Showing posts with label Films. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Films. Show all posts

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Movie review - Eloise Laurence makes outstanding debut in Broken

If there’s an award for outstanding film debut of the year then it should go to 13-year-old Eloise Laurence. No question about it.

Eloise has just made her big screen debut in Broken, a gritty family drama set in a dreary suburban cul-de-sac. She plays 11-year-old Skunk Cunningham, who lives with her single parent father, her au pair and her teenage brother. Kind-hearted and adventurous, Skunk has had to cope with an awful lot in her life. Her mum ran off with an accountant, she is diabetic, she’s tormented at school, her au pair’s having an affair with her teacher and the two neighbouring families are troubled to say the least.

Broken, which is based on a novel by Daniel Clay, isn’t exactly a laugh a minute film. It features everything from mental illness to parenting to dysfunctional families and an awful lot in between. But Eloise Laurence gives a mesmeric performance. She lights up every scene she’s in (which is virtually all of them) and her facial expressions switch in the blink of an eye. She’s one of those rare performers who make acting seem like a piece of cake.

Director Rufus Norris spotted her talent straight away. He saw more than 850 girls for the part before casting Eloise. The daughter of actors Clare Burt (who also appears in the film) and Larry Lamb, she didn’t take any acting lessons beforehand and apparently hasn’t even decided whether she wants to act when she’s grown up.

The film itself isn’t perfect but it’s definitely worth seeing. The cast includes Tim Roth (as Skunk’s dad), Denis Lawson, Rory Kinnear and Cillian Murphy and they are all excellent. But by the end of the movie, as tragedy after tragedy unfolded, I was emotionally wrung-out and exhausted with it all.

Broken (certificate 15) is in UK cinemas now.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Movie review - Hyde Park on Hudson

Hyde Park on Hudson was one of the movies on my must-see list when I whizzed up to London for a film preview day hosted by ShowFilmFirst.

Why? Firstly because it stars the brilliant Bill Murray as legendary US president Franklin D Roosevelt and secondly because the director is Roger Mitchell, of Notting Hill fame.

Most of the action focuses on the real-life visit by George VI and his wife Elizabeth to Hyde Park (Roosevelt’s summer residence on the banks of the Hudson River) in June 1939. With the storm clouds gathering over Europe and Britain preparing for war, the king was keen to ask for the president’s support.

The royals, however, are like fish out of water as they observe the comings and goings of the presidential household. Olivia Colman gives an impressive performance as Elizabeth, determined at all costs to keep a sense of decorum, worried that her husband is being laughed at and horrified that they will be expected to eat hot dogs during a picnic in the woods. Samuel West has the tough task of following in Colin Firth’s footsteps as George VI but manages it with aplomb (although every time he appeared on screen I couldn’t help thinking he looked exactly like Chancellor George Osborne).

The emotional heart of the film is Roosevelt’s relationship with his shy distant cousin Daisy, played by Laura Linney. Daisy is summoned to Hyde Park to keep Roosevelt company – and she quickly obliges. The pair begin a passionate affair, unperturbed by the numerous other women in the president’s complicated life – his wife Eleanor (Olivia Williams), his domineering mother (Elizabeth Wilson) and his assistant Missy (Elizabeth Marvel).

Hyde Park on Hudson is beautiful to look at and Bill Murray gives a fine performance as the charismatic, wheelchair-bound Roosevelt. But to my mind The Ink Spots’ I Don’t Want to Set the World on Firepart of the soundtrack, just about sums up this movie. What could have been a powerful film turns into one that is merely enjoyable - no more than that.

Hyde Park on Hudson (certificate 12A) is released in the UK on Friday February 1.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Les Misérables - rapturous applause from the audience

I’ve been longing to see the movie of Les Misérables since last spring, when I unexpectedly stumbled on to the film set during a visit to Greenwich. With filming due to take place the following day, I couldn’t quite work out how the giant stone elephant and extraordinary pile of old wood, furniture and rubbish the crew had built next to the Old Royal Naval College would look in the movie.

Well now I know – because the film is out in the UK and I foolishly went to see it with my husband at the weekend. I say foolishly because a) I can’t think of a single film we’ve both liked (I’m keeping my fingers crossed for Lincoln) and b) he hates musicals.  But he sweetly went along with my Les Mis plan – and apart from the moment when he whispered a bit too loudly “Oh God, he’s not going to snuff it, is he?” didn’t complain too much. 

So what was our verdict? You won’t be surprised to hear that my husband loathed it. As for me, I thought parts of it were stunning, but at 157 minutes it is way too long and I’m sorry, but the Old Royal Naval College does not look like 19th century Paris.

The best bits of the film, I reckoned, were Anne Hathaway's touching I Dreamed a Dream, the comic pairing of Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as the evil innkeeper and his wife (their performances veer slightly towards panto, but are very funny), Samantha Barks as Eponine (she gives a wonderful performance of On My Own) and child actor Daniel Huttlestone as Gavroche (who steals every scene he appears in).

The Tom Hooper-directed film has won three Golden Globes - and been nominated for nine BAFTAs and eight Oscars, including Best Picture Award, Best Actor (Hugh Jackman) and Best Supporting Actress (Anne Hathaway). Some critics have given it ecstatic, five-star reviews, although others have been less enamoured. But on Saturday night in Oxford the audience (apart from my husband) clapped wildly at the end.  I’ve never seen that happen at the cinema before.

Friday, 21 December 2012

007 - the new fragrance for men

Skyfall, the latest James Bond movie, was one of the best movies I’ve seen all year. Actually, it was the only film that my whole family loved. The four of us disagree totally about films, so much so that we are in danger of having to make separate trips to the cinema. But Skyfall was different – Daniel Craig was divine, Judi Dench acted her socks off (as per usual) and Ben Whishaw was hilarious as the new and ultra-geeky Q.

With the James Bond film franchise celebrating its 50th anniversary this year it was a smart idea to create the official James Bond fragrance for men. It’s called 007 and seeks to capture all Bond’s spirit, charm and style in one elegant bottle. GQ magazine said that the cologne “eschews hints of Aston Martin leather and martini top notes for a modern take on classic 60s fragrances, with hints of fresh apple, cardamom, sandalwood and vetiver.” Mmmm – sounds heavenly.

The original edition sold out in days when it was released this autumn and now a limited edition golden bottle has gone on sale.  The 007 Gold Limited Edition fragrance for men is available nationwide and costs £25 for 50ml. I reckon it’s the perfect Christmas present for 007 fans everywhere…

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Movie stardom for A Street Cat Named Bob?

How brilliant to hear that a green-eyed street cat called Bob could be on the way to movie stardom.

Like thousands of other readers, I was bowled over when I read A Street Cat Named Bob. James Bowen's book describes how he found an injured stray cat in the hallway of his block of flats back in 2007. He took the cat in, nursed him back to health and called him Bob.

James, a recovering drug addict and musician, started taking Bob busking with him and the duo soon became a familiar sight around the streets of Covent Garden and Islington. Then, two years ago, they were spotted by literary agent Mary Pachnos, who encouraged James to write Bob’s story.

The ensuing book, written by James and journalist Garry Jenkins, became an instant bestseller. It has already sold more than 250,000 copies around the world, been published in 18 languages and a US version of the tale is due out next year. James is also writing a children’s version, called Bob: No Ordinary Cat, which will be published in February.

And now a report in The Sunday Times says a film could be on the cards. Apparently  the Hollywood agent who brought Marley & Me to the big screen is in talks about turning Bob’s story into a film. Bob is already the most famous cat in London. He could soon be the most famous cat in the world. 

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Uggie, the Artist: My Story - the perfect Christmas present

Paul O’Grady’s face was a picture when he saw the Jack Russell trot smartly into the studio. The wonderful O’Grady looked like he wanted to tuck the terrier under his jacket and smuggle him home.

The adorable little dog was Uggie, taking centre-stage on Graham Norton’s TV show to promote his newly-published memoirs. O'Grady was another of Norton's guests, along with Robbie Williams, Darcey Bussell and Felix Baumgarter.

Uggie, the Artist: My Story tells the tale of Uggie’s rise from abandoned puppy to Hollywood superstar. The book relates how he was discovered by his now owner and trainer Omar Von Muller and got his big break in the film Water for Elephants, starring alongside Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon. Then came The Artist – and mega-stardom.

The book is selling like hot cakes right now and I’m thrilled because one of my closest friends helped Uggie to tell (I mean woof) his story.

Wendy Holden is a brilliant writer, whose 25 books include A Lotus Grows in the Mud, Goldie Hawn’s memoir, and Lady Blue Eyes, the autobiography of Frank Sinatra’s widow Barbara. She was so entranced by Uggie after seeing him in The Artist that she contacted Von Muller and suggested writing the book. The rest, as they say, is history.

As Wendy told USA Today: “There’s just something about Uggie. He was born to be a star. The fact he ended up being a dog is sort of by-the-by…”

So if you’re after a Christmas present for dog-loving friends, then Uggie, the Artist: My Story is just perfect. Look out for the Uggie the Artist app too.

PS. Going back to Paul O’Grady, he told chat show host Graham Norton that he loves dogs so much so that when he filmed For the Love of Dogs, his series about Battersea Dogs Home, he insisted on a ultra-strict clause being inserted in his contract.

“Under no circumstances was I allowed to go home with anything – two-legged, four-legged, three-legged, anything. I knew it would be fatal,” says O’Grady.

It didn’t work, of course. At the end of filming O’Grady broke his own self-imposed rule and ended up adopting a chihuahua/Jack Russell cross called Eddie…

Friday, 26 October 2012

Two films for half term - Madagascar 3 and Private Peaceful

For the first time in 18 years I haven’t got a clue when half term actually is. It might be this week but then again it could be next. In the past I’d be rushing out to get Halloween pumpkins and planning what to do on Bonfire Night – but now my son and daughter are at university I don’t have to do any of it (sob).

But ironically I was invited to two film previews recently – both for new children’s movies being released in time for half term. Actually, when I pitched up for the screening of Madagascar 3 - Europe's Most Wanted at the Empire in London's Leicester Square I nearly made my excuses and left. The vast auditorium was filled with harassed looking parents and small children clutching balloons, Chupa Chip lollies (they were being handed out for free) and geeky 3D glasses. I felt a bit like a spare part.

But I stayed – and I’m so glad I did. With its stunning animation and madcap characters, Madagascar 3 is 80 minutes well spent. Children will love the crazy tale of New York zoo escapees Alex the lion (voiced by Ben Stiller), Marty the zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) and Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith), while adults will chuckle at the in-jokes and witty script.

The plot is silly to say the least, but it doesn’t matter a jot. I hadn’t seen the two earlier Madagascar films but the latest instalment takes up where the previous ones left off. The four animals are living in Africa but they’re bored stiff with their natural habitat and are desperate to head home to the hustle and bustle of New York. So that’s what they do, except along the way there’s a manic car chase through Monte Carlo, a train ride across Europe (where they join a travelling circus) and a dazzling circus performance in London. Best of all, it’s got the best movie villain I’ve seen in a long time –  the utterly terrifying Chantel Du Bois (voiced by Frances McDormand), a French cop who looks like Cruella de Vil and sounds like something out of  ‘Allo, ‘Allo.

But if your children are older and you’re after a more serious movie, then Private Peaceful is just the thing.

Private Peaceful is apparently Michael Morpurgo’s favourite of all the books he has written. It's a shame that the film adaptation has been released so soon after War Horse because it covers – with far less fanfare - much of the same First World War territory. In many ways it reminded me of the Sunday afternoon dramas I used to watch on TV as a child. The story of two brothers who fall in love with the same girl and then both sign up, a decision that ultimately leads to tragedy, it’s moving, thought-provoking and beautifully done. Oh, and any film that stars the brilliant Maxine Peake (as the boys' mum) is fine by me.

Madagascar 3, certificate PG, and Private Peaceful, certificate 12A, are showing in UK cinemas now.

Friday, 12 October 2012

On the Road - Kristen Stewart is mesmerising

The movie of Jack Kerouac’s classic Fifties beatnik novel On the Road is out this week – and it’s well worth seeing.

I was lucky enough to be invited to a preview and LOVED it. Kerouac was an alcoholic recluse when he died in 1969 at the age of 47, having failed to interest Marlon Brando in a screen adaptation of his novel, and for years the book was thought to be unfilmable.

But now director Walter Salles has brought it to life on the screen and although it’s received mixed reviews I reckon it works. Kate Muir, film critic of The Times, wittily described it as “a long-playing Abercrombie advertisement for beautiful young things” and she’s right. The movie is gorgeous to look at, no question, but it’s much more than that.

If you’ve ever thought of doing a road trip across America this stunningly-shot film will persuade you to hire a car (preferably a 1950s Cadillac) straight away, while Sam Riley as aspiring writer Sal Moriarty, Garrett Hedlund as Dean Moriarty and the mesmerising Kristen Stewart as Marylou, Dean’s wife, give stand-out performances.

So yes, the movie is rambling and hazy, but that’s how it should be. If you like jazz, writing, America and great cinematography, then don’t miss it.

On the Road, certificate 15, is showing in UK cinemas now.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Now is Good - trust me, you will cry

A word of warning. If you’re planning to see the movie Now is Good, remember to take tissues. In fact, remember to take a lot of tissues. I always cry in films but I don’t think I’ve wept so much since I watched Love Story as a teenager.

Now is Good is based on Jenny Downham’s bestselling young adult novel, Before I Die, which I read a few years back and, yes, wept buckets over. It’s interesting to discover, though, that Ol Parker, who wrote and directed the film, wasn’t totally convinced by the project when the producers first told him about it.

“When they pitched me a film about a teenage girl, with the title Before I Die, I almost passed before the end of the meeting,” he says.

“But they persuaded me to read the book and I found myself at two o’clock in the morning, blinded by tears, texting them and demanding that I be allowed to write and direct the film. The book is passionate, beautiful and brilliant, and paradoxically, fantastically life-affirming.”

I completely agree. The film is the story of Tessa, a feisty 17-year-old who’s been diagnosed with a terminal illness. But instead of shutting herself away and feeling sorry for herself, she resolves to live her life to the full and do all the things she reckons a teenager should do - like shoplifting, taking drugs and having sex.

There was always the risk that the movie, shot on location in Brighton and London, could have been mawkish and over-sentimental. But in fact it’s every bit as life-affirming and inspiring as the book. It helps, of course, that the script is funny, touching and not in the least bit maudlin, and, of course, that the cast is a stellar one.

Hollywood actress Dakota Fanning, who plays Tessa, is by turns sharp, annoying, passionate and wise. But best of all, she comes across as a teenager you might actually meet in real life. And yes, her English accent is utterly believable.

Similarly, Jeremy Irvine, as Adam, the next-door neighbour Tessa falls in love with, is convincing and real. The young English actor is also jaw-droppingly handsome (you’ll recognise him as Albert Narracott from Steven Spielberg’s War Horse), so it takes a few minutes to concentrate on his acting rather than his exquisite profile.

Paddy Considine and Olivia Williams (in a blonde wig) give cracking performances as Tessa’s parents. No longer living together, they react to their daughter’s leukaemia in very different ways. While Tessa's dad has given up work to look after her and spends hours trawling the internet for a cure, her mum is positively flaky, turning up late for hospital appointments and panicking as her daughter’s condition worsens. Look out for young actress Kaya Scodelario (of Skins fame) too. She is clearly a star in the making as Tessa’s best friend and partner in crime Zoey.

So, yes, go and see Now is Good. But trust me, you'll cry…

Now is Good is in UK cinemas from September 19. Certificate: 12A

Now is Good by Jenny Downham (David Fickling Books, £6.99). Originally published as Before I Die. 

Friday, 14 September 2012

Hope Springs - fine acting but a tedious script

No matter what part she’s playing, Meryl Streep is one of the most watchable actresses around. From monstrous magazine editor Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada to Mrs Thatcher in The Iron Lady, she’s always charismatic and convincing.

And it’s the same in Hope Springs, her latest movie. Here she stars as suburban wife and mother Kay, who is devoted to her grumpy husband Arnold but realises that after years of marriage their relationship needs spicing up.

So when she hears about a couples’ counsellor based in the pretty seaside town of Great Hope Springs she persuades Arnold to sign up for a week of marriage therapy with her. The pair book into a cheap motel and turn up for daily sessions with Dr Bernie Feld (played absolutely deadpan by Steve Carell).

Streep and Tommy Lee Jones, who plays Arnold, act their socks off in this movie but I can’t for the life of me work out who on earth the audience will be. Young movie-goers will squirm with embarrassment as the couple discuss their sex life (or lack of it) while older viewers will find Kay and Arnold’s attempts to re-ignite the spark in their relationship too uncomfortable by half.

Directed by David Frankel of The Devil Wears Prada fame, the film has a few laugh-out-loud moments. Streep is genuinely touching as the unhappy Kay and Lee Jones is gloriously taciturn as Arnold, but the script is lumbering and the counselling scenes seem endless. And the soppy last scene definitely should have been cut.

When I attended the UK Cinema Showcase last week, Heat film editor Charles Gant declared that you can sum a movie up in two words. A film, he said, is either ‘”really bad” or “really good.” Ignoring his advice, I’m going to sum up Hope Springs in 14 words. If you like Meryl Streep, go. If you don’t like Meryl Streep, don’t bother.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

How to be a film critic

Sunday mornings tend to follow the same pattern. A trip to buy croissants and The Sunday Times, then strong coffee and the omnibus edition of The Archers.

But last weekend I broke out of my rut and did something completely different. By 9.15am on Sunday I was sitting in a darkened cinema in London’s Haymarket – full of excitement at the prospect of seeing some of this autumn’s hottest new movies. I’ll be reviewing films like the eagerly anticipated Anna Karenina when they open in the UK but first up was a Q&A session with a host of well-known film critics and publicists.

The workshop, organised as part of the UK Cinema Showcase, was packed with bloggers covering all film genres – from sci-fi and horror to rom coms and thrillers.

We were all keen to hear the critics talk about how they tackle their reviews. Charles Gant, film editor of Heat magazine, stressed the importance of staying true to yourself. “What you can’t do is write against your gut,” he said. “If you do, it’s a road to disaster. The important thing is that you retain the trust of your readers and that you write what you truly believe. Once you try to second guess the readers you are lost as a critic.”

He added that sticking to your word count is crucial. “One of the great skills of being a critic is the art of concision. I see myself as a reviewer rather than a critic. People read my reviews to know whether to see the film or not. And after all, most people who aren’t film critics give their verdict in two words – ‘really bad’ or ‘really good.’”

Meanwhile Press Association film critic Damon Smith, whose reviews are read by eight to ten million people across the country, explained that two-thirds of the content of his reviews is commentary, while a third focuses on the plot. He concentrates on the screenplay, direction and acting and reckons that mediocre films are the hardest to review, while writing about bad movies can be fun – “because the bile pours from you.”

The conversation also covered the thorny question of awarding stars to films. In Damon Smith’s view the general advice to filmgoers is “three stars out of five – go and see it. Two stars – stay away.” David Hughes, film critic of Empire magazine, nodded. “And five stars means it’s unmissable,” he said firmly.

The critics agreed that it’s vital to stick to your guns and not be influenced by anyone else. They don’t talk to other critics after screenings and don’t read other reviews before they’ve filed their own. “Just sit and write in the dark,” instructed Charles Gant. So that's what we did.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Shadow Dancer - an outstanding film

“If you want something done, ask a busy person to do it. The more things you do, the more you can do.”

Lucille Ball’s famous quote has always been one of my favourites – and it's certainly true in Tom Bradby’s case.

Bradby is now political editor of ITN News but as well as his day job he’s also carved out a successful career as a thriller writer. And along the way, he’s found time (how?) to write the screenplay for his first novel, Shadow Dancer.

Shadow Dancer opened in the UK last week – and is one of the best films I’ve seen in ages. Set in Belfast in the early 1990s, it’s the story of Colette McVeigh, a young IRA woman who is offered a stark choice. She can either agree to work as an MI5 informer or go to prison for the rest of her life and see her young son taken into care. The trouble is, if she decides to betray her family and comrades, she’s pretty sure she’ll be dead in no time.

Bradby has said that writing the script for Shadow Dancer combined the skills he has learned as a novelist (structure and characterisation) and as a TV reporter (brevity, fluency and writing as people speak) – and he’s done a superb job. The film is taut, tense and beautifully shot. It also gives a compelling insight into the deeply divided world of pre-peace process Belfast.

Directed by James Marsh (whose Man on Wire won an Oscar in 2009), the film features some stand-out acting. As Colette, the luminous Andrea Riseborough is by turns anxious, protective parent and steely Republican, while Brid Brennan, who plays her sad, careworn mother, gives a performance that breaks your heart. Clive Owen, as Colette’s MI5 handler, is slightly marginalised, but even so, he’s as watchable as ever.

PS. As well as writing the script, Tom Bradby appears in the film as a news reporter covering the troubles in Northern Ireland. It’s a neat twist, as Brady was a young reporter there in the 1990s.

Shadow Dancer, certificate 15, is showing in UK cinemas now.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Crying at the cinema - and my low-brow tastes

As the credits rolled my daughter took a long sideways glance at me and groaned. “I can’t take you anywhere,” she joked. “Why do you always cry at films?”

I tried to deny it but my red eyes and tear-stained cheeks gave the game away. I’d nearly made it to the end of the Brideshead Revisited DVD without shedding a tear, then stumbled at the very last hurdle.

“I can’t help it,” I told her. “It was so sad. You know, when Lord Marchmain was on his death bed and Julia...” “But that didn’t mean you had to burst into tears,” she retorted. “You even cried at Definitely, Maybe. And Madeline.”

At this rate she’s going to put her foot down and refuse to watch anything with me. I rarely go to the movies with my husband because his taste in films and mine are as poles apart as our hobbies. Crazy mid-air loop-the-loop stunts and obscure French films without sub-titles – him. Bracing country walks and Hollywood blockbusters – me.

My low-brow tastes have been a big shock to him over the years. I don’t know why but when we first met he clearly thought I was far more intellectual than I actually am. One of his first presents to me was a set of Mervyn Peake’s three Gormenghast novels. A lovely thought, but I found the books, which are set in a weird, crumbling castle owned by the 77th Earl of Groan, utterly unreadable. He was similarly unimpressed when I gave him Ogden Nash’s collected poems. Far too light and trite, he reckoned. It’s the same with music. Whenever we drive anywhere together he wants to listen to Wagner at top volume while I surreptitiously try and substitute my Laura Marling CD without him noticing.

I can’t even rely on my son as a cinema companion because he only likes movies with car chases and scary stunt-work. I persuaded him to go to Pride and Prejudice with me a few years ago and instantly regretted it. He spent half the film muttering “this is the worst film I’ve ever seen” under his breath and the other half threatening to walk out.

It looks like I’ll be sitting in the stalls, tears streaming down my face, all by myself from now on.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Coriolanus - a double triumph for Ralph Fiennes

Third time lucky. That was how I felt at the weekend when I took my husband to the cinema. Two weeks ago I’d booked tickets for The Iron Lady. His verdict? Two out of ten, largely because he found the portrayal of Lady Thatcher’s dementia too upsetting to watch. The following week I tried War Horse, figuring he couldn’t possibly object to Steven Spielberg’s latest movie. Wrong. He rolled his eyes and said it was like watching “Lassie the Super Horse.”

But refusing to be beaten, I had a third attempt this weekend and booked to see Coriolanus. And bingo, he loved it.

This powerful film represents a double triumph for Ralph Fiennes, who not only stars as Coriolanus but directs for the first time too. Shot in Belgrade and the Serbian countryside, the action is set in the present day but uses Shakespeare’s text to electrifying effect.  This could be a tricky feat to pull off but it brings the play alive for a 21st century cinema audience. 

In the past theatre-goers have often found Coriolanus, a brilliant but flawed general who falls foul of his people and eventually flees into exile, an unsympathetic character. But Fiennes’s extraordinary portrayal makes sense of this intensely proud man who’s so affronted by the way the mob turns against him that he joins the opposition and leads them into battle against his former side. Vanessa Redgrave, by the way,  gives a stunning performance as his ultra-controlling, ambitious mother.

The promotional posters for the film, showing Fiennes’s face dripping in blood, are a clear sign that this movie isn’t for the squeamish. The battle scenes are definitely the most realistic I’ve seen in a long time. Actually, there was a bit too much blood for my liking but then again, it must have been the job of a lifetime for the make up artists. 

Sunday, 8 January 2012

The Iron Lady - a tough film to watch

The Iron Lady should come with a health warning. Yes, Meryl Streep gives the performance of a lifetime as Lady Thatcher (all other contenders for the Oscar might as well give up now) but if one of your loved ones has dementia it’s a very tough film to watch.

“That was a bit hard to cope with,” whispered my husband as he left the cinema at top speed. I looked at him more closely and saw he had tears in his eyes. My mother-in-law has Alzheimer’s and Streep’s performance, such an acute portrayal of this horrible illness, was simply too painful a reminder. I’m not in the least surprised that Margaret Thatcher’s family turned down an invitation to see the film. 

That said, Streep is quite extraordinary in the film. Everything – her steely gaze, deep voice, mannerisms, walk, even the way she carries her handbag – are uncannily true to life. Watching scenes of her at the dispatch box in the House of Commons is like hurtling back 25 years in time.

Incidentally, the hero of the film is Denis Thatcher, brilliantly played by Jim Broadbent. In yesterday’s Financial Times, businessman David Tang called him “the greatest non-royal consort of our age” and that’s exactly how he comes across in the film. Convivial, loyal and ever supportive, Denis was clearly the rock that Lady T depended on throughout her career and beyond. A letter he sent to my mother after she requested a newspaper interview with him in the 1980s sticks in my mind. It was charming, ultra-polite and ended with a very firm response. “The answer,” he’d written, “is, of course, ‘no.’”

Saturday, 29 October 2011

House With No Name Weekly Digest: From the dreaded dog debate to the glittering Cosmo Blog Awards

A Saturday round-up of the week at House With No Name

House With No Name Book Review: William Fiennes’s The Music Room
House With No Name Film Review: The Help
House With No Name Glamour: The party to celebrate the 2011 Cosmo Blog Awards
House With No Name Goes to the Dogs: The dreaded dog debate rears its fluffy head
House With No Name Lifestyle: Country or City? The best place to live

Monday, 24 October 2011

The film of The Help is an out and out winner

My favourite books are the ones that make me laugh, make me cry and make me think.

I reckon the same rule can be applied to films – which is why The Help, the new film based on Kathryn Stockett’s tale of life in the American Deep South during the 1960s, is an out and out winner.

Stockett’s book, which chronicles the story of a group of black maids who look after the children of white southern families in Mississippi, spent 103 weeks on the bestseller list in the US and in three years has sold more than 12 million copies worldwide.

Film director Tate Taylor, Stockett’s best friend at school, spotted its potential and bought the film rights before the book was even published.

The Help is told from the viewpoints of three women. Two of them are maids, Aibileen, a wise and stoical black woman in her 50s who’s brought up 17 children of white women, and her feisty friend Minny, who extracts hilarious revenge on her racist employer. The third is Skeeter, a wealthy young white girl who desperately wants to be a writer. The trio form an unlikely friendship when Aibileen and Minnie agree to help Skeeter write a controversial book about the maids and their lives – a book that shakes the insular community they live in to the core.

It’s a controversial subject, and while some critics have slated the film for “sugar-coating” the civil rights struggle, it’s got heart and it mostly works. Viola Davis, as Aibileen, and newcomer Octavia Spencer, as Minny, have both been mentioned as likely Oscar contenders, as has Emma Stone as the sparky Skeeter. I managed not to cry till the scene where Aibileen is forced to say goodbye to a little girl she has looked after since she was a baby, exhorting her as always to remember she is “smart,” she is “kind” and she is “intelligent.” Then I couldn't stop.

Despite its flaws, The Help manages to be deeply moving, poignant and funny at the same time. Yes, it simplifies a violent era of modern history, but it’s a powerful, beautifully shot movie - and definitely worth seeing.

The Help, certificate 12A, opens on October 26.

PS: The preview I attended was organised by ShowFilmFirst - so thanks to them.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

House With No Name Weekly Digest: From The Hummingbird Bakery to We Need to Talk About Kevin

A new Saturday round-up of the week at House With No Name.

House With No Name Book Review: Cecelia Ahern’s The Time of My Life
House With No Name Film Review: We Need to Talk About Kevin
House With No Name Writing Tips: How to Write a Great Plot
House With No Name Cake Appreciation: The Hummingbird Bakery’s Halloween Specials
House With No Name at the Cheltenham Literature Festival: Carol Drinkwater and Michael Wright

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Film of We Need to Talk About Kevin is shocking but thought-provoking

“Well, that was cheerful, wasn’t it?” muttered a middle-aged man as the credits rolled at the small basement cinema in Covent Garden where we’d just seen a preview of We Need to Talk About Kevin.

The rest of us didn’t utter a word. I, for one, felt like I’d just been run over by a ten-ton steam-roller. I’d gone to the movie with my teenage daughter but was so emotionally wrung-out by what I’d just seen that I could barely speak till we were halfway back to the tube station.

There’s no way you can feel indifferent about We Need to Talk About Kevin, the much-anticipated film of Lionel Shriver’s 2005 Orange Prize winning novel. It’s the story of Eva, a mother who puts her ambitions and career aside when she has her first child, Kevin. But far from building a warm, loving bond, the icy-cool Eva finds herself unable to love her son and can’t relate to him at all. Whether she’s throwing a ball to him, playing mini-golf or taking him for a meal at a restaurant when he’s a teenager, their relationship is brittle, artificial and chilling.

Even though the subject matter is grim, the film is beautifully shot. It moves back and forth in time, from the days when Eva was a go-getting travel writer to the aftermath of the horrific high-school massacre perpetrated by the teenage Kevin. The colour red features throughout the film, from opening images of Eva taking part in a tomato throwing festival in Spain to her house and car being daubed with red paint following Kevin’s shocking act - red paint which Eva constantly attempts to scrub off her hands.

There’s no doubt that Tilda Swinton (above), as Eva, gives the performance of her career, and Ezra Miller as the teenage Kevin, is utterly mesmerising. But for me, watching Eva grapple with her feelings of grief and responsibility for her son and his actions was just too much to bear.

Directed by Lynne Ramsay and with a 15 certificate, We Need to Talk About Kevin is released on October 21. It’s controversial, shocking and thought-provoking – but not easy to watch.
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