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Measure For Measure - BBC Shakespeare Collection [1979]
Measure For Measure - BBC Shakespeare Collection [1979]
Dvd ~ Kenneth Colley
Offered by Quality Media Supplies Ltd.
Price: £22.99

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars One of the highlights of the series, 30 Sept. 2012
Although this version is just under 2 and a half hours long, it doesn't feel that way. Measure for Measure is one of the first plays the BBC adapted in their 6-year-long filming of Shakespeare's complete works. The play has always been underrated but has grown in popularity as it becomes increasingly relevant to our society.

Britain has many times been referred to as a police state; Measure for Measure really is a police state. Set in Vienna (though rather loosely), it tells the tale of Angelo, a stern deputy who practices law without justice, and Isabella, a nun whose rhetoric and virtue so overwhelm Angelo that he demands her virginity from her in exchange for sparing her brother's life. Tim Piggot-Smith gives a sensitive portrayal of Angelo. His Angelo is a man who is just as much a fanatic novice as Isabella is, and tries to police vices that cannot be policed. He genuinely and absolutely falls for Isabella; once she has left him, his formerly prim clothes have become ragged, his chest exposed, his face sweaty. His demand from Isabella is not an attempt to emphasise his power but an act of desperation.

Kate Nelligan gives a virtuous portrayal of Isabella, a hard character to sympathise with now we have our modern sensibilities. Although her Isabella is virtuous, there is a telling line that shows that Isabella may be just as fanatic as Angelo: "More than our brother is our chastity". Nelligan does not make Isabella a hypocrite though, but instead a woman who does not want to be damned.

Kenneth Colley is a playful Duke. Some argue that the Duke abuses his power in a way that borders on the sadistic, but it is a lesson that Isabella must learn if she is to be merciful. He also plays the comedy nicely, particularly with Lucio, a debauched gentleman played brilliantly by John McEnery. McEnery makes Lucio very funny but also sympathetic towards Isabella. Frank Middlemass is similarly great as the grotesque pimp Pompey Bum, although a little more of the politics of the character should have shined through.

The only other Measure for Measure available is an abysmal low budget one from 2006. Hopefully we shall get another adaptation soon but meanwhile this is the best we have. Whilst other Measure for Measures have ignored the comedy, this BBC one does not try to hide them, making the play even stronger.

Measure For Measure [DVD]
Measure For Measure [DVD]
Dvd ~ Josephine Rogers

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Low-budget poorly acted version of a classic play, 30 Sept. 2012
This review is from: Measure For Measure [DVD] (DVD)
Firstly, I like the idea of setting the play in modern times. Of all Shakespeare's plays, this is one of the ones with most modern relevance. This version is set in an army barracks- again, a good idea.

The trouble is that this is only the bare bones of the play. The pimps and lowlife characters have been removed and with it, the political message of the play. Measure for Measure asks to what extent we can really police human nature. This was done brilliantly in a BBC 1994 version of the play (sadly unavailable), which drew comparisons between the world of the play and the Criminal Justice Act. However, this version strips it back to its bare bones: the Duke, wishing to observe his people, appoints his sternly virtuous deputy Angelo as ruler and hangs round disguised as a priest. Isabella is a novice nun whose brother is condemned to die for impregnating his fiancee. As she pleads for her brother, Angelo finds himself lusting after her and agrees to pardon her brother: on the condition that she give up her virginity to him.

This is a youth cast and the acting is fairly weak on all accounts. Poor Mariana has a heavy (possibly Scandinavian) accent and one cannot hear a word of her performance. Josephine Rogers is particularly poor as Isabella. Instead of being virtuous, she simply shouts prudishly.

The various cuts to the play mean that I can't really recommend this for educational use, unless you watch the odd clip to see how it has been updated. And as a general Shakespeare film, it's a failure that adds very little to the understanding of the play and will leave those who do not know the story at a loss.

Breakfast at Tiffany's [DVD] [1961]
Breakfast at Tiffany's [DVD] [1961]
Dvd ~ Audrey Hepburn
Price: £4.00

4.0 out of 5 stars All About Audrey, 29 Sept. 2012
FIRSTLY, can people please do a comparison of the current DVDs available on the market? I already have a bare bones edition but I would like to know which DVDs have extras and the best picture/sound quality.

Okay, the Japanese character played by Mickey Rooney is more than a bit racist, but the Hollywood racism is so cringeworthy that it's ironically very funny. But our bargain with Classic Hollywood is that we throw our disbelief out of the window (Audrey Hepburn is no hick) and sit down and enjoy a romantic fairy tale.

Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn) is a kooky call girl, on the lookout for a rich man and a good time. Paul Varcek (George Peppard) is a kept man, trying to make a living as a writer. Paul starts to fall in love with her but will Holly ever let herself be tied down?

Hepburn is of course the star and she looks ravishingly lovely throughout. Another laughable Hollywood trope is when characters wake up in full make-up, still perfectly gorgeous, and Hepburn pulls it off to the max. I haven't read the novel so I couldn't say how close her portrayal of Holly is to the novel, but here Hepburn creates a loveable scatterbrained waif. Holly's nameless pet cat is clearly an embodiment of her, and Hepburn shows this beautifully. When Peppard looks at her holding the cat, and when the audience look at her, we know.

Hepburn's charm aside, is this a good film? There's clearly a lot of seedy stuff the filmmakers have to downplay due to the censors, but you can fit together the pieces. It is this seediness that threatens to destroy the delicious classiness that makes the tale poignant. If I'm going to be picky, this is a little bit like the Sally Bowles sections in Goodbye to Berlin (better known as the musical Cabaret) but without the Nazis and bisexuality, but the filmmakers add the iconic touch of New York and Audrey Hepburn. George Peppard is fine as Paul but the film really is all about Audrey.

All's Well that Ends Well: The Oxford Shakespeare (Oxford World's Classics)
All's Well that Ends Well: The Oxford Shakespeare (Oxford World's Classics)
by William Shakespeare
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.99

0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not All's Well That Ends Well, 25 Sept. 2012
This is probably one of Shakespeare's weakest plays, if not his weakest. Saying that, in the late part of his career, Shakespeare wrote some strong heroines. The whole play revolves around Helena, who is similar in temperament to her namsake in A Midsummer Night's Dream, but much cleverer. She cures the King of France and in return he allows her to marry anyone in his court. Helena wants Count Bertram- however, Bertram has no interest in her. He says that he will only become her husband if she gets his prized ring off his finger and has his baby in her stomach. Not one to be dissuaded, Helena goes and sets about doing it.

Some have classified it as a problem play, whilst some have argued that it is a typical comedy of that period and Shakespeare didn't intend any darkness. Saying that, it's incredibly hard to play Helena sympathetically in this day and age, despite her being an intelligent determined woman. Parolles is the "fool" and a rather dull one he makes. Any part that doesn't include Helena, the Queen, the King or Bertram remains boring. The whole thing is incredibly contrived, without the profundity or light romance that would make this tolerable.

However, Helena does get some great monologues, as is the case in many of Shakespeare's later plays, and the scene with her and the King is touching (in the BBC adaptation, it is played as romantic for no real reason whatsoever).

In conclusion, the play is not the sum of its parts.

Middlemarch (Wordsworth Classics)
Middlemarch (Wordsworth Classics)
by Lola Bom
Edition: Paperback
Price: £1.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Edifying rather than entertaining, 12 Sept. 2012
Oh, there are some lovely parts in Middlemarch, such as Dorothea's heartbreaking marriage to Edward Casaubon, a scholar obsessively persuing academic work that had been superceded by current German scholarship. There are even moments of light humour. However George Eliot's prose style is a mixture of Casaubon's dryness and Dorothea's moralising.

Dorothea is our heroine, who ends up being a victim of her own virtues when she marries older scholar Edward Casaubon in the hope that she will be of use to him. Eliot shows us that Dorothea is naive and misguided but she doesn't really answer the obvious problem: that Dorothea's martyrdom is arguably selfish. She never really loves Casaubon, but the idea of being subservient and being able to have some small ray of light in the sunshine of a great man's wisdom. Not exactly a feminist figure. Casaubon's cousin, wayward artist and fervent romantic Will Ladislaw loves Dorothea from afar but this love does not seem to be based on very much. It rather defeats the point Eliot makes with Dorothea's marriage to Casaubon: that pity is not the same as love.

Subplots include Tertius Lydgate's attempts to advance medicine and the burden his marriage causes and gambling Fred Vincy's courtship of childhood sweetheart Mary Garth. There is a very large cast and a long time is spent on minor characters in order to build up the idea that Middlemarch is a stuck in its ways type of community. The only characters you really need to remember are Dorothea Brooke, Edward Casaubon, Will Ladislaw,Tertius Lydgate, Fred Vincy, Rosamond Vincy, Mary Garth and Nicholas Bulstrode (Bulstrode's involvement is not clear until about 500 pages in so try and remember who he is early on). You might want to draw up a little family tree as there's a lot of intrigue about family secrets and inheritance.

Eliot is more like Dickens than Austen. This is not a light read: Eliot has a lot to say about politics and society in the 1830's and she says it. The ending is all a bit too moral and pat. Modern day readers might find the apparant moral of the novel a little dubious: those with ambitions are punished whereas those with no ambitions are rewarded by a humble life. That is what makes this novel feel a little more dated than a Dickens or Hardy novel. If somebody tells you that the novel sounds just like it was written yesterday, they're lying.

When Virginia Woolf said it was a novel "written for grown-ups", she probably meant the elderly or those with a lot of time on their hands. Okay, what she really meant was that the novel wasn't frivolous but it is true that you will need to be patient and persevere if you want to finish this 780+ page novel. Everybody ends up the way you expect- it's a novel that you read for the details rather than for entertainment.

Those who enjoyed Middlemarch might enjoy the superior Vanity Fair and Anna Karenina.

Middlemarch (Oxford World's Classics)
Middlemarch (Oxford World's Classics)
by Lola Bom
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.99

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A potentially great novel strangled by verbosity and its excessive length, 11 Sept. 2012
As this is a product review, I must discuss the actual product first before we get to the novel. This edition is not very durable. Pages are apt to come loose. This is a very long book so it's worth getting a decently bound copy. The notes are intermittently helpful but could be much better.

Middlemarch would work best as a TV series (no, I haven't seen the 1994 version). It tells the predictable lives of the residents of a town called Middlemarch, centering on heroine Dorothea Brooke, whose excessively virtuous nature means that she makes an ill-advised marriage to stuffy old scholar Edward Casaubon and becomes deeply unhappy. Potential salvation comes in the form of Casaubon's cousin, wayward artist Will Ladislaw, but will they every get it together? Subplots include the gentle if rather dull courtship of gambling Fred Vincy and his childhood sweetheart Mary, and Fred's sister Rosamond's marriage to experimental doctor Tertius Lydgate. The novel is set during the time of the 1831 Reform Act and the sense of social change pervades the characters' lives.

It's not a bad novel but I can't imagine anyone but English scholars and those with a lot of time on their hands managing to persevere with it (at least, not without the BBC version as an aid). The first 250 or so pages are very slow and you start to wonder when the book will end. George Eliot subverts the trope of young woman being married off to stuffy old suitor by having Dorothea consciously choose a stuffy old suitor over a young one. The characters are interesting though only Dorothea shows signs of being a three-dimensional character. One could argue that Casaubon and Lydgate are approaching a third dimension but Eliot doesn't quite pull that off. Her portrayal of the Dorothea/Casaubon marriage is one of the best things about the novel; it is touching and tragic. We want Casaubon to wise up but we know that he never will. Although Dorothea and Ladislaw are set up to be partners early on, there's no real proof that they would be happy together as a couple. She'd clearly be much happier with Lydgate.

Compare this novel to Far From The Madding Crowd, a Thomas Hardy novel that came out only 2 years later. FFTMC is very accessible in its writing style, so the period the novel was written in isn't to blame.

If you are interested in the time period, you will love the novel but those unfamiliar with the period might find that they get bogged down with it.

Sunset Boulevard US
Sunset Boulevard US
Price: £9.00

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A classic film makes a not-bad musical, 10 Sept. 2012
This review is from: Sunset Boulevard US (Audio CD)
It's easy to see why Andrew Lloyd Webber was attracted to this story. It follows the same formula as Phantom of The Opera and Aspects of Love: a younger man loves a mega actress whilst an older man lurks in the shadows, pining for her. Of course the actress here is not young and pretty so perhaps the sexes are reversed. Anyway, the older man/woman represents a dangerous sexuality whilst the younger option represents an innocent love.

For those who don't know the classic Billy Wilder film noir on which this is based, it tells the tale of Joe Gillis (in this recording, Alan Campbell), a struggling Hollywood writer who accidentally stumbles into the creepy world of former silent screen siren Norma Desmond (in this recording, Glenn Close) and then stumbles into her bed. As she traps him in her crumbling world of delusions, he regrets his decision and starts longing for his newbee writing partner, wholesome Betty Schafer (in this recording, played by Judy Kuhn). But Joe's fate is sealed.

The musical doesn't flow as nicely as Webber's other musicals, although there are some big songs, the best of which is the title track, a cynical commentary on the hell that is Hollywood. Norma's songs tend to blend into one for me but they're not too bad: With One Look and As If We Never Said Goodbye are the main two. The Perfect Year is a duet between Joe and Norma, although obviously Norma sings the vast majority of it. Some people have complained that the score is too anachronistic. For a start, there are very few musicals that don't sound like the period they were written in. Secondly, a lot of it does sound period. Let's Have Lunch effectively evokes the days of classic Hollywood and Too Much In Love Too Care sounds a little Rodgers and Hammerstein-y.

As the numbers are a little bland, it's down to the singers to sell them. For me, all Patti LuPone did was sing. She can sing quite well (even if it is not the most pleasant voice) but she just sounds so unbothered. Glenn Close makes a real effort and it shows. The flaws in her voice add to Norma's fragility and delusion. My favourite out of the Normas I've listened to is Betty Buckley, who has a really nice pleasant voice and doesn't sound like a complete old bat.

Alan Campbell is great as Joe. There may be a lack of softness in his performance but there is a good deal of cynicism. Kevin Anderson's cynicism was present but Campbell shows us a man who is laughing grimly at his descent. Like William Holden did in the film, he gives a virile performace. The trouble with Anderson and John Barrowman is that they sound like rent boys throughout. The whole point of Joe's character is that his confident individuality is destroyed and he is forced to become a mad old woman's play thing. Michael Ball does a good job in the role as well but his accent is cringeworthy.

Judy Kuhn sounds a bit too worldy as Betty. Betty is meant to be a sweet innocent girl who does not understand that there can be relationships like Joe and Norma's. Kuhn sounds nice and sane but not naive.

All in all, the musical is worth listening to but it's the characters and story that make it rather than the music.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 15, 2016 9:38 AM GMT

The Phantom of the Opera [DVD] [2004]
The Phantom of the Opera [DVD] [2004]
Dvd ~ Gerard Butler
Price: £3.98

4 of 11 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Tedious and bland adaptation of a thrilling show, 12 Aug. 2012
I would have given the film 2 stars but the filmed Royal Albert Hall 25th Anniversary adaptation makes this one irrelevant.

Phantom of The Opera is the longest running musical on Broadway and second longest on the West End. The reason for its success is obvious: this is a full-blown love letter from the musical's composer Andrew Lloyd Webber to its original leading lady and his then-wife Sarah Brightman. Phantom of The Opera is very much a musical that needs to be seen in the theatre- a live orchestra makes even the well-known songs sound thrilling and atmospheric. Admittedly the "comic bits" with the opera owners and opera diva are always a dull distraction but one can endure them for the thrilling romanticism that follows.

When this film came out, it was the only filmed version of the musical available. Merely singing the songs competently would be enough to convince some to see this film, and in the end, that is all the film really does. Emmy Rossum is too young to play the role of Christine, who is a young woman rather than a young girl. She just looks like a schoolgirl, making her romance with Raoul seem only mildly less creepy than that with the Phantom. Her voice is fine but her inexperience with acting shows. Admittedly she has to battle against her blatant schoolgirl look but she never really convinces as someone that the Phantom would become obsessed with, not having the presence of a leading lady.

Patrick Wilson is fine as Raoul, Christine's childhood sweetheart (don't even think of how old she must have been when they met). His presence is inoffensive, which is about as much as most can manage with Raoul, who gets some nice songs but not a lot of personality.

Now, what the whole thing really rests on is the casting of the Phantom. Joel Schumacher makes the ill-advised decision to cast Gerard Butler as the Phantom. Butler is too handsome and young, robbing the musical of its dark seductive side. The Phantom's deformity is no more than a bad sunburn, which one could easily look past with a cute man like Butler, thus making Christine's reaction of horror pretty shallow. The Phantom is meant to be horribly disfigured from birth, though I believe in another film he receives the injury from an acid attack by a jealous rival. Choosing the latter option would have neatly explained the problem of Butler's good looks and would have made a nice teen-friendly option. However, Schumacher keeps the reason the same as the musical, even showing some gratuitous flashbacks.

The whole point of the Phantom is that he is meant to look horrific- the Beast to Christine's Beauty. Christine is meant to be seduced by the Phantom's genius, against her will. If the Phantom is not that old or disfigured, it makes her romance with Raoul seem shallow. Who wouldn't choose Butler's Phantom over Wilson's Raoul?

Miscasting is the film's main downfall, as well as failing to overcome the boring elements of the musical and failing to elevate the thrilling ones.

The Fall Of The Roman Empire [DVD]
The Fall Of The Roman Empire [DVD]
Dvd ~ Sophia Loren
Price: £5.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Fall of The Roman Epic, 4 Aug. 2012
I'm a sucker for an epic film, especially a Roman epic. The film is admirable in its aspirations to be intellectual and the final scene is very powerful. However it was a box office failure, partly because it was too long (a lot of time is spent chatting and waving swords about) and partly because it's not fun. Part of the enjoyment of watching an epic film is to enjoy the overblown melodrama. All that delicious Roman decadence, bouffant hairstyles of the girls, hunky gladiators, melodramatic dialogue, that's what you want from a rousing Hollywood Roman epic. Obviously not all- Cleopatra was deliciously camp and melodramatic yet that was a flop- but you need that little element of grandness.

Anthony Mann tackles the political themes nicely. This epic is set just before the fall of the Roman Empire (hence the title). When Marcus Aurelius (Alec Guinness) is poisoned, his power-crazed son Commodus (Christopher Plummer) takes over instead of the more suitable Livius (Stephen Boyd) and Rome goes to the dogs. Commodus' sister, and Livius' sweetheart, Lucilla (Sophia Loren) organises a rebellion against her brother. James Mason does a good job as noble Roman (formerly Greek) Timonenes, conveying the political and intellectual messages of the film. My favourite performance is Plummer's as the power-crazed Commodus. He's like something from Ancient Greek drama, defending his dead mother against his sister and becoming a proud tyrant. Plummer balances dramatic depth with entertainment and Commodus achieves true tragic status.

The only thing tragic about Stephen Boyd is his performance as Livius, who is meant to be the hero of the film but is as boring as a crusty sock. He exudes boringness and there is an inward groan every time he is on stage. Sophia Loren, with her proud Italian looks, is suitably noble but unfortunately most of the time she's on screen it has to be with lousy Livius. Her scenes with Plummer are good, even though she looks old enough to be his mother.

The film is worth watching if you like Roman epics but unfortunately it is a minor entry in the canon and spelt the death toll for the Roman epic genre.

Anna Karenina [DVD] [1961]
Anna Karenina [DVD] [1961]
Dvd ~ Sean Connery
Offered by best_value_entertainment
Price: £4.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars From the BBC Archives, 4 July 2012
This review is from: Anna Karenina [DVD] [1961] (DVD)
This BBC adaptation of Tolstoy's masterpiece was assumed to be lost until it was discovered a few years ago in the BBC archives. The picture is quite good considering this is a TV production from 1961 and if the sound is too muffly for you, there are helpfully English subtitles available. There are no special features unfortunately but as this was released for the first time a few years ago, fans will be happy just to have a copy.

The big names in the cast are Claire Bloom as Anna and Sean Connery (AKA the original James Bond) as Vronsky. Connery is suitably charming as Vronsky, who is later proved to be a bit of a sexist, although he seems a little too boorish. Vronsky is not dissimilar to Karenin in the novel, as both ultimately prioritise duty and good form above Anna, but not enough is made of this link in the film. Anna has a complicated relationship with Karenin (here played by Albert Lieven, which is simplified in this film. However, Lieven does give us a glimpse of Karenin's tender feelings towards Anna as well as his disapproving ones.

Anna is most likely the hardest role for any actress to play, as she must command the audience's empathy despite the fact that she is convinced throughout that the whole thing will end miserably. A large part of Anna's character is her beauty, which Claire Bloom has and uses to her best advantage. Her version of Anna is a woman who knows she is beautiful and is aware of her power over Vronsky. She is defiantly passionate but is often petulent and girlish, and Bloom portrays both these sides well. Her Anna is one of the least sympathetic portrayals- she becomes a nymphomaniac by the end- and yet it sort of makes sense, mainly because the adaptation emphasises those old sexist values that women are destroyed by their feelings whilst men can control theirs.

Note: these next paragraph are directed to those familiar with the novel so if you don't want to know the plot details of the novel, don't read the next paragraph.

The Kitty/Levin plot is cut out entirely, which doesn't surprise me and is for the better, as the makers are clearly going for a sort of Russian Madame Bovary feel. That thread could only really be included in a mini-series adaptation. What did annoy me was the exclusion of one of the pivotal scenes of the book: Anna giving birth. Anna having Vronsky's child makes the scandal even worse. Karenin can pretend that nothing's going on until Anna falls pregnant and he has the ocular proof that he has been cuckolded. It gives us a great Vronsky/Karenin encounter, which we don't get in this film, and appears to mark a change in Karenin before he falls back into his old ways.

Note: No spoilers from here on.

This adaptation should entertain those who fancy a nice juicy costume drama, or those who have only a surface knowledge of the novel. However fans of the novel may be disappointed that the novel has lost something in adapting it so it fits into 1 hour 48 minutes.

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