Annabel's House of Books

Noli domo egredi, nisi librum habes – Never leave home without a book.

Tag: Film & TV (page 2 of 4)

Movie Roundup

I’ve seen a few movies lately on DVD and cinema, so here are a few thoughts on them …

First up, Up In The Air starring my favourite, George Clooney. This is a comedy drama based in the corporate world, in which Ryan Bingham is the Personnel man-for-hire that will let people go for you – why should bosses have to do their own dirty work! Bingham essentially lives out of a suitcase, flying from city to city, hotel to hotel, company to company, with his brochures and speeches letting people down gently – it’s an opportunity to do what you really want to do after all; he’s an motivational expert. During his travelling he crosses paths with Alex, a businesswoman, and they get together whenever they can. 

When his boss hires a sparky young business graduate who wows him with the idea of doing the firings remotely – George’s job is under threat, and he takes Natalie out on the road to prove to her that the personal touch makes a difference. Meanwhile, Mr No longterm-relationships is also beginning to fall for Alex, and when family life intrudes, he takes her to his little sister’s wedding as his date…

The first half of the film is light and fun, with plenty of good laughs. Anyone who has ever travelled on business will envy Ryan his frequent-flyer perks, but be thankful that they (hopefully) have more to come home to than the souless studio apartment that’s Ryan’s base. When Ryan is forced to realise that there is more to life than the job, the film takes a much darker tone, and we end up rather pitying him.  I won’t give away any more of the plot!

This is a thoughtful film, which doubtless some in the business world will wince through.  The acting from Clooney, Vera Famiga and Anna Kendricks as Alex and Natalie was excellent and I thoroughly recommend it.

Now on to Let The Right One In [2008]. I reviewed the novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist here  last year during my season of vampire reading finding it a serious contemporary addition to the vampire oevre, (does that sound pompous? – apologies if it does!). I finally got around to watching the Swedish film, adapted by the author, and was equally impressed – it will become an arthouse classic.  The two young leads were utterly convincing as the bullied schoolboy and forever twelve-year old vampire, and it was almost exactly as I’d imagined it – totally atmospheric. Being visually-driven, the sub-titles were nearly superfluous, and it was very true to the book, although pared-down. For a 15 film, it can still shock, but you mostly see the after effects rather than having to read through the violence! Totally gripping.

* * * * *

Lastly, I went to see the ‘final’ Shrek movie – Shrek Forever After today.  In the scheme of things, I would order the films 2, 1, 4, 3 in decreasing quality, so this one wasn’t the worst, but the series has slightly run out of steam, and Donkey is still the most annoying sidekick since Jar Jar Binks.

However, we still enjoyed it hugely, and were overjoyed that Puss got all the best lines.  This chapter was still full of references and in-jokes to other movies. My favourite on first viewing was a wonderful moment where Fiona in ogre mode, as an outlaw warrior princess stands in her tartan kilt, with hair blowing, posed just like Chris Lambert in the Highlander posters (remember that – where is he now? I wonder). 

Toy Story 3 next week … can’t wait!

An evening with Alan Titchmarsh

The people of Abingdon had a treat tonight. Another national treasure came to visit in the body of Alan Titchmarsh, gardener supreme, broadcaster, chat-show host and great favourite of ladies of a certain age. I don’t count myself as one of them yet, but he is responsible for encouraging me into gardening during his stint at the helm of the BBC’s Gardener’s World, so I was more than happy to go along and help Mostly Books on the book stall.

He took to the stage in a lilac jumper, and proceeded to charm the audience with stories from his TV career. These included encounters with Charlie Dimmock and her ‘unfettered protruberences‘ on Ground Force – the garden makeover show that made him a real TV star, (Charlie is a Rubenesque and braless specialist in water features), and Willy the mad Irishman who did a lot of the behind the scenes prep for the hard landscaping. He also told us about several encounters with the Queen: firstly at the Sandringham Women’s Institute where she is the Patron; then when he went to the palace to collect his MBE, and the Queen told him ‘You’ve made a lot of ladies very happy.’ Alan declared he’d like that quote on his gravestone. He read a couple of passages from his new volume of memoirs, Knave of Spades before answering questions from the audience.

Mark from Mostly Books asked how a Yorkshire lad that left school at the age of 15 and went to work in the Ilkley Parks department developed a love of reading, books, and became a writer? Alan put it down to his English teacher’s comments on a précis he had to write of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in which he used the word ‘reciprocated’ talking about Helena and Demetrius – and how that taught him the power of words.

He was delightful company, charming and very funny. He was also chatty at the signing table with his adoring fans, and there were lots of them there. I would have cropped the photo, but I wanted to show you some of the presents they brought him – knitted clown dolls and a special Christmas cracker. I do wish he’d give up the chat shows and go back to gardening on the telly though …

Now Titchmarsh is coming to Abingdon!

We’re getting all the big names in Abingdon now. Next to visit is the gardening everyman megastar Alan Titchmarsh.

The event promoted by Mostly Books is on Friday September 25th. The venue is being finalised, but tickets are on sale at £6 from the bookshop (01235 525880).

Alan has a book to promote (naturally!). I was pleased to see it’s the next volume of his memoirs (rather than his fiction). Knave of Spades recounts how he got into TV, as news magazine programme Nationwide’s gardening presenter – the rest as they say is history.

I got into gardening while he did his stint as the main presenter on BBC’s Gardener’s World and learned a lot from his unfussy style, which was made smooth by having cut his TV teeth on other programmes including the lunchtime magazine come chat-show Pebble Mill at One.

He may be relentlessly cheerful, and he admits he has a complete lack of a dark side, but I’m sure we will be in for a lovely evening in his company. I volunteered to help again (anything for a free ticket!), so I might see some of you there – do let me know if you’re coming…

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood – were they really desperate?

In the same way that I adored watching Rome and am enjoying The Tudors, I also loved Desperate Romantics which recently finished screening on the BBC. All of them are generally utter tosh historically, but great entertainment to watch – and of course everyone looks marvellous; (Rome also wins prizes for being the most creatively potty-mouthed programme on TV!).

So how accurately were the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (PRB) portrayed on screen?

Luckily I have a few books on hand on the subject. I’ve long been a fan of many of the later pictures of Rossetti, Byrne-Jones et al, but apart from Millais’ Ophelia I didn’t know much about the earlier PRB works, so with my Tate catalogue of PRB works by my side, I read Lizzie Siddal: The tragedy of a Pre-Raphaelite supermodel by Lucinda Hawksley and the relevant chapters of John Ruskin from the OUP’s Very Interesting People series.

Art historian Hawksley, (who is a direct descendant of Charles Dickens), tells of the central romance between Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Lizzie Siddal. It was an American artist, Walter Deverell, that discovered the ‘stunner’ when he accompanied his mother to the hatshop where Lizzie worked. With his mother’s help, he secured her services as a model for his own pictures before Holman Hunt and Millais were to immortalise her in theirs.

 On meeting her later, Dante was immediately obsessed by Lizzie and she with him; it was a claustrophobic relationship – he was commitment-phobic and both were insanely jealous and attention-seeking. Lizzie was depressive, anorexic and was frequently ill – particularly when Rossetti wasn’t paying attention to her – she always got better when he ran to her bedside, but did become a laudanum addict early on.

They did finally marry, but laudanum was to be her final downfall after post-natal depression after the stillbirth of their child. She comes across as manipulative and demanding, but remember she was desperate to be married to the love of her life – as ruin for her and her family would be the result if their unmarried relationship became fully public. Rossetti, while undoubtedly talented, was totally self-interested and never worked at his best when Lizzie was around.

When she died, he did bury the only copy of a book of poems he’d written for her with the casket, and amazingly it was later dug up! – I thought this was just for the telly, but it happened, although he did get an official exhumation order for it – selfish as ever.

The other really ineresting character in the TV series was the art critic John Ruskin – a rich and hugely influential person in the Victorian art world. It is doubtful whether Rossetti would have got anywhere without his patronage, and the PRB without him having supported John Everett Millais first. Ruskin recognised that the PRB were trying to do something different in their back to nature ideals. However it was the scandal over Ruskin’s unconsummated marriage and subsequent annulment that Desperate Romantics concentrated on – and that was all true!

Hawksley’s biography concentrates on the events of Lizzie’s life and made for an entertaining read with a good selection of illustrations. First published in 2004, highlights include some of Dante and Lizzie’s poetry which is touching and sad. In contrast, the VIP book on Ruskin, although short, is very dry and factual, and completely without illustration. The TV series itself is based on a recently published book by Franny Moyle called Desperate Romantics: The Private Lives of the Pre-Raphaelites which I think I may have to read too!

I can’t comment on the veracity or otherwise of the TV portrayals of Millais, Holman-Hunt and other characters, but I did wonder a bit why they combined the other PRB members Frederic Stephens – the former artist turned journalist and writer, the aforementioned Deverell and Rossetti’s brother William into Fred Walters in the series – cost savings and streamlining of the main story one presumes. Actor Aidan Turner was a great young Rossetti look-alike. His self-portrait (above) shows him aged 19 in 1847, but shortly after Lizzie’s death in 1862, he’d become balding, bearded and slightly stout!

Moviewatch: An American city girl in the English countryside is not good for one’s stiff upper lip!

Easy Virtue

This adaptation of a Noel Coward play was great fun. It was full of great performances from an all-star cast, and some brilliant set pieces – involving a chihuahua, the can can, and a fabulous tango from Colin Firth, but I digress …

The roaring twenties are in full flow when John Whittaker has a whirlwind romance and brings his new American bride home to meet the family in their crumbling ancestral pile. Immediately a battle of wits ensues between his monster of a mother (the wonderfully clipped Kristin Scott Thomas) and Larita, a go-getter from Detroit (Jessica Biel). Colin Firth is the drop-out father still suffering from the stress of the Great War. Nearly everyone is either jealous or in awe of Larita who as a city girl, feels totally trapped in the countryside, but she plays them at their own game. Needless to say, there are skeletons in plenty of cupboards including her own to unearth! I also enjoyed a wry turn from Kris Marshall as the butler.

I totally missed this film when on at the cinema last year, but the DVD was a joy. The soundtrack was an odd thing though – packed mainly with the cream of Coward, but there were some twenties versions of modern songs cropping up which make you do a complete double take. It was enchanting, but with just enough seriousness to give you a rest between the comedy. I loved it.

Moviewatch: An American city girl in the English countryside is not good for one’s stiff upper lip!

Easy Virtue

This adaptation of a Noel Coward play was great fun. It was full of great performances from an all-star cast, and some brilliant set pieces – involving a chihuahua, the can can, and a fabulous tango from Colin Firth, but I digress …

The roaring twenties are in full flow when John Whittaker has a whirlwind romance and brings his new American bride home to meet the family in their crumbling ancestral pile. Immediately a battle of wits ensues between his monster of a mother (the wonderfully clipped Kristin Scott Thomas) and Larita, a go-getter from Detroit (Jessica Biel). Colin Firth is the drop-out father still suffering from the stress of the Great War. Nearly everyone is either jealous or in awe of Larita who as a city girl, feels totally trapped in the countryside, but she plays them at their own game. Needless to say, there are skeletons in plenty of cupboards including her own to unearth! I also enjoyed a wry turn from Kris Marshall as the butler.

I totally missed this film when on at the cinema last year, but the DVD was a joy. The soundtrack was an odd thing though – packed mainly with the cream of Coward, but there were some twenties versions of modern songs cropping up which make you do a complete double take. It was enchanting, but with just enough seriousness to give you a rest between the comedy. I loved it.

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