Long Shot

I’ll get two things out of the way before I start this review:

  1. I am a huge fan of Charlize Theron and she can pretty much do no wrong in my eyes (Yes, I even forgive her for the awful Aeon Flux)
  2. I think thought Seth Rogen is a bit of a one trick pony that can’t really act.

The pairing of these two struck me as rather odd, but then that’s the whole point of this film: two people from very disparate walks of life get together and find love. Yup, it’s a millennial version of Pretty Woman (but better and less sleazy).

This one of of those films that I figured they’d put all of the best bits in the trailer and the rest would be fluffy filler material that lead from one gag to the next.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

This film is a laugh-riot from start to finish – I can’t remember the last film that had me chortling through the whole movie rather than just select parts.

The story revolves around journalist Fred Flarsky (Rogen) who quits his job after his newspaper his bought out by an aging Australian Media tycoon (remind you of anyone?) who’s got quite a close relationship with the President of the USA who used to star in a popular TV show (remind you of anyone?)

Theron plays Charlotte Field, the put-upon Secretary of State who has sacrificed her ideals and life in order to get to a position of power within the government. When the President announces to her that he won’t stand for a second term  as he wants to get into the movies (let’s hope life imitates art on this one) Field seizes the opportunity to stand for President.

A chance meeting with Flarsky at a benefit evening brings together the former babysitter with her ward and she signs him onto her team to pep up her speeches and comedy and romance ensue.

Now, as I said, Theron can do no wrong in my eyes and that’s certainly true with this role. She plays Field with a warmth and depth that really brings the character to life on the screen and her comic timing really shines through as well.

When I saw the trailer I thought “Here we go, Rogen does prat falls and that’s his role in the movie.” Well, I will freely admit that I sorely underestimated him and his acting ability.

Rogen plays Flarsky as a bristly but lovable character that likes to rail against big media and has deeply rooted principles. This causes him a few issues with not only his career but his relationships with friends too.

And, while there are a couple of hilarious prat falls from Rogen, the chemistry he has with Theron and the depth he brings to Flarsky really make you invested in his character and the relationship he has with Field. I have to say I was truly surprised at his acting in this film and will certainly look at him in a different light from now on.

While this film is a comedy there are some serious undertones to it. Sure, it doesn’t go into the depths of political manoeuvring that the excellent TV Series Madam Secretary does, but it does give insight into the types of sacrifices people in places of power have to make in order to achieve at least part of their goal – although I can’t imagine Hillary Clinton or Condoleezza Rice negotiating a terrorist deal while high on illegal substances!

It’s not often I say to people that they need to see a film but this is one of those rare films that you have to watch. If the preview audience I saw the film with is anything to go by you’ll love it – there was even clapping which I’ve only ever heard once before (and that was a Michael Moore documentary!)

Watch this film if you’re in need of a pick-me-up and fancy a romantic comedy that’s actually comedic and not as soppy as hell.

Pet Sematary (2019)

I don’t know what it is about Stephen King’s books that seems to make them so difficult to translate to the big screen – the recent success of IT aside (which I thought was a really poor film in comparison to the T.V Mini-series), there hasn’t been a truly successful Stephen King adaptation and unfortunately the 2019 version of Pet Sematary continues that tradition.

I’m a big fan of Stephen King, and the Pet Sematary novel is a masterpiece of suspenseful and terrifying writing and the 1989 film version does a pretty good job of capturing the spirit of King’s novel – the sight of a creepy Gage wielding a scalpel is rather scary.

Gage in Pet Sematary (1989)

Gage in Pet Sematary (1989) (source)

So, how does the 2019 version hold up?

Not very well I’m afraid.

The film starts off trying to be a bit clever by alluding to the horrors that await (a poor script and bad editing being two of them) as we come across an idyllic looking house only to see a bloody hand print on a car window, a smear of blood on the porch and some footprints leading into the house, there’s then a clumsy cut to a car full of a cute all-American family traveling to a new life in the town of Ludlow, Maine.

The film massively failed my watch test – I checked it 32 minutes in to the film which is a really, really bad sign that I am not interested at all. The plot is slow to develop, the scares a non-existent (save a few loud truck noises that I think have been included just to make sure you are awake) and the acting is pretty poor – so much so that I really couldn’t get invested in any of the characters except the cat – and if you can get acted off the screen by an animal then you really do have a problem.

Father of the family, Louis Creed, is a Doctor who is tired of working a graveyard shift in a city E.R room so has uprooted his family to a sleepy town. As a city E.R doctor I would imagine that Louis has seen his fair share of horrific trauma and death which is why him being so distraught over the death of a teenager named Victor Pascow seems to be very out of character – does he behave that way over every patient he loses? If so I don’t know how he manages to retain his sanity. Later in the film, Rachel needs to be aware of the kid’s name so the writer’s shoehorn a scene in to explain how she knows it in such a clumsy way it makes no sense for Louis’ character.

Mother of the family, Rachel, is a barely functioning basket case who is haunted by the death of her sister. How do we know this? She explains it to us in a conversation she has with her husband. Now, bear in mind these two are married and have a child aged 9 (and a toddler as well) so wouldn’t you have thought they’d have discussed this at some point before this? Well, not according to the writers! Yes, it’s important to know Rachael’s backstory but to have her talk about how her sister died to her husband of at least 9 years is so very, very lazy.

I was hoping that the film would be rescued by the appearance of John Lithgow’s character of “Jud” but even he couldn’t pull this film out of the grave it had dug itself and was really just phoning his performance in, there was no depth to it at all even when he had some emotional points to talk about. I don’t think that’s Lithgow’s fault at all, he’s an excellent actor, I just don’t think the directors knew what they were doing half the time.

The storyline revolves around the titular “Pet Sematary” which is on the family property and the creepy Indian Burial ground beyond (and we all know that they’re a great place to hang out, don’t we). When the family cat is hit by a car, it’s buried in the Indian burial ground and comes back – but it’s not quite the same lovable cat that the family knows. Then, when a further tragedy strikes and one of the children die, Louis is drawn back to the burial ground even though he knows the consequences and nothing good can come of his actions.

I think the directors, set designer and lighting guy must have sat down and read “Filmmaking for Dummies” (yes, that is a real book) because if you want a horror cliche – you’ve got it! Fog in a forest? Check! Lightning and thunder? Check! Weird animal noises? Check! Random noises in the attic? Check! Doors opening and closing when you’re the only one in the house? Check! I could go on but I’m sure you get the picture.

The first hour and a bit is a pretty pedestrian affair: the directors and editor missed lots of opportunities to add in extra scares and jumps which would have livened things up considerably but if you can get through that then the final 30 minutes turns into quite a passable film.

I had avoided details of a plot change as I didn’t want it to ruin my enjoyment of the film (as limited as that turned out to be) and I won’t write about it here as I do think it takes something away from what is probably the best scene in the film if you know about it, but what I will say is that it allows for an interesting twist that I didn’t see coming and made for an intriguing end to the film.

Click the following section to read my thoughts on the changes – spoiler alert obviously!

Spoiler
So in the book and the 1989 film, Gage (who’s around 3/4 years old) dies and is brought back by the sematary. This was always a bit problematic for me as unless he totally sneaks up on you and hits you with a surprise attack or you’re asleep surely fighting off a toddler would be pretty easy – especially for a grown man.

This version changes the dead child from Gage to Ellie who, at 9 years old (and possessed by the power of the woods), is a bit more of a formidable foe and the fight between her and her father in the “Sematary” is brutal and quite difficult to watch but it’s far more believable to be afraid of a 9 year-old than a toddler. Also, as I wasn’t aware of the change (I’d kept away from the trailer and all reviews) it made the scene when Gage runs out into the road more impactful as I wasn’t expecting Ellie to be the one to get hit.

This switch was a welcome change and one that makes sense and partially rescued what was shaping up to be a completely dire film.

Watch this film if you haven’t seen the original (or you’ll probably be disappointed) or if you’re in the mood for a movie starring a sassy cat.

Captain Marvel

As someone who has been quite a big fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe since it first hit our screens back in 2008 with Iron Man (and has read a fair few comics in my time too), the one question I had was “When are we going to see a female lead?”

Sure, the X-Men had given us the powerful Jane Grey (Famke Janssen) and fiesty Storm (Halle Berry) and the “reboots” put female characters front and centre but these were very much ensemble movies with (as usual) the men taking centre stage.

When the Avengers first assembled back in 2012 there was hope of a Black Widow movie but as the franchise moved on this seemed less and less likely – especially after the release of the Jennifer Lawrence lead Red Sparrow in 2018. Even D.C got in on the act before Marvel with their wonderfully received “Wonder Woman” released in 2017.

While Kevin Feige would probably argue that a female-led movie was always on the cards for the MCU, I can’t help think that the success of Wonder Woman helped pave the way for (or move forward) the production of Captain Marvel.

So, was the wait worth it?

Captain Marvel stars Brie Larson as “Veers”, a Kree soldier with anger management issues who is sent to rescue a spy. The mission turns out to be a trap and leads Veers down a path of deception, self-doubt and self-discovery.

Veers ends up on Earth in the mid-1990s which leads to some great moments for audience members of a certain age – the appearance of Blockbuster and Radio Shack brought a nostalgic tear to my eye and I think I showed my age when I laughed as Veers Googled searched the internet using Alta Vista, there’s also a great moment featuring a Windows 95 PC loading a CD ROM – kids today don’t know the agony!

Anyway, nostalgia to one side, the story is pretty good and moves quickly. It’s one of the shorter films in the MCU at just over 2 hours so they had to cram a lot into the runtime but it’s handled well and you don’t feel as though there are many things that are left out. Being short it also passed the watch test – I didn’t look at my watch once during the course of the movie!

That being said, it would have been nice to have seen more of the relationship between Carol Danvers (as she was before she became Veers/Marvel) and Dr. Lawson (played by a sorely underused Annette Bening). It’s obvious from the beginning of the film what an important role this character had in Danvers’ life and how she viewed her role in the Air Force and beyond. I think an extra 30 minutes of run time (bringing it to the length of a “standard” Marvel movie) would have allowed this relationship to have been developed more fully, along with Dr Lawson’s important back-story.

The majority of the film is set on Earth with Veers/Danvers/Marvel (I think she has a few identity issues) teaming up with a young Nick Fury to stop a supposed Skrull invasion of the planet, which comes with a few twists – not only because the Skrulls are able to shapeshift into anything they see – “Can you become a filing cabinet?” “Why would I want to do that?”.

There’s plenty of humour – most of which comes from Nick Fury’s interaction with Goose the Cat (I wonder if the name is an homage to Goose in Top Gun), and in fact Goose steals most of the scenes he’s in and certainly made me look at my two cats with a sideward glance when I got home!

Jude Law gives a pretty average performance as Yon-Rogg – and there are reasons for this that I can’t divulge without giving out a big spoiler. It would have been nice for him to turn it up a notch in the final third of the film, instead I was left feeling like I was watching a young Albus Dumbledore in a Space Suit rather than one from Savile Row but it’s a passable performance (even if it lacks the necessary “oomph”).

The effects are pretty good although I think the majority of the budget went on de-aging Samuel L. Jackson and as a result a couple of the scenes of a glowing Captain Marvel in space are slightly ropy to say the least. This is only on the screen for a few seconds though so can be forgiven (and I hope not repeated in Avengers: Endgame).

Captain Marvel In Space

So, do I recommend the film – I certainly do! While the couple of plot “twists” were obvious to me almost from the start of the film I found it very enjoyable couple of hours and it’s not often I wish a film could have been longer.

Was it as good as Wonder Woman? Not quite. Given Wonder Woman’s 30 minute extra run time I felt it was able to explore that character a bit more than Captain Marvel, that being said Captain Marvel is still a great film and it’s wonderful to finally have a strong female role model in the MCU – Sorry Black Widow and Scarlet Witch, your background role antics just don’t cut it any more.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

The first thing I noticed is how dark this film is – not in terms of content (it’s pretty light on content but more on that later) – I mean lighting wise. It’s super difficult to see a lot of what’s going on in parts at the start and while this seems to be a trademark of director David Yates (director of 4 Harry Potter films) it’s also a sign the budget perhaps couldn’t quite stretch to the CGI that the director was after (or that the director’s a bit shit – I think both apply here).

The opening sequence sees Grindelwald escape from prison while being transferred from New York to Europe. I’d like to say the scenes were well done but it was so dark you couldn’t really see what was going on – the action was blurred and fast paced to a point where you didn’t know who was who or who you were rooting for and that leads me on to another problem.

I’d not seen Fantastic Beasts since it was in the cinema and while I do own the DVD I chose to watch Geostorm the night before seeing this. This was a bit of a mistake – not because Geostorm is a bad film (which it is, sort of) – but because I spent the first 20 minutes of “The Crimes Of Grindelwald’ trying to figure out who everyone was.

While I do like a fast-paced story and get annoyed at long character introductions in sequels, a quick recap would have been most helpful – especially when you can’t figure out whether a character is a good or bad guy.

The story then moves to the main character Newt Scamander who, after causing havoc in New York in the first film, has been under a form of house arrest and has been unable to leave England. The Ministry of Magic is prepared to lift the ban if Newt helps them recapture Credence (who’s meant to be a bad guy but is just misunderstood surely? NO J.K! He’s a naughty boy, stop handling him with kid gloves!)

Newt doesn’t even entertain the offer is and all like “Dude! I don’t work for The Man, man!” so the Ministry slaps another Donald Trump-esq travel ban on him, kicks him out and gets someone else to do their dirty work.

While Newt is trying to enjoy a peaceful life with his assistant and his cellar full of magical beasts, Jacob and Queenie arrive at his home. Jacob is very much in love and is happily engaged – or so it would seem. It turns out that Queenie has put a charm on Jacob in order to keep him with her after the Magical community banned marriage between Wizards and No-Magics.

I think this part of the plot was intended to be amusing – the besotted Jacob tries to have comedic moments but in the wake of #METOO, I found the thought that Queenie had to force Jacob to be with her disturbing and, quite frankly, distasteful. Given how vocal J.K Rowling has been on these sorts of issues it’s a surprise inclusion in her script and if she were hoping to shine a spotlight on the issue by “cleverly” reversing the scenario she fell well short of the mark.

After being approached by Albus Dumbledore (played by a very smarmy Jude Law) Newt eventually decides to visit Paris (I won’t go into the “will he, won’t he” details – we knew he would go otherwise it would have been a flipping short film). Well, I say he went to Paris but as this film is so lacking in any lighting it could have been the Blackpool Tower in the background for all I know.

There’s all sorts of bits of a story involving Credence and the search for his birth mother which seems shoehorned in to make us feel sorry for him and to set up the ending so I won’t bother covering it here. Another shoehorned story is that of Leta Lestrange who is simply there to set up a few plot points, provide a red herring or two and is sorely underused and yet another shoehorned story is that of Nagini, a woman destined to become a snake, get used as a horcrux and then get her head chopped off – what her real value in this film is I’m not sure except to prove that other Asian characters apart from Cho Chang exist.

I was left feeling somewhat underwhelmed and confused by this film. Jonny Depp’s Grindelwald is Rowling’s allegory for when politics goes bad (we know you hate Trump J.K, just keep it out of your films please) and there are characters that are being introduced that have no right to exist in the timeline set out by Rowling in the Harry Potter films. Ordinarily you’d blame these continuity errors on an under-prepared writer but as Rowing is the writer there is no excuse.

I don’t know if this is some clever planning on Rowling’s part, she’s gone mad with creative power or she just doesn’t care any more as she knows the money will roll in regardless but it has the Potterverse up in arms – in fact it’s caused so many ructions in terms of plot holes and racism/sexism/you-name-it-isms that it’s been mentioned in The New Statesman, NME and The Independent and when mainstream media chips in you know you have an issue.

I enjoy Harry Potter, I’m not an expert fan by any means but even I know that Professor McGonagall can’t be at Hogwarts during this period and if you make such a glaring error what other problems are there? Well, quite a massive one as it turns out but I won’t spoil the end of the film for you.

It’s a shame that this film fell so flat that I was left feeling like I needn’t have watched it and it was 2-plus hours I’d wasted that I could have used viewing something more enjoyable. The Crimes Of Grindelwald is merely filler to move the story along and bulk out the series – and as there are 5 movies planned I would image films 3 and 4 to be more filler than substance again.

I rated this film a 5 (or “Meh”) rating – why? Because you don’t really need to watch it, I’m pretty sure you’ll be able to see the third film without needing to see this one so save your 2 hours and 14 minutes and watch something more worthwhile.

Watch this if you need to get angry about something but can’t quite build up a head of steam – a bad script and continuity errors will have you irate in no time at all.

Mary Poppins Returns

I grew up watching Mary Poppins. She was the magical Nanny we all wanted to waft in on an umbrella and fix our everyday boring lives. Unfortunately that didn’t happen and I was left with just Mary Poppins once or twice a year on TV.

When I heard they were making a sequel to a much beloved film I have to admit I was a bit worried and while Mary Poppins Returns isn’t as bad as I thought it could be, it’s not a patch on the original.

While no specific year is mentioned, apparently the film is set in the mid-1930s, around 25 years after the events of the first film and sees Ben Whishaw star as a grown Michael Banks, his wife has not long passed away and he’s struggling to cope look after his 3 children and run the family home.

Michael has forgotten to make 3 loan payments and the bank is foreclosing on the house, giving them just 5 days to get the money or get out.

And that is basically the story.

There’s not much to it at all, the adults need to find a share certificate and lighten up a little, the kids need to stop acting like adults and lighten up a little so along comes Mary Poppins to wave her magic umbrella and fix everything.

The problem with Mary Poppins Returns is that it lacks the warmth and charm of the original. I found very little humour in it (I don’t think I laughed once)  and I had to reach for a hanky at one point thanks to an excellent Withenshaw who is wasted is this film.

Emily Blunt’s clipped could-cut-glass English accent has none of the undercurrent of love that Julie Andrews’ version has. In fact the only reason we know Blunt’s Poppins isn’t a right bitch is down to a few knowing looks in various shiny surfaces.

Musically the film is a bit of a let down, there isn’t a show stopper like
Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, and the big ensemble dance number (that replaces the chimney sweeps with lamplighters) has to rely on BMX stunts and parkour to make it vaguely interesting.

The film is also far too long, weighing in at 2 hours and 10 minutes. I looked at my watch (always a bad sign) and was horrified to discover only 20 minutes had passed when it felt like the film should be wrapping up.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Mary Poppins film without a dodgy cockney accent and while Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda) could never, ever, ever be as bad as Dick Van Dyke, a cockney accent is more than saying “wiv” instead of “with” – why Hollywood insists on making American actors attempt a cockney accent I’ll never know.

And Mary Poppins’ mockney accent during the “A Cover Is Not A Book” number doesn’t fair any better.

Speaking of Dick Van Dyke, the real stars of the show are the celebrity cameo moment. Meryl Streep as cousin Topsy is a hilariously drunk sounding character (I’m not sure if it was a Russian accent or just vodka that was at work here) and she certainly shows Blunt et al how it’s really done. Julie Walters is also present as the family cook Ellen, doing her best “I’m not channeling Mrs Overall, honest” impression.

Van Dyke makes a welcome appearance as the “young” Mr Dawes Jr. and throws in a nice reference to a gag in the previous film, David Warner is great as the crotchety admiral but that standout performance for me was from Dame Angela Lansbury as the Balloon Lady. She may be 93 but she certainly blew Blunt off the screen in the few seconds they shared together (think Judy Dench in Shakespeare In Love).

Overall the film was pretty much what I expected – a cynical attempt to cash in on a much loved tradition which seems to be par for the course at Disney at the moment (Lion King and Dumbo being released later this year as further examples).

Watch this if you have a spare couple of of hours over the rainy holidays, but don’t expect the kids to pick up any long lasting catch phrases or sing any songs 20 years later.

Aquaman

I’m going to try and make this review as fair as possible considering that the film was pretty much ruined for me. I booked in to the super-duper 2DX screen at my local cinema (of you’re not familiar it offers a 270-degree screen experience) which I thought would be fabulous with all the underwater scenes in Aquaman. Well, the technology is new and it decided to break down meaning that we watched the first 15 minutes of the film 3 times while they tried and failed to get the projector system up and running.

Because of the interruption, it took me a while to get back into the film and I was constantly keeping an eye on the time as I had another film booked later in the evening and it was looking increasingly like both films would clash due to the delay and I’d either have to leave early or get in late (both of which I hate to do).

Anyway, I concentrated the best I could and this is as unbiased as I can do!

The film starts with Tom Curry (Temuera Morrison) finding a woman washed up on the rocks at the bottom of his lighthouse. It turns out that the mysterious female is a Queen of Atlantis who has fled to avoid an arranged marriage. The unlikely pair fall in love and Atlanna (Nicole Kidman) gives birth to a son who the name Arthur after a hurricane that’s raging out in the ocean.

While Arthur is still young, guards from Atlantis track down Atlanna and try to take her back. She fiercely fights them off (girls got some moves!) but realises that in order to keep Tom and their son safe she needs to leave but leaves her advisor Vulko to train Arthur in how to fight and what it means to be an Atlantean.

Fast forward a few years and Arthur (Jason Momoa) is now a big burly bloke that likes to have a few beers in a bar with his Dad and rescue submariners from pirates. It’s this confrontation that brings Arthur face-to-face with David Kane who will later become the Black Manta (no, I hadn’t heard of this D.C villain either) and vow revenge on Aquaman after his Father is killed in the submarine raid.

As well as Black Manta as a baddie in this film, we’re also introduced to sleazy Orm who wants to rule the underwater realm by uniting the sea clans using some rather suspect tactics. Plot twist: Orm is Arthur’s half-brother! Way to add a conflict plot point – that’s two boxes ticked!

Orm decides that he needs to get Arthur out of the way for his plan to succeed and launches a tidal wave to take him out, fortunately Princess Mera (Amber Heard) is on-hand to help save Arthur and his Dad so Arthur agrees to help thwart Orm’s plans. I’m not sure if the effects were good in this bit or not as the scenes were so dark that you couldn’t really see what was happening. This seems to be a bit of a recurring theme with films at the moment, if a scene is either difficult or the budget doesn’t quite stretch they make it take place at night so they can get away with shoddy CGI (more on that later).

The rest of the film is set in the underwater realm which is film in a cool and yet odd way. The floating hair is clever but the movement of the character’s bodies is a little off which I found somewhat disconcerting. There are also bubbles. A lot of bubbles. When there are any action sequences they roll out the bubbles so you can’t see a lot of what’s happening.

Part of the problem with this film is that it’s not quite sure what it should be. At one point Arthur turns into an Indiana Jones style character when he and Mera head off to find a lost spear, in other parts he’s almost a sulky teenager that wants nothing to do with his underwater heritage and in others he’s Aquaman, scourge of the underwater pirates.

I also think that having two villians in Orm and Black Manta is a bit much – one would have sufficed but they need to set up a sequel so they bung in an unnecessary character.

It’s not a bad film – it’s certainly 20,000 leagues (get it?) ahead of Batman vs Superman and The Justice League but it’s nowhere near Wonder Woman (despite what the box office figures might say).

Jason Momoa is good as Curry but his performance reminded me a lot of his character Ronon Dex in Stargate: Atlantis (ooooh…. Maybe he was Aquaman undercover and not an alien after all!), Patrick Wilson chews the scenery as King Orm but is perfectly suited to the role, Willem Defoe usually plays a bad guy so I was distracted quite a bit wondering when he’s turn nasty and Dolph Lungren is… well, Dolph Lungren.

I rated this film a 7 which is probably slightly higher than it deserves but I can’t give half-marks on my tracking app and didn’t want to mark it down unfairly.

Watch this film if you want to get away with watching a superhero film and your girlfriend is up for a chic flick.

Instant Family

You need to bear with this film – the first 20 minutes will either have you wanting to leave or throw something at the screen thanks to the “fostering and adoption is so important. Here, have loads and loads of facts that will make you feel super guilty but you won’t remember the minute the funny business starts.”

Okay, we get it. Having kids in the care system is horrible and if we’re childless we should all feel horrible about ourselves and immediately rush out and foster 90 bajillion kids. The things that makes this brow-beating bearable is the hilarious onscreen chemistry between Karen (Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures, The Shape Of Water) and Sharon (Tig Notaro who I’d not heard of but is in a lot of American TV stuff).

Once you get over the “you should all be ashamed of yourselves” message, the film moves into more familiar comedic territory where we meet Pete (Mark Wahlberg) and Ellie (Rose Byrne) who feel something is missing in their lives but, as they have left having kids a bit late, think that adoption might be the best way to get an “age appropriate” family.

The couple finally settle on mouthy teenager Lizzy (played by the fantastic Isabela Moner who previously starred with Wahlberg in Transformers 5: The Last Knight – but don’t let that put you off). The problem? She comes with baggage – emotional in that her real Mum was a crackhead and physical in that she has a younger brother and sister and they all come as a package.

Pete and Ellie decide to take the trio on and there’s your typical comedic “getting to know you moments” from temper tantrums over not having crisps for dinner to playing with the boxes and not the presents during their first “family” Christmas.

There isn’t anything hugely adventurous or standout about this film, it’s pretty standard stuff. What is does do well however is deal with the sense of displacement and loss that children feel from being moved around the foster system, how it’s difficult for them to trust anyone for fear of being let down by the system and their own biological parents, and what it’s like from the foster parent’s point of view when dealing with the “you’re not my real parents” arguments and potential loss of the kids that they have grown to love.

That being said, while I did get a bit teary-eyed at parts (you’ll want to take some tissues), the film doesn’t take itself too seriously. Pete is worried that he and his white middle-class wife Ellie adopting 3 Hispanic children may be seen as white savior syndrome (we’re looking at you Madonna and Angelina Jolie) and in order to voice his fears he likens it swooping in to help the blue guys in Avatar which the Karen and Sharon assure him it’s not.

Wahlberg and Byrne are good as the put-upon parents but the standout performances are from the 3 children; Isabela Moner’s petulant teenager Izzy, walking accident waiting to happen Juan (Gustavo Quiroz) and the crisp loving Lita (Julianna Gamiz) – they all really hit the mark with their various roles and are a joy to watch on screen, I’m sure they’re all destined for great things.

The supporting cast are also well chosen, and well used. The teacher in the hallway trying to stop the floor polisher is hilarious, and keep an eye out towards the end of the film for a cameo from Joan Cusack who does steal a rather emotional scene between Pete, Elie and a distraught Lizzy.

Instant Family won’t win any awards but it Is a fun film, even if it’s a bit heavy handed on the foster and adoption message.

Oh, and stay through the end credits as the end credit track is sung by the talented Moner and it’s well worth a listen.

Watch this film if you’re looking for some fun, clever comedy with an emotional touch, or if you enjoy seeing people get kicked in the nuts by an irate Mum.

The Favourite

Well, this is a bit of an odd film! Part court drama, part politics of early 1700s England, part love story and part Machiavellian tale.

The Favourite centres around the court of Queen Anne, who was queen of England, Scotland and Ireland from 1702 to 1707 and Queen of England and Scotland until she died in 1714.

I have to admit, Anne is not a Queen we really covered in history class, and you don’t really see that many documentaries about her as she tends to be overshadowed by our more glamorous Queens – most notably Elizabeth I. Anne became Queen on the death of William III of Orange – the route of succession came to her thanks to James II being overthrown and Anne’s sister, Mary (married to William) having no children.

Anne cuts a very lonely figure: her husband George died in 1708 and she’s troubled by gout which leaves her bed-ridden or unable to walk most of the time, as a result much of the day-to-day running of the Court is left to her lady in waiting, Lady Marlborough – or Sarah Churchill to give her civvy name (yes, that Churchill family).

Throughout the film is difficult to tell who Sarah (Rachel Weisz) is actually serving; is she helping an ailing Queen keep hold of her throne? Is she making sure her own position at court is safe? Is she trying to give her husband fame, fortune and glory in his war in Spain? Is she doing this for the good of the country because the Queen is incompetent? Who knows as Sarah’s motivation is never overtly stated, which I think is a refreshing take on a film of this nature. Usually it’s pretty clear who you should be rooting for but the arrival of Abigail (Emma Stone), Sarah’s downtrodden cousin, muddies the waters quite a bit.

At first we’re left feeling sorry for Abigail – she was lost by her father to a fat German in a card game after all – but as the film progresses and Abigail starts playing Sarah at her own game in order to gain the Queen’s affections and ear, and as a result any sympathy originally felt starts to wear off.

The film is written in a way to make it accessible to modern audiences – there’s no flowery language but there is a prodigious amount of swearing (which makes me surprised at the 15 certificate). While using period-style dress (even if some of it is denim) it feels contemporary, and it’s shot very well, however there’s occasional use of a fish-eye lens which I found quite jarring. I think this is due to shooting on location at Hatfield House and Hampton Court Palace – obviously you can’t knock walls down in order to get a wide angle shot, however these fisheye views are at odds with the way the rest of the film is shot – if they were black and white they would look almost like CCTV footage and I feel they could have been left out with no loss to the plot.

Another bug-bear I have are the captions between scenes. They contain an out-of-context quote which, while amusing, are formatted in such a way to make them almost unreadable. Maybe it’s the print designer in me but I’m afraid have the word “I” alone on its own line just really irks me (and don’t get me started on the end credit formatting – someone went rather mad with text-justification).

Two standouts for me (excluding the performances) were the music and lighting. The film is lit pretty much by natural light during the day and candles at night and it gives the film a fantastic warm quality and really makes you feel as though you are being drawn into the dark hallways with the actors or are there in the rooms of the Palace.

The music is brilliant, it’s amazing how much tension can be created with a single string of an instrument, you can almost feel the heart rates of the characters increasing with the music as the anxiety rises.

Performance wise, what I can say? Olivia Colman’s Queen Anne is pathetic and yet harsh, needy and yet aloof and to see her towards the end of the film as an almost broken and still powerful queen was a masterful performance.

Rachel Weisz perfectly balances the role of master and servant – it’s hard to tell who is the real Queen sometimes and Emma Stone’s Abigail oozes naivety at first but you can see that there’s always something going on behind those eyes and I’m pleased to say her English accent holds up pretty well too.

I gave this film 7 out of 10. While it is good, I felt we could have seen a little more of Queen Anne – firstly because Colman is a fantastic actress and secondly because we could have done with a bit more background without me having to spend a few hours reading up on her – was she really useless and just a puppet? Was she just in the complete thrall of her lover(s)? Also, a point was docked for the crappy formatting of the intertitles and credits – call me petty but sometimes it’s the only way people learn!

I usually would give you a piece of “watch this when…” advice at this point however I think the following warning is in order: Don’t watch this film with your Granny or parents unless they’re super cool, there’s far too much lady sexy times and C-words if they’re not and you’ll just end up feeling rather awkward and uncomfortable!

Can You Ever Forgive Me

“Can You Ever Forgive Me” stars Melissa McCarthy as Lee Israel, a barely functioning alcoholic whose life starts to go out of control when she loses her job.

Israel is a far from sympathetic character, she’s rude to her colleagues which is why she lost her job, rude to her literary agent which is why she can’t get any work, and was horrible to her ex-partner which is why she is alone and friendless.

Running off the back of a couple of marginally well-received biographies (“I was on the New York Times best seller list, surely that has to count for something?” she moans at her agent) Israel is sure that her new idea of an autobiography on vaudeville actress Fanny Brice is the solution to all her woes. The problem is, this is the early 1990s and no one in interested in biographies, let alone Fanny Brice.

Undaunted, Israel starts her research and it’s while looking through books in a library she comes across some personal letters from Brice herself tucked into the back of one of the books. Israel decides to keep the letters – presumably because she thinks they will add value to her book if she has some personal correspondence that no-one else has – and this sets her on a slippery path to becoming one of the most prolific letter forgers of the 20th Century – with some of her forgeries still in circulation as the real thing even today.

With this being a Melissa McCarthy film, you might think that this is a light-hearted caper movie along the lines of Identity Thief – it’s not. It’s a hard-hitting, no-holds barred look at a very unlikeable character who is horrible to those around her and whose only true friend – her cat Jersey – doesn’t really like her either.

Even by the end of the film, you really don’t feel sorry for Israel’s character – I personally thought that she should have got a harsher sentence considering the lack of remorse she showed over her crimes – she was proud of the fact she was so good at her forging “job” but being banned from almost every library in the US meant she couldn’t carry on her trade as either master forger or serious biographer.

The film is, obviously, centred around Israel but there is quite a strong supporting cast. The excellent Jane Curtin stars as Israel’s put-upon agent; Dolly Wells as Anna, a bookstore owner who starts off as one of Israel’s marks but a friendship starts to bloom in a “will they, won’t they” sort of way which is quite sweet; and Richard E. Grant as Jack Hock (with a Big Cock – his catchphrase, I don’t know from personal experience) a fellow drunkard who Israel is able to tolerate presumably because it’s a novelty to find someone more miserable and untruthful than herself.

Richard E. Grant’s portrayal of Hock has garnered him several award nominations (Golden Globe, BAFTA and Screen Actors Guild no less) and while it was a good performance (I did shed a tear in the last scene he shared with McCartney’s Israel), I was left thinking it was merely a very toned-down version of Withnail (of Withnail & I). There’s the excessive drinking, lewdness and drug taking – in fact the only difference is that you can understand what he’s saying in this film where as he’s a bit too off his face and ranty in Withnail & I.

That being said, while it’s not a new performance from Grant, it is a good one and the on-screen chemistry between Hock and Israel is excellent. Apparently, the role of Israel was originally to be played by Julianne Moore and I’m glad she dropped out. While not an exact look-a-like, McCarthy encompasses the essence of the character – essentially a nasty drunk woman – and I think Moore would have been far too glamorous for the role.

While I don’t think it’s necessarily an Oscar winning performance, it was nice to see McCarthy in a serious role where she’s actually showing her acting ability rather than just being a shouty angry woman. That being said, I’m afraid that I will forever hold McCarthy’s Saturday Night Live’s Sean Spicer in my heart as her best role – it’s a shame he left the White House as quickly as he did – imagine the fun Melissa could have had with him!

Watch this film if you’re looking for some semi-factual cinema and are feeling a bit tetchy (bring a hanky for use towards the end of the film though).

This film has interested me in the subject matter that much I have ordered Lee Israel’s autobiography from Amazon – if you feel like doing the same then you can choose one of the options below. It won’t cost you any extra but I’ll get a small affiliate commission.

Vice

It’s usually hard to get the balance right in films about politics; there are a lot of facts that you need to get across to the public, situations that need to be covered without the necessary time for a full backstory and, more often than not, a large cast of characters that need to be portrayed fairly and accurately.

When you think of political films, you might think of Michael Moore’s documentaries that rely on his personality to get the facts across or perhaps All The President’s Men which is quite a heavy-going film and relies heavily on the casting of Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman to keep audiences engaged. When I first saw the trailer for Vice, I was intrigued as I wondered how they would manage to tell the story of Vice President Dick Cheney when the cast of surrounding characters (George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld etc.) are so well known and Cheney was more of the quiet man in the background.

Christian Bale stars as Dick Cheney, part of American Politics “Royal Family”. Cheney’s life started out on a rocky path after being kicked out of Yale for partying too hard, receiving two DUIs in quick succession and generally going off the rails. It took a stern talking to from then girlfriend (and later wife) Lynne to get him back on the straight and narrow and out of his dead-end job as a powerline fitter and into the world of politics.

What I found surprising was the sheer length of time Cheney had been involved in politics in and around the White House. I had assumed that he’d just been brought in to George W. Bush’s team because of this business experience and Bush’s fondness for cow-towing to big industry. It turns out that Cheney’s start in politics dates right the way back to the Nixon administration (and if that doesn’t speak volumes then I don’t know what will!)

Far from being a dry retelling of his rise to immense power, this story is an engaging and often amusing look and the inner workings of the American political system and how it can be manipulated if someone wants to abuse that system and gain ultimate power.

Bale, to me, is one of those performers who is either excellent (The Machinist for example) or terrible (Terminator Salvation) and I’m happy to report that he’s outstanding in his portrayal of Cheney – both in terms of physicality and his voice. Also outstanding are Amy Adams as Cheney’s wife Lynne who is as ambitious as Dick (if not more so) and Steve Carrell as Donald Rumsfeld and all 3 deserve Oscar nominations for their performances. If there’s one weak link in the Cheney (ha!) that’s got to be Sam Rockwell as George W. Bush.

Rockwell just doesn’t seem to capture the mannerisms of Bush, the only physical nod to him is the hairstyle and he doesn’t even attempt to imitate Bush’s way of speaking – I have to wonder why he was chosen for this part when everyone else is so very close to the characters they are portraying and it’s just like he’s showed up and gone “Oh, okay, I can be myself then”.

The story is weaved together through a series of important events – Nixon resigning, Ford losing the election, Regan getting elected, 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq – and these are explained and narrated by an unnamed man who says that he’s “sort of related to Cheney but I’ll explain that later”.

If you’re not American, you don’t need to worry that you won’t understand the political goings on as our narrator explains the complex points with the incredulity that you’ll feel yourself once you realise what Cheney and his cohorts did once he got into the White House.

He’s been described as “The most powerful Vice President in history” and, if the events of this film are as they are portrayed, I’d go even further to say he’s probably the most powerful American politician in history.

I’d like to think that everything that Cheney did was for the good of the people however this film does make me question his motivations – especially given his links to Halliburton. Perhaps a revisiting of Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11” is in order after viewing this.

I’ve given this film 9/10 and it’s certainly well deserved. It may even have gotten a 10 if Sam Rockwell hadn’t let the side down and if Steve Carell’s Rumsfeld had recreated the “Known Unknown” speech.

Watch this film if you’re fed up of all of the arguments over Brexit and want to realise how lucky we are in the UK to have the political system we do.

 

Bumblebee

Bumblebee is an origin movie, but with a slight twist. Unlike most superhero origin films where they go right back to the very beginning of our hero’s story this one starts slap-bang in the middle of the war of Cybertron. The Decepticons appear to have the upper hand and Optimus Prime is sending the Autobots out into the galaxy where they can meet up later – all except for B-127 who is sent to Earth to prepare a forward base for the Autobots to regroup and find safety.

Unfortunately for B-127, his arrival on Earth immediately pits him against the U.S Military and a Decepticon who has followed him. During a battle with both forces, the Transformer barely escapes with his life and we are left unsure of his fate.

We then cut to our heroine, Charlie Watson (a girl by the way!), a typical teenager on the cusp of adulthood who hates to get up in the morning, put any deodorant on (apparently) and is a big fan of The Smiths (there’s no accounting for taste I suppose). Welcome to 1987, when we were allowed to ride mopeds with no helmets on but it was okay to wear headphones so we couldn’t hear any traffic, music came on tape and Judd Nelson was the greatest thing since sliced bread.

Charlie is gifted a beat-up old VW Beetle as a birthday present from her Uncle Hank who waves her on her way with a smile while his friend comments what a death trap the car is. “I know,” he says, “but look at her, she’s happy!”

The great thing about setting this film so far in the past (Goodness that makes me feel old now!) is that there are fun cultural references that us “grown-ups” will get as well as letting the kids of today know how lucky they have it (they don’t have to listen to The Smiths for a start). It also means it’s not going to be stepping too much on the toes of the Transformer movies that came before it (or should that be after it?).

If this film had been made in 1987 then Charlie would have been a boy, the “love interest” would have been a hot blonde and not a geeky black guy with a cool Afro and the army probably would have saved the day. If that were the case then there would be really no point in making this movie as we had all of that with Shia Lebeouf and his Transformers movies. Thankfully though, with a female writer at the helm  (Christina Hodson who has written the Harley Quinn movie which I’m now really looking forward to thanks to her writing talent) the characters are handled exceptionally well and are rounded unlike the usual two-dimensional affairs films of this genre seem to offer us – even the Decepticons have some personality traits that are quite amusing.

Staying with amusement, this film has buckets of laughs – I can’t remember a recent film where I laughed pretty much from start-to-finish and the whole audience was chuckling away throughout, especially as Charlie tries to teach the newly named Bumblebee about music (he feels the same way about The Smiths as I do) and his obsession with The Breakfast Club is hilarious. That being said, make sure you take a couple of tissues with you as there are some truly touching moments where Charlie tries to deal with past losses and Bumblebee tries to comfort her without being able to speak.

I won’t spoil the plot too much but needless to say that the Decepticons are up to no good (“They literally call themselves ‘Decepticons’. That doesn’t set off any red flags?” asks Agent Burns in a humorously self-aware moment) and there are plenty of fight scenes. The good thing about this movie is that you can actually see the fights and what’s going on whereas I felt in past films it was all a bit hidden – that may be because there aren’t that many CGI characters in this film so the budget may have stretched to allow this.

I have to say that I think this is probably my favourite Transformer movie to date – although I think I’ll go back and watch the original 1984 transformers TV series and 1986 Movie as I’m not convinced they got the evacuation of Cybertron quite right!

Watch this film if your feeling a bit nostalgic and want to relive the 1980s (minus the bad hair) or teach the youth of today what a Walkman and decent music was.

Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse

Okay, so let’s be clear here: the Spider-Man universe is a bit of a mess as well as our “traditional friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man” there’s Spider-Cat, Spider-Monkey and even a zombie version – wow!

While Sony has always taken their ownership of Spider-Man quite seriously in the past, Marvel has a more light-hearted take on their property which comes across in this version and thankfully Sony are happy to go along with the ride.

The film starts with us meeting Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), a typical teenager who isn’t happy with going to a school for gifted children and would prefer to go spray graffiti with his Uncle than do his homework. It’s on one of these graffiti trips that Miles is bitten by a strange looking spider and his transition into becoming Spider-Man begins.

Of course, there can be only one Spider-Man and during a battle with Wilson Fisk Peter Parker’s Spider-Man is killed while Miles looks on helplessly, unsure of his new powers and certainly not in control of them.

All is not what it seems however, Parker’s death was caused when Fisk switched on his Super Collider which caused a rift in space-time and spider-characters from alternative universes are pulled in to Miles’ world and it’s up to him to help get them back home and defeat Fisk’s plans.

The fantastic thing about this film is the way it handles all of the different Spider-Characters it introduces, they all have an irreverent look at their origin stories including “that” strut

(They don’t talk about it apparently)

While we don’t see Spider-Cat or a zombie Spider-Man we do have Peter B. Parker – a washed up version of Spider-Man, Spider-Man Noir who is black & white and likes to punch Nazis, Spider-Woman who is a young Gwen Stacy, Peni Parker who’s a Japanese anime character and fights in a robot inhabited by her radioactive spider friend and…. wait for it…. Spider-Ham, a cartoon pig (they must have been on drugs when they came up with that one)!

All of the Spider-Folks join forces while Miles comes to terms with his new abilities and as he helps them to overcome their origin issues, they help him become a hero.

This animated film is brought to the screen by the team behind the Lego movie and they certainly bring the same sense of humor and fun to their take on the complicated world of Spider-Man.

The animation is great – I saw this in 3D and while I’m usually not a big fan of 3D films (a lot of them are a waste of time) this really worked well and I’d highly recommend seeing this in 3D if you can as it really adds to the way that the movie is presented on screen.

There are some wonderful little nods to the way that the comics are laid out, from Miles’ thoughts being shown on screen to a couple of Bams! and Aaaaaaahs! There’s also a cameo from Stan Lee which was very moving.

The soundtrack is also fantastic, it matches the tone of the film brilliantly and isn’t too over-powering or distracting which can be a problem with animated films.

You need to make sure you stay to the end of the credits as there’s a little Spidey song you need to hear plus two extra Spider-Men make an appearance in a rather amusing pastiche of the original 1967 cartoon. It’s a shame a cartoon Spider-Man couldn’t show up in the 1977 version of the TV show that I grew up watching (repeats of course!)

It’s nice to see a franchise that can embrace the silliness of some of their on and off screen attempts to reach all audiences and I would have given this film 10 out of 10 but I docked a point for them not using Spider-Ham enough (although Spider-Noir trying to learn colours was amusing).

Watch this film if you’re looking for something that’s really funny and need an alternative to all of the Christmas stuff that’s out at the moment – you don’t even need to know anything about the Spider-Man universe as it’s all explained for you!