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M. J. Nelson (Leeds)
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Into the Woods [DVD]
Into the Woods [DVD]
Dvd ~ Meryl Streep
Price: £13.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Deconstructed Fairy Tale, 26 July 2015
This review is from: Into the Woods [DVD] (DVD)
When it comes to musicals Stephen Sondheim is something of an acquired taste, especially in the case of his less conventional, more esoteric works. (In my view he is the only living composer of musicals who belongs to the first rank.) Yet it has to be admitted that 'Into The Woods', which is hardly in the tradition of the classic, song-rich Broadway musical, has been one of his most successful ventures, initially achieving the second-highest run of his works. Now comes this big-budget film version. It certainly scores high for originality : Sondheim and his collaborator as librettist James Lapine have taken four fairy tales - Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, Cinderella and Rapunzel - weaved them together, given them a 'happy ending' and then deconstructed them in a way that defies tradition (Prince Charming, for example, so far forgets Cinderella as to make love to the baker's wife, who, with her husband, sets the whole thing off.) One might say this is Grimm for the grim modern era of story-telling. Personally, and despite my willingness to give Sondheim his due, I started to have misgivings about the film almost as soon as it had ended. The score lacks the sort of song hits that might have made it memorable, with only the appealing 'No One Is Alone' near the very end that is at all notable. Moreover there are many dark scenes and overall a rather muddled narrative. Meryl Streep, revelling in the role of the Wicked Witch, and Johnny Depp, as a rather unconvincing Big Bad Wolf, are the only star names in the cast. It has obviously divided Amazon reviewers mightily, with a high number of both five-star and one-star reviews and I would have thought the box office tills would not have been too busy for a film which seems, overall, too sophisticated for younger cinemagoers in particular. But no - it has grossed nearly $213 million, so what do I know ? At least Sondheim has never been afraid to boldly go on Broadway where no other composer has gone before. Nevertheless, I retain a decided preference for 'Follies' and 'A Little Night Music'.


Brideshead Revisited [DVD] [2008]
Brideshead Revisited [DVD] [2008]
Dvd ~ Emma Thompson
Price: £4.95

3.0 out of 5 stars The Cost of Keeping Faith, 4 Jun. 2015
Any film adaptation of Evelyn Waugh's classic novel Brideshead Revisited must inevitably be compared with the sumptuous, highly-regarded, if overlong, Granada Television version 0f 1981. This version is very much shorter so a good deal of compression and omission has been necessary. Thus, some of the secondary but still quite significant characters like Anthony Blanche, Cordelia Flyte and the very much put-upon Mr Samgrass are either dealt with quite summarily or are hardly visible. The central story, of the relationships between the two young men, Charles Ryder and Sebastian Flyte, and the latter's sister, Julia, is substantially intact but the focus has been shifted much earlier onto the sexual attraction between Ryder and Julia. This is, of course, not as Waugh intended. Production values are high, with Oxford, Castle Howard and Venice romantically resplendent and the film scores over the television version by shortening the final, drawn-out scenes when Lord Marchmain returns to Brideshead to die. The conflict between the family's Catholicism and Ryder's atheism is also sharply drawn. But there is at least one vital element missing : the narrative voice-over by Ryder, whose reflections on what he experiences are central to the story, as is his realisation in the 'book-ended' Second World War scenes (in the revisited Brideshead) that his life has become empty and wearisome, but with just a hint at the very end that he has found a glimmering of the sort of religious faith which sustained most of the Marchmain family. Ben Whishaw, as Sebastian, and Hayley Atwell, as Julia, are not overshadowed by their predecessors but Matthew Goode does not quite match Jeremy Irons' portrayal as the far from likeable Ryder. As the senior Marchmains, Michael Gambon and Emma Thompson are slightly in the shadows of Laurence Olivier and Claire Bloom. There are a number of Special Features, including the now familiar cast and crew interviews in which fulsome tributes are paid to colleagues. To summarise, the film edges to a **** in its own right but rates only a *** as an adaptation of the book.


Testament of Youth [DVD]
Testament of Youth [DVD]
Dvd ~ Cheryl Campbell
Price: £10.10

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Very Remarkable Woman, 31 May 2015
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This review is from: Testament of Youth [DVD] (DVD)
The recent release of a feature film version of Vera Brittain's classic autobiography Testament of Youth (1933) has provided the opportunity to re-assess this 1979 BBC television version. Whatever merits the film version has the earlier one offers an altogether more satisfying adaptation of the book. With its four and half hours playing time, against the film's less than half that length, it provides a much more detailed depiction of Vera Brittain's life before, during and after the First World War, upto the year 1925. It also has the considerable advantage, over the film, of portraying in some depth the close friendship that the author formed with her fellow writer and political activist Winifred Holtby. The latter's own tragically short life was quite memorable in itself, culminating as it did in the posthumous publication of her great populist novel, South Riding. But the heart of Testament of Youth lies in Vera Brittain's often grim experiences as a volunteer nurse during the war and the nearly unbearable loss of four young men in her life - her brother, her fiancé and two close friends. These experiences form a microcosm of the horrors and appalling waste of lives that the war brought. The production makes compelling use of archive footage of the carnage of the Western Front and of a 'voice over' (by Gary Watson) reciting some of the war poems by Wilfred Owen, among others. Above all it benefits greatly from the wonderful central performance by Cheryl Campbell, a performance to match that of Dorothy Tutin, as Sarah Burton, in the television version of South Riding. She is ably supported by the rest of the cast, in which Joanna McCallum (daughter of Googie Withers) makes a wholly believable, even loveable, Winifred Holtby. Although some viewers nowadays may find this version too drawn out and even slightly dated it wears its years well. The Special Features do not add up to much, with no filmed material, but the technical quality is satisfactory.


And the Bridge is Love
And the Bridge is Love
Price: £5.99

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A New Start For A Distinguished Cellist, 15 April 2015
This review is from: And the Bridge is Love (Audio CD)
The decision by Julian Lloyd Webber, one of Britain's most accomplished cellists, to give up playing for health reasons is an obvious cause for regret but his re-emergence as a conductor means that he will hopefully continue to make a notable contribution to classical music in Britain. This well-filled disc of English string music is his first venture in his new role and can be warmly recommended. It goes without saying that the playing of the English Chamber Orchestra, one of Britain's finest ensembles, is uniformly excellent and Lloyd Webber seems to have a natural affinity with the music. Elgar provides five works, including the magnificent Introduction and Allegro and the heartbreakingly beautiful Sospiri, dating from the fateful year of 1914. There are two world premiere recordings : an eloquent piece called The Moon, composed by Lloyd Webber's father, William Lloyd Webber, in 1950, and Howard Goodall's intriguingly-titled And The Bridge Is Love (the overall title of the disc). This near 12-minute work was composed in 2008, to quote Goodall himself, 'in loving memory of a teenage cellist, Hannah Ryan, the daughter of close family friends, who died tragically in September 2007'. This has become Lloyd Webber's final recording as a soloist and a worthy one it is too, even if the piece lacks something of the sheer memorability of the Elgar works. The disc is completed by compositions by Vaughan Williams, Delius, Walton and Ireland, making the whole programme a veritable treasure trove for devotees of the English Romantic repertoire.


Paddington [DVD] [2015]
Paddington [DVD] [2015]
Dvd ~ Nicole Kidman
Price: £9.34

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A View From Paddington, 5 April 2015
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This review is from: Paddington [DVD] [2015] (DVD)
I don't think I can quote better than what the star of the film has to say about this DVD

'I'm very pleased that they have put out a DVD of the film about what happened when I escaped from Peru and stowed away on a boat bound for England. I had a scary time before I found myself on Paddington railway station where the Brown family kindly took me home and gave me my name. At first Mr Brown wasn't at all keen on my staying on but he changed his mind, which was a great relief for me. Then we had to deal with that awful female person who wanted to have me stuffed for her collection in the Natural History Museum. Anyway it all ended happily, thank goodness. I'm ever so grateful to Mr Whishaw for helping out with my voice. I expect Mr Bonneville (Mr Brown) was quite pleased to have a change from playing that posh gentleman in a certain TV drama series (you'll know the one I mean) and what do you think about Doctor Who turning up as Mr Curry, a bit of a 'wrong 'un' (is that the right expression ?) to begin with but who turns out all right in the end. I do hope you like the DVD as much as I do. And I did enjoy working with all those lovely human actors, even Ms Kidman, despite her wanting me to be stuffed. Do you think they'll make a sequel ? I jolly well hope so.'

Well, I can only add that there are some terrific special effects in the film and several nice extras on the DVD (e.g. When A Bear Comes To Stay).


Tales Of Hoffmann - Special Edition * Digitally Restored [Blu-ray] [1951]
Tales Of Hoffmann - Special Edition * Digitally Restored [Blu-ray] [1951]
Dvd ~ Michael Powell
Price: £13.50

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Splendid Restoration of a Work of Art, 25 Mar. 2015
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The films produced by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger in the period 1941-1951, perhaps the British Film Industry's only 'Golden Age', were by no means met with all-round enthusiasm at the time, either from critics or audiences; in truth they were too idiosyncratic, too imaginative, too much against the prevailing grain of British films for general acceptance. Only in recent decades have the best of them achieved classic status, constantly shown on television and newly appraised by critics. Moreover, surprisingly and gratifyingly, the great American director Martin Scorsese has been at the forefront of this re-appraisal, to the extent of promoting the restoration of the best and most interesting of the films through his non-profit organisation, The Film Foundation. This 1951 version of Offenbach's opera-with-ballet, The Tales of Hoffmann, is the nearest realisation of Michael Powell's ideal of a 'composed film', in which the other arts could be synthesised to form a special form of art. With the astonishing, sometimes wildly extravagant design by Hein Heckroth it has much of the flair and imagination that informed its great predecessor, The Red Shoes,and, indeed, reunites four of the stars of that film - Moira Shearer, Robert Helpmann, Leonide Massine and Ludmilla Tcherina. The principal actor-singers are the American baritone Robert Rounseville as Hoffmann and Ann Ayers as Antonia (in the final segment). The presentation is excellent : apart from the beautifully-restored film itself (with newly discovered sequences) there is a heart-warming introduction by Martin Scorsese, an interview with Thelma Schoonmaker, Powell's widow and Scorsese's long-standing editor, a stills gallery and a trailer, together with an explanatory 20-page booklet featuring a number of splendid images and photographs (including one of Powell and Sir Thomas Beecham, the Musical Director on the film) and four limited addition postcards. My only complaint is that the booklet does not provide a synopsis of the film, nor a full list of the artists or any tracking details. (The documentation provided with the otherwise inferior Immortal DVD version of 2005 is exemplary in this respect.) Otherwise this is a treasure for opera-lovers, balletomanes and cineastes alike.

(Note : this review refers to the DVD version.)


The Dresser [DVD] [2004]
The Dresser [DVD] [2004]
Dvd ~ Albert Finney
Offered by Magic Movies Ltd
Price: £3.00

4.0 out of 5 stars The Smell Of The Greasepaint, 14 Mar. 2015
This review is from: The Dresser [DVD] [2004] (DVD)
News that there is to be a new BBCTV version of Ronald Harwood's near-classic tragicomedy, starring Ian McKellen and Anthony Hopkins, will no doubt lead to comparisons with this 1983 big screen version. It offers two wonderfully theatrical roles for the principal actors. Both are seized with relish by Albert Finney as the Donald Wolfit character, a rumbling, half-crazy human volcano about to be extinguished and Tom Courtenay as his faithful, tenacious but inwardly embittered dresser. The complex relationship between these two forms the main thrust of the film, set against a background of the hazards and deprivations of World War 2. The rest of the touring theatrical company keeping the flag of Shakespeare's plays flying are, with one exception, peripheral. The exception is the character of the Stage Manager, beautifully played by Eileen Atkins. The scene between her and Finney's 'Sir' late in the film is touched with poignancy. Over-wrought in places but strongly recommended for theatre enthusiasts rather than cineastes.


Benjamin Britten: A Life For Music
Benjamin Britten: A Life For Music
by Neil Powell
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

4.0 out of 5 stars A Genius To Be Sure, 6 Mar. 2015
In the Preface to this book the author states that 'Benjamin Britten was the greatest of English composers - rivalled only by Henry Purcell and Edward Elgar - and one of the most extraordinarily gifted musicians ever to have been born in this country.' I have no quarrel with the second part of that opinion but vigorously dispute the first : Ralph Vaughan Williams is also fit to be mentioned in the same breath as Purcell (next to whose tomb in Westminster Abbey he is buried) and Elgar. The general tenor of this lengthy and (in the first half especially) perhaps over-detailed biography is that Britten was the 'Sun King' around whom his contemporaries were merely satellites. Thus in the infrequent references to the works of other English composers the tone is decidedly dismissive : for example Ireland's beautiful Piano Concerto and Walton's wonderfully entertaining one-Act opera The Bear are given pretty short shrift. But, to be fair, Powell has not written a hagiography : neither the composer himself nor his (astonishingly large) body of work is exempt from critical comment. Yet any fair-minded reader can surely only admire Britten's huge achievement, especially given that throughout his working life he was hampered by frequent illnesses and general bad health. His long-time professional and personal partner, Peter Pears, naturally looms large in the story : their collaboration was unique in the history of music. Powell exempts his subject from the oft-alleged charge that his sexual orientation blighted his association with several young boys with whom he became friends or with whom he worked; and he waits until the very last paragraph of the book to skate over Britten's 'falling-out with some former colleagues and friends' (notably Lord
Harewood), which some commentators, less in awe of him than Powell, might still view in a less charitable light. But in the end it is his music that counts and from his early years to the end of his life he produced work after work that testified to his genius. It is to the author's credit that he conveys this genius with a real conviction.


Out Of The Shelter
Out Of The Shelter
by David Lodge
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Growing-Up Pains, 1 Feb. 2015
This review is from: Out Of The Shelter (Paperback)
David Lodge's autobiographically-flavoured fourth novel is a portrayal of the early life of Timothy Young, a child during the years of the Second World War, with all its terrors and privations, especially the London blitz. In 1951, aged 16, he is invited by his elder sister Kath, who works for the American army in the picturesque and historic (and undamaged) German university town of Heidelberg, to spend a three-weeks holiday with her. After a difficult journey he arrives to find himself part of a lifestyle that is exciting, indulgent and extravagant. And, as the weeks go by, he experiences a rite of passage that teaches him much about life. This is one of the author's more complex works, in which he intricately works in all sorts of subtexts : social, racial, political, sexual, religious, historical - and moral. The gallery of characters, from Timothy's conventional parents to the group of pleasure-seeking Americans he meets, is vividly drawn and the novel is worth reading just for the brilliantly detailed and evocative description of his hazardous journey from his home in South-East London to Heidelberg. There is also a queasily memorable scene near the end when, during a party, some of the characters dress up in Nazi regalia and let themselves go in an orgy of wild dancing. Out of the Shelter is, perhaps, a little long for its material, with a degree of repetition in the middle section; and it might, with advantage, have touched more sharply on what must have been the tensions between the occupying power and the local German populace. It nevertheless remains a highly impressive work.


Dancing Backwards
Dancing Backwards
by Salley Vickers
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

3.0 out of 5 stars A Journey To New York, 27 Jan. 2015
This review is from: Dancing Backwards (Paperback)
I am in somewhat of a dilemma with this novel by Salley Vickers : not only does this edition come with garlands of critical praise from a number of national newspapers but the majority of reviewers here have given it a four- or five-star rating. Ms Vickers' style is, as one critic, puts it 'quiet and subtle' and her eye and ear for what might be called the small change of inter-personal relationships (such as those which take place on the liner carrying the central character to New York) is quite acute. Structurally I found the constant switchback between the present and the past rather disconcerting, even irritating, but more importantly I finished up with not particularly caring what actually happened when the two main characters finally met. For me, there is a lack of real depth to the narrative. Incidental pleasures are there (I particularly liked the characterisation of Colin, the theatre critic) but the whole didn't really engage me.


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