Tuesday’s Reviews – Paddington 2 (2017)

Ben Wishaw, British, film blogger, film blogging, film reviews, films, fucking adorable, Hugh Grant, Julie Walters, paddington, review, reviews, sequel


71JUP-kqx8L._SL1081_5_star_rating_system_5_stars I have been desperate to see Paddington 2 for a while now even though, until this week, I hadn’t seen the first film. When it first came out in 2014 I wasn’t sure it was ever going to be able to capture the brilliance that I remembered from childhood. I was a cynical 26 year old who wouldn’t admit to wanting to see a children’s film. So I never did. I guess it begs the question, why, then, was I so desperate to see its sequel? Well, for one thing, my friend doesn’t bloody stop going on about how great it is recently. For another, it’s got a 100% certified fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and has been nominated for a fair few BAFTAs. Now I realise that it’s never wise to read too much into the ratings on 
Rotten Tomatoes but there aren’t many films who have ever managed it. So I guess there was more to this than met my sceptical eye. It was time to finally catch-up on what I’d missed so I watched the first film. It wasn’t completely perfect but I absolutely loved it. It was funny, sweet, and wonderfully British. Everything that is so great about the Paddington stories by Michael Bond was brought to life thanks to Paul King’s film. And Benjamin Wishaw? He was clearly born to play a talking bear who loves marmalade and looks great in hats. How could I not, after that, make it my mission to see the second?

Sunday Rundown – That’s What She Read

book haul, books, currently reading, Hugh Grant, Julia Roberts, Netflix, Paul Rudd, recently watched, Steve Carell, stranger things, Will Ferrell
Yesterday was Remembrance Day and, as usual, we had a 2 minute silence at 11am at work. Except, we weren’t given our usual warning before it started and I was so distracted by what I was doing that I didn’t realise what time it was and started chatting away whilst everyone else was silent. It was awful. One of those moments where you have an out of body experience and just start shouting at yourself to ‘shut the fuck up’. Thankfully, it wasn’t for the entire 2 minutes but I can imagine all the customers sitting silently and listening to me gabbing away to myself. I was mortified. I think it’s such an important practice so can’t think of anything less disrespectful. I recently read somewhere that about a third of young people are refusing to wear poppies because they believe it glorifies war. If it’s true and not just journalistic sensationalism then it’s absolutely fucking ridiculous. How can you be accused of glorifying conflict by remembering the people who died to bring freedom to persecuted people? Also, the money raised actually helps the armed forces. It’s not promoting war but helping people who have been affected by it. I don’t whether it’s just that I, having read a load of WW1 poetry in my time, have a pretty good grip on the grim reality of the conditions facing soldiers in the ‘Great War’ but I think wearing a poppy is an important practice. It doesn’t mean your buying into the notion that war fixes everything but it means we’ll, hopefully, learn from out past. Anyway, I wasn’t planning on getting in to this so let’s just get down to business.

Weekly Blog Posts

  • TUESDAY’S REVIEWS – 6 DAYS (2017)

With nothing else to review this week I decided to watch a film that I’d been recommended to watch on Netflix. 6 Days is about a historical British event that I knew very little about so I was quite interested in watching it. See what I thought here.

  • BOOK REVIEW: AND THEN THERE WERE NONE BY AGATHA CHRISTIE

Before Halloween I reread And Then There Were None by Agath Christie. I always love revisiting her novels because they are so charming and British. I wrote down my initial thoughts here.

  • TBT – NOTTING HILL (1999)

Another case of just watching whatever I could be bothered to click on when I was browsing Netflix. I’ve never been a big fan of Richard Curtis’ romantic comedies but, as it’s been a while, I sat down to watch Notting Hill. My review can be found here.

Currently Reading

  • Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
I’ve done some reading this week but, after a particularly difficult day at work, I was forced to stop mid chapter. I hate doing that so haven’t picked up the book again. I still adore it but it’s getting darker as it goes on. I realise it’s par for the course that a novel about an escaped slave being hunted would be a difficult read but the moments with the real underground railroad were so light and happy.

Recently Purchased 
  • Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

I’ve never read this book so when I came across the gorgeous Centennial Edition whilst browsing Amazon I couldn’t resist. And I always believe that buying a book for the cover and because it’s a piece of classic literature makes it an okay kind of purchase. I was probably going to read it eventually so I might as well buy a nice version of it.

Recently Watched 
  • Netflix Binges: Stranger Things, Anchorman 2, American Vandal
I finally got to the end of Season 1 of Stranger Things again and it was wonderful going back. I didn’t think it would be possible to love Hopper anymore but it’s happened. I’m obsessed. What is so great about season 1 is the relationships between the four main kids and how up and down it was. Dustin as mediator is just adorable. The only thing I didn’t like it Steve being a dick for most of the season. His character development between seasons was fabulous and now he’s one of my favourites. Although, that final showdown with the Demogorgon let him have his moment. Here’s to rewatching Season 2. Today, I’ve had a pretty lazy day and have just watched films. I decided to rewatch Anchorman 2 and I’ve decided that, whilst it’s not great, it’s better than I first thought. Finally, I watched the entire first series of Netflix’s true crime parody American Vandal. It’s super silly but also a really clever parody of the genre. I’d recommend it to anyone and I happily await a second series.

TBT – Notting Hill (1999)

British, film, films, fucking sweet, Hugh Grant, Julia Roberts, review, Richard Curtis, rom-com, romance, TBT

I’m not going to lie to you guys, my schedule has gone a little awry this week. I didn’t watch anything for today’s post yesterday as I intended so had to quickly find something appropriate whilst browsing Netflix as soon as I got home from work. It’s the end of my working week so I’m pretty tired and just picked the first film that seemed like an easy watch. It certainly doesn’t link to my review of 6 Days from earlier this week. I do prefer it when there seems to be some method to my madness but that definitely isn’t the case. However, I’m a consummate professional so should be able to come up with a logical reason if you’ll give me a moments thought. Ahem. I opened Tuesday’s post talking about how Jamie Bell will always be Billy Elliot in my eyes, which links to the star of today’s film I guess. To me and most people in the world, Hugh Grant is, and forever will be, the bumbling, floppy haired idiot who starred in loads of Richard Curtis romantic comedies. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to take him seriously in anything and have just come to believe that any Hugh Grant film I see will basically just be Notting Hill 2 or something. Which is fine, I guess, as I don’t exactly go rushing out to see Hugh Grant movies any more. This isn’t the 90s for fuck’s sake. However, it is late on a Thursday night and, having to be up early to get shit done tomorrow, Notting Hill seemed like a fairly adequate choice for my viewing pleasure. It’s actually been ages since I saw it.

I pride myself on my dislike of romantic-comedies. It’s not that I think they’re inherently bad films or that I’m too much of cynic to enjoy them. Contrary to popular belief, my heart isn’t made of stone and I’m a sucker for a good love story every now and then. The key word being, of course, a “good” love story. I find most rom-coms that I’ve ever seen to be annoyingly unrealistic and just far too predictable. Every single meet-cute that you see on screen is absolutely absurd and, were they to happen in real life, would in no way lead to anyone falling in love. The romantic-comedy is just a massive cliche based around the basic premise of boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy desperately tries to win girl back with massive romantic gesture. It’s up to the individual writer to fill in the remaining time with any number of awful coincidences and stupid misunderstandings that keep the pair apart for as long as possible. After all, we’ve got to amp up that emotional drama level.

As rom-coms go, Notting Hill has a a pretty long running time so there are plenty of chances to keep the two potential lovers from getting together. Is it too long a film? Definitely. Does it matter? To be honest, you don’t really feel the drag too much because this film exists in such a pleasant bubble that you can’t help but get dragged in. The London of Richard Curtis’ Notting Hill is that twee and cutesy version of England where everyone lives by the “Keep calm and carry on” system and, when things get bad, sticks the kettle on and opens some biscuits. This isn’t real London by any stretch of the imagination. The cast of characters is part of that increasingly eccentric breed of British people that exists in Hollywood to cover up the fact that, in reality, British people are just a bunch of dickheads. Notting Hill isn’t just a romantic-comedy; it’s a fucking fairy tale.

The unbelievable narrative sees travel book shop owner Will Thacker (Hugh Grant) meet mega Hollywood starlet Anna Scott (Julia Roberts) when she decides to browse his shop for a book about Turkey (obviously). When he accidentally spills orange juice on her, the actress agrees to go into this perfect strangers house to change and gets about a course of events that sees Will fraudulently claim to be a member of the press, chase Anna across London and, basically, make a huge tit of himself every chance he gets. There’s a lot of guff about real people falling in love with a celebrity and the intrusion of the press but, when it comes down to it, Notting Hill is like any other Curtis rom-com.

However, after watching it again I am annoyed to say that I kind of enjoyed it. I mean it’s as predictable and silly as any film of this genre but there is something quite nice about it. Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts are both good in their roles and you can’t help but want this two attractive bastards to just make it work. Will’s group of weirdo, outcast friends seem like a super nice bunch of people who, despite never being able to exist in real life, add a great layer of humour and heart to the main narrative. The film does experience an obvious dip in quality as it goes along but not so much that it drags along. The opening is funny and kind of heartwarming in its own way and the first press junket scene is still a joy to watch.

Despite a few misguided attempts to make a point about journalism and privacy, this isn’t a serious or clever film. It doesn’t need to be. It’s just the story of a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her. And, despite my hard, hard heart, that’s fucking adorable.

The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists! (2012)

animation, boat, comedy, David Tennant, family, Hugh Grant, pirates, review

When talking animation there is one studio that is often overlooked thanks to such superpowers as Pixar and Studio Ghibli. That studio is the vastly talented Aardman Animations. The studio is known for its work using stop-motion clay animation, in particular the series of films featuring the popular man and dog team, Wallace and Gromit. It easy to see why Aardman doesn’t quite have the presence of other studios as its number of feature films to date is only 5. They started off on a high with two critically acclaimed stop-motion films Chicken Run in 2000 and Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbitin 2005. It was their third attempt and, incidentally the first film to move into CGI, Flushed Away, that broke their streak. This and the run-of-the-mill Arthur Christmas were perhaps telling Aardman that it was time to go back to their roots. Thankfully, their 2012 feature film The Pirates! In an adventure with Scientists! shows us what this company is really capable of and it sort of feels very much like the kind of film they’ve wanted to make for years. Now I admit that I’m an unashamedly massive fan of all things animated and I am particularly fond of the more traditional efforts. There is still something so magical about stop-motion animation (so wonderfully displayed in the likes of Wes Anderson’s The Fantastic Mr. Fox) and there is no doubt that there will always be a feeling associated with these works that completely computer-generated works will never be able to achieve. The films being produced by this quiet Bristol-based studio in particular have what can only be described as a definitive spirit that comes across from the opening credits onwards.

The film is based on the first book in the series of ‘The Pirates!’ books written by Gideon Defoe. The books share the great sense of Britishness and silliness that has underpinned all of Aardman’s most popular works. It follows the exploits of the hapless pirate captain named, quite helpfully, Pirate Captain as he vows to win the much coveted Pirate of the Year Award. Our well-meaning hero is voiced by Hugh Grant who shows off a great sense of comic timing, something that was lost in all of the twee romantic-comedies he bumbled his way through in the 90s. Whilst this Captain seems unlikely to achieve success in the pirating world he will certainly find a place in the hearts of the audience. He is the charming but frustrated would-be scourge of the high seas who finds himself distracted by sea-shanties, ham and maintaining his luxuriant beard. Jack Sparrow he is not. More like the kind of pirate that, if I’m brutally honest, I will turn out to be when I eventually leave the humdrum of everyday life and take to the waves. He is the biggest joke pirating world and finds himself constantly being belittled by the rest of the pirating community.

Mocked by his fellow captains, our hero is nevertheless beloved by his naive and fiercely loyal crew: consisting of the likes of Pirate with the Scarf (Martin Freeman); Pirate with Gout (Brendan Gleeson); the Suspiciously Curvaceous Pirate (Ashley Jenson) and the Albino Pirate (Russell Tovey). Martin Freeman does well as he finds himself in another of his traditional roles playing the frustrated second fiddle to a well-meaning but, ultimately, fairly useless leader. He is the Ernie Wise to the Pirate Captain’s Eric Morecambe and, whilst he may not be the greatest comic creation ever, his presence perfectly offsets the latter’s foolishness. Gleeson and Jenson both do admirably with their role but it is Tovey’s voice in particular that really lends itself to animation. So much so that even his small role proves to be utterly memorable. The crew encourages their captain to fight for his title and with a newfound eagerness set out to acquire their greatest haul of booty ever.

All does not go according to plan and instead of finding riches they come face to face with Charles Darwin, voiced by Dr Who himself David Tennant. This is not the Charles Darwin that we are used to. Gone is the brilliant scientific mind who gave us his Theory of Evolution and in its place we have the shy geek, often outwitted by his own monkey butler, whose major concern is finding a girlfriend. There are moments when Darwin falls flat but there is some much needed humour to be found in his primate sidekick who is thoughtful enough to provide his own subtitles.

Unable to offer the much needed booty, Darwin instead informs the Captain that his much loved parrot Polly is actually the last Dodo in existence. He is quickly promising the Pirate Captain fame and fortune if he gave permission to show her at the Scientist of the Year competition at the Royal Academy in London. Whilst Pirate with the Scarf is skeptical of Darwin’s motives, Pirate Captain is soon hightailing it back to London with the help of some beautiful 2d topographical animation. This journey turned out to be one of the most visually memorable scenes and goes to show that Aardman never miss a moment to pack in a treat for their audience.

Of course, Darwin’s motives are at loggerheads with the band of swashbucklers as he intends to use Polly to ingratiate himself with the villainous Queen Victoria, an infamous pirate hater. With the help of his trained monkey butler he embarks on his mission to steal Polly and present her himself. Queen Victoria is an inspired character voiced expertly by Imelda Staunton (who manages to recall her most despicable moments as Professor Umbridge whilst playing one of our greatest monarchs).  Pirates! offers us a Queen Victoria who could stand shoulder to shoulder with the greatest cinematic villains. With her secret trapdoors, steampunk airplane, ninja skills and murderous hatred for all things piratical, she would make an excellent Bond villain should 007 ever find himself back in an animated Victorian period. Historically accurate she is not but a terribly enjoyable scoundrel.

There is plenty to enjoy about Piratesas the makers fire gags at the audience like an excitable 12 year using a submachine gun during his first go at a FPS. The quick fire assault of humour includes some fantastic throwaway lines of dialogue and non-stop sight gags. It’s worth taking note of any newspaper headline, road sign or shop front so you don’t miss out on any of the humorous puns hidden away. The world created by Aardman is exquisite in the amount of detail it contains. The filmmakers play with the stereotypes associated with pirates as the audience would view them and with all aspects of Victorian culture. It is delightful to watch something so silly that is also so beautifully crafted. For there are some truly fantastic set pieces throughout the film and none more so than the dramatic runaway bath scene which harks back to the exciting toy train chase in The Wrong Trousers. A sure fire sign that they are getting closer to their past glory.

My major issue with Pirates is the plot itself. Or, at least, the speed with which the plot moves forward. The one problem with the ceaseless campaign of visual gags is that it tends to take centre stage and the action in the foreground is often dismissible. There is often too much for the audience to take in and the plot twists so much that it often seems preferable to immerse yourself in the background instead. The narrative suddenly lurches forward every time you think you’re on solid ground without giving you much time to breathe. The plot ends up being choppier than any of the waves the Pirate Captain and his crew encounter along their way. After getting the introductions sorted the plot steams forward at such a speed that we end up in London before we’re really aware of what’s happening. It speeds though the final act so quickly that it doesn’t really matter how we get there just as long as there is the dramatic showdown.

It’s not as if the film was at risk at running to a ridiculous length so I fail to see why the writers couldn’t have slowed the plot down so the audience was able to really engage with the story before them. Had the narrative been just a little more considered this film would have felt less chaotic and out of control. From my point of view it would have been a nice counterpoint to the hectic backdrop if the plot had been stronger and more self-assured so it could stand out. The characters can only keep one engaged with the action for so long and even the lovable Pirate Captain cannot completely keep our focus when he is constantly zipping from one island to another. And, whilst I’m at it, what of the actual pirating? For a ship that was constantly on the move the crew can hardly be accused of doing much plundering on their way. We have the science and the adventure but perhaps, next time, we deserve a little more of the piracy.

And I really do hope there will be a next time. What Aardman have managed here is to create the start of what is bound to be a great franchise of children’s animated films. It was a bit of bumpy start maybe but with the characters, cast and the exquisite animation on show it would be a shame if it’s the last we see of the Pirate Captain and Co. It is a film that you cannot watch and end up not feeling warm and thoroughly satisfied. It is delightfully British and fantastically silly. It is the sort of film that demands a second playing almost as soon as you’ve finished the first just so you can search for any hidden gags that you missed first time round. I for one cannot wait to sit down and enjoy it again.