Monday, 13 February 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Rom-Com's you might have missed

This week's Top Ten Tuesday is a Valentine's Day special (favourite romance tropes/types) and I thought I'd dedicate it to one of my favourite film genres - and one that's arguably a dying breed - the rom-com. In the nineties, romantic comedies were everywhere, with Nora Ephron and Richard Curtis churning out classics like they were going out of fashion. Good thing too, because they kind of did. Still, the noughties produced a few gems too, and below are some you might have missed out on. If you're looking for something new this Valentine's (as opposed to watching Notting Hill or You've Got Mail for the gazillionth time) why don't you try one of these? (Or if you'd rather avoid romance at all costs, see my list of Non-romantic films for a girls night!)

Bride and Prejudice
What it's about: Pride and Prejudice set in modern day India.
Why you've not seen it: A Bollywood version of Pride and Prejudice sounds like it could be a bit gimicky - there aren't many big names and you missed it at the time.
Why you should give it a go: Fun songs, some clever adapting of the story and Aishwarya Rai (I tell a lie, she's a name) is great as Lalita Bakshi - the Lizzie Bennet character.
Disclaimers: I think it needs more chemistry between Lalita and Darcy and all the big Bollywood numbers might not be to everyone's taste. I love them though! (see my review: here)



What it's about: A hapless waiter falls in love with a gold digger on the French Riviera (played by Amelie's Audrey Tatou) but since he has no money to win her, he begins to pick up some tricks instead... 
Why you've not seen it: It's French, with subtitles.
Why you should give it a go: A slyly funny and original storyline, a charming Gad Elmanach and the very beautiful and charismatic Audrey Tatou.
Disclaimers: It's basically a farce, but whatever. I loved it.


What If

What it's about: Wallace and Chantry meet at a party and decide they want to keep in touch.  Romance is off the table as she has a nice long-term boyfriend, but they're just so right for each other!
Why you've not seen it: Isn't that the plot of When Harry Met Sally? And is it possible to take Daniel Radcliffe seriously as a romantic lead?
Why you should give it a go: The answer is yes to both of the above. It's a well worn trope - 'can men and women really be just friends?' - but Daniel Radcliffe is adorable in a young Hugh Grant sort of way. If he was looking for a niche I think Rom-Coms would be just the ticket. Richard Curtis should get on that.
Disclaimers: Some of the humour is a bit gross - I could have done with a few less conversations about Elvis's bowel movements. Also Wallace and Chantry? Where did they get those names from?

Just like Heaven

What it's about: Mark Ruffalo is a young widower who finds his newly rented apartment haunted by the previous owner, workaholic doctor Reese Witherspoon.
Why you've not seen it: Reese Witherspoon makes some terrible Rom-coms along with the good (for every Legally Blonde, there's a Legally Blonde 2) and this looked like a bad one.
Why you should give it a go: This is actually pretty decent. It's romantic and sweet, and Mark  Ruffalo is almost at his 13 Going on 30 peak of loveliness. (That's another one to check out if you haven't already).
Disclaimers: The ghost-y stuff is, admittedly, a bit weird and special effects are more Sabrina the Teenage Witch than big budget.

Sunshine on Leith
What it's about: A jukebox musical based around songs by The Proclaimers. Two best friends return from the army and try to settle back into life in Edinburgh.
Why you've not seen it: You only know that one Proclaimers song and there wasn't much buzz around the film.
Why you should give it a go: The songs are great, the characters are relatable and it's romantic and feel-good.
Disclaimers: It's not feel-good the whole way through - there are some grim bits including a heart attack, a bomb blast in Iraq (or Afghanistan?) marital infidelity and broken dreams. But the songs do a lot to lighten the mood...

While You Were Sleeping

What it's about: A lonely young woman finds herself involved with a family not her own, when she saves the life of the eldest son on Christmas Eve and accidentally leads them to believe she's his fiancée. Things get complicated as, while he lies in a coma, she begins to fall for his brother.
Why you've not seen it: There were so many good rom-coms in the nineties this slipped under the radar. It's gentler than some and the screenwriter's not a big name.
Why you should give it a go: It's possibly one of the loveliest ever, and my favourite. Bill Pullman finally gets to be a leading man rather than the guy who gets dumped, and he and Sandra Bullock have amazing chemistry.
Disclaimers: It's a Christmas film really, but not so Christmassy that it needs to be confined to the festive period.


What it's about: A girl born with the nose of a pig has to find one of her own to love her, in order to break the curse.
Why you've not seen it: It all sounds  pretty bizarre and the reviews weren't great.
Why you should give it a go: James McAvoy has never been more attractive than he is in this film. And it's actually a fun story with a good message about self-acceptance and some great actors, including Peter Dinklage, Christina Ricci, Reese Witherspoon (who also produced) Nick Frost and Richard E. Grant
Disclaimers: Admittedly, it is a bit weird.


What it's about: Will Smith is Alex Hitchens - a 'date doctor' who helps men present themselves the best way to get the women they want. But his own love life isn't always plain sailing.
Why you've not seen it: The premise might sound a bit sleazy - but it's not at all.
Why you should give it a go: Will Smith in a rom-com? What's not to like? And the first half in particular is really clever and fun.
Disclaimers: I didn't think the main girl (played by Eva Mendes) was quite likeable enough, and the last act isn't quite as good as the first.

Sliding Doors

What it's about: A Woman's life takes two separate paths - one where she catches that train home, and one where she doesn't.
Why you've not seen it: Again, there are so many good nineties rom-coms, you've likely not seen them all. And maybe you were too young for it when it came out.
Why you should give it a go: It's a clever and interesting premise, and I like that the two men in Helen's life are a bit different from your usual rom-com standards.
Disclaimers: Gwyneth Paltrow's fake English accent is good - but annoying. As is John Hannah as the romantic lead.
Walking on Sunshine
What it's about: After travelling to Italy for her big sister's wedding, the protagonist discovers that the groom is an old fling of hers. Oh, and it's a musical.
Why you've not seen it: From the trailer, it looked like a crap Mamma Mia - and Mamma Mia wasn't exactly great art to begin with.
Why you should give it a go: It doesn't take itself too seriously, the male lead is gorgeous, the eighties soundtrack is fabulous and feel-good and there's a scene where Greg Wise (Willoughby from Sense and Sensibility, with a very dodgy tan) sings 'Faith' by George Michael.
Disclaimers: It is basically a crap Mamma Mia.

Seen any of these? Any under-ratted rom-coms you could recommend? And what are your all-time favourites?

Saturday, 11 February 2017

'I love Austen week' tag

As it's Valentine's on Tuesday, Hamlette at Hamlette's Soliloquy is running an 'I love Jane Austen' week, and I thought I'd join in, since the tag looked fun. Here're my answers to her questions... (note: I had to change all the 'favorite's to the English spelling, because it was killing me.)


1.  Which did you experience first, a Jane Austen book or a movie based on one?
My first Jane Austen 'experience' was the 1995 Pride and Prejudice. I must have been quite young, because I can't remember a time when I hadn't seen it. I waited a while to read the books though, and I started with Northanger Abbey - which I read when I was maybe fourteen/fifteen?

 2.  What is your favourite Austen book?
Pride and Prejudice. Which is a boring answer, but true. It's the funniest, lots of dialogue - and I found it easiest to read because I already knew the story and the characters so well.

 3.  Favourite heroine?  Why do you like her best?
Ooh, this is hard. I love them all (apart from Marianne, who I can't stand.)  Probably Elizabeth Bennet, because she can laugh at herself. And I love her relationship with Jane, the way she understands her so well and is empathetic even though they're very different. (Unlike in the Marianne/Elinor relationship.)

 4.  Favourite hero?  Why do you like him best?
For years it was Henry Tilney (he'd definitely make you laugh the most) but now I think I'd say Edward Ferrars. (Edward and Elinor are my favourite couple, too.) He's kind and shy and decent, and there's no self-importance about him. I reckon I'd feel most relaxed around Edward.

 5.  Do you have a favourite film adaptation of Austen's work?
The 1995 Pride and Prejudice. Obvious, again. I also love the Felicity Jones/J.J Field  Northanger Abbey - Andrew Davies is unbeatable (except when it comes to Sense and Sensibility. I preferred Emma Thompson's.)

 6.  Have your Austen tastes changed over the years?  (Did you start out liking one story best, but now like another better?  Did you think she was boring at first, then changed your mind?  Etc.)
No big changes of heart, but I see little things in the stories differently. I've got less patience with Mr. Bingley nowadays (he doesn't treat Jane very well if you ask me) and I'm more sympathetic to Mrs. Bennet (honestly, someone has to think about the '5 unmarried daughters' problem and her husband's hardly useful) and less sympathetic to Mr. Bennet (yes, he's hilarious, but dads shouldn't have favourites.)

 7.  Do you have any cool Austen-themed things (mugs, t-shirts, etc)?  (Feel free to share photos if you want.)
I've got a cute mug from The Literary Gift Company with all the characters on. Got my eye on the quotes mug too...

 8.  If you could ask Jane Austen one question, what would you ask her?
Ah, probably what happened to Kitty and Mary. Did either of them ever marry? And (although I'd probably not be brave enough to ask) what happened during that period when her sister burnt her letters? There must have been a mystery man, musn't there?

 9.  Imagine someone is making a new film of any Jane Austen story you choose, and you get to cast the leads.  What story do you want filmed, and who would you choose to act in it?

Well they've never made a decent Mansfield Park so it'd have to be that. I find it very difficult to like Edmund, but I think Shaun Evans (Endeavour) would do a lot to make him attractive. Then maybe Aneurin Barnard, (Cilla, The White Queen, War and Peace) - who I love  - as Henry Crawford and Jodie Comer (Lady Chatterley's Lover, Thirteen, My Mad Fat Diary) as Fanny. She's a great actress, she's done a bit of period drama and I think she could play the slightly judgemental, jealous and pining-after-her-cousin sides of Fanny while also keeping her sympathetic. Because she is sympathetic, in the book. And maybe Jenna Coleman (or Tuppence Middleton?) as Mary?

Above: Mansfield Park casting ideas, Fanny, Edmund, Henry, Mary?

 10.  Share up to five favourite Jane Austen quotations!

"Are the shades of Pemberley to be thus polluted?"
- Lady Catherine, Pride and Prejudice
“It has been coming on so gradually, that I hardly know when it began. But I believe I must date it from my first seeing his beautiful grounds at Pemberley.”
- Elizabeth Bennet, Pride and Prejudice
"My Dear Lizzy,
"I wish you joy. If you love Mr. Darcy half as well as I do my dear Wickham, you must be very happy. It is a great comfort to have you so rich, and when you have nothing else to do, I hope you will think of us. I am sure Wickham would like a place at court very much, and I do not think we shall have quite money enough to live upon without some help. Any place would do, of about three or four hundred a year; but however, do not speak to Mr. Darcy about it, if you had rather not.
"Yours, etc."
- Lydia's letter, Pride and  Prejudice
"Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight years and a half ago. Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you."
- Captain Wentworth's Letter, Persuasion
"I will not say that your Mulberry trees are dead; but I am afraid they're not alive."
Jane Austen (from her letters)

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

What I'm Watching: Endeavour


Series four of itv's Endeavour - a 1960's set detective series and prequel to Inspector Morse - reached it's finale a couple of weeks back (a fifth series has already been announced.) And I've finally begun to pay attention. Usually, I'm not the biggest fan of detective shows. They're grim, they're too long and I never guess who did it anyway. But my family have been big Endeavour fans since the pilot, so I've previously watched the series with half an eye. This time however, I put my laptop/book down and decided to give young Morse the attention he deserved. And I'm glad I did. I've gone right back to the beginning now and I'm hugely enjoying every episode. Two hours long or not.

Inspector Morse, if you don't know, was a successful and long running series in the eighties and nineties, based on the crime novels by Colin Dexter. Originally played by John Thaw, the character of old Morse is already fixed in the minds of many: kind of a grumpy old man, a bit lonely, a little snobbish (intellectually) but fiercely intelligent, a lover of cryptic crosswords and opera, an Oxford drop-out, and a bit of a drinker, with a weak spot where beautiful women are concerned. For Morse fans, knowing that other incarnation of the character is both a blessing and a curse. It must be fun to see the traits that young Morse already has, and those he's beginning to develop, but it's sad that we already know how he ends up.

Still, I never watched Inspector Morse myself (although I did see the odd Lewis, which followed his sergeant and ran throughout the 2000's) and I've happily fallen in love with Shaun Evans' take on the character. Endeavour, (the title refers to Morse's little mentioned first name) is set in Oxford - like the original series - and each episode follows a different case (read: murder) being investigated by the Oxford City police. In the pilot, Morse moves back to the city and starts a new job as a detective constable. But the best thing about Endeavour for me, is the characters, and particularly Morse's relationship with his boss, Fred Thursday (played by Roger Allam). Morse seems so vulnerable sometimes, despite his big brain, and I love how Thursday becomes almost a father figure. Interesting too are the relationships with his other colleagues, Bright, the Superintendent (Anton Lesser) Sergeant Jakes (who outranks Morse but is often outstripped by him) and Strange - who is Morse's boss in the old series, but here begins life as a uniformed policeman. In the later series there's also WPC Trewlove (The Golden Compass) and I can't help wondering whether her name is significant...

Morse definitely has a weak spot when it comes to women in general, and although they occasionally turn out to be the murderer, there have been some great romantic and will-they-won't-they moments in Endeavour so far. I especially liked his relationship with Monica, the nurse who lives in his building and the on-going saga of Morse and Joan, Thursday's daughter. Morse is so awkward and socially inept, but still you can see why the girls like him back. He's very lovely, if useless at romance.

So, why should you watch Endeavour? Well mainly because both the writing (from Russell Lewis) and acting are first rate throughout. The relationships are well drawn and lovely and Morse himself is such a great character. The stories move along at a leisurely pace but they're exciting nevertheless, Oxford is gorgeous, the attention to period detail is great and I love the sixties fashions. It's the kind of programme where the characters stay in your mind long after watching, and there are currently four series, so plenty to get your teeth into  - and if you get really attached, there's always Morse and Lewis to watch, and the original books to read.

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Hopeful films - to make you feel like fighting

This blog is mainly for fluff and reviews, and I don't think I've ever got political. It doesn't really seem like the place for it. But the news lately has been pretty grim - borderline terrifying if I'm honest.  You get to a point where you think, maybe I should just stop watching it. There's really nothing that I can do and anyway, things can't get that bad can they?  The problem is they can, and they will if people start to treat scary things like the status quo. Anyway, sticking with the film lists and fluff, I thought I'd make up a list of films that make me feel more hopeful. Films where characters fight against injustice and win, that make you think that people are decent, and if you do stand up and stand together you can make change. Cheesy I know, and this isn't a particularly highbrow list (I still love my cartoons...) But, they're films that make me feel something. Give them a watch and see if you feel inspired!

Casablanca may be lauded as one of the best romantic films of all time, but it's also inherently political. Released in 1942 and partly intended to encourage the Americans to join the war effort, it's a film about fighting for what you believe in, knowing when there are more important things than self-interest, and when to start standing up for what is right. And obviously it's also hugely romantic and beautifully shot.
Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron
Possibly the most underrated animated film of my childhood, Spirit is an original sort of western, told from the point of view of a wild horse who is captured by soldiers who try to break him. He goes from adventure to adventure, out of each frying pan into a new fire, but he never loses his spirit and he keeps fighting oppression and inspiring others as he does. Yes, you can be inspired by a cartoon horse, this is a great film!
A little-talked-about gem of a film, Pleasantville is the story of a brother and sister (Toby McGuire and Reese Witherspoon) who get sucked into the brother's favourite TV show - a supposedly idyllic, literally black-and-white, 1950's world. At first it seems as idyllic as it's portrayed, but it soon becomes obvious that the good-old-days really weren't that good for most people, and as the modern kids start to stir things up a bit, other people in the town begin to become 'infected', turning literally 'coloured'. It's a great premise and the big, To Kill a Mockingbird-referencing courtroom scene, is one of my favourites in any film.

The Shawshank Redemption

A bit different from some of the others in this list, Shawshank is a bit of a grim film for the most part, but one with a message about the importance of hope and fighting to keep people human, even in the most dehumanizing circumstances. Andy Dufresne is a man imprisoned for a crime he says he didn't commit, but the other men inside are all guilty. Still, when Andy improves the library, or tries to get the young one his school certificate, or old Brooks struggles when he's out in the real world, we feel for these people and we want things to change. We want Andy to succeed because he's a good man, and that's better than being cruel and a hypocrite, like the prison guards and the warden.

A pretty recent film, but already one of my established favourites, I love Pride. A true story about a group of lesbians and gay men in the eighties, who recognised that the miners were being oppressed too, and started up a support group, 'Lesbians and gays support the miners'. It's a happy film, about solidarity and kindness, and standing up for what is right, even if you don't think it's your fight. There's loads of great acting talent and the final scene is so joyful. I love that it's a true story too - it shows that people can really make a difference when they work together.

It's a Wonderful Life
When you think of It's a Wonderful Life you think of Christmas, and the countless parodies in other films and TV shows of that last section - where George wishes he's never been born as is shown what the world is like without him. But when you watch the film as a whole it's so much more than that, with a powerful message that it's important for good, decent people to keep standing up and keep being good and decent, even when it feels like no good deed goes unpunished. And at the end of the day, we'd all rather be George Bailey than Potter, even if Potter's way seems like the easy way.
Made in Dagenham
I'm not as familiar with Made in Dagenham as I am with some on this list, but it's a great film, another true story and another instance of how standing up, even if public feeling is against you, can make a difference to people's lives, not just now but for generations to come. This film is a period piece but it's not set that long ago and it's good to be reminded how far we've come and that people before us has to fight to make change.
A Bugs Life
It can't be only me that thinks A Bug's Life is way underrated as a Pixar film? For one thing, it has a much better message than some (The Incredibles, for example: "With everyone special, no one will be"?? In other words, some people are made to worship and others are made to be worshipped, so you none-special people know your place. Urgh. Can you tell I'm not a fan?) A Bug's Life says that different is good, oppression is bad and you've got to stand up to the bad guys. Plus the music is amazing.

Remember the Titans
Another true story, about how people are never as different as they appear, and how friendship, and getting to know 'the other side' can make all the difference when you're fighting for change and equal rights. It just takes for us to recognise that people are people and all the other stuff isn't really a game changer. Plus, you don't need to be able to understand American Football to enjoy this film - I don't know the first thing about it but I still love Remember the Titans.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

There's a great quote in book seven, after Harry and co. return to Hogwarts, where Neville explains how he got one of his scars - punished for asking Alecto Carrow how much muggle blood she has, when she was spouting bile against 'mudbloods.' Ron whistles and suggests there's a time and place for getting a smart mouth, but Neville says no. It helps when you stand up to them, it gives people hope - "I noticed that, when you did it Harry." I didn't love the film as much as the book, but that bit when they return to Hogwarts, and it's decided they're going to fight, is fantastic. All that time Harry, Ron and Hermione felt like they were doing it alone, but there were others there all the time, people ready and wanting to join in the fight. Some one just had to be the first to stand up.

So I was just going to have ten in the list, and then I suddenly remembered Hairspray, what a great, genuinely feel-good film it is, about standing up for what you believe in and celebrating difference. And then I remembered Jennifer Hudson's turn in Hairspray Live! earlier this year, amazing, but I couldn't find a clip. So here's Queen Latifa instead, also great!
What films make you feel hopeful? Any good inspiring moments I've not mentioned?

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

What I'm Watching: Lovesick

In theory, Lovesick, my newest Netflix discovery, sounds pretty dire. In summary, it's a British comedy drama about a twenty-something man who discovers he has an STI and is obliged to contact all of his past partners to break the bad news. Yeah. That's the premise. But bear with me. Each episode begins in the present day and then flashes back to tell the story of the girl of the moment. Dylan (Johnny Flynn, our protagonist) is contacting them in alphabetical order, so it's not chronological and we're fed bits of information gradually, which all link in to the overarching will-they-won't they saga of Dylan and his best friend Evie (Antonia Thomas, Sunshine on Leith, The Three Musketeers). In the flashbacks we see her un-requited love for him, in the present, he's realised he feels something for her but by this point she's taken. It's all about the timing.

Despite the...unusual...premise, I was pleasantly surprised by Lovesick. There are currently two seasons on Netflix (before that it was shown on channel four as 'Scrotal Recall'. Urgh.) and both are good, although I did feel there were some plot inconsistencies in series two. The characters are likeable and warm (if sometimes a bit OTT) and the writing's got lots of heart (although it can be a bit crass at times - but nowhere near as much as you'd think.) And it made me laugh a lot. The introduction of new characters each episode keeps the story fresh, the girls are never just stereotypes and you can usually see why Dylan fell for them. But they're all a bit different too, rather than just a parade of glamorous blondes, or whatever. It's also interesting to see how the characters differ in each flashback - whether it was six months or six years ago. How they've developed from that point and what stage Dylan and Evie are at in their love story. The timeline must have been confusing for the actors, and admittedly it can be confusing for the viewer too, especially when we're into series two, as you're constantly having to think about where each piece of the puzzle fits in. Was this before they met, for example, or before they got together that time, or before she met that other guy, etc.  Yet it's not essential for you to have it all figured out straight away, I just kind of went with the flow.

For a show that appears to promise edginess and laddish humour, it's actually kind of sweet. It's got a lot of charm and the actors make you invest in the relationships between the characters. Dylan is set up as the 'nice' guy and his best guy friend, Luke (who reminded me a bit of Schmidt from New Girl) as the 'lad' but all of the characters are nice really - if highly flawed and verging on the sex-addicted. The female characters are as well written and as complex as the boys, and there's not a trace of that uncomfortable, underlying misogynistic vibe that you sometimes get in sitcoms and comedy films aimed at a young male audience (cough *Judd Appatow* cough). Instead there's an underlying nice-ness to Lovesick, which becomes more apparent as the episodes go on, and you get to know the characters better. No one's mean or snide-y, people do get hurt but nothing is malicious, and the friendships feel genuine.

Below: The Netflix trailer, and then the Channel 4 trailer - the two together should give you a more rounded idea of what the show is like.


In Summary, Lovesick is much more suited to it's new name than it ever was to it's old one. Yes, some of the humour is pretty crude and there's lots of sleeping around. But it's also surprisingly sweet and unsurprisingly (this is Netflix after all) addictive. It's funny and interesting, and not as edgy as it sounds. My main criticism would be that I doubt they'll have enough material for a third series, and they could have wrapped things up quite neatly at the end of series two, which they probably should have done. Still, I'm not complaining, I'd happily watch more. I loved it.

Monday, 2 January 2017

Disney's Cinderella: Live Action (1950) vs Cartoon (2015)

Disney's really got into the swing of these live-action re-makes now hasn't it? The Jungle Book was really well-received (see 'What I'm Watching' for more cartoon re-make comparisons) Beauty and the Beast is set to be the cinematic event of the year (I still can't decide whether I'm excited or worried!) and there are loads more lined up for the future. If they mess up Mulan, I will rage. Still, there have been no huge disasters so far, and it was the success of 2015's Cinderella  that really started the ball rolling. Personally, I still prefer the original, and I do worry that all these live-action versions will stop kids of this new generation from bothering with the cartoons, which would be a very sad thing. Saying that, the new film was lavish, sweet, old-fashioned entertainment and I enjoyed it very much.
Directed by Kenneth Branagh, the new film stuck to the pattern of the original Cinderella story, adding nothing you could call a new twist, but there were some small divergences from the plot of the cartoon. In the 2015 version we meet 'Ella's' mother briefly (before she drops dead of whatever mysterious disease usually kills the mothers of Disney princesses) but Cinderella's father does not re-marry until she's grown up. This, I thought was a bit of a problem. I get that Cinderella had to 'have courage and be kind' but that doesn't mean she has to be a complete pushover does it? In the cartoon, and the original Perrault story, the subservience makes more sense - she's a child when the Stepmother gains control and she's brought up as an inferior. But this Ella is a grown woman. I can see that she would have nowhere to go if she left the house, but letting herself become a servant in her home without a word of resistance felt a bit extreme. She doesn't even try to fight it. It's not unkind to say 'no I will not go and sleep in the attic and wait on you hand and foot' in her own house. Lily James's Ella was a nice girl - but when I compared her, as I couldn't help but do, to Danielle from Ever After, Sam from A Cinderella Story or even Cinderella from the cartoon (who, in my opinion, has a fair amount of sass even if she doesn't actively try to get herself out) I couldn't help but think she could have done more to stand up for herself. Those other Cinderellas were kind and courageous too. But they fought. This one just waited. That's not to say I didn't like her. I also thought she had great chemistry with Richard Madden, particularly in that scene where they meet in the woods. They were flirty and fun together, and I liked the way Ella told him off for hunting the stag. I just wish she had stuck up for herself as much.
The other main difference in this one was that they gave the Prince more of a personality. Richard Madden is charming in everything he's in (although he wasn't enough to save The Medicis, which I misguidedly attempted to watch the other day) and Kit - he even had a proper name! - was a likeable character. The relationship with his dad, played by Derek Jacobi, was really quite sweet. I love the bluff, eccentric King in the old film, but despite being a very different sort of character, Jacobi was brilliant and touching in his scenes, making this frothy film feel more substantial whenever he was on screen. I like that he played it very seriously, as he could have gone over-the-top-panto and no-one would have judged him.
One thing that disappointed me a bit, was the lack of songs. Those in the original might not be Alan Menken/Howard Ashman standard, but they're still good. The new film did include one, but not from Cinderella - instead they added 'Lavender blue', a familiar tune from a forgotten Disney oldie. Lily James sang it nicely, but I'd have rather heard her do 'Sing Sweet Nightingale.' And I'm sure Helena Bonham-Carter - who played a rather more glamorous but still funny Fairy Godmother - could have made a good stab at 'Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo.' They did include the mice, which didn't talk, although Cinderella did talk to them. She did come across as a bit odd, but I get it, she was lonely (and I can't talk, I'm always chatting to my pets.) I still think the bits with Lucifer and the mice are some of the highlights of the original film, but this one was more focused on the romance so I can see why they were side-lined. I think that was sensible, but it did mean this film had less humour, and more sickly-sweetness.
One of the big selling points of Cinderella 2015 was the costumes. And they were lovely. I loved Ella's pale blue day dress and her ball gown was fabulous - I loved the colour and the huge skirt. Those tacky butterflies on the shoulders though? Just why. The dress in the cartoon was much classier. I think they went a bit overboard with the gaudy dresses on the stepsisters (Daisy from Downton Abbey and Holliday Grainger, obviously having a lot of fun in their roles) but Cate Blanchett's outfits alone were worth the Oscar. She looked great in everything.
Overall, I liked this Cinderella, although it felt less like a re-make of the 1950 classic than simply a new traditional re-telling. For me, it was most reminiscent of The Slipper and the Rose in tone, and Rodger and Hammerstein's Cinderella (the 90's one, with Whitney Huston) in appearance. I liked it, it was gorgeous and non-taxing to the brain, but honestly, it's no Ever After (can you tell that's my favourite? Maybe I'm just biased.) There's a great cast and the costumes and chemistry between the leads make this worth watching. But you should watch the cartoon too. It's still the real classic.

Saturday, 31 December 2016

Favourites of 2016

So 2016 has finally come to a close, and I'm going to be a whinger like the rest of the world and say I'm glad to see the back of it. But it's not been all bad, and at least there's been some good TV. Below is my year in Television, film and books - not always new things, sometimes just new discoveries.

Favourite new discoveries:

Black Mirror

My cousin has been telling me how good this is for ages, but somehow I only got round to watching it recently. There are three seasons so far (I've watched the first two Channel 4 series' and the first episode of the new Netflix season) but you can mix up the order because they're all stand-alones with totally different characters and worlds. Each story is set in a different, dystopian near-future, where people are causing problems, usually by misusing slightly scary everyday technology. My favourites so far are the episode where everyone wears play-back contacts in their eyes (which is clearly not good for your mental health when you suspect someone of cheating on you, as happens in the episode) and the one where ordinary people are living a slave like existence and their only way out is through reality TV. It's all very dark, and depressing and not my thing. But it's so good. Created by Charlie Brooker, some of the episodes are co-written with his wife Konnie Huq - who was one of my Blue Peter presenters. Who knew she had such a twisted mind!

Happy Valley

Usually you only have to say 'police drama' to me and my brain switches off. Action and detectives, grim, gritty reality, all are a no-go with me. But screenwriter Sally Wainwright is a bit of a genius really so I had to watch this much recommended series. It's really great, edge of your seat stuff and probably the best thing I watched this year. It's the story of sergeant Catherine Cartwright, an ordinary policewoman who becomes involved when a local girl is abducted by the man who raped and murdered her own teenage daughter. It sounds grim, and it is, but the characters are real and likeable and there's a lot of everyday humour in there, as well as a gripping plot and fantastic acting throughout. Plus I love the theme song. Definitely worth a watch.

(I also really enjoyed To Walk Invisible, a one-off biopic of the Brontes, which was also written by Sally Wainwright and shown on BBC this week - it's still probably on iplayer.)

Favourite thing I watched this year:
Game of Thrones, Series 6

Season 5 was a bit rubbish in comparison to the rest, but this year really stepped things up a notch. That battle in episode 9 - seriously edge of my seat the whole way through. People were actually leaving the room because of all the tension. This not-actually-knowing whether your favourite characters are going to live or die stuff is great. TV should try it more often.

Favourite new discovery:
The Commitments

This Dublin-set comedy from the early nineties follows a group of kids in their early twenties as they create a band to sing 'Dublin soul'. The more I watch this the more I love it. The story is nothing stand-out I guess, but I love the music and the humour.

Best thing I watched at the cinema:
Bridget Jones' Baby

Probably because I wasn't expecting it to be good, but it really made me laugh out loud. It captured something of the original films but brought the character out of the nineties without trying to hard to be down-with-the-kids. There were plot holes (her and Mark wouldn't have broken up. They just wouldn't) and Daniel was missed, but it was a fitting end to the series.

Oh, and Fantastic Beasts was good too!

Favourite new discoveries:

An old classic that I knew very little about, but really enjoyed. I loved the main character and the love interest, the setting was interesting and it was just a good story. I think having no idea what was going to happen next, and not being able to guess either, was a big part of the enjoyment. There was some uncomfortable racist language, but it was written in the fifties so I just had to deal with that. I still haven't watched the film (which won an Oscar) so I guess I should get on that.

When I was younger I read and enjoyed Hilary McKay's Casson Family series (Saffy's Angel, Indigo's Star, Permanent Rose, Caddy Ever After and Forever Rose) and Caddy - the dizzy, animal-loving oldest sister - was my favourite of the family. I was kind of annoyed that 'her' book was mostly from Rose's point of view (she's clearly the author's favourite child) so it was nice to discover a new prequel, about Caddy, around the time of Rose's birth. I laughed and cried, if that's not too cheesy to admit, and I'm going to have to go back and re-read the others now.

Favourite re-read:

This was probably the biggest surprise of my Harry Potter re-read. I hadn't read it in a while, and I was startled by how much it made me laugh. Out-loud too. It's not my favourite, but it's got to be up there.

Best thing I read this year:

A big, fat, historical novel, chronicling the life of Richard the third, this was engrossing, exciting and sad. It was easy to read too, despite it's size, and I rushed through it. I liked the characters, and it was very game-of-thrones like in it's intrigue. I would bet that George R.R Martin has read this book.


(I've literally been to the theatre three times, but that's enough to make a list out of, so I'm going to!)

Best musical I saw this year:

Guys and Dolls

I only saw the touring production but it was fab. Richard Fleeshman was a great Sky, and it's such a feel-good show. (See my review: here)

Best adaptation:
Pride and Prejudice, the play

This was a bit random, but a lot of fun. And Matthew Kelly made a great Mr. Bennet. (See my review: here)
Most exciting thing:
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child!

Great acting, amazing effects, fantastic atmosphere. But yeah, terrible story. (See my review: here)

 What were your highlights of 2016?