Film No 38 (2014) : Love Actually

love actualyChoosing Christmas presents? I love it. Shopping? Love that even more. Parting with the cash is sometimes painful, but  I can cope. Wrapping up all the gifts? I hate it. Absolutely bloody hate it. It’s an annual battle, me against the Clinton roll wrap. So, whilst I barricaded myself in the bedroom and stuck a ‘Keep Out – Elf at Work’ sign on the door, ‘Love Actually’ was a great choice to distract me from the disobedient sticky tape.

The film interweaves twelve love stories, which take place in the 5 weeks leading up to Christmas. Written and directed by comic genius Richard Curtis, the film is gentle and thought-provoking, exploring love in its many guises. Watching the film for the first time is probably the best, as the links between the characters are gradually revealed; David the Prime Minister is Karen the Mum’s brother, and Natalie, who is David’s secretary, turns out to live next door to Mia, who is Karen’s husband’s (Harry) secretary and in love with him and so on. It sounds complicated and in some ways it is, but so is modern life; we are all inter-connected by links of romantic love, parental love, friendship, familial love. The film is saved from being corny by its robust script and strong cast, as almost anyone who is everyone in British acting puts in an appearance: Emma Thompson, Hugh Grant, Alan Rickman, Martin Freeman, Colin Firth, Bill Nighy …..and more. Even Rowan Atkinson pops up as an over-attentive shop assistant. Rodrigo Santoro, one of Brazil’s most talented and famous actors also stars, as Karl, with whom Sarah is in love. Santoro does not have a big role, but deserves a mention simply because he is absolutely drop-dead gorgeous, especially when he takes his shirt off!

‘Love Actually’ has probably become part of the UK Christmas viewing landscape, together with ‘Its a Wonderful Life‘, ‘The Snowman‘ and the ‘The Sound of Music‘. The film is showing pretty much back to back on Sky over the Christmas holiday, or the DVD is only £3 on Amazon so would fit into your stocking. I suppose the fact that I could watch the film whilst multi-tasking probably says something about its watchability; it’s mental floss. But that doesn’t make me like it any less!



Film No 35 (2014) : Before I Go to Sleep

before i go to sleepThis film is an adaptation of the thriller written by S.J.Watson (who, incidentally, is a man. In case you wondered).  The premise of the story is straightforward: Christine Lucas (Nicole Kidman) has survived some kind of trauma, but has been left with a specific form of amnesia. Every night whilst she sleeps, her memory is erased. Every morning her husband, Ben (Colin Firth), has to remind her who she is, who he is, how they met etc. By the end of the day she begins to piece together more recollections, but forgets them by the next morning, when the whole cycle begins again.

We begin to understand some of the frustrations of Christine’s memory loss as Ben leaves lists pinned to the wall to remind his wife to carry out certain tasks. A montage of photographs provides a pictorial record of the couple’s life before tragedy struck. It seems as if this endless cycle of remembering, sleeping and forgetting would remain unbroken, but the audience learns that Chris has secretly been seeing a neuro-psychiatrist, Dr Mike Nash (Mark Strong). With Dr Nash’s help, Chris begins to recover and retain more memory, using a video diary to re-cap on what she knew the previous day. But as she emerges from her brain-fog, questions begin to arise about whom Chris she can trust. Suspicion falls upon Ben and Chris is forced to unravel some disturbing mind-games before the truth of her situation is finally revealed. There is undoubtedly tension throughout the film, heightened by some shockingly violent scenes, making you wonder what other dangers are lurking.

One striking thing about the cinematography is that it is almost totally devoid of bright colour. Clothes are drab, the exterior of the Lucas’ house is monochromatic, the effect accentuated by the white bark of the silver birch trees which surround it. Interiors are stylised and stark, as is most of the background scenery. Much of the action takes place in semi or total darkness. In contrast to this subdued lighting, it is only when Chris’ memory is at its most acute, when there are periods of optimism, that light comes flooding in.

It was extremely difficult to be objective about the film when I already knew the ending, in that Bruce Willis ‘Sixth Sense’ way. My feeling is that it may be quite difficult to tie up some of the flashbacks, memory relapses etc if the plot was unfamiliar. There is no doubt though, that the intricacies of the psychological battles and demons which Chris fights, have been greatly simplified within the film, and I think this is to the detriment of the movie. Given a choice on this one, I’d go with the written version.

Coming out of the Picture House though, I had a sense of what it must be like to have one’s memory wiped overnight, as I experienced that alarming feeling of having absolutely no idea where I had parked my car. But that happens to me 9 times out of 10. I park, I lock the car, I go about my business, only to return to wander aimlessly about the sea of silver Ford Fiestas and abandoned shopping trolleys, hoping that some feature of the landscape will prompt me to recall the whereabouts of my battered Passat. Multiplying that sensation to not being able to remember where I left my husband, or children – or even who my family members are, would be seriously terrifying. I’m not even sure that waking up every morning and seeing Colin Firth on my pillow would compensate for that kind of distress!

Book No 31 (2014) : The Rosie Project

the rosie projectDr.Don Tillman likes to be organised. He has a tight schedule, orchestrated to the exact minute – it takes ‘three minutes, twenty seconds’ to have a shower, unless he washes in hair, ‘in which case it takes an extra minute and twelve seconds’. (The extra time is because he has to leave the conditioner on for sixty seconds). He operates a Standardised Meal Plan (Lobster on Tuesdays  – hence the cover pic) and changes to his routine flummox and unsettle him. As a geneticist, he finds scientific explanations reassuring and his literal interpretations of situations make life difficult for him, both at work and in his personal life. Despite his ordered existence, Don would like to be in a relationship and so he devises The Wife Project, a systematic approach to finding the perfect partner. Rosie doesn’t tick any of the right boxes, but she is the most beautiful woman in the world. Don’s dating programme results in a whole host of hilarious situations, as he tries to re-assess his priorities, address his social awkwardness and win Rosie’s hand.

There is a suggestion that Don might be an ‘Aspie’, (has Aspergers Syndrome), but the author readily admits that he didn’t carry out any research into autistic spectrum disorders at all. Don is quirky and Rosie is the perfect contrast.

This is a popular book at the moment and it’s easy to see why. It’s very, very funny – witty dialogue, slapstick situations. I read it as a Book Club choice and when we met to discuss it, we had just as much fun! We amused ourselves by firstly trying to cast the film using famous actors – we settled upon Colin Firth and Natalie Imbruglia as Don and Rosie. After a few more glasses of Prosecco, we had even more fun casting them using people we know. Cruel? Possibly. But if you know me, I bet you can’t help wondering whether I have you tagged as the next Don Tillman?!