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Posts Tagged ‘family’

 

Polly is Rose’s oldest friend, so when Polly’s husband Christos is killed in a road accident, Rose doesn’t think twice about inviting Polly and her two sons to stay with Rose and her husband Gareth, and their children.  But soon after Polly, with her wild ways and dangerous habits moves into Rose’s carefully ordered life, things start going wrong.  As Rose watches her own world starting to fall apart, she realises one thing – now that Polly is there, it’s going to be hard to get her out again.

I thought this psychological thriller was pretty good.  It was certainly fast paced, with lots of twists and turns, and I found it hard to put down.  The characters were well drawn, although none of them was especially likeable.  I did find myself rooting for Rose at the beginning of the story, but about halfway through I got exasperated with her reactions to certain events.  Gareth was difficult to like, although there was a backstory which went some way to explaining his moods, and Polly was so selfish and thoughtless that I was amazed that either Rose or Gareth could stand being in her company for more than a couple of days.

The story is told in the third person, but from Rose’s point of view, which added to the suspense, especially as events took a firmer hold on her, and she became a more unreliable narrator.  I did think some of the phrasing was a bit clunky (a particular example was, “A dull nausea, like the smell of new carpet, began to seep into her toes…”  Is the smell of new carpet particularly nauseous?!) but overall it did not detract from the action, and certainly did not stop me from reading faster and faster as I got towards the end, because I was eager to see how things turned out.

There were a few loose ends and unanswered questions at the end of the story, but the major plot line was resolved, although not in the way I had hoped for.  However, I would recommend this book to fans of thrillers – it’s exciting and tense enough to be devoured in just one or two sittings, and I look forward to reading more books by Julia Crouch.

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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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I don’t listen to a lot of audiobooks and it’s very rare for me to think that a book is better listened to than read, but in this case, I’ll make an exception.  The Measure of a Man is narrated by Sidney Poitier himself, and he has such a beautiful voice, that it really enhanced my experience of the book.  It also worked really well as an audiobook because he is so conversational in tone – he peppers his narration with phrases like, “You follow?” or “You see?”

As for the content itself – wow!  This is a wonderful autobiography and then some.  While Poitier does tell the story of his life, it’s not necessarily a straightforward chronological account of events.  At times it comes across more as a philosophical discussion, where he uses his own life as a starting point.

His description of his childhood on Cat Island in the Bahamas was wonderful.  Although his family lived in poverty, he points out that living in poverty on Cat Island was very different to living in poverty in some concrete jungle.  As a child, he lived in a place with a beautiful climate, cocoa plum trees, sea grapes and wild bananas.

However, the most interesting – and in many ways upsetting – part of the book was when Poitier described his life in America which started when he moved to Florida aged 15, and then moved on to New York, and eventually started acting.  This was a a time of racial segregation, and he realised exactly what it meant to be classed as a second class citizen.  As an example – he recalled one event when he was already quite well known in films, and he went to a restaurant for a bite to eat.  The black Maitre d’ explained that he could have a table there, but they would have to put a screen around him, for the sensitivity of the white diners.  When offered jobs on certain films, he was asked to sign papers disowning those of his black friends who were campaigning for equal rights (he always refused to do so).

Throughout it all, Poitier’s dignity and strong sense of right and wrong shines through.  He speaks strongly of his love for his parents, and how they inspire him in his life – whatever work he does, he does for them as well as for himself and his own family.  He describes how he has always tried to be the best that he can be, his search for answers, his hopes for not only himself, but the world at large.  He’s honest about himself; those parts of himself that he is proud of, and the mistakes which he has made.

This is not a revealing, kiss-and-tell autobiography, and it is all the better for it.  Poitier does not delve into the subject of murky or tawdry Hollywood tales, and is respectful of those people who he does mention by name.  He does discuss some of his most famous films – which made me immediately want to go out and rewatch them – and reveals his motivation for playing certain roles, and refusing certain others.

Overall, I’d say that this is one of the best autobiographies I have ever read (or listened to).  I would strongly recommend it, not only to anyone with an interest in Hollywood or film-making, but also to anyone with an interest in the civil rights movement.

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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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Zadie Smith’s third novel focuses on two rival academics, Howard Belsey and Monty Kipps, and their respective families.  While these two men are feuding, their wives are making friends and their children are struggling with adolescence and responsibility.  There are too many threads to cover here, but this is a story of family, race, infidelity, forgiveness, unrequited feelings, and much more.

I really REALLY enjoyed this book.  The characters seemed so completely real, each with their positive and negative, but always very human traits.  They may not always have been likeable (I actually found Howard Belsey to be never likeable), but they were identifiable.

Smith writes so beautifully, with such a wonderful, spot-on turn of phrase.  She also has an incredible eye for observational humour, with sometimes just a few words or one line making me laugh out loud.  At times I was frustrated with the characters, at times angry, and sometimes sympathetic, but whatever my feelings, I always wanted to know what was going to happen to them.

It’s not a story with a neat beginning, middle and ending – things are not necessarily wrapped up neatly; it’s almost like a snapshot of a certain period of these families’ lives.  I thoroughly enjoy it, and definitely recommend it.

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At a young age, the virtuous and sweet Fanny Price is sent to live with her Uncle and Aunt Bertram, and her four cousins, the feckless Tom, the moral Edmund, and their flighty sisters Maria and Julia.  Fanny falls for Edmund, but keeps her feelings hidden and has to watch as he falls for their friend Mary Crawford, while Maria and Julia are both attracted to Mary’s sister Henry Crawford.  As the Crawford and the Bertrams become closer, entanglements and complications ensue.

In all honesty, there is too much story to put into one small summary, and in many ways this is the most socially aware and least romantic novel of Austens.  It is also probably the least popular of her novels, and I can understand why, although I did enjoy it.

The thing that struck me about the characters is that none of them are particularly likeable.  Fanny is sweet and kind, and Edmund is very  moralistic and by far the most thoughtful of the Bertram children, but (for me anyway) they were both ever-so-slightly boring.  The rest of the characters don’t have much to redeem them, with Mrs Bertram seeming kind, but practically catatonic for most of the novel, and Mr Bertram being well-meaning, but cold and distant.  The other youngsters are pretty self-absorbed, and Fanny’s other aunt, Aunt Norris, is mean-spirited and never misses an opportunity to put Fanny down.

Despite this, there were moments of humour, and the plot was interesting, with a pivotal scene being the play which the youngsters hope to stage, and which is the point at which feelings and attractions start to develop.  (Edmund’s horror at the thought of something so scandalous a play taking place at Mansfield Park – even with no audience – was unintentionally funny!)  There was a lot of angsty dialogue between the characters, and some scenes were overplayed, but I did like the gradual growth in characters as Edmund tries to excuse some of Mary Crawford’s behaviour which he would have found unacceptable in anyone else, and as Fanny starts to be more confident about giving her own opinion (in the first half of the book Fanny is really little more than an onlooker through whose eyes we see the proceedings, but as the story develops she features more, and becomes more interesting to read about).

Overall, it’s well worth reading, and I didn’t think it the disappointment that some Austen fans do.  Fanny, while not the most engaging of characters – she does not have half as much personality as Emma Woodhouse or Elizabeth Bennet for instance – is likeable, and eventually admirable, and the story is well told, even if the ending is predictable to anyone who has read any other of Austen’s books.

(For more information about Jane Austen, please click here.)

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Hundreds Hall in Warwickshire, home to the Ayres family for years, used to be a grand country house.  However, in the post-WWII era, it is dilapidated, practically falling down around the family’s ears, and the finances are such that they are struggling to maintain it at all, while coming to terms with a changing society.  Doctor Faraday – the narrator of the book – meets the family, the widow Mrs Ayres and her two grown children Roderick and Caroline, when he comes to the hall to treat their young housemaid, but he is drawn into their lives, and becomes friendly with them.  But a series of strange and unsettling events, starts to take effect on the Ayres’, and it seems that there may be something sinister within Hundreds Hall, that is taunting the family.

I have read all of Sarah Waters’ books, and without exception, have enjoyed them.  The Little Stranger was brilliantly written, with a slow, creeping atmosphere, that left me feeling unsettled a couple of times.  Waters’ writing always flows so well, and I found myself reading huge chunks at a time, just not wanting to put the book down.  It was not a light or happy read, and in truth, not all (in fact, not many) of the characters were easy to warm to, although I suspect that may have been entirely intentional.  The Hall itself was just as much a character as any of the people that lived in it, and it was vividly described, making it, and the events which took place in it, all too easy to imagine.  The Doctor’s narration too, perfectly described both the isolated life of the Ayres, and his own, somewhat lonely life as a bachelor with few real friends.

I had no clue as to how the story was going to end, and was eager to find out what would happen – and here is my only criticism of the book, because the ending was something of a let-down.  I don’t want to say too much, because I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but I certainly did not find the big twist that I felt sure must be coming at any moment, the nearer I got to the last page.  That kind of left me with a “is that it?” feeling, when I finished the book, which is something that I’m not used to feeling with Sarah Waters books.  All the time I was reading this, I thought it was going to be a 5 star book, but because of the ending, I ended up giving it 4.

Having said that however, it was still a book which was thoroughly worth reading, and which I would recommend, purely because the writing itself is so good, and Waters really knows how to ratchet up the tension.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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