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First Half Of 2019 Film Round Up

Looking at my list over the weekend, knowing I hadn’t watched many films but not thinking it was as ‘bad’ as it turned out to be – I last watched a new film in April – I already expect to do better in the latter six months this year. I’ll be wanting to up my numbers and I’m always aware of the short shelf life of films on subscription services.

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Beauty And The Beast (USA/UK, 2017) – I’d been ready to find this not as good as hoped, having read a few negative reviews, but I have to disagree with them. It is a great pity that so much of this film is CGI – Dan Stephens in a mask would have been better however outdated it may have looked – but the script and the acting is a lot of fun. I was hoping for a copy of the much-loved library but the use of a library in a historic house wasn’t bad.

The Black Knight (USA, 2001) – The reality of this film wasn’t at all what I’d expected, a seeming vehicle for the actor, a slapstick comedy rather than something more thought-out. I didn’t hate it, but I won’t be watching it again.

Charade (USA, 1963) – Really good film with constant red herrings and changes of perception. But perhaps the best part is that it’s in the public domain and there are some wonderful high-quality versions about. I put Grant and Hepburn into Google, hoping this wasn’t the only film they made together; unfortunately it is.

The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society (UK/France, 2018) – A very good adaptation of the book which gets around the ‘problem’ of story being epistolary with aplomb.

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Jumanji (USA, 1995) – I’d seen parts of this film before and enjoyed it. It is still good fun in adulthood.

La La Land (USA, 2016) – This was strictly okay; I liked the music but I’m glad I didn’t make a trip to the cinema for it.

The Lego Movie 2 (USA, 2019) – Absolutely awesome. This Song’s Gonna Get Stuck Inside Your Head did get stuck in my head and I didn’t mind a bit.

What films have you seen recently?

 
Second Half Of 2018 Film Round Up

In the last six months, I have seen more films than ever. When, in August, I realised I’d not watched anything since April, I started making it a priority, and as the months went on I looked for Indian films I’d wanted to see (thank you, Amazon!) and films from industries I’d not yet encountered. Here are the films I watched for the first time in the latter half of 2018, with my thoughts added in italics:

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13 Going On 30 (USA, 2004) – Her wish to be 30 immediately fulfilled, 1980s teenager Jenna finds herself in the new century – a magazine editor and best friend to the leader of the ‘cool’ girls pack from high school. But this adult life is missing childhood friend, Matt, the person who was always there for her. A lot of fun and Thriller.

Christmas With A Prince (Canada, 2018) – A pediatrician on a tight budget is offered the chance of funding if she will accept an injured royal onto her ward – a prince she used to know. Very much a TV movie but also an unintentional bookish watch; I was pleasantly surprised to see ‘based on A Harlequin novel’ in the opening credits – it’s an adaptation of a Sarah Morgan book.

Le Concert (France, 2009) – Andreï, a Russian conductor who failed to save the Jews in his orchestra, intercepts an invitation for a conductor to perform in Paris. Andreï searches with his friends for various past members who may or may not hold up their end of the bargain once in France, which isn’t going to go down well with the famous soloist who agrees to join them. A comedy drama in French and Russian, this film is a lot of fun but also very poignant. The full Tchaikovsky piece is included.

Despicable Me (USA, 2010) – A man who has been cruel since childhood hatches a plan to steal the moon but ends up stealing it back from someone who gets there first. Part of Grue’s plan involves adopting children to serve as a ruse and instead of distance he finds himself becoming a father. Very funny. I liked the Annie context, even more when they credited it in the film.

Despicable Me 2 (USA, 2013) – Grue is invited to join an anti-villain operation and gains a partner, who often makes things worse. As good as the previous film.

Despicable Me 3 (USA, 2017) – Grue, Lucy, and the children travel to meet Grue’s twin brother who desperately wants to do something villainous. Good. Loved the screaming goat reference.

Fallen Stars (USA, 2017) – A man with a mundane life meets a girl who seems equally fed up. Excellent, bookish, film. I reviewed it here.

Florence Foster Jenkins (UK, 2016) – Based on a true story, an American woman with a terrible singing voice nevertheless finds fame. Very average. Would’ve been better if they’d started a little earlier in her life and if they hadn’t fictionalised Hugh Grant’s character in regards to relationships (the real man was Florence’s loyal partner).

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Happiness Is A Four-Letter Word (South Africa, 2016) – Lawyer Nandi is mostly happy with her fiancé, she’d just like a bit more say in where they go in life, but when her ex hires her to help his business she’s tempted; Zaza leads a wealthy life but her husband travels a lot and, missing him, she has an affair; artist Princess meets a photographer and while there’s an artistic culture clash, she believes it will work. This is an adaptation of the novel by Cynthia Jele. The acting and execution here is pretty great and it all comes together to make a really good film.

The Incredibles (USA, 2004) – With super heroes made illegal, a family full of powers try to live normal lives until the father can’t take it any more and starts moonlighting as a saviour. Very good.

The Incredibles 2 (USA, 2018) – Still ruled illegal, Helen/Mum/Elastigirl takes a secret hero job while Bob/Dad/Mr Incredible looks after the children until they are inevitably all required to be there. My favourite part of the first film was the subtext that the baby was going to be the most powerful of them all, and so I loved this film much more for the development of the idea.

Kites (India, 2010) – Told in a mix of Hindi, English, and Mexican Spanish: Jay, an American immigrant who has married many women so that they can get green cards and he can get money, finally gets to where he wants to be when the daughter of a wealthy casino owner falls in love with him. But the family have vast connections and criminal backgrounds and when Jay discovers that his future brother-in-law’s girlfriend is the one woman he liked – his last wife he’s not yet divorced – and that she is being abused, he is forced to go on the run with her. Strictly okay – the action is understandably unrealistic, but the ending is a big disappointment.

The Lake House (USA, 2006) – Upon moving out of her beloved home, Kate leaves a letter for the next resident; when Alex finds the letter and replies to her, the pair discover that their time line is reversed. The Hollywood adaptation of a South Korean film, the changes made – few – work well to make this its own product.

A Little Chaos (UK, 2014) – Half based on a true story, the architect of the Sun King’s gardens employs a budding female botanist who has visionary ideas. Nothing breathtaking but well worth seeing. Sadly, Kate Winslet’s character is completely fictional.

Love And Friendship (UK/Ireland, 2016) – This is actually an adaptation of Austen’s Lady Susan rather than Love And Freindship; a less-well-off-than-before society lady moves from house to house, creating gossip, helping people in their infidelities, and causing misery for her daughter whom she regards as a problem. The acting and script are superb – they’re both very funny and show off well Austen’s cleverness. The rest of the production isn’t as good.

Minions (USA, 2016) – The story of the Despicable Me Minions from the prehistoric period to the present day. Not sure why this went so wrong but the villain really needed to bow out a lot sooner, and the jokes were far and few between.

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Namastey London (India, 2007) – Jazz, a young British Indian woman, agrees to date Indian men, but messes it up on purpose because she likes her British boss. After a few rounds of this, her parents take her to India to see if they can arrange a marriage because whilst the boss is wealthy, he’s already been married 3 times in 2 years and even his own parents are dissuading Jazz from marrying him. A potential match comes in the form of a family friend, who is willing to wait. Features every Bollywood stereotype to fun, 90s effect. It’s a good story and the acting is okay but whoever added the audio track did a terrible job.

New Year’s Eve (USA, 2011) – The story of several people’s lives as the clock ticks towards midnight. There’s nothing new here that other films of the same type haven’t already done, but it’s a fair choice if you want easy viewing.

One Small Hitch (USA, 2012) – His father in failing health, a man asks the sister of his best friend to pretend to be his fiancée, to make his family happier in the days ahead. This is an independent film and so aspects of it aren’t particularly polished, but the humour and acting are very good. (It’s available on Amazon.)

Paddington 2 (UK, 2017) – Paddington tries to catch a criminal but is arrested himself and the family have to clear his name. Not as good as the first, but still fun.

The Royal Hibicus Hotel (Nigeria, 2017) – Quitting her job as a chef in London, Ope returns to Nigeria to take on her parents’ hotel’s kitchen. What she doesn’t realise is that her father is planning to sell the hotel and the rather handsome man she bumped into at the airport is the prospective buyer. It’s pretty slow which means less character development, but the acting, and the plot, are good.

Step Up (USA, 2016) – A young man who helps to wreck a stage set-up in a prodigious arts school is sent back there for community service, and there he meets a girl who needs a rehearsal partner for her final project. The dancing isn’t as slick as in other dance films but there’s more to it than most films of this genre.

This Beautiful Fantastic (UK, 2016) – An aspiring writer with OCD who hates her garden is told she must tidy it up or leave her rented flat. Superb. A little bit of The Secret Garden, and a hint of Alan Bennett. I reviewed it here.

West Is West (UK, 2010) – George becomes concerned that youngest son, Sajid, is too British, so he takes him to Pakistan to learn about his heritage, moving back into the home of the first wife he left 30 years ago. There are fewer members of the original East Is East cast here, so it’s not the same, but it’s still very funny.

Given my lackluster book statistics, I won’t be placing such an emphasis on films this new year, but I am going to continue to look for those I’ve wanted to see for a long time as well as recent literary adaptations, repeating the idea if not the same thoughts as to quantity.

What films did you see over the last few months that you would recommend?

 
Film Review: Fallen Stars

A screenshot from the film

Screen shots copyright © 2017 El Camino Entertainment/Thousand Miles Entertainment.

I have an interest in small independent films, and whilst the trailer for Fallen Stars didn’t grab me, I thought I’d give it a go because it stars Michelle Ang whose work I like a lot. (She’s most well-known for playing Lori Lee in Neighbours, Akemi in Xena: Warrior Princess, and Kimmie in Top Of The Lake.) It turned out to be an incredibly good, bookish, watch.

The plot is as follows: A thirty-something year old man (Ryan O’Nan) who has a very mundane, routine life, starts to feel stifled by the bartender job he’s been doing for 10 years. When a new customer, Daisy (Ang) walks in with her book, few words, and sullen manner, he’s intrigued, but her mood remains. Meanwhile, Daisy is facing a monotonous life of her own. On her walks she goes to the dog shelter but although she becomes fond of one of the dogs, she won’t let herself adopt it.

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The film shows us the progression of the pair’s friendship day by day. It’s as slow as the blurb sounds but that is the point of it. It’s obvious that every little thing in this film has been thought through, from the same old takeaway menu that gets dropped through Cooper’s letterbox every day, to the plot that carries on with little change for quite some time. Cooper wakes up at 7, gets coffee, naps, goes to work, and returns home with little difference for days, the story unapologetically portraying aspects of regular life at the same time it shows how unexciting this particular one is.

As the film continues little changes start to be added and mount up – Cooper rises at 9 one day (you notice the alarm clock), he starts to meet up with Daisy, he sits in his garden to read the book she was reading at the bar. And along with this, the plot ekes out what Cooper and Daisy’s backgrounds are; ashamed of their lives, it takes events like bumping into old friends for their history to be revealed to the film-goer. The eking out also applies to the friendship, as the characters hold back their emotions from one another and mistakes are made.

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The whole is about how life is when you haven’t reached your potential and feel it keenly, as well as how life is when you’re overwhelmed by your work to the point of avoiding it. As the film continues it becomes particularly poignant and there is a big reveal about 2/3 of the way through that completely changes everything, not in a major shock-tactic manner, more in the way you’ve been viewing these people and their lives. It’s a surprise that will be welcomed by readers, in fact the film’s atmosphere as a whole is a sort of Groundhog Day/literary fiction mash up; Daisy uses books to halt conversation and Cooper to try and improve it; and then there’s the surprise.

When it comes to the dog shelter there’s an early punch, and this feeling extends for a while before reaching a better place, this is to say that if you’re an animal lover you’re potentially going to find it very emotional.

Restrained acting, storytelling, a dull pastel palette to work with – by description it’s boring. But if you’re prepared to give it time, it comes into its own, the character development, the acting, and the whole concept planned and executed to perfection. It’s available to watch on Amazon and iTunes and in some countries available to purchase on DVD.

 
Film Review: This Beautiful Fantastic

A screenshot from the film

Screen shots copyright © 2016 Ipso Facto Productions/Smudge Films.

This Beautiful Fantastic is only a couple of years old, a British production shot and released in 2016. I had never heard of it until I stumbled upon it on a catch-up service (it’s on iplayer for the next month). I enjoyed it so much I thought I’d write about it.

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The story centres on Bella (Jessica Brown Findley), a young woman with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – timing and organisation rituals, mostly – who lives in a basement flat in a nice area. As a baby she was left in a box in a park, found by an elderly gentleman who had gone for a swim in the lake. She went to a convent school. (The details here are vague, presumably to add to the fairy tale nature of it.) Now grown up, she lives an old-fashioned life, dressing in clothes from decades past and wearing an old digital watch, and works in a library that fits her lifestyle. The only thing about her world that isn’t tidy is her garden, a wild patch of ground that scares her. One day she injures herself; her curmudgeonly neighbour, Alfie (Tom Wilkinson) takes her in, where he proceeds to rant about dinner to his cook, Vernon (Andrew Scott), which leads to Bella offering Vernon a job with her. Annoyed, and with Vernon refusing to return, Alfie tells Bella’s letting agent about her garden, and the agent gives her one month to clear it up or leave her flat.

The above is about 1/3 of the story – the story is about more than the garden, but gardening and its benefits are what the film revolves around.

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Bella’s life story, told at the beginning of the film, includes more than a hint of magical realism, and there’s a strong literary atmosphere throughout that suggests you might be watching an adaptation of a wonderful novel, perhaps by Amy Bender or Frances Hodgson Burnett, the latter not simply because of the garden but because of the magic. There’s also some soft humour that suggests the writer was inspired by Alan Bennett. But the film isn’t an adaptation, it just feels like one, and it is this that makes it a good possibility for a book lover.

There is so much to this film: the look at mental illness and the way support can make a difference; the romance (Bella and Billy, played by Jeremy Irvine) that is very well done both in the script and by the actors. And there is the production itself: a slight bloom effect covers the picture for the entirety of the film; the colours are muted, often dark. The use of history in the eccentricities is weird and wonderful and confusing; you’ll likely continue to ponder on is exactly when the film is set, the story offering a mix of a present day background with people who run the gambit from tracksuits to steampunk.

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The literary quality of the film extends to Bella’s occupation – a librarian seeking to become a children’s author and illustrator. And Alfie’s book-like narration rounds it off.

Certainly you have to suspend reality in order to enjoy this film. As this is a book blog I’ll say that I think anyone who likes Austen, the Brontës, Dodie Smith, and magical realism, will at the very least appreciate it. It’s slow, full of feeling and fantasy.

It’s a film that should be a book.

 
First Half Of 2018 Film Round Up

On starting this post I was pleasantly surprised; I’d made my usual January film resolution to watch more films – with all the vagueness that implies – got through some films and then promptly put the big screen on the back-burner; I did better than I thought.

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Annie (USA, 2014) – Wasn’t feeling it; the casting was fine but the old songs were barely used and I love the original too much for that to work for me.

The Lady Vanishes (UK, 1938) – Loved this. A simple plot so well executed and the comic duo were a lot of fun with their cricket obsession.

The Last Jedi (USA, 2017) – The family thought this was better than The Force Awakens. I didn’t, but it’s still a very good film.

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Nut Job (USA/South Korea, 2014) – Quite good, but not as much as other CGI family films in recent years. The jokes very rarely worked.

Pretty Woman (USA, 1990) – Really enjoyed this; I’d actually grown up thinking Pretty Woman had the story of The Runaway Bride so it was good to put the real thing in perspective. I think I’d now better watch that second film.

Trainwreck (USA, 2015) – It took a (long) while of over the top swearing and not-funny funny stuff to show what this film was all about, and that’s a bit of a pity, because what it tries to do – reverse the stereotype of dating and relationships so that it’s the man that wants commitment – is interesting.

Well, Amazon’s put Bollywood on UK screens at a good time, which is about time. And there are some random New Zealand productions I’m interested in. But, most helpful of all, my mother’s had a DVD clear out so I picked up a few older classics. I may finally see The Shawshank Redemption…

What films have you recently seen and loved?

 

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