, I cannot see them still being a couple another nine years down the road. There are accusations of infidelity, signs that neither is really happy with their life together, and the very real possibility that the dream is over and they perhaps should break up.  The ending is less ambiguous than the ending for either Before Sunrise or Before Sunset, but long-term prospects for Jesse and Celine do not seem certain.

I’m certainly glad I watched it – the setting is gorgeous, and as mentioned before, the acting is perfect – but if I’m watching Jesse and Celine’s story in future, I think I’ll stop after Before Sunset.

Year of release: 2013

Director: Richard Linklater

Producers: Richard Linklater, Liz Glotzer, Jacob Pechenik, Martin Shafer, Lelia Andronikou, Kostas Kefalas, Christos V. Konstantakopoulos, Vincent Palmo Jr., John Sloss, Athina Rachel Tsangari, Sara Woodhatch

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

Main cast: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delphy, Athina Rachel Tsangari, Panos Koronis, Walter Lassally

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Click here for my review of Before Sunrise.

Click here for my review of Before Sunset.

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Sex and Death 101 stars a pre-The Mentalist (just – this came out the year before The Mentalist started) Simon Baker, as Roderick Blank, a man who is about to marry his girlfriend Fiona (Julie Bowen) and thinks that his life is just about perfect.  But then he receives a mysterious email, which lists all the women he’s slept with – with Fiona correctly occupying the number 29 slot – but then goes on to list lots more, totalling 101.  Not surprisingly he is somewhat shocked – who has sent the list?  How can he be going to have sex with more than 70 more women, when he is about to marry the woman he loves?!  Roderick’s obsession with the list starts to ruin his life, and pretty much all aspects of it.  Meanwhile, a woman (Winona Ryder) nicknamed Death Nell by the media, is going round murdering men who have treated women badly, and it looks as though Roderick and Nell’s paths are going to cross at some point.

I’m not entirely sure how to categorise this film.  It’s part sci-fi, part romantic comedy, part black comedy – there’s certainly a lot going on, and maybe a bit too much at times.  But….I actually really enjoyed it.  There were some VERY funny moments – and some very adult comedy –  as Roderick initially finds the list intriguing, but then finds that it’s taking over his life.  Simon Baker is wonderful at comedy, and keeps the audience on his side.  Roderick is sometimes lovely, and sometimes pretty damned obnoxious, but it’s difficult not to like him.  Winona Ryder gets surprisingly less screen time than you might expect, given that at the time, she was probably the most famous cast member.  She’s great in her role though – perfect for the part.  Robert Wisdom is great as the leader of a mysterious trio who are behind the list of names that was sent to Roderick, and Patton Oswalt gets a few funny line.  However, as far as the supporting cast goes, nobody betters Mindy Cohn as Roderick’s PA and friend Trixie.

The film got mainly negative reviews on release, and I can see why people might not like it – it sometimes seems as though it’s not quite sure what it’s trying to be, but I did really enjoy it.  A lot of this was because of the gorgeous Simon Baker; he’s a great lead, who for me, perfect for this kind of part, and as mentioned, the supporting cast were all great as well.

If you like quirky comedy, I’d recommend giving this a go.  It’s brash and colourful, and for my money, very entertaining.

Year of release: 2007

Director: Daniel Waters

Producers: Aaron Geller, Cary Brokaw, Elizabeth Zox Friendman, Jerry P. Jacobs, Greg Little

Writer: Daniel Waters

Main cast: Simon Baker, Winona Ryder, Robert Wisdom, Patton Oswalt, Mindy Cohn, Neil Flynn, Leslie Bibb

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Sabrina Fairchild (Julia Ormond) is the gawky daughter of the chauffeur to the wealthy Larrabee family, in Long Island.  For years, she has been secretly in love with youngest Larrabee son David (Greg Kinnear), but he doesn’t seem to notice her, instead choosing to drift from one woman to another.  Sabrina goes to Paris for two years to work for Vogue magazine, and when she gets back, David cannot even recognise the beautiful and sophisticated young woman.  But he is engaged to Elizabeth (Lauren Holly), with whose father’s company, David’s career driven brother Linus (Harrison Ford) hopes to effect a merger.  Linus is determined to keep Sabrina away from David – if David does not marry Elizabeth, the merger will not go ahead – so he starts spending time with Sabrina himself.  But then Linus finds his own feelings towards Sabrina starting to change.

This is an updated remake of the 1954 Billy Wilder film of the same name, which in turn was adapted from Samuel Taylor’s play.  Remakes are often met with derision, and remaking a film which was directed by the great Billy Wilder, and which starred three of the most loved film stars of the time – Audrey Hepburn, William Holden and Humphrey Bogart – is no mean feat.  I loved the 1954 film, and really only wanted to see the 1995 version to see how it compared.  I’ll be honest – I expected to be disappointed.  I love Holden, I love Hepburn, and Sabrina (1954) was such a sparkly, romantic film.  So I was quite surprised by how much I actually did enjoy this remake.  True, Julia Ormond is no Audrey Hepburn, but Hepburn was in a class of her own.  Julia does a pretty good job of playing the titular character though.  Greg Kinnear played the part of David well, although again, he can’t compete with William Holden’s portrayal.  But Harrison Ford was wonderful as Linus.  I actually preferred him to Bogart (maybe because Bogart did not get on with his co-stars or his director in the original film, and Sabrina is not one of his better performances, with many people thinking that he was mis-cast).  Ford brings more depth to the role, and makes Linus sympathetic, even as he is plotting to save his proposed merger, at the expense of Sabrina’s feelings.

I did think it sagged slightly in the middle – after Sabrina returned from Paris and was met with amazement by David and everybody else at the Larrabee mansion, there seemed to be a period of not a lot happening – but overall it was entertaining enough, and the ending was satisfying, even though I knew what was coming.

Special mentions to Nancy Marchand as Maude Larrabee, the matriarch of the family, and Lauren Holly, as Elizabeth – David’s fiancee (who is probably too good for him), who both were excellent in their supporting roles.

Overall, this is a film worth seeing if you like romantic, old-fashioned comedy, or just want something easy going and undemanding to watch for a couple of hours.  I’d recommend it on it’s own merits, but if I absolutely had to pick between this version and the 1954 film, the 1954 film would still come out on top.

Year of release: 1995

Director: Sydney Pollack

Producers: Sydney Pollack, Lindsay Doran, Scott Rudin, Ronald L. Schwary

Writers: Samuel A. Taylor (play and earlier screenplay), Billy Wilder (earlier screenplay), Ernest Lehman (earlier screenplay), Barbara Benedek, David Rayfiel

Main cast: Julia Ormond, Harrison Ford, Greg Kinnear, Nancy Marchand, Lauren Holly, Angie Dickinson, Richard Crenna, Dana Ivey, John Wood

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Click here for my review of the 1954 adaptation.

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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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Take Dean Martin, Paul Newman, Robert Mitchum, Gene Kelly, Dick Van Dyke and Shirley MacLaine, put them all together in one film, and ask yourself what could possibly go wrong?  Answer: NOTHING!  Nothing is wrong with this film at all!

MacLaine is Louisa May Foster, a rich widow who is sent to see a psychiatrist after trying to give the IRS $200 million.  She tells him all about the four very different men she married (and the one she turned down), all of whom died and left her a fortune.  The stories of each of her marriages, to Edgar Hopper (Van Dyke), Larry Flint (Newman), Rod Anderson (Mitchum) and Pinky Benson (Kelly), as well as her first engagement to Leonard Crawley (Dean Martin), who she turns down in favour of Hopper, are told in flashback, with Louisa imagining each one as a film in a different genre.  Gradually each marriage turns from blissfully happy to sad – for Louisa anyway – as she encourages her husbands to chase their dreams, only to wish they hadn’t done so.

Despite the fact that the film describes four marriages gone wrong and four deaths, it is unquestionably a comedy, as it’s opening sequence makes perfectly clear, showing Louisa descending a pink staircase, wearing a pink dress, ahead of a pink coffin in an entirely pink house.

The story is light and fluffy, and my goodness, how lucky was Shirley MacLaine to be romanced by Martin, Newman, Mitchum and Kelly?!  I can only imagine that she was the envy of many viewers when this film came out!  She looks beautiful herself, and also does a rather lovely song and dance number with Gene Kelly, which was a joy to watch.

It looks sumptuous too, with MacLaine wearing a series of increasingly outlandish outfits, and lots of colour throughout.  There are lots of truly funny moments, and I burst out laughing several times, even having to rewind the film occasionally because my laughter made me miss a few lines.

Packed with gorgeous stars, and with a frothy, funny storyline, this film has shot straight into my list of top ten favourite movies, and I definitely recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good comedy.

Year of release: 1964

Director: J. Lee Thompson

Producer: Arthur P. Jacobs

Writers: Gwen Davis, Betty Comden, Adolph Green

Main cast: Shirley MacLaine, Dick Van Dyke, Dean Martin, Paul Newman, Robert Mitchum, Gene Kelly, Robert Cummings

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Two young people meet on a train in Europe, get off the train together in Vienna and spend the night walking around the city, talking and gradually falling in love.  Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delphy) feel an instant connection, and as they get to know each other, their attraction grows, but they both know that at the end of their one night together, they must decide whether to see each other again, despite the fact that he lives in America and she lives in France, or whether they should agree not to keep in touch, and just have the memory of one wonderful night.  And that’s more or less it.

It’s been a while since I watched this film, but I enjoyed it just as much second time around.  I can see why some people didn’t like it – it’s basically an hour and 40 minutes of people talking.  However, the backdrop is gorgeous – it definitely made me want to visit Vienna – and the conversations range from mundane to profound subjects, as they muse about life, love and everything in between.  It did remind me of being that age – Jesse and Celine are in their early 20s – and feeling both full of hope and full of fear about what lies ahead.  Neither are too sure what they want to do with their lives, and they open up to each other about their insecurities, as they explore the city.

Hawke and Delphy are great together; they are basically on screen the whole time, although they do meet and interact with other people.  The chemistry between them is wonderful (particularly an early scene in a record shop, where the attraction and shyness that they both simultaneously feel is almost palpable), and my goodness, the amount of dialogue is immense, when you consider that most of the film is centred around their ongoing conversations.  Yet it all feels natural and spontaneous.  They really capture that feeling of meeting someone for the first time, and just feeling that there is something there between you.

I wouldn’t recommend this film to everyone; if you like action or heavy drama, then you might not like it…but if you like romance – real, believable romance, rather than hearts and flowers rom-com romance – then I’d definitely suggest giving this a try.

Year of release: 1995

Director: Richard Linklater

Producers: John Sloss, Gregory Jacobs, Wolfgang Ramml, Gernot Schaffler, Anne Walker-McBay, Ellen Winn Wendl

Writers: Richard Linklater, Kim Krazan

Main cast: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delphy

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Click here for my review of Before Sunset.

Click here for my review of Before Midnight.

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Set in 1953/54, this film stars Julia Roberts as Katherine Watson, a graduate student from California, who takes a position teaching Art History at Wellesley College, Massachusetts.  The females under her tutorage are surprised by her subversive attitude (by their standards), and her progressive beliefs, as they all think that they are destined to be wives, mothers and nothing more.  The faculty are unhappy about her teaching methods, with the exception of Italian tutor Bill Dunbar (Dominic West), a charismatic but irresponsible man who has a reputation for sleeping with his students, especially Giselle (Maggie Gyllenhaal) who is clearly still stuck on him.  The main characters apart from Katherine and Bill are four students, namely Giselle; Joan (Julia Stiles), an intelligent young woman with a yearning to study Law, but who believes that a woman cannot have a career and marriage; Betty (Kirsten Dunst), a particularly spiteful young lady, who is a product of her overbearing mother; and Connie (Ginnifer Goodwin), a sweet-natured girl, who despairs of ever finding a man who loves her.

This film caught my eye purely because Dominic West is in it; as one of my favourite actors, he never disappoints, and as expected, was great here – as indeed was the whole cast.  All four of the main student characters were perfectly played, and I particularly liked Goodwin’s Connie.  Dunst was also outstanding as Betty, even if I could not stand her character for most of the film (nonetheless, her actions are understandable, if not excusable).  I’ve seen some reviews which suggested that Julia Roberts was not well-cast as Katherine Watson, but I beg to differ.  I enjoyed her in this more rounded and human role than some that she played earlier in her career, and enjoyed her chemistry with Dominic West.  Marcia Gay Harden and Juliet Stevenson were wonderful in supporting roles, as Katherine’s housemates, respectively another tutor, and the school nurse (who is fired for providing the students with contraception).

The film was inspiring too – there were some funny moments, and a surprising amount of tear-inducing scenes (I had to watch the last few scenes through my tears).  It was thought-provoking and emotionally satisfying, and I thoroughly enjoyed it from the first scene to the last.  Very highly recommended.

Year of release: 2003

Director: Mike Newell

Producers: Joe Roth, Richard Baratta, Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas, Paul Schiff, Deborah Schindler

Writers: Lawrence Konner, Mark Rosenthal

Main cast: Julia Roberts, Kirsten Dunst, Julia Stiles, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Ginnifer Goodwin, Dominic West, Juliet Stevenson, Marcia Gay Harden

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A couple of years after making the hugely successful The Poseidon Adventure, producer Irwin Allen made The Towering Inferno, another disaster movie with a top-notch cast (Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, William Holden, Fred Astaire – in an Oscar nominated turn – Robert Wagner, Robert Vaughn, Richard Chamberlain, Faye Dunaway, Jennifer Jones; it’s practically a who’s who of Hollywood at the time.) Newman and McQueen share top billing (at McQueen’s insistence) as architect Doug Roberts and firefighter Chief Mike O’Halloran.  William Holden as James Duncan, is the head of the company who built the tower, and it turns out that his son-in-law Roger Simmons (Richard Chamberlain) has cut corners and compromised safety in order to save money.  Astaire puts in a touching performance as con artist Harlee Claiborne, who falls for his intended con victim Lisolette (Jennifer Jones).

As the name of the film indicates, these characters and others besides all find themselves trapped at the top of a skyscraper designed by Roberts, when a fire breaks out and threatens to engulf them all.  The action scenes are genuinely edge-of-the-seat stuff, and there are some truly shocking moments, and lots of tension throughout.  Despite the impressive roll call of names on the cast list, the true star of the show, as Newman himself acknowledged, is the fire itself.

It isn’t a perfect film by any means – in fact some of the dialogue is downright hammy, and feels false.  I don’t feel that the cast are at fault for this (after all, you only have to look at their other films to know just how good most of these actors are), but it’s fair to say that there isn’t much character development.  For me, McQueen is the stand-out cast member, with the best performance of the lot (and I say this as a big fan of Newman, Holden and Astaire).  But despite its flaws, there is just SO much to enjoy about this film – it’s not often that a film with a running time of almost three hours, keeps me engaged from start to finish, but this one certainly did.  It might not be the best film of any of the cast members, but on a pure entertainment level, it’s a winner, and I would definitely recommend it.

(Incidentally, there is a lot of interesting trivia about this film.  McQueen was originally pegged for the role of Doug Roberts, but he lobbied to get the part of the heroic O’Halloran – not that Roberts isn’t also a hero.  He also insisted that he get equal billing with Newman, which is why in the opening titles, his name appears on the lower left hand side of the screen, while Newman’s appears on the top right.  That way, if you read from top to bottom, Newman comes first, and if you read from left to right, McQueen comes first.  He also insisted that he be given extra lines, in order that he and Newman – with whom he always had a professional rivalry – had the same amount of dialogue!  Nonetheless, he took Newman’s son Scott, who has a small role as a nervous firefighter, under his wing during the filming.)

Year of release: 1974

Director: John Guillerman

Producers: Irwin Allen, Sidney Marshall

Writers: Richard Martin Stern (novel ‘The Tower’), Thomas N. Scortia (novel ‘The Glass Inferno’), Frank M. Robinson (novel ‘The Glass Inferno’), Stirling Silliphant

Main cast: Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, William Holden, Fred Astaire, Faye Dunaway, Richard Chamberlain, Jennifer Jones, Robert Vaughn

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