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.

TBT – America’s Sweethearts (2001)

fucking awful, John Cusack, Julia Roberts, meh, TBT
My review of Station Elevendiscussed my relationship with YA and the fact that I always come back for more knowing that, more often than not, I’m going to fucking hate it. I’ve pretty much accepted at this point that I’m an oft disappointed fool who’s stubbornness will always be my undoing. It’s a character trait that moves beyond the world of shitty books for teenagers/adults that never want to grow up. It’s just as easy for me to lie to myself that the work of certain directors or actors that I know have a tendency to be fucking awful will actually turn out to be awesome. The most notable offenders are Woody Allen and the man I’m going to talk about today, John Cusack. Now I’ve been in love with John Cusack since I first saw Say Anything so I have this ridiculous notion that everything he stars in will be amazing. Unfortunately, this hypothesis is absolute bullshit.

I can’t even remember the names of all of the John Cusack films I’ve sat through and questioned the strength of my affection for him. His performance in a couple of 80s teen movie and High Fidelity surely can’t be enough to justify the likes of 2012 and The Raven. It’s sad but Cusack is at this worst when given the role of romantic lead, which you think would be ideal for the guy who left a generation of young women waiting in their bedrooms hoping to hear Peter Gabriel wafting from a boombox below.
Watching Serendipity caused my brain to slowly melt out of my ears with it’s fucking banality and schmaltz. However, it is perhaps the irritatingly timid America’s Sweethearts that I have the biggest issue with. Written by Billy Crystal, Peter Tolan and Donna Roth, America’s Sweethearts is like the dipshit younger brother of Hollywood classic Singing in the Rain. The off-screen romance between A-listers Lee Philips and Gwen Harrison has turned to shit and their most recent rom-com is on the verge of tanking. In order to claw back success, a desperate studio executive (Stanley Tucci) must rely on his recently fired publicist (Crystal) to create a campaign nobody can ignore.
Their divorce has left Gwen and Lee emotionally scarred; something that makes it difficult to get them in a room together but provides a shit-ton of material to keep a whole host of journalists happy. Whilst the studio is attempting to suggest that the pair are about to reunite, Lee finds himself falling in love with Gwen’s put-upon but lovable sister Kiki (Julia Roberts). The story that unfolds is neither an adorably cute, hilariously funny or sharply satirical. It has elements of each but is so unsure of what it’s trying to be that it ends up feeling like a fucking waste.
Crystal and co attempt to take a few pot-shots at the film industry but their attempts would only see them receiving the worthless participation rosette at school sports day. There are a few moments at the beginning that suggest the curtain will be pulled back but as the narrative goes on the script gets confused and all focus is lost. The comedy just isn’t clever enough and the romance tries to be too earnest. There are loads of moments when the film forgets it’s supposed to be making you life and tries to portray its message as insightful.
It doesn’t help that characters are so fucking badly written. The main characters are paint-by-numbers staples and get very little to work with. Julia Roberts and John Cusack just fall into tired old traps because the writing gives them nothing. Catherine Zeta Jones does well at portraying the heartless Gwen but falters whenever she is forced to show the actresses human side. Billy Crystal’s publicist once again can’t quite decide whether is has a heart of gold or prefers the ruthless pursuit of cash. The actors never have a chance to find their groove because their characters change their minds about who they are more than the guy in that fucking Katy Perry song.
The solely comedy, screwball characters fair slightly better but it’s middling at best. Christopher Walken’s portrayal of the mysterious director Hal Weidmann is the closest we get to proper Hollywood critique and he manages to provide a few decent moments. Hank Azaria, on the other end of the scale, is nothing but obnoxious and uncomfortable viewing as Gwen’s new Latin love, Hector.

America’s Sweethearts is a film with a major identity crisis that opens well but just moves closer and closer to its inevitable breakdown. It makes painful viewing at times and I felt fucking bad trying to get enjoyment out of it. Some things are so pathetic and confused that you are morally obligated not to get enjoyment from them. I didn’t want to laugh at America’s Sweethearts: I wanted to recommend a good therapist for it. I guess all of this confusion and chopping and changing would be okay if the ending was as strong as the opening. Surprise, surprise: it’s fucking not. The inevitable takes so long to happen that all satisfaction is lost and there is no comeuppance for the people who’s downfall we have been craving for so long. No good can come from watching this film. 

August: Osage County (2013)

Benedict Cumberbatch, Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep, review

I love Meryl Streep. She’s a fantastic actress, she’s an awesome human being and she just doesn’t give a fuck. However, I find myself liking Meryl Streep films less and less as time goes by. She has an increasingly strange habit of choosing to star in really odd and terrible films, particularly ones involving the ridiculous Phyllida Lloyd. Streep is always a reliable and amazing performer but she just doesn’t seem to picking the productions worthy of her brilliance. However, I have been excited about August: Osage County for a while now because of its amazing cast and the potential brilliance from adapting Tracy Lett’s 2008 Pulitzer Prize winning play. Casting Meryl Streep as the unstable head of a fractured and eccentric family and surrounding her with other great actors could only be a recipe for success. Plus, as I’m sure you’re aware by now, I’ll happily embrace anything involving Benedict Cumberbatch’s cheekbones (especially when there’s singing involved).


August: Osage County boasts a screenplay written by Letts that stays as loyal to the original play as a dramatically reduced script (to cut the running time down by 1 hour) possibly can. We are introduced to Beverly (Sam Shepard) and Violet Weston (Streep), a husband and wife who have supposedly struck a balance between their respective addictions: in his case alcohol and in hers a cocktail of drugs originally prescribed for her mouth cancer. When Beverly goes missing, Violet’s extended family assemble in support: her three daughters Barbara (Julia Roberts), Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) and Karen (Juliette Lewis) and their partners; her sister and brother-in-law (Margo Martindale and Chris Cooper); and her shy nephew Little Charles (Cumberbatch).

The narrative takes some time to find its feet and the initial set-up feels a little flat. However, once the key turning point has been reached the drama is turned up to 11 and the volume reaches insane levels. August: Osage County boast an incredible cast, who bring with them a combination of five Oscar wins and 24 nominations, which goes all out to act their socks off in a narrative full of barbed insults, dramatic confrontations and a sweltering intensity. Everything really comes to a head during the 25 minute long dinner scene where Violet’s anger explodes over her unsuspecting family. It’s one of those scenes that just leaves you utterly engrossed yet horrified by the dialogue being thrown across the potatoes.
There is an exhausting amount of acting on display here that continually threatens to spill over the narrative and self-destruct. Each character has their own hidden turmoil which comes out in their individual big moment of shouting, verbal abuse and fist-clenching emotions. Thanks to the shortening of the script some of the quieter characters and scenes are less developed than they should have been: being shunned in favour of the more overwhelming moments of family melodrama.
Dramatic scenes that are dominated by Violet during her drug-fuelled moment of ferocity. Streep is clearly in her element playing Violet and completely indulges in the role of the vicious, pill-popping matriarch. It’s the kind of performance that staggers along the line between perfectly judged and uncomfortably hammy. She soars during Violet’s most heinous moments but falls flat in her more understated moments.
Streep finds herself a more than willing sparring partner in Julia Roberts who plays her angry eldest daughter. I have never been entirely convinced by Roberts but there were several scenes in August: Osage County where I saw hints of greatness. The subtle but powerful scene when Barbara is travelling with her daughter (Abigail Breslin) where they conduct an uncomfortable but emotional exchange was one such standout. This is one of Roberts’ greatest roles for a while and she spends her time moving between exhausted aggravation and uncontrollable anger.
Taking their place in the background are some fine but hardly dazzling performances. Juliette Lewis makes a mark as the younger and brassy daughter when she is allowed to do something more than react to other people’s arguments. Julianne Nicholson has been underrated and, along with an understated yet still measured Benedict Cumberbatch, gives the film a sympathetic point. Then we have Chris Cooper who, after a lifetime of accepting his wife’s criticism, finally comes into his own whilst defending his put-upon son.
There is a great deal of talent on display but all of these careful performances get lost thanks to the timid man at the helm. Director John Wells clearly holds the original stage productions in such high regard that he isn’t willing to go far enough to turn this into a film rather than simply a film version of a play. His direction just seems uninspired and his thematic vision is nothing but annoyingly clichéd. Everything Wells does he does out of respect but he certainly sacrifices style for loyalty. There was a great deal of potential to come from adapting this well-received play using some of the finest actors working at the moment. However, in the hands of John Wells the film just reeks of a lack of imagination. You can’t help but feel that in the hands of a more adventurous filmmaker that the real genius of Lett’s work would have shown through.