Movie Review – Loving Annabelle (2006)

Director: Katherine Brooks

Stars: Erin Kelly, Diane Gaidry, Laura Breckenridge, Michelle Horn, Ilene Graff

Loving Annabelle is the story of an illicit affair between a teacher and a student at an all-girls Catholic School. Annabelle is the wild newcomer with no patience for rules, while Simone is the teacher, bored with her boyfriend. Sparks fly between the two of them, but it could cost both of them dearly…

I wasn’t expecting much from this film but I was actually pleasantly surprised. It only clocks in at about 75 minutes but it manages to develop the characters as well and there are a couple of subplots that are given attention. But the real reason why this film is a success is the chemistry between the two leads. I recently reviewed a film called The Invisible Woman, which was about the affair between Charles Dickens and his mistress. The romance in that wasn’t handled well, and the contrast between the two films is immense.

Every scene that Kelly and Gaidry shared was electric, and the camera caressed the two of them, making the sizzling atmosphere palpable. I was impressed by the intensity of the romance, and it’s because of this factor that I would recommend this film. It’s also the kind of film that I could easily imagined being made into a good romance book.

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Book Review – Downfall by Jeff Abbott

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Sam Capra is a retired CIA agent who only wants to run bars and spend time with his son, Daniel. But one evening a young woman runs into his bar screaming for help, and Sam soon finds himself embroiled in a conspiracy with a dangerous man who hacks lives.

Downfall isn’t part of a series per se, but Sam Capra is a character that carries over from book to book. I haven’t read any other Sam Capra books so I was just taking this as a standalone novel, although the author did a good job of filling in the history of the character without giving big dumps of exposition.

The book is fairly easy to read and the plot is okay. I found it was getting better and better and then the ending petered out and it didn’t feel climactic at all, which isn’t what I want from a book that’s over 500 pages. There are a few characters, some of which work better than others, but some which I found more interesting than the main character. It’s billed as a Sam Capra thriller but honestly, the story could have worked without him.

The plot of the villain is an intriguing one, and there are minor spoilers here. Basically he set up a network where he did favors for certain people, and promised them a life of luxury, these people do other jobs for him, which benefit other people in the network, and none of them know each other. So they’re all tied to the central hub but he has so much information on them they can’t betray him. It was an interesting concept and one I enjoyed reading about.

The style of the author was…functional is probably the best way I can describe it. It felt quite standard and it was just barely enough to keep me going when the plot sagged. It’s a book that I read and I didn’t feel like giving up on it while reading, but now that I’ve finished it, I realize that it didn’t leave any lingering impression on me. I don’t feel much attachment to Sam Capra and this book doesn’t make me want to go out and read the other books starring him. So, overall, I’d suggest giving this one a miss.

Book Review – The End of Everything by Megan Abbott

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Lizzie and Evie are two thirteen year old girls who are inseparable, until Evie goes missing, and Lizzie realizes that their friendship wasn’t quite what she thought. It’s a story about lies, secrets, sexuality, and family.

The End of Everything is told from a first-person point of view from Lizzie, and it’s one of the main problems I had with the book. The voice of the author comes through strongly and it’s written really well. The style is evocative, sharp, and distinctive, but it doesn’t feel like a thirteen year old’s voice. It feels more adult than that. But the characters are developed well, and although the middle of the book is filled up with suspense, it comes crashing down in the last third, and it’s a real page-turner.

That being said, this book isn’t going to be for everyone because of its content. Some people are just going to be disturbed by the idea of thirteen year olds talking about and discovering sex, especially with the objects of their affections. It does present a warped idea of love, and it’s sometimes difficult to read in the sense that you feel real sorrow for Lizzie as she confuses a beautiful love with an ugly one, and it’s challenging in the fact that it makes you think about what love is, and what it should be.

I really enjoyed it but I know some people won’t, and this probably accounts for the mixed reviews on Amazon. If the subject matter doesn’t immediately put you off then it’s worth checking out because it’s well-written and has good characterization.

Movie Review – The Invisible Woman (2013)

Director: Ralph Fiennes

Stars: Ralph Fiennes, Felicity Jones, Kristin Scott Thomas

A film about Charles Dickens and the mistress he had until his death.

I’ve never been a huge fan of Dickens. I find him difficult to read but it’s a good basis for a movie. However, it didn’t work for me.

The foundation was good. Jones played Ellen, who was an aspiring actress that was taken by Dickens. However, she’s appalled at his emotional cruelty and the fact that she has to keep their relationship a secret, but is also given an opportunity at a life few people got. But stories like these really depend upon the chemistry between the two actors and it didn’t come through in the film. I never got the intensity that was suggested by the subject matter, and thus I wasn’t involved in the characters or their plight.

Unless you’re a die-hard Dickens fan this is probably one to avoid.

Movie Review – The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2008)

Director: Mark Herman

Stars: Asa Butterfield, David Thewlis, Jack Scanlon, Vera Farmiga, Amber Beattie, Cara Horgan, Rupert Friend

World War II as seen through the eyes of a small boy. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is set in Germany. A soldier is given a new assignment and has to move his family to the country. While there, Bruno (Butterfield) is bored and tries to explore, but he starts to realize there’s something strange going on, although his young mind can’t quite comprehend it.

Wow. Just wow.

Trying to make sense of war is a hopeless endeavor and seeing it through the eyes of a child makes you realize how stupid it all is. Butterfield is great, and the story does a good job of putting you in his shoes. Whether it’s jumping as a German officer barks at a Jew, or the realization that Bruno’s older sister is being swept up in the propaganda, disgust as the things the tutor is teaching Bruno, anguish when Bruno’s mother becomes aware of the treatment of the prisoners, and the father’s treatment of his own soldier.

But really, it was the ending that floored me. Amazing movie all around. So emotional, so involving. Brilliant.

Movie Review – What Maisie Knew (2012)

Directors: Scott McGehee & David Siegel

Stars: Onata Aprile, Julianne Moore, Steve Coogan, Alexander Skarsgard, Joanna Vanderham

Told from the point of view of a six year old, What Maisie Knew begins with a break up of her two narcissistic parents and the subsequent custody battle. Maisie is used as a pawn, but both parents let her down. The story also involves Margo, the ex-babysitter who is now living with the father, and Lincoln, who the mother dates.

This film is about parenthood and the idea that just because you are biologically a parent doesn’t mean you necessarily deserve to be, and sometimes sharing blood is not enough. Coogan and Moore are truly despicable and it’s horrible to see how Maisie is treated, but the directors do a good job of keeping the mood of the film fairly light, as although there are dramatic moments it does not descend into misery porn, which it easily could have done.

For me, Vanderham stole the show as Joanna, and the inclusion of her and Lincoln shows how you can become attached to children by spending a lot of time with them, and how easy it is for bonds to form. Lincoln is an interesting character as he is first introduced as a drug user, yet turns out to be dependable. The scenes between him and Maisie were really sweet, and the film manages to balance out the different tones and emotions.

This is one that should be getting more attention. It’s high quality in every aspect of the film, and the subject matter is one that’s not used that often (at least not for the entire film, usually child custody battles only take up a small part).

Movie Review – Blackfish (2013)

Director: Gabriela Cowperthwaite

This documentary follows the controversial captivity of whales, focusing on some tragic events that happened at Sea World.

Blackfish has received many plaudits and rightly so. If you haven’t seen this documentary yet then go and do so at the earliest opportunity because it makes for enthralling, and harrowing viewing.

While it focuses on Sea World it goes back and shows how the Orcas were captured in the 70s, and the ramifications of those actions today. Now, I used to work in Orlando but I never actually made it to Sea World so the only knowledge I have of it was from my friends who went. The company itself refused to be interviewed for the documentary, and its easy to see why with the evidence presented about the treatment of the whales. The majority of testimony comes from former trainers who talk about their experiences, and it’s very moving. It’s clear these people formed a strong bond with the animals and they talk about the whales as thought they were family members. Many of them are driven to tears, and at times it is difficult to watch.

It’s an important film to watch, and it sheds a lot of light on the treatment of animals in captivity. Definitely a must-see.

Movie Review – Get Real (1998)

Director: Simon Shore

Stars: Ben Silverstone, Brad Gorton, Charlotte Brittain, Stacy Hart, Kate McEnery, Patrick Nielsen, Tim Harris, James D. White, Jacquetta May, David Lumsden

Love is complicated, especially when you’re a teenager, especially when you’re a homosexual and in the closet, especially when you fall for the star jock of the school, especially when he reciprocates…

Get Real is a British film made in the 90s but it feels like it could have been made today. I’m surprised the actors haven’t been more famous since they all did good work here, especially Silverstone in the lead role. While the focus is on what it’s like to be a homosexual in a world where being gay is a stigma, the film does look at other aspects of love as well and through some of the supporting characters shows how painful it can be. It’s very mature with its attitude to sex and the way the characters interact with each other. It feels authentic and this adds to the appeal to the film.

Steven (Silverstone) is in the closet, and spends his time fooling around with older men near toilets in the park. Then he sees John there, and although John is insecure about his sexuality the two of them start dating, in secret. There’s a conflict though as John puts his reputation above his relationship with Ben, and this leads to some heartbreaking moments.

What really made this film grip me was the end. The acting from Silverstone combined with the writing was enthralling and highly emotional. I highly recommend this film. It touches on many aspects of love and really captures the uncertainty of growing up and out into the world. Definitely check this one out.

Movie Review – Sex, Lies, and Videotape (1989)

Director: Steven Soderbergh

Stars: Andie MacDowell, James Spader, Laura San Giacomo, Peter Gallagher

A sexually repressed woman’s husband is having an affair with her sister. When her husband’s old college friend comes to stay, she finds herself drawn to him, and when she finds out that he has a fetish of recording women talking about sex, she finds herself feeling freer.

Sex, Lies, and Videotape has the subject matter and the plot to make for an intense and interesting film, delving into the different ways in which people get turned on and how sex plays a part in different relationships. However, I think perhaps it was made too early for its time as it seems tame compared to the society we live in nowadays. Here, being filmed is seen as something taboo and exciting, but with modern technology it doesn’t feel out of place at all.

But what hurts the film most is that the pace is painfully slow and although there are powerful emotions involved it never feels that way. Everything is subdued, and I was never made to feel anything for these characters. I liked the relationship and the acting between MacDowell and San Giacomo, but the story just didn’t do enough to keep me interested.

Interesting potential, but the execution was lacking for me. I’d give this one a miss despite its reputation.

Movie Review – The Crucible (1996)

Director: Nicholas Hytner

Stars: Winona Ryder, Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Scofield, Joan Allen, Bruce Davison, Rob Campbell, Jeffrey Jones

Based on a play by Arthur Miller, The Crucible revolves around the Salem witch trials, and act as a parable for the hunt for Communists that was occurring in Hollywood at the time Miller wrote it. After girls are accused of summoning the devils, Abigail (Ryder) discovers that by pretending she’s been corrupted by the devil she can place the blame on others.

I found this film to be one of those that generates real hatred and disdain for the characters in the movie, mostly because the quick judgments and hounding of people are present in human society and are ugly parts of our community. It’s an astute look at the way people can be so easily manipulated by fear, and how people can play on their reputations to punish others. Ryder is excellent as the deceptive girl who has a dark side underneath the virginal veneer, while Day-Lewis gives an anguished performance as the man trying to hold onto his faith through all the madness.

One thing I particularly enjoyed was the dialogue which has a poetic quality to it and is evocative. Although the film only takes place in one small community it feels like it’s set to a world stage.

It’s a powerful story that, unfortunately, is still relevant today, and the ending is incredible.