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Luther - Series 1 [DVD]
Luther - Series 1 [DVD]
Dvd ~ Idris Elba
Offered by Speedy Wonder
Price: £3.50

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Works both as intellectual thriller and character study, 16 Jan. 2014
This review is from: Luther - Series 1 [DVD] (DVD)
This is truly edge-of-your-seat drama, though be warned, it's very brutal.

The feel of Luther is almost American. I don't mean that in a Hollywood way, but more in the way of American TV Dramas like The Wire, from a shaky scale of morality to the arty music of the titles to the shots of next week's episode interspersed with the credits (the latter idea is brilliant- wonder if anyone's done it before?).

It's true that Idris Elba does play John Luther as 'shouty angry cop' (think Boyd from Waking The Dead)and he does that crime drama thing of picking out a detail and instantly deducing something about a suspect, or even identifying the killer! However I think it works- partly because it adds some levity to a show where morality goes out the window and partly because he's the central character of the show. He's got to have something interesting about him. It also adds some delicious ambiguity- is Luther really psychotic? And when the stakes are so high, is it worth employing someone who's a bit of a maverick if it gets results? Every crime show has a detective who 'doesn't do things by the rules' and you always wonder why they would employ someone like that, but Luther genuinely tries to explore it. The show suggests two things- one, that Luther is a genius, and two, that it's only his personal integrity that stops him from being one of the psychopaths. If you're looking for a more upbeat version of that, Sherlock is a good alternative.

What is unusual for a British crime show is that despite the episodes focusing on a different crime each week, there is an over-riding arc centred around an odd sort of love square. John Luther's wife Zoe (Indira Varma) is torn between her loyalty to John and her lover Mark North (Paul McGann). I take exception to the idea that they are cardboard cut-outs. In any drama, you have characters which are less developed as their main importance is their relationship to the protagonist. I think there are elements of those characters they could have played with more- Zoe (and maybe Mark as well) is a human rights lawyer, so she has even more reason to feel horrified by some of the things Luther does. Because Varma plays Zoe as normal, some viewers might see the character as weak, but her reactions make far more sense than characters in other shows. Her affair with Mark is not simply playing around whilst her husband's away; there's a sweet little scene where Zoe playfully throws toast at Mark, and the viewer knows that these two are right for each other.

Luther of course is still desperately in love with Zoe and detests Mark but Mark actually comes out quite well. McGann is a very good actor anyway but he's particularly good at taking weak scripts or 2D characters and making them feel like people. At the end of the day, Mark just wants to be with the woman he's meant to be with and his requests that Zoe stay away from Luther are quite understandable. Again, because McGann plays the character as normal, whereas other characters are hammed up a bit more, you might see that as weak, but it's vital that Zoe and Mark come across as normal 'good' people.

This is where the fourth point of the square come in: Alice Morgan (Ruth Wilson). Alice is a psychotic genius and one body away from being a serial killer. Try as he might, Luther can't pin anything on her. But she's not his nemesis simply because she evades capture; she is obsessed with Luther and sees him as a sort of soulmate. As the series progresses, you start to wonder whether there isn't some truth in that...

The message of Luther (the show) seems rather grim and depressing: morality is a myth, a beautiful lie, and in order to get anything done, you have to ignore it. Writer Neil Cross is mistaken in not bringing Zoe and Mark into the argument more- after all, morality is their job. Hopefully this idea might be developed in Series 2. Overall though, I think that Cross isn't simply trying to make as grim and bleak a show as possible. Characters develop- for better or worse- over the course of the series, as does the theme of how notions of 'right' and 'wrong' contrast with personal desire.

Luther's colleagues are all interesting as well; I won't go into any detail about them because they tie into the story. Of course, the general feeling around the office is that Luther is a loose cannon (again, see Sherlock) and that his temper will get the better of him. However, he does have one supporter- rookie detective Justin Ripley (Warren Brown), who sees the goodness behind John's temper.

Luther is, in summary, a tightly woven drama that raises a lot of ethical questions, provides some human drama, a bit of romance and some cracking thriller moments. At the finale, I was literally on the edge of my seat, squealing at the TV. It also has an advantage over American shows in that this series has only 6 episodes, so there's no filler- just thriller.

As for the product itself, I haven't bought it yet. It has the advantage of having subtitles, which I think should be compulsory for all DVD releases, and there's a 'making of' type documentary. Personally, I would have preferred audio commentaries, but the play's the thing.

The Monocled Mutineer : The Complete BBC Series (2 Disc Set) [DVD] [1986]
The Monocled Mutineer : The Complete BBC Series (2 Disc Set) [DVD] [1986]
Dvd ~ Paul McGann
Price: £5.60

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Underrated WW1 gem, 23 Dec. 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Back in the eighties, it was ITV who ruled at the costume drama, with classics like Brideshead Revisited and The Jewel in The Crown spread over eleven and fourteen episodes. They literally don't make them like that any more. The BBC's period dramas had acting that was as cardboard as the set.

The Monocled Mutineer is what the Americans would call a mini-series. It doesn't quite have the scale of the ITV productions; it's four episodes- three 75 mins and the finale is 90 mins. This is a spoiler-free review because I haven't actually seen the final episode! I just got so excited that I decided to review anyway.

The DVD back cover humorously says that it is a "supposedly true story", whereas the general consensus is that it is willfully historically inaccurate. To be honest, unless you are particularly familiar with WW1 minor figure Percy Toplis, I doubt it will bother you. If it does, never watch a play, film or TV show again. The look of the whole thing, from what I can tell, is factually accurate. It's certainly not the 1940 film of Pride and Prejudice, where everyone's wearing outfits from Civil War melodrama Gone with The Wind! The cover also clears up the myth that the show has never been repeated; it was repeated once, in 1988, but not since then.

You know when people go a bit gooey over the 'golden era' of Hollywood? I have the same reaction to these eighties mini-series. They're well-written, well-acted, well-shot...simply good stories that gave us a look at British history that was both nostalgic and critical. With its script written by 'Boys From The Black Stuff' writer Alan Bleasdale, The Monocled Mutineer is mostly critical. At the time, people complained that it was all part of some lefty agenda at the BBC and that it was ruining the honour of the soldiers who fought in it. The Monocled Mutineer certainly has things in common with Boys From The Black Stuff- Toplis's mutiny is clearly reminiscent of the worker's unions- but it's not a rehash or allegory, even if Thatcher Britain saw things in it that reflected their own society.

In a way, I would have liked it to have been longer. Unlike Brideshead or Jewel, which are rammed full of fascinating characters, the focus of The Monocled Mutineer is on, well, 'The Monocled Mutineer'- AKA Percy Toplis. This was Paul McGann's first big role and he just exudes charisma and talent. Though he looks as if he wouldn't last a day in the war, this works in his favour, as Toplis tries to avoid getting involved in, well, anything. Maybe that's what wound up the public; Toplis is a self-serving anti-hero. His big trick is to impersonate an officer so he can go off and have a bit of fun occasionally and McGann manages to play both working-class Yorkshire lad and public-school educated officer beautifully. It's an interesting commentary on how class is simply an accident of birth and that there is nothing inherently special about the upper classes. Another actor would undoubtedly have been stronger playing one class than the other (imagine Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady) but McGann plays them equally as well, giving the impression of a young man whose identity is completely fluid.

I'm not sure how close this is to the real-life Percy Toplis. From photos, Toplis looks like a shifty scallywag, whereas McGann is strikingly good-looking. You might argue that it's just romanticising history but I think that Toplis needs to be at least superficially attractive for the audience to see how people might have fallen for his charisma. McGann's character is still scally-waggish and a bit unpleasant- refreshingly, Bleasdale finds some black humour and irony in this. Instead of making Toplis the baddie or trying to underplay his unpleasantness and making him a working-class hero, Toplis remains enigmatically ambiguous. Is he a reluctant hero or merely just a stirring trickster?

However there are two other great characters- Timothy West as Brigadier General Thomson, who allows the brutalities in the Etaples training camp to happen and mourns that the days when an officer was respected are no longer, and Penelope Wilton as Lady Angela Forbes, who serves the tea at the camp and objects to the sadistic training methods. The dialogue and power play between the two is hilarious, even though the subject matter is brutal. Aside from McGann, Wilton has the best lines. I won't paraphrase because it'll lose some of the brilliance, so you'll just have to watch it!

As for the DVD itself, it's a bare bones version. Unlike the VHS, which merged episodes into one long film, the DVD is split into the original four episodes. Happily, there are English subtitles, which is more than you'll get on some DVDs, and as a nice little treat, the main menus use the glorious theme tune as a background and the scene selection menus use McGann's lovely version of 'Let The Great Big World Keep Turning'. You might want some smelling salts by you for that moment in the series because any woman is bound to swoon.

Interesting trivia: Paul McGann was originally meant to star in nineties historical TV series Sharpe, and he shows all the necessary qualities in The Monocled Mutineer. However an injury meant that Sean Bean stepped in- for the better I think. Excellent actor though McGann is, I don't buy him as a fighting type (though he's played many dashing soldiers), whereas Sean Bean is a man's man as well as a ladies' man. McGann got his chance to steal a role when he beat Withnail and I co-star Richard E Grant to the role of the Doctor in Doctor Who. Ah, the many what-ifs of film and television...
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 13, 2014 4:06 PM BST

Withnail & I
Withnail & I
by Kevin Jackson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An interesting academic insight, 16 Dec. 2013
This review is from: Withnail & I (Paperback)
This book is mainly targeted at film studies students or those who have just watched the film and want another perspective on it.

As an academic text, it's very interesting. It gives a shot-by-shot account of the film interspersed with behind-the-scenes info and the author's commentary on certain scenes and certain issues about the film. When I read this, I'd just watched the film and it gave some interesting autobiographical information about director/writer Bruce Robinson that helped me appreciate the film more. It's not dry or dull and the author's love for the film shines through, even when he is discussing potential criticisms of the film.

However I think ardent fans would prefer a more irreverent book that spills the beans about backstage antics and offers fun trivia, as they are likely to know this information anyway. The BFI Modern Classics are essentially accessible books for film studies/cultural studies students.

Lawrence of Arabia - Two Disc Set [DVD]
Lawrence of Arabia - Two Disc Set [DVD]
Dvd ~ Peter O'Toole
Offered by Quality Media Supplies Ltd.
Price: £8.95

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The epic of all epics, 8 Dec. 2013
This is the epic of all epics, rivalling only Gone with The Wind. However this is more of a triumph in that GWTW clearly had all the makings of a hit: romance, lust, Gable, romanticised American history and old-fashioned melodrama. Lawrence of Arabia looks poised to be a bore: almost four hours of a man walking across a desert. Forget love stories- there's not a woman in sight.

And yet there is a love story- Lawrence's love for Arabia. That desert landscape must have astounded audiences in 1962 and even now it is breathtaking. It represents the extremes that filmmakers will go to, shooting in a terrain that's wild and punishing. How they even got the film to stay intact is a mystery. Our introduction to the desert is by way of a great jump cut- Lawrence (Peter O'Toole) blows out a match and we cut to a burning desert sunset. Director David Lean was an editor and it shows in his films (even Brief Encounter, which people forget uses a non-linear narrative and some excellent shots). Though it's a long film, the length is necessary. We must undertake the endurance that Lawrence does.

Lawrence is a tall clumsy back-room officer. He's a great scholar but there's not an ounce of military blood in him. He is sent to Arabia for three months to assist another officer, in the hope that it might make a man out of him. It actually makes a hero out of him. But it also turns him into a madman.

To have a central character in any film be so ambiguous is a risk, let alone an epic. Lawrence is awakened by the desert in the sense that he finds a heroism and determination that he has never had before, but he discovers a more dangerous side- he is sadomasochistic. The scene where he tells his superior General Allenby (Jack Hawkins) that he enjoyed killing is so brilliantly written and performed. It's our first hint that this hero is dangerous and it may destroy him.

Everything about the film- acting, writing, cinematography- matches the epic power of the desert landscape. The film also says far more about Western attitudes to war and the East than any modern film has done or can do. There is blacking up but the performances are genuine, not racial stereotypes.

As for the DVD, the picture looks good. Really, if you have a Blu-Ray you should get that version because the remastered version I saw in the cinema was breathtaking, but the DVD's picture and audio are in good condition. Unfortunately there is no commentary but there is a feature-length making of documentary, some period featurettes, and a detailed booklet. This is the kind of film where you want as many special features as possible so that you can discover the many layers of the film. The documentary also has an interesting moment where the filmmakers say how they indicated that a particular character was aroused- by some climactic coughing into a hankerchief!

This is the ultimate film lover's film, showing everything that is great about cinema.

Doctor Who - The Movie [1996] [DVD] [1963]
Doctor Who - The Movie [1996] [DVD] [1963]
Dvd ~ Paul McGann
Offered by HalfpriceDVDS_FBA
Price: £15.98

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Dr Oooh!, 26 Nov. 2013
Doctor Who fans will gasp in horror at many of the changes that this TV film, the black sheep of the canon, makes to Doctor Who mythology. Not being one myself, I won't bore you with the details, but the two big ones are the Doctor being half-human and his romance with his companion. That's what you get when the Americans have a hold of the pursestrings!

Leaving that aside for a moment, let's focus on it as a film. The effort put into the film is equivilent to those weepie romantic TV films you get mid-afternoon on Channel 5. Though it was intended to be a pilot for a TV series, it's clear that the filmmakers weren't that bothered, as the whole thing is bland. It's a hodge-podge of The X Files, ER, Frankenstein and a B-Movie, with some Christ allusions for good measure. The Doctor has all his equipment, plus some jelly babies (not that the citizens in the film know what they are!), yet it feels like the scriptwriter is just making a few obligatory nods.

To be fair, it's a tough task trying to distill thirty years of Dr Who history and mythology into an 89 minute film. The writers only get as far as telling us that the Doctor has two hearts and regenerates. It's the regeneration that provides the film's plot, as baddie The Master (Eric Roberts) tries to steal The Doctor's (Paul McGann, more on him later) lives. A bit like when your little brother tries to steal your sweeties, and about as interesting. It's just another instance of the filmmakers simplifying everything to the point of blandness. Oh yeah, and it's New Year's Eve 1999, though it bears no significance to the plot whatsoever. Armageddon this ain't.

It is however of interest to Doctor Who fans, as it marks the leap from the cardboard set days of the classic series to the CGI cinema that the modern series is. Not that there is any particularly remarkable CGI but it does mark a shift towards something new. The regeneration is better than any before it (perhaps with the exception of the original, beautifully primitive regeneration of the First Doctor), with CGI that makes the regenerative process look a little nightmarish. It also provides a striking entrance for Paul McGann's version of the Doctor, as he wakes up in a morgue with complete memory loss.

Aesthetically it's closer to the modern series although it still looks quite like a B-Movie. Eric Roberts as The Master acts as if he's in a B-Movie or a cat-stroking Bond villain. He is completely unconvincing as a part of the Doctor Who world and clearly did no research at all. Yes, Doctor Who didn't take itself too seriously but without believing in its history and mythology at all, the film simply falls flat.

Now the verdict you've been waiting for. This is Paul McGann's only visual adventure as The Eighth Doctor (although he does appear in The Night of The Doctor, a 2013 prequel to the big 50th anniversary episode, The Day of The Doctor). Despite being forced to play the character as a sort of Jesus figure, complete with flowing locks, McGann shows lots of potential. I would describe him as the Timothy Dalton of Doctor Whos- that is to say, a fine actor who never fully got the chance to prove themselves in the role. It also helps that he is very easy on the eye- a quality which might have led people to blow the whole kissing scene out of proportion. From the fan uproars you'd think that it had been a steamy bedroom scene! In context, it's all very chaste as the Doctor is completely guileless. Of course companion, medical consultant Dr Grace Holloway (played by Daphne Ashbrook), has a romantic reaction- well, what woman wouldn't?- but it's hardly the Casanova days of David Tennant's Doctor. As a companion, Grace's part is woefully underwritten. She is a doctor (but a normal medical doctor- see the hilarity?) and is human, which is about the extent of it. Oh yeah, and she's sort of in love with the Doctor but not very convincingly. More like a bloke she's picked up in some bar. The reason why McGann manages to stand out is because he's a very good actor; Ashbrook is average at best, so is simply left to fade away. It's clear that the filmmakers had no real intention of making her a lasting companion, so again, you start to wonder why anyone agreed to this movie in the first place.

The Americans didn't mess the film up because they were dumb. They just didn't care about the series and had no place for it in the American market, so what we're left with is Paul McGann's brilliant performance buried in a bland pointless mess. As every character in the film says at least ten times, the Doctor has two hearts. This film has none.

Blasted (Modern Plays)
Blasted (Modern Plays)
by Sarah Kane
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A striking play, 23 Oct. 2013
This review is from: Blasted (Modern Plays) (Paperback)
The play is a very quick read; a bit like a sharp punch to the stomach. Initially the play is quite simple: two lovers- a middle-aged man (Ian) and a twenty-one year old girl (Cate)- spend a night in a very expensive hotel in Leeds. Ian is cruel and disgustingly racist; Cate is cold and selfish. Were the play simply to stick to this, it'd be a rough enough night, but then the mysterious Soldier figure enters, bringing apocalyptic news and giving Ian the torture that he probably deserves.

It sets off a chain of disturbingly violent events, some of which would be pretty hard to stage convincingly. I don't know whether these incidents would look a bit Titus Andronicus-y in performance; the play is really a very interior one, giving us an insight into playwright Sarah Kane's mind. As you probably know, Kane committed suicide in 1999- four years after Blasted- and all her plays are coloured by her mental illness.

That's not to say that they are simply mad ravings. For all the violence in the play, there is a great deal of tenderness. These two broken people need each other and would probably be unable to connect with anyone other than each other. Not that they can romantically connect with each other; Cate is reluctant towards Ian and Ian sees her as a tease. Yet what really comes across is the sense that these two people know each other completely.

For me, it is this personal relationship that is the core of the piece. Critics argued that Kane was trying to make a naive and simplistic point about the nature of war, but I disagree. It's an attempt to rationalise what is a play all about people behaving irrationally. What it's really about is the atrocities that humans- particularly lovers- can inflict upon each other. Viewing it in this light means that the play becomes a lot more satisfactory.

What stops the play from simply being a historical document- an example of in-yer-face theatre- is the emotional honesty and the play's vividness. Without the emotional violence, we could dismiss it as simply being an attempt to shock and cause superficial controversy. However the presence of genuine emotion makes the reaction to it more troubling.

One plus point of Blasted is that it is surprisingly accessible considering some plays of this genre. No arty overlapping or poetic verse here.

The Best of Bond ...James Bond
The Best of Bond ...James Bond
Offered by DVD Overstocks
Price: £6.30

4.0 out of 5 stars Licence To Thrill, 13 Oct. 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This is a great CD for any Bond beginner as it contains all the official themes up to The World is Not Enough. Buy it second-hand and download the missing themes (perhaps with the exception of Die Another Day) and you've got yourself a bargain. Even if you're not particularly into Bond, the CD is full of rousing songs that are great background music.

The songs are oddly out of order but not too distractingly- the Bond theme is just before Goldfinger; Licence to Kill follows The Living Daylights. It's just the odd one that's misplaced, such as having A View to A Kill so early on.

Here's my review of each song:

1) The James Bond theme: It's iconic: stylish, sexy and thrilling. The perfect intro to Bond and the Bond films.

2) Goldfinger: The first Bond song, and one of the best. Jazzy, with the powerhouse voice of Shirley Bassey, warning us of the villainy of Goldfinger. It's the archetypical Bond song: a powerful female voice, a blaring sax, sexy lyrics singing of a man who can never be won. Shirley Bassey would go on to sing two more Bond songs.

3)Nobody Does It Better: This is probably my favourite Bond song, unfortunately theme tune to one of the cringiest Bond films. Again, we have the female soloist (Carly Simon), the sexy lyrics (probably the sexiest lyrics of any Bond song). We also have a nice romantic tone- unfortunately not present in the actual movie (The Spy Who Loved Me).

4) A View To A Kill: Oooh, I love Duran Duran. This is a pretty sexy one actually, although Roger Moore...less sexy, considering that he was 58 when the film was made. The music video for this theme is very funny.

5)For Your Eyes Only: This is a pretty good one as well. We've hit the eighties at this point and this is a very eighties track from Sheena Easton, who had a hit with Morning Train. I play this one a lot (and, er, belt it out in the privacy of my room). Not sure how Roger Moore got all the romantic theme tunes.

6)We Have All The Time in The World: This one is a bit of a downer, although Louis Armstrong makes it quite powerful. No sexy here but a good deal of poignancy, particularly if you've seen the film (On Her Majesty's Secret Service).

7)Live and Let Die: Roger Moore's first film. I always skip this song as I find it a bit dull. Paul McCartney and the Wings rock out in seventies style but the song lacks the smoothness of the other songs.

8)All Time High: This one is SO eighties. It's a bit middle of the road and won't make anyone's favourite Bond theme tune list. A bit like the slow dance song at a disco or a wedding. I do have a soft spot for it though, and luckily they didn't try to use the title of the film (Octopussy) for the song's title.

9) The Living Daylights: Timothy Dalton's first film. a-Ha create an exciting thrilling tune that fits the film perfectly. No sexy here but it's a good number, even if the chorus is a bit repetitive. Pretty cool.

10) Licence to Kill: Yes, it's that slow dance number. Very dated, a bit like All Time High. I do sing along to it but it is a bit pedestrian, as if it has all the Bond elements but does nothing with them.

11) From Russia With Love: The theme was instrumental but they added lyrics and turned it into a song, sung by Matt Munro. It's quite a good croony number and fits into the 'enigmatic' category of Bond song. Very stylish- you can imagine Frank Sinatra singing it.

12) Thunderball: I've never paid attention to this one before but it's actually a great little number. Tom Jones does his thing and the women throw their underwear at him. A bit like Bond then. Personally I think Bond songs work better with female vocalists but this song actually works well. Probably because Tom Jones was a sex symbol (and still is for some people).

13) You Only Live Twice: Brilliant faux-enigma and philosophical musings here. Like the title, they don't really mean much but it's quite a trippy psychedelic number and Nancy Sinatra is the perfect vocalist for it.

14) Moonraker: The title that Bond filmmakers took a bit too literally. It's Shirley Bassey again, in her weakest song. It doesn't play on her big powerhouse voice. However there is an interesting Broadway sound to it, so it may grow on you, and it isn't silly like some of the tunes (or indeed, the film).

15)On Her Majesty's Secret Service: A great instrumental, throwing us into the new Bond (George Lazenby). Lazenby never quite fitted the role but this is a brilliantly cool tune. Lives up to the original Bond theme in my opinion.

16) The Man With The Golden Gun: Lulu is very annoying, as is the song. Nothing special here.

17) Diamonds Are Forever: Connery's last film (unless we include unofficial bond Never Say Never Again) and Bassey's second Bond theme. Classy and one of the only Bond songs to celebrate the wealth and extravagance of Bond.

18) Goldeneye: Piers Brosnan's first film. The tune is clearly intended to recall Goldfinger. It's not a bad number from Tina Turner but it ain't Goldfinger.

19) Tomorrow Never Dies: A bit of a gloomy introspective number from Sheryl Crow. It does grow on you though.

20) The World is Not Enough: Suitably 'big' number but reminiscent of a Eurovision song. You half expect some Russian ice skaters to appear.

21) James Bond Theme (Moby): Basically the original theme with some sound clips of previous Bonds. A bit redundant.

22) James Bond Theme (Goldeneye Trailer): Again, a bit pointless, when they could have chosen so many better extras.

Brief Encounter [DVD] [1945]
Brief Encounter [DVD] [1945]
Dvd ~ Celia Johnson
Price: £3.00

5.0 out of 5 stars A romantic classic with substance, 8 Oct. 2013
This review is from: Brief Encounter [DVD] [1945] (DVD)
The more I watch this film, the more I am convinced of its perfection. The story is slight, the stuff of many Hollywood films- a bored housewife (Laura) makes a chance encounter with a stranger (dashing Dr Alec) and is tempted into adultery- and yet it has much more substance.

What works so well in this film is its mundaneness. Laura's life is shown in minute detail- we hear about her Thursday shopping trips to a nearby town, the train she gets, her purchasing decisions. For a modern viewer, it provides wonderful nostalgia- who couldn't feel cosy at the mention of Woolworths? Then writer Noel Coward slips in a detail that seems to be just part of her routine and yet it symbolises so much. Every Thursday, Laura pops into the cinema to watch a picture. This shows the audience her desire for escapism, her need to have some sort of treat for herself and the confrontation with a world of romance that extends beyond sitting with your husband helping him with his crossword. It offers an interesting dilemma for the cinema-going audience: if offered the chance of a Hollywood romance, would you take it, even at the expense of your loving husband?

For all those clipped British voices strangled by sexual repression, it feels more real than most films dealing with romance. The build up to the first guilty kiss is handled so beautifully that it feels believable. There is no massive gesture that forces the two into each other's arms; it is simply the culmination of lots of little things. They bump into each other whilst doing their daily routines, casually arrange a meet-up, and then the meetings become dates. At the age of fourteen, when I first watched this, I stood hopefully at railway stations, convinced that some nice doctor would come up to me and remove a piece of grit from my eye. The railway station is a great recurring symbol: on one hand it represents mundane routine, but it also alludes to the ultimate novel of adultery, Anna Karenina.

Some people will no doubt accuse the film of being a product of the 1940's, with typical stiff middle-class Brits getting punished for their sins, reinforcing traditional moral values. Laura (played by Celia Johnson)is full of wide-eyed guilt and does not feel the naughty temptation that modern audiences would expect. However is not simply Laura and Alec's guilt that plague their romance but the literal interference of friends, acquaintances and families, whether it's a gossiping friend, devoted spouse, or acquaintaces that simply pop up at the wrong time. As Jean Paul Sartre said, "Hell is other people". Without those other people, Laura and Alec could have lived in adulterous bliss.

The thing about this film that strikes me every time is how successfully it appeals to the human (maybe in particular female) desire to escape the ordinary and domestic and live a life of romantic bliss. The grass is always greener on the other side but when it grows on the misery of others, it starts to look not so green after all.

The Sound Of Music [2 Disc 40th Anniversary Collector's Edition] [1965] [DVD]
The Sound Of Music [2 Disc 40th Anniversary Collector's Edition] [1965] [DVD]
Dvd ~ Julie Andrews
Offered by Quality Media Supplies Ltd.
Price: £10.01

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A heartwarming classic, 6 Aug. 2013
The Sound of Music is one of those rare things- a film that improves on its original source. The stage musical it is adapted from is a bit saccharine and pious, with the nuns very much centre stage. Ernest Lehman's screenplay has the perfect balance between the optimism that is at the heart of the musical and the intelligence and wit that saves it from treacly sentimentality.

The musical is probably Rodgers and Hammerstein's best known musical. It was Hammerstein's last before he died, and it proved to be the perfect swan song. The themes that Hammerstein loved so much- the necessity of getting along with each other; the belief that goodness will triumph; and the power of love- are at their peak here. These themes may seem like generic musical theatre fare but the difference is that Hammerstein genuinely believed in these things, which is why the musicals are timeless.

For those who've lived in a cave for the past forty-five years, this is the idealised version of how Maria, a wayward nun with the voice of an angel, becomes a governess to the seven children of the stern Captain Von Trapp, and finds her place in the world. Except Austria is becoming more and more permeated by the Nazis...

Like Hammerstein, Julie Andrews is also at her peak here. Yes, she had played Mary Poppins previously, but this is the moment where we all fell in love with her and her image as saintly nanny was cemented. Maria is too good to be true and yet watching Andrews we somehow believe her, as she radiates joy and, well, music. 'Do Re Mi', irritatingly catchy as it is, is a gem that captures the heart of children everywhere, and 'My Favourite Things' is a number to bring the entire family together as they sing about their love of raindrops, roses, whiskers and kittens in order to take their minds of a thunderstorm.

If you don't like children, the thought of them yodelling 'The Lonely Goatherd' and traipsing round Salzberg might sound like a nightmare but director Robert Wise avoids using the children as cute little kittens. Instead, he brings out the joyous pleasures of childhood, as Rodgers' music so brilliantly evokes.

What pleasures are there for the adults? Well, Christopher Plummer is a witty and charismatic Captain Von Trapp. He has the advantage of being younger than Von Trapp is generally cast as, so Maria doesn't simply look like another addition to the children. In real life, Maria claimed that she married the captain purely for the children, but in the musical and particularly in this film, Maria's love for the Captain shines through. There is- dare I say it- a subtle sexiness as Maria learns love and sexuality from the Captain. Sexuality tends to be demonised in Rodgers and Hammerstein's musicals, indicating threat or perversion, so it's up to the actors to convey it, as Andrews and Plummer do brilliantly. The frisson between them works particularly well in 'Something Good', a love duet that ends with the two silhouetted against a beautiful sky. In all the excitement of the singing and dancing, it's easy to forget that the cinematography is pretty good.

This is of course helped by the film being shot on location, but it also indicates a shift away from the idea that a film adaptation was simply to preserve the stage show and make an easy buck. The days of shoot, point and sing were over, which is why The Sound of Music stands up much better than other filmed musicals. The filmmakers have in general tried to make the film its own story rather than simply capitalising on the show's success. Pretty much all the songs are kept from the stage show apart from those endless Latin chants and 'No Way To Stop It', a strangely jaunty song about putting up with the Nazis. However, they mix things around. For example, in the stage show, 'My Favourite Things' is first sung with the Abbess at the abbey and then reprised during the thunderstorm, whereas in the film, we here it for the first time in the thunderstorm. The choice doesn't diminish the impact and actually stops the show from being too sentimental. We do get two new songs- I Have Confidence in Me and Something Good- with Rodgers writing the lyrics as well as the music, proving that he's pretty good with words as well. These songs have now been incorporated into the stage show.

Cynics and critics will sneer and dismiss the film as being too cute, but only the most hard-hearted critics could fail to be moved by the film. Besides, behind all those nuns and children, there is actually some content there. Rodgers and Hammerstein are frequently seen as creating nice cuddly musicals that allow us to escape from the troubles of the world, despite the fact that their musicals are all about worlds on the brink of change and the necessity of having to find some way to cope. The Sound of Music doesn't trivialise the threat of the Nazis and doesn't suggest that a bit of singing and dancing will cure all the evils of the world, but it contains the powerful message that with a firm belief in goodness or the capacity for goodness, you really can climb any mountain.

Also, there's a brilliant moment where one nun reveals that she has removed the carburettor from a Nazi's car in order to enable the Von Trapps' escape. Classic.

City Of Angels
City Of Angels
Offered by RAREWAVES
Price: £5.84

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Quirky Pastiche that hits the mark, 12 July 2013
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This review is from: City Of Angels (Audio CD)
Just to clear things up, this is not in any way related to the Meg Ryan/Nicholas Cage film.

It's the Original London Cast Recording of City of Angels, a musical sadly forgotten now but at the time (1989 for the Broadway premiere, 1993 for the London one) it was a critical success. Perhaps the reason why the show is less well-known is that it's a pastiche and so the audience will always have a degree of self-consciousness about it. True, The Boyfriend is a pastiche musical but then it had the benefit of Julie Andrews as the lead. It also had a little more content and was more a pastiche of the era rather than solely twenties films/musicals. This is perhaps City of Angels' flaw- it is a great pastiche of forties Hollywood but doesn't have any intellectual content in particular or alternatively, pathos.

Having gotten that criticism out of the way, the premise is interesting: Stine (performed by Martin Smith) is a novelist trying to get his detective novel to the big screen. Stone (performed by Roger Allam) is his fictional detective, a sceptical wise-cracker and user of women. One nifty trick that the soundtrack bereaves us of is the unique staging: the real world of Stine is in colour whereas the fictional world of Stine is all in black and white. I've seen film play with colour like this but never theatre.

That's why if you are concerned that the pastiche might get tiresome, get this London recording over the original Broadway one. The Broadway one is slicker, the vocals are smoother, and the performers feel more natural in this very American setting. Therefore if you're getting the CD solely as a showcase for Cy Coleman's great score, the Broadway album would be a better option for you.

However for me, acting is paramount. That's why I love this London version- each character is full of, well, character. Because it's performed by Brits, they can play around more with the archetypes and exaggerate them. The female characters sound a lot seedier here, which helps make it a more interesting piece. There is a clear sense that the fictional characters are living in dark days. For fans of the book, we get to hear a lot more spoken dialogue than in the Broadway version. The dialogue is mainly that of Stone. Luckily for you the listener, Roger Allam (the original Javert in Les Miserables, ubiquitous TV/Brit film actor and voice of suave First Captain Douglas in Radio 4 comedy Cabin Pressure) is brilliant. Allam is perfect in the role, oozing charm and seduction, whilst remaining a moral figure (albeit a sinister wisecracking one). In contrast, the Broadway Stone has no edge. He's a bit of a charmer but that's it.

As for the battle of the Stines, both Broadway and London are fine. Because we have more of Stone, due to reinstating material cut from the Broadway release, Stine is a bit of a cipher here, overshadowed by the brilliance of Roger Allam. In fact, everyone's a little bit of a cipher so you might want to get the libretto and read along (apparantly the book is great).

Highlights of the album include the two versions of Double Talk, where we are introduced to Stone and Stine (only Stine's is present on the Broadway CD; What You Don't Know About Women, a sassy boppy duet despairing of the failings of men; The Buddy System, a comic number about Hollywood producing; With Every Breath I Take, a seductive blues number; The Tennis Song, a parody of the witty verbal sparring full of innuendo that you get in forties film, and finally my favourite, You Can Always Count on Me a song where the singer has to double role as a trusty secretary and a femme fatale. Haydn Gwynne has a brilliantly brassy tone, making the song terribly catchy. This is also the song which has the strongest lyrics: "I've been the other woman since my puberty began". Actually, all the songs with the main characters are pretty strong. The chorus numbers are interesting but don't mix as well.

I gave it four stars rather than three because it is a terribly catchy musical, Roger Allam is perfect, and it's very hard to create a good musical.

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