Party of Five Season 2

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We return to the journey and lives of the Salinger clan in Season 2 of Party of Five. Building on the set up from Season 1, this sophomore installment is just as good in how it deals with tough themes and explores relatable events. Be warned, spoilers will follow.

Charlie(Matthew Fox) and Kirsten(Paula Devicq) are now engaged after many hiccups in their relationship and thinks seem to be improving. Yet more upheaval and chaos throws a spanner in the works and a multitude of things stand in their way. It culminates in Charlie getting cold feet and callings off the wedding, despite the fact that they love each other. Bailey(Scott Wolf) is still struggling to come to terms with the death of Jill, despite the best efforts of buddy Will(Scott Grimes) to bring him out of his shell. At first he largely doesn’t notice sweet Sarah Reeves(Jennifer Love Hewitt), who has an obvious crush on him. But even when he begins to date her, it becomes clear that Bailey is wanting to escape his life that he sees as hopeless. Sarah also has her own struggles, but thankfully brings out some happiness in Bailey. Julia(Neve Campbell) experiences a crisis of the heart regarding her nice boyfriend Justin( Michael Goorjian)and the bad boy Griffin(Jeremy London). Justin breaks up with her after finding out about her tryst with Griffin, then things become more complex for her and Griffin. Julia doesn’t know how to deal with her emotions that are tangled to say the least. It appears that she finally gets a grip on her love life once and for all by reuniting with Justin. Then something really drastic happens and Julia is thrown into a massive tailspin. Claudia(Lacey Chabert), who has now entered high school, finds it difficult to adjust to being older and the pressures of puberty. Hanging out with a troublemaker at school, Claudia begins to rebel a lot. And baby Owen is finally starting nursery, while still needing the mature caring of his siblings in the place of parents. It’s another eventful journey for the Salinger’s as life poses a lot on them, but hopefully through unity they can survive.

Just like I predicted, Season 2 expands on what the debut season set up, finding firm footing in giving more attention to the individual characters, as well as the whole thing of family. The arcs of the characters have depth and honesty to them, tapping into themes of change, lying, love and even the return of their long lost grandfather. And issues faced with honest rendering and impactful force are sexual harassment, teenage pregnancy and commitment, showing the show dealing with complexity and intimacy in a way it knows already in this early stage to manage. Balanced among this is healthy doses of humour that enliven events, yet never get too over the top and take away from the moving stories at its heart. While I don’t think there is anyone who has gone through all of the issues mentioned in such a short space of time, Party of Five boasts a gravity and slices of realism to ground it in the most effective way. You do give a damn about these people and it isn’t a chore to watch the tribulations they must do battle with. Even if some of the stories don’t work as well as others, the overall impact and high quality rise it above just common teen drama into something more moving.

The episode of the wedding is a pretty effective one of highs and lows as Charlie and Kirsten attempt to salvage something but are ultimately at different ends of the spectrum. It’s a real heartbreaking episode as you know the two are meant to be together but are both unsure of what the future holds. Reconciliation could be on the cards, but if so it’s not going to be an easy ride for either party. Equally as wrenching is the episode of Julia discovering she’s pregnant and faced with a very difficult decision. We get to see how everyone reacts to this news and how it impacts on young Julia.  Eventually settling on having an abortion, Julia then experiences a miscarriage that devastates her. As she has no female role model to confide in, she finds unlikely support in the form of the usually not so helpful Charlie. An honest and authentic atmosphere is present throughout this episode, highlighting the issues of teen pregnancy and abortion sensitively.

Scott Wolf rocks it playing the frustration and pain of Bailey, while imbuing a charm and energy that could be the characters saving grace. Once more, Wolf allows Bailey to be troubled, but not so much as we can’t relate to him on a personal level. Matthew Fox impresses again as Charlie; whose coping mechanism of pushing those he loves away makes for drama. scared that his while life has been planned our for him already and wanting escape is rendered excellently by Fox. Neve Campbell hits the right notes with an emotion driven performance as mixed up Julia. You genuinely buy into her turmoil and gamut of unfortunately difficult events she encounters. Campbell nails the intelligence of Julia, but like most people, the pangs of confusion, guilt and unfortunate turbulence are all evoked in her more than capable hands for us to see. Lacey Chabert mixes childlike innocence with playful maturity as Claudia, whose finding out that growing up and all it entails is rough business. Jennifer Love Hewitt joins the cast as the sensitive Sarah, who provides a love interest for Bailey. Possessing an adorable smile and a gentleness, Hewitt is touching and charming in equal measure. She immediately gels with the other members of the cast and slots in nicely as a kind-hearted girl. The main chemistry between the main cast is as splendid as the first season, boasting a deep believability that these people are related. Paula Devicq steps up as Kirsten. I mentioned in my last review that she was a tad wooden last season, but she really shakes at off here with a very good performance. She’s got a sensitive depth and emotive ability that is on full display and shows Kirsten becoming more conflicted over her feelings with Charlie that are frequently challenged and come to a dramatic head. Good support and humour is glimpsed with Scott Grimes returning as loyal best friend Will. Michael Goorjian and Jeremy London provide the two very different love interests for Julia; the sarcastic Justin and rebellious Griffin.

Another impressive season of Party of Five, this second part is an emotionally invested and finely tuned triumph, benefiting from the fine cast and writing.

How to Make an American Quilt

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Film Title

How to Make an American Quilt

Director

Jocelyn Moorhouse

Starring

  • Winona Ryder as Finn Dodd
  • Anne Bancroft as Glady Joe
  • Ellen Burstyn as Hy
  • Alfre Woodard as Marianna
  • Maya Angelou as Anna
  • Kate Nelligan as Constance
  • Jean Simmons as Em
  • Lois Smith as Sophia
  • Kate Capshaw as Sally Dodd
  • Dermot Mulroney as Sam
  • Jonathon Schaech as Leon

A heartwarming tribute to female friendship and the shaping of life’s experiences, How to Make an American Quilt is a very sweet and enjoyable movie. It’s nothing revolutionary or startlingly original, but it’s story of looking to the past in order to unlock the future is beautifully directed and acted.

Finn Dodd is a 26-year-old graduate student, who is working on a thesis over the summer. She can’t quite settle on a topic and always changes her mind when she thinks she’s got the right parts. This confusion and inability to come to a decision extends to her boyfriend Sam, who has just proposed. Finn obviously cares about him, but is deeply unsure of whether marriage is a good idea for her. While mulling things over, she goes to visit her Great Aunt Glady Joe and Grandmother Hy, who themselves are sisters usually at each other’s throats. They are both part of a quilting group that includes wise leader Anna; her free-spirited daughter Marianna; stern Sophia; grieving Constance and quiet Em. They are currently in the process of making a wedding quilt for Finn and in their own ways, they each inspire her and give her support in her time of indecision. Over the summer, conflicted Finn is regaled with stories of love from their pasts; some tragic and some inspiring. We glimpse the lessons these older women have learned; from how Glady Joe and Hy became more than a little strained, why Sophia turned into such a battle-axe and in general how love is what you make of it. Also present is a hunky guy named Leon, who takes a shine to Finn and potentially throws a spanner in the works. It all comes down to whether she is ready to make a commitment or live her life in freedom.

Jocelyn Moorhouse beautifully conjures up the loving and touching lessons of life in a straightforward but effective way. We become like Finn, learning about the women who came before her and their experiences with love. Moorhouse aims for the emotions and heart with How to Make an American Quilt, and succeeds in getting you invested in the brief flashes of events that these women now speak of. As sentimental as some of it is, the gentleness and often low-key approach keeps the film on a pleasing level without slipping into overly histrionic content. the pleasures in are listening to the various experiences of these women and how young Finn reacts to them. From heartbreak and upheavals to the starts of companionship, all the stories have some weight on her and impact. Like with any film that weaves together an ensemble story line however, some of the arcs come off better than others that are patchy. This is only to be expected really as it would be impossible to craft something that gave every strand, without it turning into a marathon of a movie. The stories that make the most emotive impression are the ones of Hy and Glady Joe and the flashbacks to Sophia’s early life; where she had some promise but never got the chance to enjoy it due to the inevitability of timing. They are played out in organic and poignant fashion that knows how to get your care. The other stories all have currency, though more than a couple may have been better if expanded upon. If I was to compare this movie to something, the equivalent would be a quilt itself. It’s got some rough edges and is well-worn, but has that cosy and snug feeling that lifts your spirits. The luscious cinematography renders everything with a distinct glow. Thomas Newman’s stirring score is a big plus in this feel good movie.

If there is anyone who can play indecision and curiosity convincingly, it’s Winona Ryder. With her naturally inquisitive and youthful face, she’s excellent casting for Finn. All the confusion and searching questions are there, as she listens to the stories of the past in hopes of unlocking her future.  Anne Bancroft and Ellen Burstyn provide gentle humour, classy depth and consummate professionalism as the feuding sisters, whose grievances are plain to see but whose love for the other more than combats anything completely severing them. Alfre Woodard has the right bohemian air and fun for her role of effervescent Marianna. The wisdom and dignified grace of Maya Angelou stunningly embodies the passionate leader of the quilting group Anna. Angelou possesses a nuanced voice of experience and clarity that is impossible to ignore. I could listen to her voice all day it is that soothing and imbued with sage. Kate Nelligan and Jean Simmons are both moving as two of the women, realising they are linked through one of their husbands philandering. Lois Smith captures the well of sadness arising from someone whose ambitions were cut short, resulting in a hostility and bitterness of character. Kate Capshaw is a breath of fresh air in her small but important appearance as Finn’s flighty mother. She seems very irresponsible but what she ends up saying is quite beneficial and unexpected. Whether big or small in size of parts, all of the ladies here do good work. Dermot Mulroney does well with his limited part of Finn’s boyfriend, letting the female cast members take the lion’s share. Johnathon Schaech is largely there to provide the temptation for Finn, complete with the fact that he never seems to be wearing a shirt.

it isn’t going to win prizes for innovation, but the beating heart and gentleness of How to Make an American Quilt is effervescent that you won’t be able to resist its charms. Just cuddle up and enjoy this nice fable on life and sisterhood.

The Beguiled

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Film Title

The Beguiled

Director

Don Siegel

Starring

  • Clint Eastwood as John McBurney
  • Geraldine Page as Martha Farnsworth
  • Elizabeth Hartman as Edwina
  • Jo Ann Harris as Carol
  • Mae Mercer as Hallie
  • Pamelyn Ferdin as Amy

A most unusual and unsettling tale of sexual repression, desire and revenge, The Beguiled represents something different from Don Siegel and his go to star Clint Eastwood. And that’s precisely what makes it so unique; it’s an unpredictable film that goes into some really dark areas and knows how to craft something shocking in the long run.

It is the Civil War and Corporal John McBurney is discovered wounded one morning in the South, by a young girl named Amy. She brings him to the all girls school she attends for help to his injuries . The stern headmistress Martha Farnsworth reluctantly takes McBurney in, despite her protestations of him being a Yankee which are discovered early on. The school also houses timid but well-meaning teacher Edwina, a group of young girls including temptress Carol and slave Hallie. These ladies haven’t been in the company of a man for a while, save for the occasional visit from the patrol with news of the war. Gradually, John is nursed into help but watched over due to him bring considered an enemy. But his very arrival signals something very dark that will shake the foundations of everyone to the core. The rigid status quo soon begins to crack as each of the women begin developing romantic longings for John. He leads them all on with his advances and manipulations, his conceit for others slowly emerging as he plays with their romantic feelings for his own pleasure. Even the rigid headmistress Martha starts to get hot under the collar and crumble as the facade of her righteousness stumbles, along with the easily influenced Edwina’s belief that John really loves her. Everything boils over eventually into shocking consequences in the school for everyone there . John is left to fend off the wrath of the scorned women that has been unleashed by his toying with their affections and is now coming back to viciously bite.

This refreshingly unusual and heated film provides Don Siegel with a really experimental film that takes a number of unexpected and shocking turns. It feels very much ahead of its time with some of the content it displays, marking it as different and pretty unsettling at the same time in a pretty psychological way. Don Siegel pitches the mood just right, suggesting the onslaught of dark content that transpires in the latter half, in the slow burn of things that allows The Beguiled to take on a measured but rewarding path to chilling finale. The mood is where The Beguiled is it; creeping away even when nothing startling is happening and throwing in little snippets of potential danger for the fun of it. The Beguiled is at its best as a Southern Gothic drama, that rises to fever pitch as sexual thoughts and betrayal tear the relative calm of the school to pieces. Super imposed frames, spinning camera to signify the unrest he will bring and Sepia toned frames are impressive tools in the arsenal of this strange film. In fact, The Beguiled feels very hallucinatory and disorientating in its construction, captured by the effectiveness of Don Siegel and his off-kilter direction. While the Civil War serves as a backdrop, another war between the sexes rages on in The Beguiled with sheer force and horrifying anguish within the confines of the school. At its core, it’s the male dominance slowly being subverted and oppressed by the female alternative that becomes the real backbone of this claustrophobic story. Stifled and feverish are words that come to mind when viewing the switch of the women in the story, slowly bubbling away until spilling over with John facing the full force of the wronged ladies. Some of it feels too over the top, but the percolating hysteria set off by the sly John is best observed in such an intense way that you can overlook these tiny flawed moments. The culmination of perverse sexuality and dark areas of the mind are evinced best in a hallucinatory dream sequence. In it John is with both Martha and Edwina, the three almost intertwined sexually in disturbing fashion through peculiar angles and overlapping images. An insidiously chilling score allows the unusual nature of this story to reveal itself slowly but surely.

Kudos must be given to Clint Eastwood for playing such an unsympathetic and nasty character. Successfully starting out quietly in his smooth manipulation of the women, his base instincts reveals themselves and his machismo emerges shockingly, resulting in all manner of hysteria among the women. Everything John experiences is by his own hand and it’s a credit to Eastwood’s abilities at capturing his moral ambivalence and greediness of his actions that makes the part an interesting one. Geraldine Page splendidly radiates buttoned-up authority under siege as the headmistress Martha, while laying bare that the morally respectable image she projects is covering something darker. Elizabeth Hartman delicately plays the meekness and abused kindness of Edwina, who falls hardest for John and completely under his spell because of her fragile disposition. Out of all the characters, she’s probably the most inherently decent throughout and the one hurt the most. Jo Ann Harris is good in the role of sultry temptress student, while Mae Mercer is wise as the slave who knows the impact John will have and resists his advances. Pamelyn Ferdin shines as the little girl who rescues him and develops a hopeless crush, only to see it dashed and shattered along with her innocence.

A film not easily forgotten is the best way to describe The Beguiled. With its lurid and unusual story, enlivened by the atmosphere and acting, it stands as a hauntingly intense psychological drama.

Priceless

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Film Title

Priceless

Director

Pierre Salvadori

Starring

  • Audrey Tautou as Irène
  • Gad Elmaleh as Jean
  • Marie-Christine Adam as Madeleine

A very satisfying romantic comedy about wealth and gold digging, Priceless is an amusing confection of sprightly energy and winning charm. Just like the main character, Priceless is deliciously naughty and amoral, but always immensely enjoyable.

The captivating Irène enjoys the high life, especially when a man of wealth is paying for it. With her abundance of charms and feminine wiles, she’s armed for digging for gold wherever she can find it. Frequenting the French Riviera with her latest conquest who is boring her, she encounters put upon bartender Jean one evening. The amusing thing is Irène assumes he is a rich man of the world by his appearance. Not telling her the truth, Jean and her share drinks and laughs. Later, things are taken to the bedroom. In the morning, Irène has left and Jean is left thinking of her. A year later, Irène returns to the hotel with her sugar daddy in tow, where she promptly seduces Jean once more. Only this time, Jean gets busted and the truth of his status is revealed. This coincides with Irène’s latest squeeze leaving her with nothing money wise and jilting her quickly. A shocked Irène high tails it to Nice, not realising how smitten Jean is with her. Instead of just forgetting her, Jean finds her and attempts to woo her. takes full advantage of this as her expensive tastes nearly bankrupt the far from affluent Jean. Panicking when his finances are tight, Jean is saved by wealthy widow Madeleine. She has been looking for a new toy boy and Jean fits that bill. Surprisingly, Jean finds he has a knack for gold digging too, with the main objective being to romance Irène in the end . Irène is quite impressed by this show of initiative and offers help in the business she is well acquainted with. Transformed from hapless bar tender to jet set smooth talker, he even begins rivaling her at the game of money. Seeing how successful he has got , Irène comes to see Jean in a new light, which puts her plans for finding another rich man in jeopardy as her personal feelings enter the picture.

Pierre Salvadori is in the director’s seat for this frothy and charming comedy. He knows the way to keep events bright and breezy, before colouring them with a bit more depth than most romantic comedies strive to reach for. His eye for humour and timing, most notably in Jean’s attempts to be seen as a prospect to the girl he loves is what really gets the most laughs. The scenario of the film is hardly what one would call groundbreaking, but enjoyment is the name of the game and Priceless rises to the occasion admirably. Depending on your tolerance level, you’ll find Priceless irresistible or too arch. For me, I fell into the former camp by miles. It’s the old-fashioned vibe and nods to romantic comedies of yesteryear that Priceless excels at emulating, and giving it a bit more than the average modern Hollywood rom coms that we are witness too. What you get here is riotous fun that also stops to consider why Irène would go on the path of a gold digger in the first place. A nice depth arises from that strand of story that definitely caught my attention.  As a movie that deals with the rich and well-heeled, Priceless looks gorgeous, supplying us with picturesque and chic views of the French Riviera. Trust me, you may be considering holiday plans after watching Priceless. The extravagance on show and just the overall seductive view of the rich life is swoon worthy. A sparkling and amusingly jaunty score accompanies the film with effusive energy and playful rhythm.

The talented Audrey Tautou supplies slyness, allure and even a bit of desperation as the material girl everything revolves around. Irène is someone who clearly has a plan to snare someone rich and enjoy the high life at the same time. Tautou makes Irène a minx but not one that is completely unlikable. Sure she goes after men’s wallets more than their hearts and practically obliterates most of Jean’s income in the beginning, but with Audrey Tautou the beguiling persona and glimpses of someone not wanting to fall by the wayside are felt by the audience. Gad Elmaleh is blessed with a sad-eyed expression and certain lugubrious charm to make the part of Jean work. Jean is something of an unlikely gigolo, which is a strength Gad Elmaleh and his lanky appear de play to masterfully. Elmaleh like he’s having fun as the love struck man pursuing the woman who captured his heart and trying to play her at her own game. The enjoyment factor from both him and Tautou transfers to the audience, paying great dividends. Marie-Christine Adam appears as the glamorous widow attracted to Jean, and though the role is more than a tad underwritten, she possesses the elegance and worldly appeal of a successful older woman.

It’s not the most sparkling brand new formula for a romantic comedy, yet the very nature of romantic comedy is to recycle, preferably with style. Which is what Priceless does, with witty aplomb and hilarious high jinks between two potential lovers on the make. With Audrey Tautou and Gad Elmaleh making a fun couple, you can’t really ask for more enjoyment because it’s a frothy and sweet movie that will make you laugh and smile.

 

Party of Five Season 1

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I recently found Party of Five on Netflix, having heard about it being popular in the 90’s. So I decided to give it a watch and I’m happy I did. Focusing around five siblings as they come to terms with the tragic death of their parents, it makes for earnest, moving and excellent television. What could have been an overly melodramatic concept, instead captures the things that young people go through smartly and with substance. Be warned, spoilers will probably follow in my overview of this promising first season.

It has been six months since the Salinger siblings lost their parents in a car accident and they are all still dealing with it. The orphans are oldest son Charlie(Matthew Fox); an immature, occasionally selfish 24-year-old who is appointed the head of the family; Bailey(Scott Wolf), the responsible but hapless 16-year-old; sensitive and awkward Julia(Neve Campbell); child prodigy Claudia(Lacey Chabert) and baby Owen. Each of them is trying to stay afloat and keep going with their lives, despite having responsibilities they are not ready for, thrust upon them. The shift in dynamics strains them all, as Charlie is not the most natural leader there is and frequently screws up. Bailey has to make sacrifices because of his maturity, which in turn causes his grades and teenage life to slide. Julia, who is a natural with poetry and writing, feels lost and begins to experiment with trying to be popular and accepted. And little Claudia, who is never far from her violin, is often the catalyst for mischief and sometimes soul-searching questions. The arrival of young Kirsten(Paula Devicq), who is hired as a nanny helps with things, yet gets equally complicated when her and Charlie become involved. The dramas and mounting pressures in their lives( loyalty, struggles to find oneself, love, keeping their father’s restaurant going and the nature of grief) is a constant burden as they really have no one to look up to. And with the many troubles of being a youth brings, it’s going to take a lot for them to get through everything that lies in wait for them. Through it all, the Salinger family, through frequently close to falling apart, manage to stick together through their respective grief and care.

There is something very organic about Party of Five; be it in the conversations of the characters or how they deal with things. Sure there is a lot of dramatic impact that is generated through the content, yet it feels very natural and how a family would be. The Salinger clan are relatable because of the way they are written, with the scripts fleshing out their tumultuous lives and fractured but alternately tight-knit closeness. The show stays on the right side of earnestness, only dipping its toes into sentimentality on the rarest of occasions. Originality is not what the show is going for, as it has the angst, hardships and relationships of adolescence in abundance. But that isn’t a deterrent from it, far from it in fact. Party of Five is a drama about the bonds of family and a mighty fine one at that. To be honest, lack of originality rarely bothers me when something is well made. The show isn’t attempting to be overly intellectual, and yet it does have significant clout when it comes to dealing with difficult issues sensitively. It’s the emotions that it really goes for and thankfully it never feels manipulative in how it elicits them. Too many dramas aimed at teenagers and young adults are superficial and shallow; Party of Five has a lot more on its mind and rises to a good level of genuine thematic material.  The inclusion of a soft guitar score is another thing that helps shape the show, with how it creeps in and nicely aids with its naturalness and calm.

The tropes of growing up and discovering the complexities of life, seen from Bailey’s unfortunately tragic relationship with a girl hooked on drugs that he can’t see at first or Julia discovering that her late mother, who she idolized, might have had an affair are just a few examples of what is covered. And while the show is eventful, it gives equal time to each of the characters stories, that often intertwine with each other. Not every episode is a knockout, but really when is that the case in any show? But the vast majority of the episodes depicting the struggles and journey of the Salinger family are engaging and filled with sincere emotional weight. And even though the main premise casts a tragic air over things, Party of Five is far from just an epic downer. It inevitably has a sadness to it that is well shown, but there is humour, drama and heartfelt reflection that round out events nicely. Life may be unfair and difficult for the Salinger clan, but the overall message is one of hope, even in the darkest circumstances. Season 1 is the set up of the show and it promises a lot more to come. I reckon Season 2, like most shows, will be the main step up and really hit its stride. Not that this debut season is a slouch, I feel it will become more expansive and build on the impressive building blocks that this has formed.

Scott Wolf leads as the reliable Bailey, who is the guy who fixes things yet often gets things wrong too. He is still a teenager at the end of the day, whose had to grow up fast and is more than a bit resentful of that fact. Bailey mainly represents the assertive but unlucky spine of the family and its core, which Scott Wolf unaffectedly brings out. It’s hard not to root for him, especially when the chips are down. Playing the part of reluctant guardian Charlie is Matthew Fox, who also impresses. Fox strikes the right balance between Charlie’s desire to live his life and the sacrifices that he’s had to employ to keep his siblings together. Charlie is a guy trying to assert authority, but being constantly challenged with the feeling that he’s not up to it, which is where Fox really hits the mark. Neve Campbell is incredibly convincing as Julia, whose always searching for herself and uncertain of her identity. This confusion is played very well by Campbell, who immediately gains our sympathies and successfully embodies the depth of Julia’s struggles with adjustment. Sensitivity tinged with melancholy colours the sensitive Julia, as her kindness and search for answers moves you. By far the best thing in Party of Five is how well the cast works together. They are immensely believable as a family going through change and the unfairness of life. From their interactions, misunderstandings and ties, we witness a family close to the edge but slowly pulling back up to some form of normality. Little Lacey Chabert is delightfully as the precocious Claudia, who is mature in many ways but still very much a child. She’s funny, petulant and at times wise beyond her years, all performed with effervescence by the young Chabert, who shows no sign of nerves when acting alongside older performers. Paula Devicq, while a bit wooden at first, certainly grows on you as the romantic interest of Kirsten, while Scott Grimes supplies humour as Bailey’s wise-cracking best friend Will.

A heartfelt family drama that never feels too forced or hackneyed, Party of Five is an honest and eminently watchable series that has me very much interested to see what future installments hold. If Season 1 is anything to go by, it must be good.

What Is Your Favourite Jack Nicholson Performance?

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I was inspired to feature Jack Nicholson in this series after I took part in Gill’s blogathon to celebrate his 80th birthday . And I think the guy is an acting great with many wonderful performances under his belt.  You can’t really go wrong with Nicholson, his energy and presence are greatly seen in almost everything he does. He is most electric when playing unbalanced and rebellious characters, though he’s done a lot of work that subtly tones down this trait to good effect. Entertaining is the perfect word to describe Jack Nicholson on the screen. So which of Nicholson’s performances really stands out for you? For me, it’s difficult to choose just one.

Scream of Fear

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Film Title

Scream of Fear

Director

Seth Holt

Starring

  • Susan Strasberg as Penny Appleby
  • Ann Todd as Jane Appleby
  • Ronald Lewis as Robert
  • Christopher Lee as Dr. Pierre Gerrard

An atmospheric triumph of mounting tension and shocking reveals, Scream of Fear supplies The basic idea of the plot has been done many times before, but Scream of Fear excellently plays with this formula by twisting into something unexpected and shocking. A strong thriller from Hammer indeed. If you want thrills, Scream of Fear is a guarantee to supply that need.

Penny Appleby is a pretty young woman who has been paralyzed for over ten years following an accident on a horse. She has largely lived in Switzerland, but returns to see her father( who she hasn’t seen for a long time) after a companion of hers drowns leaving her devastated. Her father now lives on the French Riviera and has married again, to a woman named Jane. Penny hasn’t met his new bride yet, but thinks Jane is fine upon arrival. The family chauffeur Robert also does his best to make her at home, while she recovers from the shocking loss of her friend. Yet Penny is also puzzled that her father has seemingly gone away from business , as she expected to reconnect with him again after so long. On her first night in the house, Penny encounters something shocking. Seeing a light on in the summer house, she ventures out to check and discovers what looks like her father’s corpse. Terrified, she exits quickly and explains her findings to Jane and Robert . Yet when Jane inspects the summer house, there is no sign of a body. She puts it down to stress and an overactive imagination, calling upon the services of the mysterious Dr Pierre Gerrard to calm the panicked Penny down. Penny is left confused yet convinced that something bad has happened to her father. After seeing his body again, before it promptly vanishes once more, Penny becomes more certain that there is a nefarious plot being undertaken to drive her mad. Penny enlists Robert to help her, mainly because he appears to be the only person who doesn’t think she’s losing her mind. But as Penny investigates, we soon find that everything is a lot different and maybe even more sinister than initially envisioned, leading to a whole host of surprises.

Seth Holt knows the exact ways to suggest something chilling and slowly reveal enough in teasing and mounting suspense. A real feeling and essence of mystery is ever-present in Scream of Fear, right from the opening to the end. As aforementioned, the basic story of someone believing others are attempting to drive the mad has been done many times, but Scream of Fear still keeps it all very riveting and startling by inserting a few tricks of its own. There really is a genuine unpredictability to Scream of Fear, so much so that even when you think you’ve got a handle on things, it completely fools you.  We are left to speculate and guess what capricious machination will befall Penny, as the plot thickens considerably. A big asset in Scream of Fear is the black and white cinematography, which is suitably ghoulish and mysterious right from the opening frames, letting you know that something deeply mysterious is at work. An effective usage of close-ups and nice angles allows the suspense to rise, with a swimming pool sequence where a nasty surprise lies at the bottom is rightfully tense and well lensed as a standout scene. Sound is a key thing in Scream of Fear, and the way its employed is pretty darn impressive. Eerie silence and seeming calm of the surroundings( specifically the outside and glimpses of cliffs and the sea on the French Riviera) that prove to be anything but are captured with. The music knows exactly when to appear and not be too intrusive, letting the mystery and thrills take the biggest stage.

The beautiful Susan Strasberg is just the right person to play the emotionally besieged Penny. She possesses a resilience and alternating vulnerability that is perfect for the part. Penny may be put in danger throughout the film, but she’s intelligent and not just a mere damsel who’s depending on everyone else to help. If anything, she refuses to let her paralysis slow her down and has adjusted to it with a deep independence. Strasberg plays Penny with a self-reliance and steadfast determination to uncover what sinister acts are being committed. Ann Todd successfully stars as the stepmother ,who appears to be a reasonable person but also remarkably shifty in the long run of things. Ronald Lewis is on hand to play the square-jawed, handsome and apparently loyal chauffeur who aids Penny in her search for the truth. Christopher Lee, although not seen as much as I’d liked, is still quite good as the mysterious doctor who is hanging around whenever strange things happen.

Unpredictable and slowly adept at building tension, as well as pulling you in, Scream of Fear is a successfully creepy and unexpectedly smart thriller that really does an impressive number on you. its nothing is as it seems angles make it a fine thriller and one that deserves more attention.

You’ve Been Tagged

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The wonderfully fabulous that is Gill has tagged me to answer some questions. I’m very happy and delighted she thought of me. Now I will admit that I’m late to answering this, as some will probably guess from some of the Christmas themed questions, but it’s still fun to take part. Now I will follow the rules and let me answers be known.

All I Want For Christmas is You | Which DVD/Blu-Ray would you like to receive this year?

I’d love to get the Indiana Jones collection on Blu-Ray.

 

Jingle Bell Rock | Favorite soundtrack or song from a Christmas film?

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas from Meet Me in St. Louis

 

Let it Snow | 3 of your favorite Christmas films…

Love Actually

The Nightmare Before Christmas

Home Alone

 

Donald Trump | A film that divides opinion…

Anything by Lars Von Trier runs the gamut from being hated to be exalted. Check Breaking the Waves and Melancholia 

 

Brexit | Favorite British Film…

That honour goes to Black Narcissus

 

Fidel Castro | A film that divides opinion… A film considered culturally significant

I’d have to say The Godfather. It is a benchmark in cinema after all and so many since it have taken influence from it.

 

Starbucks | Favorite Film Franchise…

Would have to be the James Bond series, so iconic

 

McDonald’s Happy Meal | Favorite Childhood Film…

Definitely The Lion King by a mile.

 

‘Cheeky Nandos’ | Favorite Comedy

I would have to say Hot Fuzz, laughed so much when I saw it

 

One film you want all of your followers to watch…

A film called He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not. It proves that there really are two sides to every story and is ridiculously underrated.

Now I will nominate people to take part in this( but if you don’t want to, there is no pressure)

Kim

Pete

Madame Vintage

Kitt

Alex

If if you want to take part, just copy and paste the questions and answer them. It is that simple, then tag other bloggers for the fun to continue. Here’s the template if you wish to copy it.

All I Want For Christmas is You | Which DVD/Blu-Ray would you like to receive this year?

Jingle Bell Rock | Favorite soundtrack or song from a Christmas film?

Let it Snow | 3 of your favorite Christmas films…

Donald Trump | A film that divides opinion…

Brexit | Favorite British Film…

Fidel Castro | A film that divides opinion… A film considered culturally significant

Starbucks | Favorite Film Franchise…

McDonald’s Happy Meal | Favorite Childhood Film…

‘Cheeky Nandos’ | Favorite Comedy

One film you want all of your followers to watch…

Turn the Key Softly

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Film Title

Turn the Key Softly

Director

Jack Lee

Starring

  • Yvonne Mitchell as Monica Marsden
  • Joan Collins as Stella Jarvis
  • Kathleen Harrison as Mrs. Quilliam
  • Terence Morgan as David

The first twenty-four hours of release from prison of three different women are dramatised in Turn the Key Softly. Although some of the social drama it strives for can get forced, it is largely an honest and sympathetic examination of the paths we may or may not take in life. Strong performances from the female leads help it be watchable.

On one morning, three women are released from Holloway Prison, London. Each woman is somewhat different from the other and slowly we piece together why each was imprisoned. Monica Marsden is a middle class lady who was seduced by crook David and coerced into helping him with his thieving activities. She was caught and David got away, leaving her to take the blame. Stella Jarvis is a pretty young thing who we are lead to believe fell into prostitution so she could afford the material things in life, despite having found seeming happiness with a kindly bus conductor. And lonely Mrs. Quilliam is very poor and has multiple offences of stealing food to provide for herself. Their returns back to society take different turns as they are forced to confront life once more and decide what is to be done, regarding personal feelings, circumstances and the nature of choice. Monica has to contend with oily David entering her life again, Stella must make a choice of whether material wealth outweighs potential happiness with her forgiving boyfriend and Mrs. Quilliam has to deal with being neglected by her daughter and only having her pet dog Johnny for support and companionship. The question is, just which path will each lady take now that they are back out in the world again?

Director Jack Lee does a commendable enough job at bringing out dramatic and emotional impact, though it can be said that some of the film and story is basic and could have done with more extension. After all, Turn the Key Softly only runs for under 80 minutes, which both has a weakness and goodness to it. I think the positive parts manage to raise the film up a lot, and while still flawed, when it hits the dramatic mark it is damn effective. Some of it comes off as more than a little superficial, in particular the rather sketchy way that Stella’s story is written. Her arc has watchable and sports interesting areas, but it doesn’t quite have the gripping power of the other two women’s experiences. Monica and Mrs. Quilliam have the more compelling stories; facing the grim realities of their situations, consisting of trying to not be drawn to a bad influence and crushing loneliness. When the focus is on these characters and their struggles, Turn the Key Softly gains points and a sense of drama. The use of black and white highlights the challenges ahead for the ladies and London in bustling but unforgiving fashion. The film was made in the 50’s and England was still suffering post war austerity, which is subtly referenced by the fact that there is no flash of razzmatazz to the editing of cinematography. It’s largely observant and the unvarnished style suits what Turn the Key Softly strives for. A jolt of tension and suspense keeps Turn the Key Softly good in the last half as Monica’s former flame puts in motion a job, which he drags her into under extreme duress. One of the best things Turn the Key Softly does is not sugarcoat the three main characters or condone what they have done. It presents them as humans, who have made mistakes and are attempting to get back on track once more. The music score is suitable enough when being understated, but there are times when it takes away from the story by going overboard with flourishes.

If there is anything that makes up for the occasionally flawed execution in the film, it’s the acting. Yvonne Mitchell brings dignity, demure grace and indecision to her part of the middle class Monica, who wrestles with her feelings for her slimy former boyfriend and tries to make a life for herself. She’s an intelligent woman but like all of us, not immune to the complex feelings of the heart. This is what Mitchell plays ideally; the desire to move on, but the constant lingering of the past that won’t loosen its grip. Joan Collins, although having the most limited role, is still very charming and brassy as the often vain Stella. She’s got an impudence, dreamy eyes and sassiness to her, tempered with a feeling of uncertainty over her future. The beautiful Joan Collins makes the part very watchable, owing to her naturalness and personality. The trio is rounded out by the weariness and sadness of Kathleen Harrison as the lonely old Mrs. Quilliam, who’s only company is her beloved dog Johnny. Here is a woman of desperation and desolation, who still attempts to keep a smile on her face despite her increasing adversity. You want to give this woman a hug and tell her that things are going to be OK, that’s how emotionally convincing and sympathetic Harrison is. Terence Morgan is the definition of a louse, and a nasty one at that when playing Monica’s crooked lover. Although he’s slick and smooth, you know exactly what he’s up to and really do want him to get what’s coming to him in be way or another.

So while it sometimes doesn’t get beneath the surface of stat it’s intending to display, Turn the Key Softly is still on the whole, a well acted and interesting film that paints a pointed and frequently realistic picture of three women experiencing life and it’s difficulties again after their release from prison.

Il Postino

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Film Title

Il Postino

Director

Michael Radford

Starring

  • Massimo Troisi as Mario Ruoppolo
  • Philippe Noiret as Pablo Neruda
  • Maria Grazia Cucinotta as Beatrice

A beautifully moving paen to poetry and altering friendship, Il Postino weaves a quiet yet lyrical spell on you as we watch a shy man flourish under the tutelage of a great poet. A subtle and at times amusing film, Il Postino also has a bittersweet nature that is hard to forget once you’ve seen it.

The year is 1950 and Mario Ruoppolo lives on an Italian island, where the main job for men is fishing. Trouble is, the good-natured and simple Mario hates fishing, so is left to laze about with nothing to do and his father telling him he needs to find a job. This is all subject to change with some exciting news for the island. The very famous poet Pablo Neruda has been exiled from Chile for his political views and is now seeking refuge on the island. As there is a huge influx of mail, a postman is needed to deliver it to the esteemed visitor. Listless Mario gets the job as postman delivering the hoards of mail that arrive for the renowned poet. Mario sets about on this job and while doing it, attempts to converse with Neruda, who is the talk of the town. Neruda is polite enough but aloof as he wants to be in solitude, which Mario doesn’t realise at first. Gradually his enthusiasm and pluck resonate with the old master, who begins to like the innocent postman. A friendship between the two very different men( one an eloquent poet, the other an uneducated postman) is ultimately struck up. Neruda tells Mario of the importance and beauty of words, which Mario takes on board and stores. Around this time, timid Mario finds himself falling in love with the stunning Beatrice, a local barmaid. The trouble is, he can hardly put a sentence together whenever he’s around her. Seeing that Neruda has an excellent reputation with women, Mario implores him for support. Neruda and his mellifluous gift for words encourages Mario to emerge from his shell and give voice to his feelings day by day. As a result, Mario starts to grow in confidence under the guidance of Neruda, and soon enough, his love for the beautiful Beatrice can finally be expressed without him looking like a fool. Over the course of the time spent together by Mario and Neruda, they each make a defining impression on the other that neither will forget.

Michael Radford, a British film maker, directs this Italian language film with a sure hand and buoyant charm that is hard to resist. It’s the simplicity and little moments that cause Il Postino to really make its presence felt. It isn’t a film of big, grand moments; favouring a quiet and languid time for the relationships between characters to manifest and ensue. The interactions between the good-hearted but and stately Neruda are what really interests and pleasingly transfer to the viewer’s enjoyment of watching them come to an understanding that benefits both in ways they didn’t realise. A lot of may be about Mario’s attempts to woo Beatrice which are tentatively done, but his burgeoning friendship with Neruda is the real ace in the hole.  An observant quality frames the impact each man has on the other, with the power of descriptive words passed from Neruda to his young charge eliciting a gentleness and occasional humour. In fact, humour plays a decent part of Il Postino, especially in how Mario woos Beatrice and her stern Aunt misinterprets the whole thing. Yet within the film is a reflective note that can’t be missed. There is a scene later on in Il Postino that is imbued with a relatable pathos and inspiration. In it, Mario finally begins to realise that he is something special and while Neruda has left the island, he comes to see just how much he was impacted by the great man and how he has been changed substantially from when we first saw him. Such a heartfelt and inspiring scene that feels so warm and soulful, it’s just glorious to see. There is a definite tinge of poignancy that comes in the film when Neruda leaves after the warrant for his arrest is scrapped, leaving Mario feeling a bit lost without his mentor. And while there are those who will scoff at the movie and declare that not a lot happens, they are the missing the life-affirming and unobtrusive way that quite a lot happens, just in measured and lovingly rendered vignettes. Il Postino doesn’t need to be grandly over the top of melodramatic all the time; a winning relaxed approach is the right one for such a movie as this. The sun dappled imagery of the Italian island is blissfully gorgeous to look at, complimented by the moving and adventurous score to the piece.

Massimo Troisi is the eponymous postman in what would sadly be his final role. Essaying the awkward mannerisms, pining, childlike eyes and hapless charm of the transforming Mario; is excellently understated and soulful as the beating heart of the film that evolves with nuance from simple-minded and listless man to passionate and inspired person . Most of the bittersweet nature of Il Postino comes from Troisi , who tragically died a day after filming completed. He had a heart condition and postponed surgery to be in the film. Despite struggling, he soldiered through making this film( he had a co-screenwriting credit too), only to sadly not see the greatness of it all coming together. Watching his beautifully emotive and amusing performance is both a treat and a sad reminder of the talented man. Philippe Noiret is just right as the influential Pablo Neruda; brimming with humour, dignity and a thoughtful way about him. It’s easy to see why Mario looks up to the guy. There’s an authoritative and spirited streak that runs through the work of Philippe Noiret , making Neruda a man you could see yourself trusting and learning from. At first he prefers the quiet of being alone, but is won over by Mario and finds himself growing very fond of the man who he can help. Maria Grazia Cucinotta stars as the object of Mario’s affection and while not the most demanding role, her sensual appeal is employed well, that it is easy to see why Mario would become some enchanted by her. Cucinotta possesses a smouldering beauty that seduces the camera whenever she appears.

A sweet yet poignant movie of easy yet invested direction and nice performances, Il Postino splendidly captures the feeling of growing and being inspired lovingly and with a deep heart. As a showcase for the late Massimo Troisi, it ensures his presence and talents are in full glory and act as a touching reminder of his ability. Truly a sweet movie for everyone and one to be treasured.