Hallowe’en DVD Review: Victor Frankenstein (2015)

“This is not life”

Released last year, Victor Frankenstein has the ignominy of being something of a flop, a little surprising when you consider it is loaded with Brit talent like James McAvoy and Daniel Radcliffe and was directed by Sherlock alum Paul McGuigan. But as many have learned, not least Dr Frankenstein himself, reanimating old things doesn’t always go smoothly. 

Writer Max Landis’ new spin on Mary Shelley’s classic is that the story is told from (the non-canonical) Igor’s perspective, reframing the ‘hunchback assistant’ as something much more nuanced and offering a fresh set of eyes on their scientific endeavours. Here, McAvoy’s Victor is a manic medical student who rescues Radcliffe’s Igor from an undignified life as a circus freak and quite literally gives him a new lease of life as his collaborator.  Continue reading “Hallowe’en DVD Review: Victor Frankenstein (2015)”

Hallowe’en DVD Review: Dracula Untold (2014)

“Drink…and let the games begin”

You gotta love an origin story, even for the dark lord himself, as everyone’s misunderstood, no-one’s that bad really. Or so Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless would have us believe in Dracula Untold, a 2014 Gary Shore film that ultimately did fairly good business. Here, Luke Evans’ Vlad is a good lad who only got the nickname ‘The Impaler’ because he was kidnapped by the Ottoman Empire as a boy and trained into their most deadly assassin. 

But he’s escaped now and has a wife and kid so all is good. Or is it? When a Turkish helmet (not a euphemism) is found in a river, Vlad realises that his childhood friend Mehmet, now Mehmet II, played by Dominic Cooper in a huge amount of fake tan (because you know, Hollywood couldn’t possibly try and turn a Turkish actor into a star) is up to no good. So he follows the stream to a cave where Charles Dance is hiding. Continue reading “Hallowe’en DVD Review: Dracula Untold (2014)”

DVD Review: Ladies in Lavender

“He might like some of my bottled pears”

A world where the purchase of pilchards instead of coley is the height of excitement seems about right for Ladies in Lavender, the 2004 film written and directed by Charles Dance, from a short story by William J Locke. In a sleepy Cornish fishing village, sisters Janet and Ursula Widdington are living out their days in content co-habitation but the discovery of a shipwreck victim on the beach near their house rumples their quiet existence as they nurse the foreigner back to health.

It’s all very genteel and formally unexciting, the writing veers from soapy contrivances to unsatisfying denouements and it’s hard to get too excited about the film. Where Ladies in Lavender delivers in bucketloads is in casting Maggie Smith and Judi Dench as the sisters, allowing them to work wonders with the slightest of material. Smith’s forthright war widow and Dench’s more wistful spinster imbue their scenes with such aching grace, that you almost forgive the plotting.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Ladies in Lavender”

TV Review: And Then There Were None

“This is for a play in the West End?”

 Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None may not have seemed like the most obvious festive programming but Sarah Phelps’ three-part adaptation was an unalloyed success for the BBC. It was a particular surprise for me, as having seen it a couple of times on the stage, most recently in a rather creaky touring production, I wasn’t sure how it could be done well. But Phelps and director Craig Viveiros have managed a remarkable job, transforming the murder mystery into a dark, oppressive psychodrama.

From the off, swooping camera shots (of the Cornish locations standing in for the Devonian Soldier Island) take us out of the dusty drawing room, and haunting flashbacks take perfect advantage of the medium to suggest the oppressive weight of guilt that is being brought to bear here. For those new to the story, a microcosm of English society is invited to an isolated country house, under varying auspices, and once fully assembled, find themselves being picked off one by one by an unknown killer. Continue reading “TV Review: And Then There Were None”

Film Review: The Imitation Game

“Alan, I’ve a funny feeling you’re going to be rather good at this”

As Hollywood gears up for another Academy Award season, the early frontrunners are starting to appear in our cinemas and chief amongst those is The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing, one of the more criminally maligned and under-appreciated figures in British history. Responsible for heading up the team that built the machine that was to crack the Nazi’s Enigma code thereby changing the course of the Second World War, his life ended in ignominy as the Official Secrets Act shielded his achievements from public knowledge and a conviction for gross indecency unimaginably marred his final years.

But this being prime Oscar-bait, the film is a lot more perky than that. That’s perhaps a tad unfair as this is a genuinely good piece of cinema but one can’t help but wonder what might have been had Morten Tyldum’s direction and Graham Moore’s script been a little braver in exploring Turing’s homosexuality and how that shaped his interior life, especially in those later years. It’s the one major weakness in an otherwise fully-fleshed characterisation of an awkward genius. A man who can crack codes but not jokes, respond to complex formulae but not to simple lunch invitations, can detect Soviet spies but not the gently breaking heart of his friend Joan. Continue reading “Film Review: The Imitation Game”

DVD Review: Starter for 10

 “Sometimes it’s not about knowing the right answer”

Starter for 10 may only have been filmed seven or eight years ago but for several of its leads, it feels like a lot longer. For it is a great opportunity to see James McAvoy, Rebecca Hall and Benedict Cumberbatch earlier in their careers and all exhibiting a youthful freshness which has now matured out of their performances. David Nicholls wrote the screenplay from his own novel, about a working class Essex lad to makes it to university in Bristol, the first in his family, and pursues his long-cherished dream of participating in TV quiz show University Challenge

McAvoy plays Brian, the naïf at the heart of the story, looking almost impossibly young and appealingly handsome and there’s fun to be had in his awkwardness at settling into uni life, his pursuit of the brittle TV presenter wannabe blonde Alice, played by Alice Eve and his burgeoning friendship with Rebecca Hall’s politically active student Rebecca. Hall is wonderful here, full of quirky charm and wry humour and as the ‘right’ one for Brian, even though he can’t see it, there’s a great pull to their relationship.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Starter for 10”

DVD: Rebecca (1997)

“Stop asking silly questions and eat your egg”

If I’d known more about Rebecca before I watched the 1997 television adaptation as part of my Lucy Cohu marathon, I might not have bothered. Not having seen it before or read it, I assumed that her part – the titular role no less – might have had a little more to do in the story but as the story is about the second Mrs De Winter, this wasn’t the case. At all. The first half, 90 minutes in total, featured one brief shot of her eyebrows and one of her hands. The second not much better with tantalising glimpses of parts of her face and a few snatched lines of dialogue (although Wikipedia informs me I’m lucky to even get this!)

Whether intentional or not, this ends up being a rather fabulously camp thing. From Faye Dunaway’s Mrs Van Hopper, hunting for gossip and celebs on the Riviera, to Jonathan Cake’s scene-chewing Jack Favell, to the utter deliciousness of Diana Rigg’s ominously looming Mrs Danvers, it’s all rather gloriously over the top. The May-to-December romance of Charles Dance and Emilia Fox is played very straight and the increasing mystery of exactly what happened to her predecessor does take hold to create a rather compelling latter third which I was entirely gripped by (if not entirely convinced – the new Mrs De Winter is VERY understanding!). Continue reading “DVD: Rebecca (1997)”

DVD Review: Gosford Park

“Now, now, we don’t want to be thought unsophisticated”

There’s a rather amusing moment on the Gosford Park DVD extras with a short documentary about how director Robert Altman but particularly writer Julian Fellowes tried to ensure the greatest level of authenticity in representing the world of service. Three people who were actually in service in the 1930s were employed as consultants on the film and their insights are genuinely fascinating and it shows. It’s just a shame that Fellowes took so little of that knowledge into creating the fanciful world of Downton Abbey with its blurred distinctions between masters and servants.

There’s no such problem in Altman’s film where the social divisions are sharply defined between upstairs and downstairs but where Gosford Park really grips is in the hierarchies and snobberies that exist throughout, the vagaries of the English class system permeating at all levels. The murder mystery that forms the biggest plot point is deliberately incidental as what is much more compelling is the intricate web of relationships that percolate through the McCordle’s country pile over a long weekend of shooting and the simply gobsmacking ensemble cast that was put together to portray them. Continue reading “DVD Review: Gosford Park”

Short film reviews #8

Another collection of short films that I’ve been pointed to or had recommended to me and which I’ve enjoyed watching. If you have anything you think I should see, drop me an email at the address on the sidebar, and to read other short film reviews, click on the ‘film’ tag at the end of the post.

The Door (trailer) from Andrew Steggall on Vimeo.

Based on the HG Wells tale The Door in the Wall, Andrew Steggall’s short film The Door is a rather lovely piece of film – with a stunningly good cast – which delves into the ambiguous world of between personal memory and boyhood fantasy as an older man tries to make sense of a key event from his past. Charles Dance plays the older Thomas Arlington with a resigned enigmatic quality as he debates with his son, a sharply-suited Elliot Cowan, but clearly distracted by his memory of discovering a magical green door into a extraordinary world.

Continue reading “Short film reviews #8”

DVD Review: Fingersmith

“The over-exposure of women to literature breeds unnatural fancies”

I struggled a little bit to find another theatrical-friendly lesbian-themed thing to watch so I returned to Sarah Waters and the 2005 adaptation of Fingersmith, which as it starred Sally Hawkins was no great hardship at all. Set in Victorian England as was Tipping the Velvet, this story follows the lives of Sue and Maud, two very different women whose lives are irrevocably changed when a trio of fingersmiths, or pickpockets, conspire to rob an heiress of her fortune. But it turns out the plans are even more devious than first assumed as they culminate in the most unexpected of fashions and in a deftly clever move, we revisit all we have just seen from another perspective, casting uncertainty of the surety of what we know which plays excellently in the subsequent exploration of the disturbing reality of Victorian mental asylums.

Sally Hawkins is predictably excellent as Sue, one of the pickpockets who hoodwinks her way into the slightly disturbed Maud’s, the pale Elaine Cassidy, household as a housemaid who acts as a chaperone to allow a second trickster, Mr Rivers played by a bewhiskered Rupert Evans, to pose as a gentleman and seduce Maud into marriage just before she inherits a large fortune. Maud has been stifled by life in her extremely strict uncle’s house as a contributor to his immense collection of pornography and relishes the contact of Sue’s seemingly kindred spirit, so much so that an illicit lesbian affair springs up between the pair. But even as Sue is deceiving her, it emerges that Maud is not quite as delicate as she may seem and so intrigue builds on intrigue as Peter Ransley’s screenplay condenses a wonderfully complex novel into a more streamlined narrative, though still full of equally multifaceted characters.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Fingersmith”