What is the history of Europe if not a constant cycle of relationship breakdowns followed by conflict? While I doubt British indie filmmaker Jamie Patterson had this in mind when bringing Tracks to the silver screen, there are certain echoes between the relationship battles we see onscreen, and the political fighting we see play out on the news. Fortunately though, and unlike Teresa May’s ABBA-inspired dance moves, Patterson’s film mines most of its comedy from a great script and dedicated performances from the leading duo.
The proceedings kick-off with Chris (Chris Willoughby) and Lucy (April Pearson) preparing to spend a few weeks interrailing between Europe’s grandest cities in the hope that their fractured relationship can be repaired. While they take in the sights and sounds, it soon becomes clear that the two of them had very different expectations for the trip. As the tension between the pair starts to build, accompanied by some hilarious fails, it seems that this European trip might not bring them closer together, but instead tear them apart.
At first it’s easy to assume that Tracks is just a low-budget British version of 2004’s Eurotrip. And to be fair there are similarities. But whereas Eurotrip’s comedy came from “normal” Americans clashing with increasingly ludicrous portrayals of Europeans, Tracks has a little more respect for our brethren across the channel. Not once are stereotypes invoked, either for the Europeans or the visiting British duo.
True be told, Tracks has far more in common with the Steve Coogan/Rob Brydon The Trip Trilogy (or at least the latter two parts.) Comedic yes, but fundamentally a more down-to-earth exploration of a human relationship. And that’s really down to the amazing script by Finn Bruce and Jamie Patterson, as well as some moments of (assumed) improv as the film’s two leads are also credited co-writers.
That’s not to say Tracks doesn’t wear its silliness on its sleeve, with the character of Chris ending up as the nucleus to a multitude of farcical situations. (Hell, if there’s one thing I took away from this film, it’s that Willoughby has absolutely no problem getting his kit off for ANY situation!) Add in Pearson as the constantly put-upon Lucy, and you have a relationship in the vein of Frank and Betty Spencer from Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em.
That relationship acts as the second leg in Tracks’ tripod of excellence. It’s already quite amazing how much comedy is extracted from what should be mundane couple’s conversations; but nothing would work without the convincing chemistry between the leading duo. While it’s true that Willoughby has the more overt comical significance, without the interaction with Pearson’s “straight man”, Tracks would have no passion to its very British tale of jocular woe.
Along with the writing and the leads, the third leg of the tripod would have to be Tracks’ cinematography. Make no mistake, this film is incredibly small scale, with multiple handheld shots by the two leads and Pearson even doubling up as the film’s only make-up artist. Therefore it’s a credit to cinematographer Edouard Fousset that, with such limited resources, he’s managed to create a love letter to Europe. Whether it be the more intimate indoor scenes or the expansive canvas of Europe’s national attractions, there’s a dedication that (along with David Fricker’s editing) makes Tracks a breezy and memorable journey through the heart and soul of both Europe and a human relationship.
For those of you living around the world, you may not know that the United Kingdom has quite a significant South-Asian population. Mostly this is due to the historic links of the Commonwealth. As such, it’s not unusual to have a film released that tries to present the Bollywood experience through a British lens. The most famous one was probably Bride & Prejudice all the way back in 2004. But like London buses, you can generally expect one along at regular intervals.
However, though I’ve wracked my brains, I can’t think of a film that presents the typical Bollywood experience through an American lens (It’ll be over my dead body before I acknowledge 2008’s The Love Guru! *shudder*)
So, Basmati Blues already has something unique going for it. Add in Brie Larson, the only leading Marvel hero to have won an Oscar (seriously, look it up); as well as the numerous accusations of racism, and my curiosity was aroused enough to give £4 to Amazon for a rental. And while it definitely wasn’t a waste of money, I wouldn’t say it was a particularly good investment either.
Linda Watt (Brie Larson) is a brilliant young scientist who has been working with her father, Eric (Scott Bakula), on developing “Rice 9”; a type of rice that is resistant to a variety of diseases and grows in harsh climates.
Being that India is the largest consumer of rice in the world, Linda’s boss (Donald Sutherland) has decided that Indian farmers would be the perfect customers to sell their rice to. To facilitate the sale, he sends Linda to India in order to introduce their new product.
There she meets Rajit (Utkarsh Ambudkar), a young man who fights for the rights of his fellow farmers; and William (Saahil Sehgal), a local associate for the company she works for. And though Linda came there with the best intentions, she soon realises that not everything is as it seems.
Forgive the tangent, but back during the 2008 election, I remember when John McCain was doing a Q&A , and a young lady accused Barack Obama of being “an Arab.” McCain responded by taking the microphone and saying “No, ma’am. He’s a decent family man, citizen, that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues”
I found that to be a very reasonable response, but was shocked to later find out that some people were calling McCain a racist; mostly because he implied that being an Arab and being a decent family man were two separate characteristics. An utterly ridiculous notion that clearly was never intended by McCain.
As such, over the past few years, one of my pet hates is how easily people resort to the word racist. For me, racism comes from either hate or a belief in superiority. Trust me, I know because I’ve literally been beaten up because of the colour of my skin. And to see so many pathetic attempts to bring down Basmati Blues for the “crime” of being racist is both misguided and contemptible.
Yes, the movie is full of clichés, but to say that equals racism is idiocy at its finest. I’m also in no way saying that Basmati Blues is a great cinematic experience, but if this article from Vulture is anything to go upon, the cast and crew really did try their best to bring a great product to the screen. And none more so that Brie Larson herself.
Larson brings a passion and dedication that helps drive the film forward as it hops back and forth between the two nations. Her infectious charisma, from the opening dance routine in New York; to the flamboyant group number that closes the film, helps keep things ticking along. And while her chemistry with Ambudkar doesn’t reach Set It Up-levels, the duo still make a pretty cute couple.
However, this type of movie lives and dies on its musical numbers, and Basmati Blues can’t quite reach the heights set by similar fare, such as La La Land or The Greatest Showman. To be fair, those aforementioned films had much larger budgets, but as films like Sing Street or Once have shown, a small budget can be overcome if you have memorable songs.
In addition, quite a strange approach has been taken to produce the songs for Basmati Blues. Unlike traditional musicals, where songs are written by one or two people, here a variety of groups and individuals have put forward their work; ranging from rock band Pearl Jam, to country music duo Sugarland. As such there’s always a sense of unevenness that permeates the vocals.
Though the Vulture article makes clear that the husband-and-wife team of director Dan Baron (in his feature debut) and producer Monique Caulfield have done their absolute best; it’s hard not to notice the substandard work in several areas, such as bland locations, choppy editing and flawed direction. While I have a great deal of sympathy (having struggled myself to make a film), there’s no avoiding the fact that Basmati Blues ends up being as plain looking as Basmati rice.
Having worked in the theatre industry for nearly 12 years, it’s no surprise to say that I get to work with a lot of celebrities. From Hollywood, Broadway and the music industry; it feels like I’ve seen hundreds of them. And every so often you might get into a conversation with their personal assistants. While the large majority of discussion ends up being positive, they do also reveal some incredible stories!
I remember listening to one male assistant who, over the course of his job, once revealed to the actor that employed him that he could do an incredibly good imitation of said actor. From then on, and almost every night, the assistant would be the one to call the actor’s kids (who lived in America) and do things like wish them goodnight, have conversations with them and generally pretend to be their father. Now the actor’s kids were only 5 and 7 years old, which is why it was so easy to fool them. But when I met him this assistant had been doing this for TWO YEARS. And that story was one of the tamer ones!
So regardless of the fact that I have no personal experience with such a job, it was easy to empathise with the long-suffering assistants at the centre of this movie. And with two amazing actors in those roles, Set It Up turns out to be one of the most fun romantic-comedies I’ve seen in years.
Desiring to have a career in journalism, Harper (Zoey Deutch) is a dedicated personal assistant to the demanding Kirsten (Lucy Liu), the editor of an online sports magazine. But it’s an insanely tough job, and one that takes up almost all her time.
However, she soon comes across a kindred spirit in the guise of Charlie (Glen Powell), a personal assistant to the equally challenging financial manager, Rick (Taye Diggs). Realising that both of them have stressed out lives, Harper comes up with the “perfect” idea.
Step 1: Get their bosses to date each other.
Step 2: Enjoy all that new free time now their employers are occupied!
But considering their bosses are steadfast in their workaholic ways; can this actually work?
A romantic-comedy lives and dies on the chemistry between its leads. It doesn’t matter how stupid the idea is (like The Invention of Lying),or how unoriginal the idea is (like The Invention of Lying), orhow terrible the dialogue is (like… you get the idea). As long as the principal couple can trade friendly barbs while pretending they don’t want to rip each other’s clothes off for 89 minutes, then congrats! You have a romantic comedy!
And in Deutch and Powell you have a duo that is on fire! Every scene they have together, from beginning to end, sizzles with electricity. Deutch in particular shines like no other. It’s almost as if the role was tailor-written as her bubbly spirit bounces from scene to scene. Powell, while a little more subdued, is no less captivating as his enthusiasm for his future job prospects leads to many entertaining scenes.
Interestingly though, Set It Up has the added challenge of having to cast a second equally important couple. Though accorded a lot less screentime, it’s nonetheless impressive how well Liu and Diggs acquit themselves in their few scenes together. Considering they’re the closest the movie gets to an antagonist, it would have been easy for Katie Silberman’s script to simply portray them as horrible bosses. But there’s a heart to their relationship that helps infuse a sense of sympathy into two people who can’t quite find love on their own. As a result the characters feel bossy enough to be a challenge, and yet not so bullish that you hate them.
Despite the dismissive attitude in the first paragraph to anything but the chemistry between the two leads, there are of course several additional aspects that elevate this film, including an astounding script by the aforementioned Silberman, and a keen directorial eye from Claire Scanlon. While there are a few moments where the script swerves into more formulaic territory, the ship is usually righted by the end of the scene. And Scanlon’s direction, having already been honed through 50 episodes of American sitcoms, helps boost the comedic value, as well as giving prominence to several heart-warming moments.
In addition, and in spite of my eloquence and love for the two main couples, a special mention must be made for Tituss Burgess as the basement-dwelling “Creepy Tim.” Worlds away from his performance in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, what Burgess (purposely) lacks in energy here, he more than makes up for through his weirdly funny role as a plant loving elevator technician.
While it doesn’t reach the trope-subverting heights of 500 Days of Summer, Set It Up still takes a well-trodden genre and slaps it back to life. Add in the charming and playful cast, a snappy script and some memorable one-liners, and this ends up being not only one of the better Netflix Original films, but also one of the best rom-com’s released in the past few years.
My father often tells me the story of when Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather was released in India. Having already seen the film once, and loving it, he dragged a few of his friends to see it. 3 hours later they emerged into the sunlight and, when asked by my father what they thought, there was a collective shrug and a universal acknowledgment that the film was merely passable.
My father (who at this point was utterly baffled) asked why they thought so? Their response was merely three words.
“Not enough songs”
My father laughs about it now, but that obsession with musical numbers is why I stopped watching Bollywood films at the cinema nearly a decade ago, and now rarely watch them at home. Don’t get me wrong, a good musical can always tickle my fancy, but Bollywood adds musical numbers to such inappropriate subject matters and genres that it’s hard not to get irritated sometimes.
So Veere Di Wedding was already going to be another film for me to avoid. But then I saw the trailer. And for the first time in my life I saw a Bollywood film that wasn’t being advertised primarily through its musical numbers; but rather through an almost American Pie-esque approach to sex and language. Hell, that 2 minute and 49 second trailer has 5 sexual references, 5 f**ks, 2 b**ches and 1 c*nt.
I’m not saying that’s the kind of thing that makes me watch a movie (Well, in this case it is); but it’s clear that Bollywood has vastly changed since I started my odd little boycott. Is Indian cinema finally doing something different on the big screen?
Kalindi (Kareena Kapoor) has just accepted a proposal by her long-term boyfriend, Rishabh (Sumeet Vyas). But as she’s put under siege by her new fiance’s extended family, she starts to have second thoughts. Though she confides her uncertainty with her three best friends, they have problems of their own.
Avni (Sonam Kapoor) is hounded by her mother to settle down and find a husband, despite the fact she is already a very successful lawyer. Sakshi (Swara Bhaskar) is a carefree girl who throws caution to the wind at every turn, partly due to her own marriage being on the rocks. And lastly Meera (Shikha Talsania) is trying to deal with her father having disowned her because she chose to marry a white man (Edward Sonnenblick).
Together the girls must try to deal with their woes, have each other’s backs, and overcome the problems that a male-dominated world has thrown upon them.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen an Indian film with no violence and still be given a 15 cinema rating based purely on sex and bad language. Veere di Wedding is definitely a film you don’t want to take your mother to!
In fact, while watching the movie I was reminded of a hypothesis I read a few years ago that suggested swearing is a “sign of a weak vocabulary.” While I don’t agree with that for real life, it was hard not to think of that hypothesis when considering this movie’s overall script. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not being a prude or anything. Swearing is fine and good, but it has to mean something in the grand scheme, whether it be a reveal of character traits, an expression of emotion or providing a punchline. But in this script, written by Nidhi Mehra and Mehul Suri, the use of swearing seems to be more of a crutch to support weak dialogue, rather than anything substantial.
That weakness also extends to the movie’s plot. While it’s easy to ignore the usual stereotypes that surround a wedding movie; such as an overbearing mother-in-law or the sassy gay supporting character, Veere di Wedding can’t quite decide how it wants to present its leading female characters. On the one hand there’s an indication that showing women trying to cut loose from the patriarchy is a form of feminism. That’s fine and all, but as a result of this rejection, the foursome then go on to act like idiotic men.
For example there’s one scene where Sonam Kapoor’s character tries to kiss a guy, but ends up getting rejected. She completely loses it, and then goes to her friends where the four of them proceed to insult the guy, question his sexuality and generally call his character into question. Imagine for a second that the roles were reversed. Would we, in this day and age, call a rejected man questioning a girl’s sexuality anything but sexist?
However, the biggest problem with Veere di Wedding is its lack of soul. The main foursome, while interacting in a way that supports the fact they are lifelong friends, are nonetheless insanely difficult to emphasise with. Similar to the leads in Sex and the City, these are essentially four rich entitled ladies who have first world problems. As such it gets to a point where you don’t really care whether or not these women manage to overcome their issues.
But it’s not all a failure. Ironically the music, an aspect which I detest in most Indian movies, turns out to be the best part of Veere di Wedding. None of the songs are classics in any sense, but Veere and Tareefan are decent toe-tapping numbers. And visually the film has clearly spared no expense, with high-class fashion, extravagant location shooting and beautiful vistas showing off exactly where that ₹42 crore went.
Overall, while Veere di Wedding is visually enjoyable and passable funny, without that connection between the audience and the four leads, this film lacks the heart that other similar (and better films) such as Girls Trip or Bridesmaids have shown.
Though Amy Schumer’s last film, Snatched, wasn’t quite up to par, I Feel Pretty is a return to the Trainwreck mold. In essence, a down-on-her-luck woman trying to make a change for the better. But it’s safe to say that Schumer’sthird starring featurealsoisn’t a hugely original concept. Bridget Jones Diary, The Nutty Professor and Shallow Hal are just a few of the numerous examples of films that deal with people coming to terms with body shapes that aren’t perfect.
And to be fair, it does stand apart from those previously mentioned comedies. But only in the sense that it is so, so, so much worse.
Renee Bennett (Amy Schumer) is a young woman who struggles with feelings of insecurity over her appearance. Though she tries to overcome them with her best friends, Vivian and Jane (Aidy Bryant and Busy Philipps), the crushing pressure of societal expectations threatens to completely destroy her.
At least until she takes an unfortunate hit to the head while at an indoor cycle class. Upon waking, Renee somehow perceives herself as a much more attractive woman compared to what she was earlier; thus helping her to gain a massive boost in confidence.
With such overwhelming positiveness, Renee starts to move up in the world, getting a brand new job, rocking some new clothes and even getting a boyfriend (Rory Scovel). But how long can this self-delusion last?
One of the fundamentals of any film is that the first 10 or so minutes needs to set the general tone and direction. For example, A New Hope opens with a space battle. Jaws opens with the memorable devouring of an innocent. The Sound of Music opens with both sound and music. You get the idea?
But the opening moments of I Feel Pretty are so devoid of laughs that it’s impossible to ever think that what is about to follow could be a comedy. Though the lack of hilarity is bad enough, I Feel Pretty is so much worse because the opening of the film is actively depressing. You’re essentially forced to watch a young lady being brought to the edge of tears as she realises how pathetic her life is. Hell, the first 10 minutes of Schindler’s List ends up being more fun in comparison. (I’m not exaggerating, I literally re-watched the first 10 minutes of Schindler’s List just to make sure.)
Of course, taken as a whole, I Feel Pretty is nowhere near as depressing as that Oscar-winning film. But the absence of laughter in the beginning basically sets the scene for most of the film. I Feel Pretty is not the comedic journey of a woman coming to terms with the way she looks. Rather it’s the voyage of someone who, at various moments, is either utterly depressed or utterly deluded as she navigates a kafkaesque nightmare while surrounded by the most shallow and superficial people imaginable.
Don’t get me wrong, being a man I can’t speak as to how realistic these interactions are. It’s entirely possible that a lot of the things that Renee encounters do reflect women’s experiences in real life. But when you see a complete stranger assuming they’re in the wrong building purely because they don’t see a stick-thin model behind the receptionist desk, it’s hard to accept that anything in this film comes close to what real women have to suffer.
Indeed, there’s a little bit of me that wonders if a more dramatic approach would have fared better considering the subject matter. The film’s underlying concept hews quite closely to 2007’s Lars and the Real Girl. Perhaps I Feel Pretty could have been a great chance to explore and delve into a young woman’s psychological situation, but still possess a comedic touch?
Having said all that though (and it’s pretty one-sided, I know); the film isn’t completely without comedy. The numerous reaction scenes whenever Renee declares her beauty to the world do elicit a decent chuckle. But the film’s saving grace is undoubtedly Michelle Williams as Renee’s boss, Avery LeClaire. Unlike Schumer, Williams isn’t a natural comedian, but she throws herself into the role with gusto. She’s clearly having a lot of fun playing the squeaky-voiced businesswoman trying to be taken seriously; and every scene without her is a lesser one. It’s just a shame that the highlight of Williams isn’t enough to bolster the overall product.
There are many ways a comedy can let you down. Unfunny jokes. Terrible acting. Maybe even offensive stereotyping. But I Feel Pretty did the unthinkable.
Despite the rallying cry of many a conservative, it’s impossible to deny that society as a whole has become vastly more liberal over the past 100 years or so. This, at least in part, can be seen by our slow acceptance of previously taboo topics in comedy.
For the most part this tends to centre around sex, violence and bad language, all three of which have vastly increased in comedies of recent decades; as well as topics such as toilet habits, LGBT issues, genocide etc. But even with such change there are still topics that can cause hesitation. It’s rare indeed to see a stand-up comedian willing to do jokes about child molestation, rape, and the most relevant to this review, euthanasia.
It’s therefore a credit to the actors, writers and crew that The Surprise never feels exploitative of a sensitive issue. Instead it takes said issue and creates one of the most fun romantic comedies in recent memory.
Depressed after the death of his mother (Elisabeth Andersen), millionaire Jacob van Zuylen de With (Jeroen van Koningsbrugge) decides to end it all and commit suicide.
Despite the best laid plans, every attempt Jacob makes either fails or is accidentally interrupted. But he soon discovers a secret organisation called Elysium. Known only to a few, the company assists individuals who wish to shuffle off their mortal coil.
While selecting his method of departure, Jacob meets Anne de Koning (Georgina Verbaan), a cute young lady who has also decided to bring her time upon this earth to an end. Together they select Elysium’s “surprise” package, a choice where the method and time of death is a complete mystery to the customer.
But soon Jacob and Anne start building a relationship, one which might have made their drastic decision slightly regrettable. However, Elysium have very strict rules. Once you’ve paid for their services, there is no going back.
Written by Mike van Diem and Karen van Holst Pellekaan, The Surprise could be interpreted as the exact opposite of a human lifespan. For us fleshy beings, we start from birth, before shouldering numerous burdens as we go through life. Then finally we meet death in what might as well be a perfect three act structure (so to speak). But in a compelling twist, this film instead starts with the embrace of death, before proceeding to let go of the burdens of life and ending with a beautiful (though metaphorical) birth.
Much of the film’s pathos is down to two things; the first being director / co-writer Mike van Diem. Amazingly The Surprise is only his second feature film, his first being 1997’s critically acclaimed Character, for which he won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Despite his limited experience in features, Van Diem seems to have honed his craft through commercials. That expertise becomes most apparent in the numerous dialogue-free scenes that open the film and help establish the black comedy that lies ahead.
But if Van Diem is The Surprise’s brain, then it is undoubtedly the main duo themselves that form the beating heart of this romantic-comedy. And it can’t have been easy to keep things light considering the morbid subject matter. Having a meet-cute while discussing their impending deaths is definitely up there when it comes to unique first meetings. But Koningsbrugge and Verbaan absolutely make it work.
Alas, the high-concept approach of the first half isn’t quite sustained for the whole 100 minute running time; instead giving way to a more traditional romantic direction. Indeed there are moments where the film doesn’t quite successfully blend the absurd with the realistic. But in spite of that, the film always remembers to keep a soupçon of joy in every scene, especially as the leading couple come to terms with how much their lives have changed because of each other.
If anything, the biggest surprise is that a story about euthanasia could also be amazingly live-affirming.
Back in 2003 my friends and I took a trip to see Charles Angels: Full Throttle. This was in spite of the terrible reviews and ignoring the fact that the far more well-received Bruce Almighty was released the week before.
Now, considering we were poor 15 year olds with no jobs, you might be wondering why we would spend our hard-saved money on a film that, according to A.O. Scott, “almost defeats the forces of logic, taste and conventional narrative.”
But of course, I have outgrown my stilted teenage mind. In the additional fifteen years since, and nearly ten years of writing what I like to think are complex and interesting female characters, there is no longer such simplicity in my movie choices. I’m a professional goddammit it!
Let’s move on, shall we?
BFFs Kate (Alexandra Daddario), a prim and proper school teacher; and Meg (Kate Upton), a con artist happy to use her feminine wiles, are tired of having life shit upon them. Wanting to get away from it all, Meg decides to book a holiday to Fort Lauderdale in an attempt to get some rest and relaxation. Kate reluctantly agrees.
Though the holiday seems to start well, aboard the plane the girls run into Ryan (Matt Barr), an incredibly handsome firefighter. Though Ryan doesn’t seem to show much interest, each girl is immediately attracted to him and determined to have the muscular fireman for themselves by any means possible
Directed by William H. Macy (yep, THAT William H. Macy) from a screenplay by David Hornsby & Lance Krall, The Layover is probably the single best example of why I have no appreciation for the Bechdel test. To boil down female portrayals into whether one woman talks to another about anything other than a man is so simplistic as to be irritating.
With two women as its lead characters, it’s no shock to say that The Layover passes the Bechdel test with flying colours. But it’s unlikely this film will be embraced by many women anyone due to its utterly baffling and somewhat backwards approach to female friendship. The way that both characters are reduced to the beck and call of their reproductive systems ends up leaving quite the sour taste. Hell, the last time Hollywood released a film with female portrayals this bad was in the Kate Hudson / Anne Hathaway-starring Bride Wars. (Though unlike that 2009 travesty, The Layover at least has the excuse of being written by men!)
That’s not to say that conflict between women can’t work. Just look at last year’s Girls Trip. Indeed, having two women fight over a man can be ripe for comedy, and on first appearances it looks like this film might make quite a good buddy comedy. But the idea that two women are willing to destroy a lifelong friendship over a man they’ve only just met is so one-dimensional that it becomes a borderline cartoon. Add in the numerous moments of back-stabbing, catcalling and shallow behaviour, and the entire film almost seems to dare you to like these women.
Indeed, it’s hard to see what drew anyone to this script in particular. While major comedy stars such as Kal Penn and Molly Shannon have the excuse of only being needed for extended cameos, it can only be assumed that everyone else had serious financial problems they needed to solve. The one saving grace, however, is Daddario. As the strongest actor of the piece, she at least gives it her all, especially in a scene involving a hot air balloon and her fear of heights. It’s not a lot, but it’s something.
There’s a little bit of me that thinks that maybe The Layover might have been a passable work if it had been two underachieving men fighting over an attractive woman. But as it is, it fails almost completely across the board. Props then to Daddario, who deserves an award for her unshakable commitment to this rotting cadaver of a film.
You know, in part one of my list I made what I thought was a minor topical joke about the current state of politics and the dangers of nuclear war.
And then a day later, this was published:
North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the “Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times.” Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!
Now granted a much grander scale to bring his sci-fi musing to life, it’s almost a tragedy that the only way to watch Garland’s movie will be on Netflix (assuming you live outside of North America or China). Curse the forces of Hollywood!
The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir
What’s it about? : The story of Ajatashatru Oghash Rathod, a fakir who tricks his local village in Rajasthan, India into believing his possesses special powers and into paying him to fly to Paris to buy a bed of nails from an Ikea store.
Come on! Just read that synopsis! How can you not want to watch such a stupid sounding movie!
Based on the best-selling book titled The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir Who Got Trapped in an Ikea Wardrobe (seriously, that’s the actual title), I’m hoping we’re in for a fun swashbuckling ride in the vein of Indiana Jones.
What’s it about? : Ballerina Dominika Egorova is recruited to ‘Sparrow School’ a Russian intelligence service where she is forced to use her body as a weapon. But her first mission, targeting a CIA agent, threatens to unravel the security of both nations.
Honestly, I’m a little annoyed by Red Sparrow. Mostly because I’ve already written a 5 episode miniseries about the exact same topic! Now it’s going to look like I’ve copied my work! Ah well, such is the life of an aspiring screenwriter.
Nonetheless, this is going to be a very different film for Jennifer Lawrence, especially considering that this will be the first time one of her characters is actively sexualised. It’ll be interesting to see if she’s up to the challenge.
The Happytime Murders
What’s it about? : When the puppet cast of an ’80s children’s TV show begins to get murdered one by one, a disgraced LAPD detective-turned-private eye puppet takes on the case.
Though it may feel like we’re inundated with sequels and remakes, occasionally something special slips through. In this case, a puppet murder-mystery. Add in the aspect of a world where puppets co-exist with humans as second class citizens, it seems this film might pull off the social commentary that Will Smith’s Bright tried and failed to do.
What’s it about? : After surviving a near fatal knee boarding accident, a disfigured guidance counselor (Wade Wilson) struggles to fulfill his dream of becoming Poughkeepsie’s most celebrated French Bulldog breeder, while also learning to cope with an open relationship. Searching to regain his passion for life, as well as a new stuffed unicorn, Wade must battle ninjas, tight assed metal men, and babysit a group stereotypical side characters as he journeys around the world to discover the importance of family, friendship, and creative outlets for his very open-minded sex life. He manages to find a new lust for being a do-gooder, a sparkly Hello Kitty backpack, all while earning the coveted coffee mug title of World’s Best 4th Wall Breaking Superhero.
After that utterly idiotic synopsis, need I really say more?
Sicario 2: Soldado
What’s it about? : The drug war on the US-Mexico border has escalated as the cartels have begun trafficking terrorists across the US border. To fight the war, federal agent Matt Graver re-teams with the mercurial Alejandro.
As mentioned in previous posts, I’m a great follower of Taylor Sheridan’s screenwriting work. Considering Sicario was one of the best films of 2015, any sequel written by Sheridan was always going to be high on my must-see list. And it’s only made better by the return of Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro.
What’s it about? : Bob Parr (Mr. Incredible) is left to care for Jack-Jack while Helen (Elastigirl) is out saving the world.
Writer/director Brad Bird has always stated that he would only return to the world of TheIncredibles once he had thought of an idea superior to the original. Well, it may have taken him 14 years, but I’m glad he finally got there!
What’s it about? : On November 22, 1963 CBS newsman Walter Cronkite is given the task of reporting on live television about President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in Texas.
Now here’s a interesting approach. While movies that involve Walter Cronkite as a background character are a dime a dozen, there are very few that have him as the lead.
But what really makes this a highlight of 2018 is that Seth Rogen will be taking on the role of Mr Cronkite. It’s an unusual choice, as Rogen does so few “serious” films. But based on his performance in Steve Jobs and 50/50, I think he could pull it off.
What’s it about? : Adonis Creed tries to seek revenge when he goes toe to toe with the man who killed his father
The fourth film pushed off my 2017 list, Creed II is still one of my most anticipated films of the year, especially since the first film made my list of Most Notable Films of 2016.
While it’s great that Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone are reprising their roles, it’s a shame that the writing and directing of Ryan Coogler won’t be returning. Whether or not the sequel can reach the same heights as the original without him remains to be seen.
Stan and Ollie
What’s it about? : Laurel and Hardy, the world’s most famous comedy duo, attempt to reignite their film careers as they embark on what becomes their swan song – a grueling theatre tour of post-war Britain.
Stan and Ollie focuses on the little explored aspect of Laurel and Hardy’s careers. Long after their film work finished, the two men extensively toured the theatres of the U.K. In fact, having worked in theatre for the past decade, I have met people that personally witnessed their final tour. Getting to see this on the big screen would be the perfect accompaniment to the many stories I have heard.
Wreck it Ralph 2
What’s it about? : 6 years after the events of “Wreck-It Ralph”, Ralph and Vanellope, now friends, discover a wi-fi router in their arcade, leading them into a new adventure.
Wreck-It Ralph, in my mind, remains firmly the best videogame movie ever made. I’m still in two minds whether or not a sequel is even needed, especially considering the closure and finishing of character arcs we receive at the end of the first.
But hey, online gaming is a corner stone of our lives now and maybe Wreck-It Ralph 2 can find a new approach to these experiences.
When it comes down to it, 2018 might legitimately have a nuclear war started by a rogue tweet. And after millions are dead, the war would undoubtedly end with the fall of American exceptionalism, the destruction of nearly 80 years of American political dominance, and would probably result in the rise of a Chinese-led empire.
I, however, prefer to keep things light and fluffy. And I choose to do that by sticking my head in the sand and asking myself: “Hmmmm, I wonder what’s good at the cinema this year?”
What’s it about? : Set at the dawn of time, when prehistoric creatures and woolly mammoths roamed the earth, Early Man tells the story of Dug, along with sidekick Hognob as they unite his tribe against the mighty enemy, Lord Nooth and his Bronze Age City, to save their home.
A fun way to kick off the year will be the newest release from the minds that brought us Wallace and Gromit and Chicken Run. Though critically and box office-wise, Aardman Animations have been hit or miss, I’ve always found them to be great storytellers and excellent purveyors of British comedy.
The God Particle
What’s it about? : After a scientific experiment aboard the space station involving a particle accelerator has unexpected results, the astronauts find themselves isolated. Following their horrible discovery, the space station crew must fight for survival.
A holdover from my 2017 list, The God Particle was revealed to be a secret Cloverfield 3. Even though the worldwide release is meant to be 30 days from now (Feb 2nd), there’s been no sign of a trailer, poster or any other form of advertising. I’m still not sure which title it’ll even be released under!
But with the insanely good cast of David Oyelowe, Daniel Brühl, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Elizabeth Debicki, I’m sure we’ll get a damn good sci-fi film.
What’s it about? : Five young mutants, just discovering their abilities while held in a secret facility against their will, fight to escape their past sins and save themselves.
Across Hollywood there are arguably only four actual cinematic universes: Marvel, DC, Star Wars and X-men. While it’s indisputable that Marvel are the top dogs, there might be some debut as to who is second.
I, however, am of the opinion that second place belongs to Fox and their X-men universe. Mainly because of the risks they are willing to take. In Logan we recieved a haunting tale of an old, useless superhero in the old west; while Deadpool took that R-rating and ran with it like no other film before.
And in The New Mutants, the choice to take the horror approach is just as exciting and suggests there are plenty of new avenues for the X-men franchise to explore.
White Boy Rick
What’s it about? : The true story of teenager Richard Wershe Jr., who became an undercover informant for the FBI during the 1980s, and was ultimately arrested for drug-trafficking and sentenced to life in prison.
While stories about a normal individual becoming an undercover informant for the FBI have been somewhat done to death; what if said informant was only 14 years old?
That apparently is the true story of Richard Wershe Jr. (played by Richie Merritt, not Matthew McConaughey, despite the above photo!) A young boy caught up in events far beyond his control, this sounds like an amazing new approach to the crime/thriller genre.
What’s it about? : A story of survival and friendship between a young boy and a wild wolf set 20,000 years ago during the last Ice Age.
Here’s the thing. While I am looking forward to this movie, me buying a ticket depends entirely on the direction they take it. Will it be like Apocalypto? A stunning cinematic achievement, unafraid to ignore long-held assumputions of what would be paletable to a modern-day audience. Or will it be like 10,000 BC? In other words, yet another big budget blockbuster with a stunted excuse for a script?
What’s it about? : A shy teenager falls for someone who transforms into another person every day
Based on the novel of the same name by David Levithan, Every Day has the weird premise of a girl starting a relationship with a boy whose (soul?) jumps into multiple bodies.
Maybe it’ll be the next Fault in our Stars. Maybe it won’t. Either way, at least it’s a decent attempt at original(ish) sci-fi.
A Tale of Two Coreys
What’s it about? : The story of teen heartthrobs Corey Feldman and Corey Haim, whose lives were forever changed by the glitz, glamour, and the darker side of show business.
The world lost a great actor when Corey Haim tragically died of pneumonia at age 38 in 2010. While I am really looking forward to seeing what seems to be a very personal story, as it’s a technically a TV movie, I suppose the darker aspects of these two boys lives might be overlooked. Nonetheless, I’m sure it’ll be an interesting look at the rise and fall of two of Hollywood’s heartthrobs.
Born a King
What’s it about? : A true coming-of-age story about Faisal, a 14 year old teenage Arab prince, who is dispatched from Arabia to London by his father on a high stakes diplomatic mission to secure the formation of his country.
Like the above White Boy Rick, Born a King arguably has a story that has been done to death, but this time stars a 14 year old boy.
Not only that, but the film has a lot riding on it, being that it is (according to the producers) the first ever western film project to have shot in Saudi Arabia; and will also be the first film Saudi Arabian audiences will see after the 35-year cinema ban is lifted this March.
So no pressure guys.
What’s it about? : A look at the life of the astronaut, Neil Armstrong, and the legendary space mission that led him to become the first man to walk on the Moon on July 20, 1969.
Fresh off La La Land, Damien Chazelle takes a hard left into biographical territory with a new film about Neil Armstrong. It’s difficult to say if there’s anything new to be told about the story of the first man on the moon. After nearly 50 years, surely all the stories have been told by now?
It’ll be interesting to see if Chazelle’s directing skill extends to the non-musical, but at least he’ll have the familiar face of Ryan Gosling in the lead role to help him out.
What’s it about? : A scientist becomes obsessed with bringing back his family members who died in a traffic accident.
This might be the only film in my life that I want to see purely because the trailer was so utterly confusing! Yes, Keanu Reeves loses his family in a car crash, that much I got.
But the trailer suggests that he brings them back through cloning, then robotic implantation, and then VR interactions. Gotta give the filmmakers credit for throwing everything at the wall to see what would stick!
The Man Who Killed Don Quixote
What’s it about? : An advertising executive jumps back and forth in time between 21st century London and 17th century La Mancha, where Don Quixote mistakes him for Sancho Panza.
Has any other film had such a prolonged journey to the silver screen? I mean, pre-production technically started in 1998, and over the next 17 years the production would collapse 8 times!
So it must have been a sigh of relief when director Terry Gilliam announced on 4th June 2017 that filming has finally been completed. I can’t wait to see what Gilliam has in store for us.
What’s it about? : A mute bartender goes up against his city’s gangsters in an effort to find out what happened to his missing partner.
The second holdover from my 2017 list, it’ll be good to see what Duncan Jones has up his sleeve in his first film after the disaster that was Warcraft (though, interestingly, it’s still the highest grossing video game movie of all time).
According to Jones himself, he sees this film as a spiritual sequel to 2009’s Moon. It’s only a shame that it’s now a Netflix exclusive, meaning getting to watch it on the big screen will be all the more difficult.
On the Basis of Sex
What’s it about? : The story of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, her struggles for equal rights and what she had to overcome in order to become a U.S. Supreme Court Justice.
Felicity Jones absolutely deserves this chance at a high profile lead (Yes, I know she’s done Star Wars!). But since she usually plays wives, girlfriends and mothers; it’ll be good to see her take on such a strong role in American political history. Hopefully she’s got her American accent down!
The Professor and the Madman
What’s it about? : Professor James Murray begins work compiling words for the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary in the mid 19th century. However, he soon receives over 10,000 entries from a patient at Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum, Dr William Minor.
While I am looking forward to this film, I don’t hold out much hope for it making an appearance on the big screen. Having been shot in 2016, the film has unfortunately been mired in legal trouble, preventing it from being released.
It’s all the more unfortunate because, in an interesting twist, the full script is available online due to it needing to be submitted as an exhibit in a legal case. Having read the screenplay (and assuming the final film sticks fairly close to it), I think The Professor and the Madman could be one of the most entertaining films of 2018.
A Quiet Place
What’s it about? : A family lives an isolated existence in utter silence, for fear of an unknown threat that follows and attacks at any sound.
I’m not really a huge fan of the horror genre, but this truly sounds exceptional. A film where a family must stay in utter silence because a supernatural evil is attracted to sound? And the mother is pregnant? Talk about a ticking time bomb! It’s like Speed if it was a horror film!
What’s it about? : A manic Roman Catholic family prepare for the death of their dying patriarch
Wow, now I haven’t seen Brian Dennehy on screen since I saw him in one episode of The West Wing. I honestly thought he was dead! Thank god he isn’t because this looks like a film that promises to bring out Dennehy’s sarcastic side. Add in strong support from Lesley Ann Warren and J.K. Simmons, and I can only imagine it’ll be fun for all the family!
What’s it about? : After boxer Matty Burton suffers a serious head injury during a fight, he must deal with the impact this has on his marriage, his life and and his family.
This wasn’t on my radar at first, but a friend of mine was lucky enough to see an early screening and, based on his raving, this might be the film to watch out for.
Paddy Considine is absolutely the main man here. His directorial debut back in 2011 was Tyrannosaur, a film that would go on to win the BAFTA and earn critical acclaim.
Now in Journeyman, he returns as writer, director and lead actor in what could give him his BAFTA hat-trick.
Avengers: Infinity War
What’s it about? : The Avengers and their allies must be willing to sacrifice all in an attempt to defeat the powerful Thanos before his blitz of devastation and ruin puts an end to the universe.
And we come to the daddy of 2018. Coming 10 years after Iron Man and with a confirmed cast of at least 30 main characters from across the previous 18 Marvel movies, Avengers: Infinity War might legitimately be the biggest film ever made. Brace yourselves people.
Well here we are again. The end of another 365-day journey around the sun. And it doesn’t feel like it was a particularly great year, was it?
Even putting aside the numerous natural disasters, terrorist attacks, political upheaval and the dying throes of American democracy; we still lost a lot of good people from film and TV: John Hurt, Roger Moore, George A. Romero, Mary Tyler Moore, Bill Paxton, Adam West, and (sniff) Bruce Forsyth!
But I suppose that’s why we look to the movies. Even after 100 years it’s still the greatest way we have of giving us a break from the difficulty of our real lives.
So, as is tradition for those of us in the film loving community, what follows (in date released order) is a list of films that I have found especially notable during the past 12 months.
And like last year, my only rule was that the film had to have been released in the UK between 1st January 2017 and 31st December 2017. So apologies to The Post, Phantom Thread, Darkest Hour, The Shape of Water and all the other films that’ll end up getting nominated at the Oscars this year, but perhaps you’ll make my list next year.
“With a strong directorial hand, Shyamalan crafts a strong sense of suspense whilst effectively using the geography of the location to add to the claustrophobic atmosphere. With that same hand, Shyamalan manages to coax out some incredible performances from his two leads. In the case of McAvoy, it’s obvious he’ll end up receiving most of the praise (and deservedly so). With every glance and mutter, McAvoy switches effectively between childish innocence and terrifying beast. “
“With such a complex and varied life, telling the story of Ray Kroc and the birth of McDonalds in two hours was always going to be a challenge. But with Michael Keaton in the lead, it almost seems like a breeze as the accomplished actor takes us on an incredible journey.
The strong supporting turns from John Carroll Lynch and Nick Offerman also add to the high quality drama. But what I must applaud most about this film is that it makes it possible to recognise Kroc’s shrewdness in the world of business; while at the same time admitting that such acumen can sometimes be down to the brutal nature of humanity.”
Honestly, the Wolverine trilogy might be the only trio of films whose release order went from worst to best! Logan ended up being one of the finest swansongs anyone could imagine for both Hugh Jackman and his co-star, Patrick Stewart.
Having inhabited these roles for nearly 20 years, both actors are given a chance to stretch their acting chops further than any film previously. And with the restriction of a 12A rating being removed, Logan shows us an approach to the superhero genre not seen since Nolan’s The Dark Knight. A true crowing achievement for director James Mangold.
4) Get Out
I have witnessed some amazing directorial debuts, but nothing else this year holds a candle to what Jordan Peele brought to the screen in Get Out.
A psychological thriller that dives to the heart of race relations in modern day America; Get Out blends horror, mystery and comedy into a piece of art that offers social commentary on issues such as the taboo of interracial relationships, police brutality and liberal racism. A true modern day classic.
“A fascinating commentary on gender and cultural roles in contemporary Iranian society, Farhadi brings the most out of his two leads as they go on a journey that will not only test the bonds of their marriage, but also challenges the norms and expectations of human emotion.”
“Undoubtedly the most refreshing aspect is the complete unpredictability of tonal direction, while still managing to combine such tones into a cohesive whole. Indeed, while the film starts off as an indie-style look at a failing relationship, it soon traverses into more sci-fi/thriller aspects before taking a 1000ft dive into the murky darkness of the human psyche. To blend such disparate moods together with nary a defect makes Colossal almost herculean in its success.”
“But I would be amiss to avoid talking about the comedy which, while black in nature, nonetheless leads to hilarious situations. Mostly centred around his utter stubbornness in the face of constant infractions of neighbourhood rules; Ove’s bite and wit are more than enough to win over even the most bull-headed of audience members.”
“With echoes of John Hillcoat’s The Road, Shult’s direction, accompanied by the cinematography of Drew Daniels, doubles down on the realistic gritty aspect of this world. In the same way that The Road is an exploration of humanity at its lowest ebb, (It Comes at Night) takes a similar path, but in a more claustrophobic manner.”
“In Hart and Middleditch, we have two voices perfectly cast in order to bring to life the youthful relationship of the two mischievous leads. With a pun-per-minute rate that would put Airplane to shame, children are guaranteed to be giggling in their seats, while adults guffaw at the abundance of chucklesome lines aimed at older audiences.”
10) The Big Sick
The Big Sick arguably is a film that does absolutely nothing new. It hits every major beat from a traditional rom-com: Boy meets girl → they fall in love → their families don’t approve → love overcomes hate → happy ending.
But what elevates it above all else is the central relationship between Nanjiani and Kazan’s characters. If even you were unaware that this film was based on a true story, the relationship between the two is a masterclass in emotion and heart-felt comedy.
“To say that Skarsgård dominates the screen would be the understatement of 2017. While Heath Ledger’s Joker spread fear through the medium of chaos, Skarsgård’s Pennywise dives straight into the deep end, using the fears of each child to frighten and horrify. With his squeaky high-pitched voice and drool-infused smile; Skarsgård destroys any previous interpretation of Pennywise and, like Ledger’s Joker, will probably be parodied and echoed for years to come.”
“Through his lens the wintry cold of Wyoming seems utterly endless, bringing not only a sweeping sense of scale; but also a perception of loneliness whenever each character is forced to trundle through the elements. In fact, in spite of the dark brutality of the story, there’s overwhelming beauty in every scene.”
“But the best children’s films aren’t just entertainment, but parables helping to guide our younger ones (and sometimes adults!) into understanding alternative viewpoints. Touchy-feely as that may sound, Paddington 2 has a beautiful thread of humanity at its core, by showing tolerance and acceptance are the very basis of what it is to be British.”
“And what a lead (James Franco) plays! It might be strange to say, but in performing the worst film role in recent history, Franco may have also given the best performance of his career. Utterly bizarre in every way, he brings to life, not only Wiseau’s poor sense of human behaviour and dress sense, but also his drive to create something worthwhile.”
“It’s those small moments that really make a movie, and in The Last Jedi, writer/director Rian Johnson has truly outdone any Star Wars film that has come before. Not just through the small touches, but also on the massive canvas he was allowed to paint his masterpiece upon. With numerous twists and unexpected developments, this is Star Wars at its most confident.”
And that’s all from me in 2017 guys!
This time last year I’d just come off a really difficult film shoot thinking I had blown thousands of pounds on an empty dream. Also my blog felt like an absolute nonstarter, with only a hand-full of followers and most of my posts having just a couple of views.