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Wide Sargasso Sea (2006)
Best drama of the year!
Thought-provoking, multi-layered, moving, gripping, with wonderful scenery and music, and outstanding performances from Rafe Spall (son of Timothy Spall) and especially Rebecca Hall (daughter of Peter Hall, previously seen in The Camomile Lawn).
It deserves all the BAFTAs going! Hopefully it will be released on DVD before long.
Based on the classic book by Jean Rhys, who was herself a Creole, written in 1966 - apparently one of the 'best 100 books ever' on Time's listings. It's an illuminating prequel to Jane Eyre, and a story which in my opinion is actually better than Bronte's classic.
And I'm writing this as someone who can't stand Jane Eyre and wouldn't normally dream of watching this kind of film!
Sweet Hostage (1975)
I was fortunate to have recorded this film on video many years ago, and it's always a real joy to watch it again.
A literate script, a totally involving storyline, Linda Blair's best-ever performance, and an awesome turn from Martin Sheen, all go to make up one of the best films of the 1970s.
A pity about the slightly OTT music soundtrack and naff song, and the film could have been a little longer. Also the much better book title of 'Welcome to Xanadu' should never have been dumbed down to 'Sweet Hostage'. But these are minor gripes about what is in any sense of the word a masterpiece.
A Dance to the Music of Time (1997)
Memmorable adaptation with just a few flaws
They don't make adaptations like this any more - no doubt for cost reasons and a lack of imagination and bravery at the TV companies. 7 hours of solid drama, yet full of incidental humour and some very fine characterisations.
Unfortunately it is flawed, and the flaws make it just very good viewing rather than the excellent series it should have been. The biggest flaws to my mind are:
1 The decision to replace Nick and his wife by new actors for Film 4 was totally wrong. Nick ages far too much in too short a space of time, and looks completely different. This creates a real problem of believability.
2 Still on ageing, some of the actors are 'aged' very well, whilst others (especially the ladies and Odo) seem hardly any different as the decades progress.
3 Film 4 is by far the weakest, though to be fair this reflects the books on which it is based. Perhaps it should have been cut further and the earlier years given even greater prominence.
4 Despite a great deal of pruning, there are still too many characters and insufficient narration for non-aficionados of the books to be sure all the time of who is who.
5 The scenes often seem to be a succession of dramatic deaths - difficult to avoid with the way the story has to be condensed, but very predictable nonetheless.
However, it's still pretty good, and light years removed from much of the dumbed-down drama on TV today.
Fascinating backdrop but an ultimately disappointing film
This drama/love story could have been excellent. Played out against the last months of the corrupt and US/UK-supported Batista regime, the collapse of the old society as Castro's fidelistas begin to take over is shown compellingly. The point is well made that a revolution will only succeed if the people are behind it which, in this instance, they clearly were.
It's a shame that the movie couldn't have been filmed in Cuba, as of course all the famous landmarks of Havana are missing, but its real problems are threefold.
Firstly the storyline is confusing, complicated and unconvincing, with none of the characters being allowed to hold one's attention.
Secondly, the acting is poor. Even Sean Connery - who is normally excellent - seems to have had his mind on other things the whole time.
And thirdly, for some inexplicable reason, the chanting of 'Fidel' as Castro enters Havana in triumph morphs into a Nazi crowd chanting 'Sieg Heil'. Whatever was this trying to say? When Castro actually came into power, one of the first things he did was to open all the 'whites-only' clubs to black people, and to make it clear in an early speech that there was no such thing as a superior race. To liken Castro to Hitler is a travesty of the facts.
So, ultimately a flawed film. Watch it not for the story or the 'message' but for what is going on in the background.
The Island (2005)
It's a clone of Logan's Run!
How Michael Bay can get away with such an awful rehash of Logan's Run is beyond me. Notice the similarities:
- a male and female escape from a closely-controlled underground (LR - under domes) society - they have been told that the rest of the world is uninhabitable
- the Lottery (LR - carousel) is the 'official' way of getting out
- the Island (LR - renewal) doesn't actually exist
- the male and female are chased both in the city and outside it
- there's a shot of the sun meant to provoke wonderment
- they come across a scorpion (LR - snake) outside
- they meet a helpful and slightly eccentric character outside
- they decide to go back to the city to warn the others
- the male character manages to destroy lots of machines there
- the film ends with shots of the city's inhabitants streaming outside.
OK there are also differences, but probably someone who knew both films better would find even more plagiarism.
The ironic thing is that for it's day Logan's Run was a pretty good film. The Island is awful - dumbed-down Hollywood at its worst. Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson don't get a decent line between them, and the main part of the movie is composed of car chases, improbable escapes and the sort of thing that's been done to death in hundreds of other big-budget pieces of mindless escapism.
And Scarlett's tunic doesn't even get ripped in all that she goes through! (though it does suddenly change from clean to very dirty...) At least Logan's Run had some flesh showing and a bit of gratuitous nudity!!
The scene where Ewan McGregor ultimately destroys the city by basically pulling a lever that says 'Don't pull this lever' is reminiscent of an Austin Powers movie.
The possibilities of a thoughtful story about cloning are all but lost in the way it's treated. A good director could have made all the difference.
Don't get me wrong, I think Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johannson are brilliant actors (take Moulin Rouge and Lost in Translation for instance) but why ever did they agree to be a part of this rubbish?
The Magic Toyshop (1987)
Unique and never-forgotten!
This film was shown on ITV in the UK on a Saturday night in 1988 or 1989, and enjoyed a 2-page feature in the main UK listings magazine of the day. Since then it has disappeared without trace, presumably because its mixture of fantasy, horror, mild eroticism, romance, and apparent children's fare never found a target audience. Even Caroline Milmoe, then 23, who played the 15-year old central character hasn't appeared in TV or films since 1995.
The story is unique and literally unforgettable. Having just procured a copy from the USA and seen it for the first time in 17 years, I'm amazed at how much I could still remember. Some of the scenes are beautiful and dream-like; others are down to earth kitchen-sink drama. And the whole takes place in a real world that isn't quite the real world, one where magic is an accepted part of life.
An incredibly imaginative and totally involving film.
Memorable but flawed
I managed to catch this on TV again recently, having not seen it for many years.
Rather surprisingly it doesn't look particularly dated, and the storyline still packs a punch. Both David Essex and Adam Faith are good in their roles, and there's never a dull moment on screen. But whatever happened to Ines des Longchamps who played Jim's girlfriend? (Not much, according to the IMDb!)
Two very big flaws however stand out on this viewing.
Firstly, the songs which apparently sold millions for Jim Maclaine and the Stray Cats just aren't very good or very memorable. The story is obviously based on the Beatles' rise to fame, and for them as well as for every other pop group of the day, it wasn't just a pretty face but catchy, hummable songs that took them to the heights. Jim's are either covers or very weak.
And as someone has already mentioned, the crowds at the 'Pollwinners concert' clearly weren't 1960s young people. Obviously the filmmakers just rounded up a crowd when they made the film in 1974 and got them to come and see David Essex. Presumably it would have been far too expensive to dress them in the fashions of a decade before.
These two flaws apart, it's a good film, if not your standard popcorn-munching Saturday night fare.
Did I see the same movie?
This film has been almost universally panned by critics and viewers alike. But what did they expect for a story about a catwoman? Ingmar Bergman? Subtle philosophical debates? Profound insights? Come on, get real!
This is a tongue-in-cheek film that is excellent entertainment - it was never meant to change the world. Halle Berry is sexy and sensual as Catwoman, the cityscape scenes are breathtaking, particularly the one from across the water at night when Patience is 'reborn', and there's a light-hearted and humorous touch that works well.
OK, a few scenes are embarrassing, especially the dancefloor and the volleyball ones, the special effects could have been better, and there could have been a greater sense of urgency and threat. And we could have seen a bit more of Halle Berry in that catsuit!
But there's a brilliant scene where the handwriting analyst concludes that Patience and Catwoman aren't the same person, because Patience's handwriting signifies a shy person with low self-esteem, whereas Catwoman's is the opposite. And overall the movie is FUN!! Lighten up, people!
The best drama on UK television since Our Friends in the North. This has everything: brilliant acting (especially from Sarah Smart who should have won a BAFTA), passion, drama, unexpected plot twists, and above all INTENSITY. It's well-written, incredibly moving, and has a real power to it that most TV dramas lack.
Yes, it's based on Wuthering Heights and there are one or two quotes from the book, but it's a million miles away from being plagiarism. I would go so far as to say that it's better than the original, certainly more contemporary, and in many ways quite different.
The fact that this is not available on DVD is a crime!
The Parole Officer (2001)
Much better than the reviews
This film has been almost universally criticised by reviewers, so much so that I rather assumed it would be an unfunny dud. I was pleasantly surprised!
(S0ME VERY MINOR SPOILERS)
The plot may be highly improbable and have some gaping holes (e.g. why didn't the murderers just destroy the incriminating video?) but it is a very strong storyline that carries you and the film along with it. The presence of Omar Sharif and Jenny Agutter lend real weight to the cast list - Sharif in particular is excellent though Agutter is under-used. And there are many genuinely funny scenes.
The all-singing all-dancing 'feelgood' finale is reminiscent of Bend It Like Beckham. And for this British reviewer it was refreshing to see a very British film for a change, with British locations and a totally different 'feel' to most US fare.
In my opinion, where the movie could have really benefited would have been from a rewrite of the weaker sections, where the jokes fall a bit flat. This could have taken it from being a good film to a great one.