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Like a fictitious doomed celebrity story, except with real people
I was initially daunted by the 120 minute running time of this film, but I was glued from beginning to end and felt as if I had been watching it for about half that time. I have never seen anything like this before. It was like watching Breaking Glass with Hazel O'Connor or Stardust with David Essex, but they were fictitious stories acted out for entertainment, and this was real people with a real star and yet such a familiar rags-to-riches story with a tragic ending. And because the story is the stuff of 'rock star' urban legends, you think that someone is going to step in to prevent the inevitable, and yet that never happens.
I say that the people in this film are real, but that is not entirely the case, because it has been skillfully edited to present villains and good guys: those who are motivated by money, fame or drugs; and those, like Amy herself, who are driven by love. I don't think that you are supposed to believe these caricatures, this is just the film-maker's view of Amy's story, and I am sure that every single person involved would tell a different tale from the one we are presented with in this film. And for me, that is what makes it extraordinary, because although it is a documentary that presents a gripping true story played out by real people in real life, it is predominantly an art-form giving one person's perspective just like a novel or a painting does.
I would just like to add that I am an Iron Maiden fan who has never listened to Amy Winehouse in my life. She had a amazing voice, but her style was not to my taste. That does not in any way detract from the brilliance of the film or, indeed, Amy herself.
Turgid with poor acting
I am very surprised at the enthusiasm of other reviewers. I remember Escape Into Night from the early 70s very well and this film is nothing like it. I have not read Catherine Storr's book Marianne Dreams, but all the preamble at the school and Anna arguing with her mother is a waste of time. The acting is atrocious. I am not surprised to read that Charlotte Burke did not make another film and I can't believe that she got an award for this film. She makes you realise just how talented Dakota Fanning and Lynsey Lohan were as children. Glenne Hedley, so brilliant and captivating in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (made the same year), is dreadful in this film and I know that she can do so much better. Even established actress Gemma Jones gives a wooden performance. This is turgid, pointless and has succeeded in tainting my great memories of Escape Into Night.
The Woman in Black (2012)
A Ride on a Ghost Train
I had been really looking forward to seeing this film. I had read the reviews in the newspapers which generally said that Daniel Radcliffe's acting was wooden but that this didn't really detract from the good 'haunted house' story. Now, having seen the film on DVD, I am really disappointed. This may have worked reasonably well as a 3D film in a simulator cinema at a theme park, or as part of a ghost train ride, but it is otherwise very weak. The scary bits all come from things popping out and the soundtrack gets louder so that the noise of something suddenly moving makes you jump. The pace is incredibly slow and there is no character development so you don't care what happens to anyone. Daniel Radcliffe is undoubtedly a very handsome young man who looks splendid in his period costume, but he was much too young to play the father of a four year old child and his acting was not wooden, it was non-existent. I felt that the supporting cast were having to hold back so that they did not upstage him. He seems like a charming, intelligent, gorgeous person, but I cannot understand how he has managed to make so much money from acting.
The cast and director of this film should have watched the wonderful Nicole Kidman and her superb supporting cast in The Others to see what a really frightening film should be like. Stanley Kubrick used brilliant actors whom he directed with a rod of iron to achieve a film so scary that the mere appearance of two smartly dressed young girls in front of a little boy in The Shining remains an iconic image of terror - one of many from that film. Whilst I didn't expect anything of the Stanley Kubrick calibre, The Woman in Black is well worthy of its 12 certificate rating, because anyone over that age would find it extremely dull.
Worried About the Boy (2010)
Looked wonderful but oh so slow
The costumes and setting of this drama looked amazing and I could not fault the lead performances, but it was so SLOW. I lasted one hour and the action could have been taken care of in half the time. And sex and drugs and rock and roll are never as interesting to watch as they are to participate in. Boy George's pre-fame antics did not make for interesting viewing.
I was never a fan of Boy George but I always thought that he seemed a lovely, intelligent person and thankfully that view has not changed as a result of this drama, but not enough happened to keep my attention. And I don't remember seeing Mark Gatiss at all, unless he was in some effective 'League of Gentlemen' disguise. Did he appear in the first hour that I watched?
A beautiful leading lady, but wooden acting
I watched this short series because I noticed that Hildegarde Neil who played Roger Moore's wife in one of my favourite films 'The Man Who Haunted Himself' was appearing. Hildegarde did not disappoint as the first victim Louise's grandmother and I thought that the second victim Sharon and the smarmy journalist were both very good. However, Kelly Reilly as Anna Travis, the leading lady, left me cold. She was a stunningly beautiful girl with glorious red hair and a wonderful figure, but she said her lines with no feeling at all and there was such a lack of chemistry between her and her boss that when she kissed him at the end, for me it was the most shocking part of the whole series. Simon Williams reprised his 'Master James' role from 'Upstairs Downstairs' as the murderer (is he typecast as the upper class snob?)and the girl who played Emily his daughter needed more drama lessons. Sylvia Simms was great as the housekeeper but then I would have been shocked if she had delivered anything less than excellence.
All in all, the story was OK but back in the 70s the whole thing would have moved at break-neck speed and been over in an hour. This was slow. If the long time it took meant that we could have seen Anna becoming gradually more and more fascinated with her boss like Jane Eyre with Mr Rochester this would have been admirable, but frankly I don't think Miss Reilly was capable of pulling that off. I emphasise again that she was beautiful to watch on the screen but no great actress. With everyone going to college these days and most of them studying the performing arts, you'd think that the casting team could have found someone more appropriate for this role. The only other Lynda La Plant series I have ever seen was the first Prime Suspect with Dame Helen Mirren: I would not know where to start comparing the two so now seems like a good time to sign out.
The best modern horror film I have seen in years
I have decided to add a comment because I am so shocked and surprised by all the negative reviews that appear on this website. Hostel is quite simply a great story in the classic tradition of horror movies - I can even draw parallels with Hitchcock in the way the atmosphere is created and the story unfolds with the audience guessing all the time. As a 45 year old mum, I am still able to identify with the main characters and whilst I was never a sex tourist, I certainly did the trip to Amsterdam staying in a hostel in the red light district as a teenager. I visited the bars and clubs and got locked out of the hostel one night - the guys are totally believable. I know from my husband's experiences in Amerstam in his youth that young guys definitely go there to experience sex and drugs and live it up before settling down to marriage or college or whatever the normal, humdrum existence has in store for them - I was with them all the way.
Almost every sex scene in this film is suggested, not graphic. Apart from naked breasts and Oli's bare bottom you actually see very little and the fornication is all in the mind. Contrast this to the sex scenes in 'Where the Truth Lies' with Kevin Bacon and Colin Firth which I found so graphic - especially featuring actors with whom I am familiar - that I was unable to watch. The torture scenes as well leave almost everything to the imagination - you see the instruments, you see the blood but you don't really see anything happen. The gore is artistic in the Clive Barker tradition and when the girls talk about an art show, that is truly what the torture scenes amount to. There is a definite parallel between the exhibits in the torture museum and the exhibits the characters become and in my view this kind violence constitutes the art form typified in Barker's Hellraiser.
The pace of the film is break-neck. You are gripped from beginning to end. You can't look away for a second in case you miss an important lead. The film actually feels longer than it is because so much is crammed into such a short space of time. Nothing unnecessary has been retained and everything you see is crucial to the outcome. This is quite simply a beautifully structured, well-acted, artistic and atmospheric film with its roots firmly in a reality we may prefer to ignore. In my view a lot of writers on these pages have completely missed the point.
A Pin to See the Peepshow (1973)
The Story of Edith Thompson and Frederick Bywaters
I saw this series in 1973 when it was first shown. It was of particular interest to me because it was based on the story of the love affair between Edith Thompson and Frederick Bywaters, a woman whose younger lover murdered her husband. The murder took place in Belgrave Road in Ilford which was local to us and I remember a film crew coming to the area to film the scenes at the spot where the murder actually took place.
The title A Pin to See the Peepshow came from a scene at the very beginning of the first episode. A little schoolboy had made a peepshow in a box. An older girl came up to him and asked him if she could have a look and he said 'You have to give me a pin first'. She was irritated by this but took a pin from her clothing and gave it to him. The view inside the peepshow was beautiful: white and shining with snowflakes and cotton wool. This older girl would be captivated by the little boy again in later life as he would become the lover who murdered her husband.
I was only nine years old when I watched this and already a fan of the beautiful Francesca Annis who had hosted Disney Time. She was captivating in this series and at no time did I feel any compassion for anyone except her. She was successful in getting the audience on her side from the very first episode and her husband came across as a pig-headed older man who had ensnared her. I broke my heart when the incriminating letters she sent to her lover were read out in court and when she was executed I covered my eyes. You always got the impression that killing her husband was her fantasy to escape from her unhappy marriage and it was impossible to believe that she had ever tried to poison him with powdered glass as she had claimed in the letters. When her husband was actually murdered she appeared absolutely devastated. Francesca Annis gave an amazing performance - I only wish I had seen her as Emma Bovary two years later in 1975 but at the age of eleven I was not yet aware of the genius of Flaubert.
I would love to see this series again. I have DVDs of many 70s programmes and I love the way that no time was ever wasted in those days and every bit of every show mattered. A Pin to See the Peepshow was gripping from beginning to end and it was no surprise that Francesca Annis went on to become such a great star.
Swamp Devil (2008)
Good cast let down by trashy special effects
When I saw that Sky 3 were showing a film called Swamp Devil, I decided to watch it for the light entertainment value as I didn't expect the plot to require much mental effort and I felt like winding down. I was therefore pleasantly surprised by the performances of all the main actors, especially the captivating Nicolas Wright who really made you want to know more about his character. It was therefore such a huge disappointment when he morphed into the swamp devil, I mean, you saw it coming a mile off, but the actual transformation was such a let-down and the creature itself raised more than just a titter. Fine if this was a trashy B movie, but the actors involved had already raised it way above that level with their sensitive performances. Clearly the director did not share their emotion and was happy with an animated monster than any self-respecting speed-skating Citroen C4 could put to shame, and a real-life version that had all the agility and grace of the Eddy Monster that comes on stage at the end of an Iron Maiden concert. I got the impression that the director looked at the final version of the film, thought 'Damn, those swamp devils don't really work, but it's too late to do anything about that now.' and put it out anyway. A disservice to a strong cast who did their utmost to make this film believable, which was a truly commendable achievement under the circumstances.
Wicked Women (1970)
I would love to see this series again
I am reviewing this series having seen it only once when it was first broadcast in 1970 and I was six years old. I am not entirely certain how it would seem if I saw it today, but I still have very clear memories of a girl - I believe it was Anna Massey - being starved to death in an attic room and a woman sending poisoned chocolates to her lover's wife. It was like a cross between Upstairs Downstairs and Thriller. I have a clear memory of attractive leading ladies in convincing Victorian costumes who were devoid of any morals or conscience. However, the scripts and acting - even 37 years ago to my tiny eyes - were just adequate to tell the story which, as in many early 70s series, always took centre stage.
I would love to see this series again, not just from a nostalgic point of view but in order to find out more about the the lives of the women portrayed and their eventual fates. To have stayed in my mind for 37 years with only one showing it must have been a little bit special.
Life Line (2007)
Not up to the standard of Brian Clemens
I noticed the title Lifeline in the TV listings and the plot seemed reminiscent of a short story I had read some years ago about a man who contacts his dead girlfriend on a chatline. I did not realize that this was the second part of a two-part drama and decided to watch because, like the Thriller and Hammer House of Horror episodes from the 70s and 80s, it was only an hour long. When I saw that Joanne Whalley was appearing I was even more keen to watch as I loved her work in The Singing Detective and Scandal.
On the whole, this was disappointing compared with the story I had read. The 'enigmatic' Catt was anything but enigmatic and totally devoid of charm or mystery. As I only saw the second part, Joanne Whalley was barely on screen so I was disappointed about that. The ending was nonsense. How on earth could anyone push another person under a bus in order to put them into a coma without killing them outright? How could you know for sure that they would not die? If Catt had died - which judging by the force with which the bus hit her seemed extremely likely - surely Jack's spirit would have been free to enter a different body and kill undetected? And although the bus hit her really hard, her face did not bear a scratch. The ending was unemotional and I would have expected something much more powerful from such a sensitive storyline.
I will stick to my old Thriller and Hammer House box sets in the future. Thirty years ago a story like this one would have surged ahead and taken up only one hour of precious time.