Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Films I've seen of late (Oct '18)

#65 Despicable Me 3 (2017)
Having seen this before, a repeat view a year later rendered the experience better than I'd anticipated. It's fairly predictable stuff, but Gru and co. manage to keep the 'Despicable' franchise alive and well (much moreso than the dreadful Minions Movie) with lots of nods to 80s nostalgia.

#66 Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017)
The Kingsman secret organisation is thrown into disarray when targeted by a clandestine drug overlord. After pretty much everything with the Kingsman name on it is destroyed, the surviving Eggsy and Galahad travel across the Atlantic to seek help from their American cousins, Statesman. An enjoyable yarn, with the familiar Kingsman gall and cockiness in plentiful supply.

#67 Nineteen eighty four (1984)
A captivating vision of an alternate Britain ruled by a totalitarian regime with 'Big Brother' watching every citizen from the insidious 'viewscreen'. Adapted from the revered book by George Orwell, its themes and social commentary are just as relevent today as they were in 1948. The squalor and hopelessness of a society crushed by its own structures and ideology is terrifying and yet all too familiar.

#68 Anon (2018)
No doubt inspired by the likes of 1984, Anon is set in a near-future where every citizen has a device implanted in their eye to record everything they see, accessible anytime by the authorities via the 'Ether'. Thus, crime is almost impossible to commit. And yet, a lone woman attracts a detective's attention when she appears to have no profile or presence in the Ether and is linked to a string of murders (that can't be solved by the usual methods). An interesting and compelling tale, the design and execution is solid – but doesn't quite have the garvitas of similar movies.

#69 Miracle Mile (1988)
Steve De Jarnatt's cold war drama is a quirky twist on the end-of-the-world scenario, with a boy and girl about to embark on a first date just as the Russians decide to nuke LA. When Harry takes a random call at a payphone (remember those?), he learns the terrible truth that the missles are on their way and a frantic chase ensues to find a way out of the city. Things decend into chaos as the rumour spreads and everything goes to hell. Dated in many ways, Miracle Mile still retains its 80s charm and is a refreshing indie flick to watch.

#70 Matilda (1996)
A fairly faithful adaptation of the Roal Dahl classic about a little girl with an advanced intellect and extraordinary powers. Its transference from mid-to-late century England to 90s America is slightly odd but once you get past that it's an inventive and moving film about a talented child up against horrible parents and even more horrible school (in the shape of the ghastly Ms Trunchbull). Great fun.

#71 Coco (2017)
The Mexican Day of the Dead gets the animated film treatment in this colourful and touching story about family and grief. Less action-y than previous Pixar films, but the visuals succeed at maintaining interest during the more mundane moments.

#72 Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)
Having now given this a repeat viewing, I am more convinced that this film is a decent bit of filmmaking and doesn’t warrant any of the fan-hate in my opinion. Even some of the slightly questionable moments cease to be an issue second time round, and what emerges is a complex story about failure and loss in the midst of overwhelming odds. My only criticism is the length: 2.5 hours is a hefty runtime for a family blockbuster and I hope the next instalment aims to keep things trimmer

#73 The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (2005)
A bit pointless, given the excellent BBC radio play and TV series, but this blockbuster take on Douglas Adams' sci-fi comedy at least delivers on the visuals that only a hollywood movie can accomplish. It's a manic rush through a fairly complicated storyline, and there's a lot to cram in (and as a result, some quite noticeable omissions). My main gripe is Mos Def, who just seems to mumble his way through his lines – although he does looks good in his part as Ford Prefect.

#74 The Shape of Water (2017)
A love affair between a fish man and mute woman doesn't sound like the greatest of movie pitches, but Guillermo Del Toro's Oscar-winner surprises with a beautfiul and touching story set in Cold War America. Performances from all of the main actors are fantastic and the sets are up to Del Toro's usual standards.

#75 Man on the Moon (1999)
The legend of Andy Kaufman is explored in this biography that explores the enigmatic performer's life, cut all too short by lung cancer in 1984. Jim Carrey is mesmerising as Andy, bringing his own 'Carreyness' to the character. Whilst extremely faithful to Andy's legacy, the film seems to focus more on the negative aspects of his behaviour rather than the positive - which is maybe why it didn't do so well at the box office. Even so, an important film.

#76 The BFG (2016)
Two great storytellers, Spielberg and Dahl, collide in this strong adaptation of the beloved children's book. Mark Rylance's BFG is spellbinding, and newcomer Melissa Mathison is extremely likeable as the strong-willed but tender Sophie. Given some of the subject matter (ie giants eating children), it manages to steer clear of anything too horrific and give a touching tale of two lonely souls uniting to defeat evil.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

A brief review of the new Doctor Who

After what seemed like a really long wait, the thirteenth doctor has finally arrived and unbelievably we’ve already passed episode three - which has built on an already confident start to the series and episode four is just round the corner.

Every time a new Doctor arrives on the scene it takes a bit of getting used to. Jodie was no exception, and perhaps the fact that the Doctor’s gender has flipped makes it moreso, but I’m very much on board with this new iteration of the quintessentially British time traveller.

I’ve already written about how it’s about time we had this change, and I’m enjoying the approach taken so far. Jodie has taken to her new character with gusto and created a believable and likeable persona without much difficulty.

It’s also great to see diversity in the companions. I expect they are there to do a bit of hand holding for the audience as Jodie takes Who on a new path, but they’re also there to make a point about today’s world of division and intolerance. I’m sure the ‘gammons’ will be moaning about political correctness, but I think the point is that Britain - whether they like it or not - is not just white and male. It’s a something that shouldn’t have to be explained in the 21st century of course, but sadly people are still stuck in the colonial past.

Episode three's take on Rosa Parks expands on this theme further and pulls no punches, which is important and right. I just hope the show runners don’t labour the issue too much and become too preachy.

They’ve stated their intentions and that’s great. I now want to see the Doctor and her companions just get out there and have some fun - after all, there’s an entire universe waiting.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

I did a quiz!

Last week, I was getting ready for an event I'd been planning since February and feeling very nervous about it. The Cathays Ultimate Charity Movie Quiz was borne out of a desire to do some charity fundraising (but without having to run a marathon or some other similar physical torture). I've always liked pub quizzes, but since I'm a bit of a movie geek thought it would be good to combine the two and the idea of running a movie quiz was born.

I wanted to make it more than just a quiz, though, and envisaged it as an event, something akin to a movie premiere. I booked our church hall for the venue, contacted the UK Garrison (volunteers who dress up in movie-accurate Star Wars costumes) to see if some of their guys could attend, enlisted my younger brother to play some music and dragged in my own family to help. I also blagged loads of prizes for a raffle and the winning team.

I must admit, there was a point about two weeks before the date when I was worried no one would turn up. Ticket sales were small and there seemed no sign of anyone else showing interest, but I somehow held my nerve and by the day of the quiz, nearly forty people had booked tickets.

The event was, as far as I can tell, an amazing success - far exceeding my own expectations. We had sixty people in the room and raised £470 for two great charities (Llamau and Edith's Home). The Star Wars costumes added a real wow factor to the event, even though a few people were a bit scared of them!

I came away really proud of what I'd acheived, and fairly stunned too. Not wanting to blow my own trumpet, but I was responsible for pretty much most of the entire event. I did most of the planning and preparation (my mate Marv did a lot of great work on the questions) - it was only on the night when actual bodies were needed to set up and run things that other people contributed (who were all amazing, by the way).

It was good to be reminded that I am capable of making things happen, something which I have a lot of self-doubt in. I am not the most naturally of organised people, and so I've had to develop strategies to cope with my shortcomings to get stuff done. I've run a business, directed short films and started campaigning for Basic Income, to name a few things. Sure, I've made plenty of mistakes but that shouldn't stop me from trying. The main lesson I've learned from this quiz is that good preparation is key - and lots of time to get ready for it helps too.

Will I do another movie quiz again? Yes, hopefully - but not just yet. I need time to recover!

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Films I've seen of late (Sept '18)

#60 The Bachelors (2017)
A husband grieving for his wife moves away with his son to start over, but the pain of their loss carries with them. A solid drama with a good cast of veteran and newcomer actors, The Bachelors deals with grief in a sympathetic and understanding way, albeit simplifying the process to satisfy the needs of a movie structure. A nice little find and a relief from predictable Hollywood blockbusters.

#61 Monsters University (2013)
Pixar sequels are often slightly painful affairs - trying really hard to be liked but not quite hitting the mark as their predecessor. Such is the case with MU. The story – of how Mike and Sully became friends – is an interesting angle, but it just doesn't have the same wow factor as the first film. There are some, but not many, memorable moments and the humor is less laugh-out-loud and more light chuckle.

#62 Sicario (2015)
An optimistic FBI agent is recruited to a clandestine operation to assassinate a Mexican drug lord.
Powerful and dark, this film certainly doesn't give you the warm and fussies, but it's an important comentary on the futility of the war on drugs and the human cost.

#63 BlackKKlansman (2018)
Spike Lee's movie of the true story of how a black man (Ron Stallworth) infiltrated the Colorado Springs branch of the KKK, by pretending to be a white supremacist. It struggles to find its way at the start, but picks up its stride by the time Ron has become fully accepted (with his white colleague taking his place when meeting face-to-face). Sadly, it draws too many parallels to present day events, but hopefully offers a sense of hope that people who peddle extremist views are, ultimately, doomed to fail.

#64 Green Room (2016)
Dark and violent thriller about a heavy metal band who witness a murder by white supremacists (yay! more films about nazis!), and barricade themselves in the titular green room as their captives plot to liquidate them. Bold stuff, but not for the fainthearted - and overshadowed by the tragic death of Anton Yelchin.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Oreo update

Seems Oreo have been busy lately, having brought out various new kinds of snacks based on the eponymous cookie. Here's a round up of what I've managed to sample lately...

Oreo Birthday Party Cookies
These are apparently caramel flavour and they have sprinkles in the creme. Quite how caramel constitutes the taste of a 'birthday' I'm not sure but I won't argue with the great Oreo creator in the sky. These taste good, actually. The difference in flavouring from normal Oreos is subtle, but they're pretty much just normal Oreo cookies.

Oreo Joy Fills
OK, when you look at the packaging you think: woah, these look amazing! Don't be fooled. They're not really. They are, simply put, just cereal re-packaged as treats. Admitedly, cereal that is loaded with sugar and all sorts of other bad stuff, but it's still cereal. I say cereal because they're not a million miles from Kellogg's Krave - another high-sugar breakfast cereal - which are the same shape. The outer 'pillow' is like eating chocolate flavour scrubbing pads and the interior creme, while not horrible-tasting, is clearly not actual Oreo creme (because it's too gooey - it's kind of a watered down version). There are other variations of Joy Fill out there (yes, I have seen them) but I'm not sure I'm going to try them.

Oreo Thins Coconut Flavour
I have to confess I love Oreo Thins, almost more than the original cookie (but not more than Double Stuff - oh no!). It must be hard to think up original new flavours though (Asparagus flavour! Double shot Tequila Flavour!), and I have to admit that coconut flavour sounded a bit dubious to me. However, having tried them I think they are pretty amazing. They remind me of Nice biscuits, which I happily hoover up whenever offered, but the fact that these are Oreo Thins - well, it's a match made in heaven in my opinion.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Films I've seen of late (Aug '18)

#50 Hotel Artemis (2018)
Jodie Foster is excellent in this comedy thriller set in a future riot-torn Los Angeles overrun by greedy corporations and criminal gangs. The titular hotel is a safehouse-cum-hospital for criminals, who only get seen if they've paid their fees and promise not to break the rules. Unsurprisingly, things go wrong when the people start to disobey these rules. I'm not a fan of the futuristic setting (which seems unneccessary and a bti silly), but Foster's performance alone is worth watching it for.

#51 Teen Titans Go To The Movies (2018)
I've only ever heard of Teen Titans Go thanks to my kids, and what an excellent show it is (with plenty of in-jokes for the adults). Whilst the TV episodes are crammed full of rapid fire humour, this movie outing feels a bit slower and maybe it's a bit of a stretch to put the Titans in a 90-minute feature. Even so, this is still worth a watch with its fair share of the aforementioned adult-pleasing jokes and lots of self-referencing comedy which does a good job of poking fun at DC stuff (mainly). My kids enjoyed it too!

#52 Justice League (2017)
Having seen this first time around, I was surprised how much I liked watching it again. I think it was good to watch it free of all the negativity that surrounded the film when it was out in cinemas. It's actually a decent superhero film with a good dose of laughs, action and – dare I say – emotion. I hope DC are able to build on this for a follow up that good deeper into the characters.

#53 Victoria and Abdul (2017)
Dame Judi Dench plays Queen Victoria again (10 years after her performance in Mrs Brown), this time telling the story of her Indian servant-turned-Munshi (teacher) who was with her during the final years of her life and who faced heavy opposition from the royal household. Dench is typically spellbinding as the obstinate monarch while her co-star (Ali Fazal) is no slouch in her presence, portaying Abdul's innocence, joyfulness and pride with ease. A moving and poingant true story.

#54 How it Ends (2018)
Apocalyptic disaster movie that starts well but loses its way in the third act, neither explaining how things actually end or giving a satisfactory conclusion.

#55 This is the End (2013)
A raucous comedy about a gang of celebrities in Hollywood trying to survive the biblical apocalypse. Playing caracatures of themselves, it's somewhat self indulgent but does a good job of lampooning LA life with some truly laugh out loud / gross moments.

#56 Extinction (2018)
Michael Peña plays a man haunted by dreams of an alien invasion, only to find them coming true. This is one of those rare movies that is hard going to watch until the third act when suddenly things change and your attitude to the film does a complete volte-face (well, mine did anyway). Thought-provoking sci-fi drama.

#57 Patti Cake$ (2017)
A young girl dreams of making it big as a rap star but faces an uphill struggle as family and money problems threaten to overwhelm her life. Despite being a somewhat derivative underdog story, the performances and music more than compensate.

#58 The Hangover (2009)
Four friends embark on a weekend bachelor party in Las Vegas with predictable results. Not as much of a ‘classic’ as has been hyped but still prety funny in places.

#59 Incredibles 2 (2018)
The family of superheroes return in this confident sequel that does a role-reversal from this first films with Elastigirl getting to go on various missions while Mr Incredible stays at home to look after the children. Funny with some great set pieces, there seems to be a lot of 'talkie' bits which seem to go on too long and it treads familiar ground not taking too many risks. Even so, very watchable.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Films I've seen of late (July '18)

#46 Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
Kind of unnecessary sequel to arguably one of the best sci-fi films ever. Even so, it does well all things considered. Exquisite shots, immersive music and impressive direction at least give it a fighting chance to stand up against the original. Worth a watch.

#47 Gnomio and Juliet (2011)
Kiddie film about gnomes that come to life when humans aren't looking (a la Toy Story), using the Shakspearian love story as a basis. Some funny moments (especially the ultra-powered killer mega-mower), but reeks of cynical hollywood money-making tactics.

#48 Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011)
Downey Jr delivers a Sherlock Holmes performance just as good as his Cumberbatch counterpart in this follow-up to the 2009 success. Jude Law is good too as Watson, and so is Noomi Rapace as the gypsy accomplice searching for her missing brother. The plot has a lot of similarities to Sean Connery's derided League of Extraordinary Gentlement (awkward), and has too many distracting anachronisms - but this is still a competant Sherlock sequel.

#49 Convenience (2013)
Indie film about two hapless criminals who try and rob a petrol station but end up pretending to be employees while they wait for the safe to unlock in the morning. Some great performances and plenty of quirky moments. The title doesn't quite fit (it's not a corner shop or grocery store) but that's a minor niggle for what is a simple – but fun – comedy.