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.

Tuesday’s Reviews – Despicable Me 3 (2017)

animation, family, films, Kristen Wiig, meh, review, sequel, Steve Carell


Let’s get one thing straight, I, like every other sensible adult human being, fucking hate the minions. I’m so sick of seeing those tiny yellow pricks all over the place again now that the fourth film in this movie franchise has been released. Not content with giving them their own film, the annoying little creatures are back with their master in Despicable Me 3. It’s a bit insane that a random animation from 2010 has cultivated so many follow-ups but here we are. I had originally planned on seeing this film with a friend from work but, before we could, she cruelly left me for a better job. So, instead, I had to watch it without her… which is a shame because she was definitely more excited about the whole thing that I was. If I’d seen it with her I might have gone in with higher expectations or, at least, without an underlying sense of dread. I didn’t hate the sequel to Despicable Me but there were moments when it seemed unnecessary and not very well thought out. So I really doubted that a third film would be much of an improvement. However, in my review of Despicable Me 2 back in 2013 (god I’ve been writing this nonsense for a long time haven’t I!?), I decided it was Gru’s lack of villainy that made it fall so short. The trailers have suggested that he is rethinking his moral life so maybe my prayers have been answered?

At the end of Despicable Me wannabe super villain Gru (Steve Carell) had found himself the adopted father of three young girls. After Despicable Me 2 he added a new wife (Kristen Wiig) to the equation. The question on everybody’s lips was “who would Gru acquire in number 3?” Turns out it’s an identical twin brother. Possibly in an attempt to save on wages by making Steve Carell work twice as hard or to save the animators the job of having to create a new character. Who knows? Still, Gru is shocked to discover that his mother has hidden his sibling, Dru, from him all this time. The discovery couldn’t come at a better time for Gru who, at the time he is approached by Dru’s butler, has just been fired from his job with the Anti-Villain League. He has very little time to process this personal upheaval before he is whisked off to his brother’s fancy mansion in Freedonia. Turns out the father he never really knew was actually a super villain and Dru is keen to keep up the family tradition. But, to do so, he needs his brother’s help.

After finally settling into a happy life of crime fighting, can Gru really just get back into villainy? Well, quite possibly considering the humiliating defeat that sees him chucked out of the AVL. Is there really any other response to being beaten by an ex-80s child star than resmuing your life of crime? Yep, 80s throwback Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker) has repeatedly outwitted the AVL and, after Gru allows him to escape yet again he and Lucy are forced out. Leaving Bratt to carry out his plan to steal the world’s biggest diamond whilst listening to classic 80s music. Will Gru take the righteous path and hep stop Bratt or will he embrace the life Dru is pushing him towards?

Then there’s a lot of shitty stuff about Lucy trying to come to terms with being a mother and some more adorable moments of their youngest daughter Agnes being super cute. In terms of narrative, Despicable Me 3 is kind of mixed bag. Lucy gets incredibly short-shrift and I find it hard to see why Kristen Wiig would have agreed to this bullshit. It’s the kind of sentimental and cliched “am I a good mother?” shit that you seen in every terrible sitcom or soap opera at some point. It’s clearly the worst part of the film but just won’t stop. There are some great moments to be had, obviously, and Balthazar Bratt is a far superior nemesis to the previous film’s. His 80s references will keep parents entertained whilst children will just enjoy his over-the-top silliness. He’s the perfect foil to Gru and his insane gadgets are like something James Bond’s Q would come up with if he started creating whilst he was in a drunken haze of 80s nostalgia.

The Gru/Dru storyline doesn’t always work but there are some humorous moments to be had. Dru is even less successful than his brother and there is some fun to be had with their bickering dynamic. It kind of grows old after a while and the chemistry doesn’t always fly. If I thought the emotional struggle in the second film was weak then this is even more of a damp squib. But, as with the previous film, none of that matters at all in the long run. Despicable Me 3 is a film intended to amuse little people; by which I mean children and not someone of diminutive stature but that’s not to say short people can’t be amused by it. Anyway, this is a film that’s main purpose is making children laugh and, when it comes down to it, it never pulls any punches. Every spare second is crammed full of jokes that it doesn’t really matter if not all of them land as well as they should. The target audience isn’t even going to notice.

Especially when the screen is constantly being filled with those irritating yellow tic-tacs every 5 minutes or so. That’s all that really matters, right? Despicable Me 3 is the worst of the 3 films, as it probably should be, but that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to find joy within its running time. There is still enough life in Gru that audiences can’t help but want him to succeed and, more importantly, keep coming back to the cinema to watch him try.

SUNDAY RUNDOWN – THAT’S WHAT SHE READ

book haul, books, currently reading, Jane Austen, Kenneth Branagh, Kristen Wiig, Netflix, recently watched, Stephen King, Steve Carell, Steven Spielberg, YA

So, you may have noticed that last week I failed to upload my weekly rundown. That was because I was in Scotland this time last week with my family. Sunday 20th August was a very special day so we booked a few days in a cottage in South West Scotland. It’s the part of the country that my grandfather was originally from so we’ve been on more than a few holidays there. It’s safe to say it’s a special part of the world for us so it was the perfect place to celebrate. The Sunday marked the 40th anniversary of my parents’ marriage and a year since my older sister got married. Whilst it may still freak me out that my sister picked the same day to get married, it was a nice coincidence that both big occasions fell on the same day. So as you can imagine it was a busy weekend and, by the time I got back on Monday, I was far too exhausted to post anything. However, what I lacked in blog updates I had more than made up for in reading. I found my groove again on holiday and have been steadily making my through my books. I guess finding myself in a cottage with no internet access and no computer really forced me to get back to basics. I’m pleased to say that I’ve, kind of, kept up with it since I’ve been back but, I have to admit, the lure of TV and internet shopping have distracted me somewhat.

Currently Reading

  • Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
I did a bit of Jane Austen reading whilst I was in Scotland but, if I’m honest, I focused mainly on 7th Function because I’m so desperate to finish it. I think I’m enjoying rereading this but it’s possible that, in my head, Elinor is actually Emma Thompson. I love the film version so much that I think I retrospectively love the book more. It’s also not the worst Austen book out there I guess.
  • The 7th Function of Language by Laurent Binet
On the first real day of our Scotland trip my mother and I were left to our own devices when the rest of the fam abandoned us in favour of a stupid football match. When we were forced back inside due to averse weather conditions, I managed to get through 100 pages of this book. That’s probably more than I’ve read the rest of the month combined. I’m not obsessed with finishing and hope to do it either tonight or tomorrow if I’m lucky. Then I can finally read something new. It’ll be amazing.

Recently Purchased 
  • It by Stephen King

This was one of those books that I just bought on a whim when I was at the supermarket the other day and it was because of the cover. I normally hate film tie-in covers (as I’ve bitched about on Instagram earlier this month) but the cover that accompanies the new adaptation of this Stephen King classic is so well done. It’s very simple and there are just two great pops of colour. I couldn’t resist it.

  • The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
So, we all know that this is THE book of the moment but I was avoiding buying it until I had read a few more of my TBR books. That was until I saw it on offer at the supermarket. Two new books for £7? Who can walk away from that kind of deal? Not me. Anyway, I’m super excited to get into this one as I’ve literally only heard great things about it. It sounds tremendous and right up my street. Plus, any book with a quite from Barack Obama on the cover has got to be worth a look.

  • One of Us is Lying by Karen McManus
I know I’m probably setting myself up for a disappointment here because my track record with popular YA fiction just isn’t great. Still, I’ve always liked the idea of this. It sounds like The Breakfast Club meets Agatha Christie or something. It’s probably going to be full of reference to the John Hughes film that will annoy me as well as the over reliance on nostalgia that YA is full of. However, I’m willing to give it a chance because, I imagine, it won’t take me long to read.

Recently Watched 
  • Netflix Binges: Veep, Black Books
Now TV is just my favourite thing right now. I do miss Netflix, especially when I realised that I never finished the first season of Designated Survivor and whenever I see a promo for The Defenders, but there is so much choice here. The amount of great British comedy and shity reality TV on offer is fantastic. I almost definitely will go back to Netflix soon but, for now at least, I’m sticking here. I mean I’ve finally finished Veep after thinking about it for years and with Westworld on there I can cross that off the list. Currently I’m revisiting Black Books for the millionth time and it’s still fabulous.

  • Dunkirk
Watched this to prove my sister’s boyfriend wrong about his criticism. Read more about my pettiness and Christopher Nolan’s film in my Tuesday review.
  • Saving Private Ryan
The war film to change all war films… apparently. I’ve never felt the love for this film that most people do. So I decided to rewatch it for my TBT review. And, to be honest, I’m always up for watching that D-Day landings sequence. It’s fucking exquisite.

  • Despicable Me 3
I needed something to watch for next weeks Tuesday review because, in all likelihood, I won’t be ready to review 7th Function yet. It’s always good to have a back-up.

TBT – Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011)

Emma Stone, Kevin Bacon, love, meh, rom-com, romance, Ryan Gosling, Steve Carell, TBT

It’s been a few days since I watched La La Land and I’m still obsessed. I’ve been singing that bloody “City of Stars” song non-stop and listening to the soundtrack on my way to work. I’ve shocked a lot of the people I work with by enjoying the film. I guess because I’m such a seemingly heartless and cynical person. I mean I am a cynical person but I get swept away with a good love story as much as the next person. I say this as someone who, admittedly in a state of exhaustion after 3 days back at work, was crying at footage of Kiss Cams earlier tonight. Yep, I am, underneath it all, just as sentimental and lovey dovey as the rest of the world. And Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling’s romance in the film is made more adorable thanks to their fantastic chemistry. This is their 3rd film together so they’ve clearly become quite comfortable. So, in order to keep this feeling going, I decided to go back to where it all started way back in 2011.

Crazy, Stupid, Love is the romantic comedy about a recently divorced man (Steve Carrell) trying to get back his masculinity with the help of a Lothario he meets in a bar (Ryan Gosling). Cal Weaver is caught off guard when his highschool sweetheart, Emily (Julianne Moore), tells him she wants a divorce after she slept with her coworker, David Lindhagen (Kevin Bacon). He moves out of the family home and starts frequenting a bar where he tells anyone who will listen about this infidelity. Unable to allow Cal to wallow in self-pity any longer, womaniser Jacob (Ryan Gosling) takes pity on him and offers to help him get his life back on track. With an updated wardrobe and new techniques for talking to women, Cal discovers a new side to dating and becomes a new man. His new lifestyle only reiterates his love for wife, however, and Cal must attempt to win her back. Meanwhile, Jacob’s wild lifestyle stalls when he meets Hannah (Emma Stone) a law student who rejects his advances. Finally getting bored of her dull boyfriend, Hannah tracks Jacob down to accept his offer. Things don’t go to plan and the pair end up bonding and eventually start dating.

Then, because it’s a romantic comedy, some awful shit comes out to stop both couples enjoying happiness for a bit before the inevitable happy ending. It’s standard stuff that riffs on aspects of midlife crises and questions of what it means to be a man. To be honest, the narrative itself isn’t exactly original or exciting. Nor is is as “crazy” or as “stupid” as the title promises. For a comedy starring someone as talent as Steve Carrell, it’s kind of lacking on humour and plays more towards the sentimental angle. Something that doesn’t really work with this story. We see Cal being moulded into the perfect ladies man where he is kitted out with the right fashion accessories and the key phrases needed to get a woman back to his pathetic bachelor pad. It’s an area that should be easy comedy gold but, in reality, is only able to bring up some mild titters.

This film’s major problem is that it takes itself way too seriously. There are far too many subplots and ideas thrown together that it can’t control them. At nearly 2 hours long, it is in dire need of some editing because it drags during the middle. It strives to be a jack of all trades but, as the saying goes, manages to be a master of none. It needed to be funnier or more sincere instead of wavering between the two. It’s a confusing pot of so many ideas and plot strands that it’s just lost it’s whole identity. That’s not to say that there aren’t some good ideas there. It’s just that it needed a lot of work. I mean the big twist near the end is, when you really think about it, both incredibly stupid and completely meanigingless. It doesn’t add anything to plot and doesn’t make any sense. It’s clearly just been included to make the narrative seem more intelligent than it actually is.

What makes Crazy, Stupid, Love work is the cast. They may not have the right stuff to work with but they all put everything into it.However, each actor has done way better things than this since so it’s difficult to be kind about it knowing that they can do so much more. Ryan Gosling may not have been known for his comedy skills back in 2011 but, with his more recent films, we know that he is more than suited to the funny stuff. It’s awful to see how uncomfortable he looks in certain scenes here. Still, it is undeniable that Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling really do gel well on screen and the first evening that Hannah and Jacob spend together is utterly charming. Steve Carrell and Julianne Moore are equally charming and, despite the dire circumstances that their characters find themselves, the actors always manage to keep you onside. You might not completely care about their tale but you always want Cal and Emily to be happy. Basically, this is the not incredibly funny or exciting story of good people who are trying to find love. It’s not the worst thing you’ll ever see but it’s not the best either. It’s perfectly watchable… and that’s probably the nicest thing I’m going to be able to say about it.

TBT: The 40 Year-Old Virgin (2005)

comedy, films, fucking funny, Paul Rudd, review, silly, Steve Carell, TBT

You may have read my post on Tuesday during which I went fucking mental about the novel Losing It by Emma Rathbone. The book tells the story of a 26 year-old woman who was desperate to finally have sex after so many years. In the days that followed the posts uploading I have calmed down a little but I still really hate the book. It gave a horrible image of women and strengthened the idea that a life without sex is something to be ashamed of. In many of the reviews I’d read about the book, critics declared it to be the literary and female version of the Judd Apatow film The 40 Year-Old Virgin. I’m going to blame this comparison with the fact that I was so desperate to read this book. I remember first watching the film when I was 16 with my friends. I really enjoyed it. Steve Carell and the rest of the cast were really funny and the film ended up being quite sympathetic to the plight of it’s main character. So, after the disappointment of the book, I felt it was time to revisit the film to see if my judgement is just off or if critics are just so lazy that they’ll compare a book about virginity with the only other really famous thing to also do so.
It seems weird to think that, before 2005, Steve Carell wasn’t famous enough to play the lead in a film. Especially when you remember that he was nominated for the Best Actor Oscar 9 years later. It was The 40 Year-Old Virgin that gave Carell his first lead role in a film and he has never really looked back since. Alongside his much-loved turn as Michael Scott in the American version of The Office, it was this film that pushed the star firmly into the limelight and determined his place as a true comic genius. By the time it was made, he had already shone in his supporting roles in Bruce Almighty and Anchorman and this gave him the chance to show audiences what he really did best.

Which, as it turns out, it create a sympathetic portrayal of a geeky, shy man who has got through life failing to understand dating and women. Watching this film again now as weird because, when you think about it, it’s not the kind of film you could make nowadays. Especially when, as the Big Bang Theory is so keen to remind us in its unrelentingly sub-par manner, that geeks are sexy, I’m not suggesting that the premise is no longer relevant but the idea that a man who collects action figures and loves comic books is automatically not going to find a woman. Geek is chic and, according to the internet, people are so desperate to seem cool that they’re fraudulently claiming to be into geek culture.

However, 2005 was clearly a different time. We didn’t Tinder and internet dating  so men like Andy, our main character, were considered weird. So, after several failed attempts during his youth, Andy has given up on sex. He’s got through his life pretending to have an active social life and awkwardly getting out of any difficult or personal questions. He lives a pretty solitary life and he’s as happy as he can expect to be. Until his colleagues find out about his predicament and decide to help get Andy laid. Turns out its easy for Andy to meet women and not one but 3 women who would willingly have sex with him come along without any real effort on his part. Still, he fails to get the job done with any of these women but, instead, starts a romantic relationship with Trish (Catherine Keener). This piles on the pressure meaning Andy gets more and more nervous about finally getting his end away. So he just puts it off. Clearly, because this is Hollywood, it all comes out in dramatic style.

The 40 Year-Old Virgin is the kind of comedy that has stood the test of time despite being so fucking dated. I mean there is a scene discussing the end of VHS and the introduction of DVDs. It’s a different world. The humour, though, really stands up and the cast all do well in finding the humour in the situation without being mean. That was the truly refreshing thing about the film after reading the dismal Losing It. After some initial banter, there is never a moment wher people paint Andy as a huge freak because he hasn’t had sex. There is no sense that anyone but himself is trying to make him feel bad about it. Yes, his make friends get quite bro-happy about finding Andy some pussy but it all feels as though their heart is in the right place.

My only major criticism of the film is regarding its length;. What I’d forgotten about, or at least, not appreciated at the time, is that The 40 Year-Old Virgin is fucking long. It comes in at just over 2 hours which feels incredibly long for a film based around this pretty flimsy narrative. That’s why it’s jam packed with so many side-plots, random moments of improvisation, and numerous joke call backs. It’s all supposed to flesh out the main story but none of these stories feel worth my time. The plot repeats itself so many times you might as well be watching Groudnhog Day. Then there’s the endless supply of side plots: There’s the strand concerning Paul Rudd’s inability to get over his ex, Romany Malco’s Jay keeps his womanising from his girlfriend ntil he discovers she’s pregnant, and the weird but sexually successful Cal, payed by Seth Rogen, is just being an awful stoner who swears a lot. And that’s just the main ones. There’s so much going on that it just makes the film seem slow and puts off the inevitable for self-indulgent reasons.

Still, there are some truly funny and memorable moments in this film and it’s still worth a watch. Steve Carell is fantastic and there are some fantastic improvised interactions between the rest of the cast. Overall, it is a touching and silly love story that manages to take a potentially dangerous story and make it sympathetic instead of judgemental. It might not be as good as I thought it was at 16 but it’s still a wonderfully entertaining film. If only it were much shorter.

TBT – Anchorman (2004)

comedy, fucking funny, Paul Rudd, review, Steve Carell, TBT, Will Ferrell

Is there anyone out there who can say they dislike Will Ferrell? I mean the man knows how to make people laugh. Yes, he doesn’t always get it right but even in his worst films there is still plenty to giggle about. As we discovered in Daddy’s Home on Tuesday, there is ultimately enough heart and soul within his films to make them worth a punt. He’s not a genius, granted, but he can churn out quotable lines with the best of them. Ferrell has come up with much of his best work alongside writing partner Adam McKay and, arguably, their most successful collaboration has been Anchorman. It’s the kind of film that, if you love it, you’ve seen it too many times to remember and can quote it without even thinking. It’s a truly iconic film and, after watching the disappointing Daddy’s Home, it’s exactly what I needed to remember that Ferrell can be better.

It’s weird to think that back in 2004 Will Ferrell was still mostly known as the SNL alumni who primarily took the role of weird associate of other big name comedy actors. He wasn’t the main attraction that we are used to him being now. He was just the guy standing behind the likes of Ben Stiller/Vince Vaughn/Owen Wilson. In fact, it wasn’t really until Old School and Elf that he really became a notable member of the comedy fratback of middle-aged men who probably should no better but just want to make the world laugh.

It was this recognition that has helped to give Ferrell the chance to showcase his own comedy writing. Co-written with Adam McKay, Anchorman was the 2004 runaway hit about a 1970s news anchor and his news team. Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) is the top anchor in San Diego and is treated like a king thanks to his star status. That is until the studio decides they need to diversify and they hire female reporter, Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate). She quickly makes her mark by entering into a romantic relationship with Ron before usurping his position as lead anchor. Leaving the poor man alone and with no purpose in life.

I’ve already said that I love this film but I have to admit that it’s got it’s flaws. The initial concept is just a fleshed out sketch with more than a few big set pieces to keep the seconds ticking away. The film works so well because of how silly and absurd it gets but there are plenty of times during which that silliness gets a bit too much. There are moments that feel more desperate and cringey than laugh-out-loud funny. It’s understandable, of course, as it’s only the second Ferrell penned film, after 1998’s A Night at the Roxbury.

It’s also completely easy to forgive because for every over-the-top scene there is plenty of inspired stupidity to giggle at. That is mainly thanks to the superb cast of comic performers that Ferrell has brought together. With stalwarts like Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, David Michael Koechner and Fred Willard by his side, Ferrell has brought together a group of people able to embrace his improvised approach. The cast all gel really well together. It just works. Obviously certain people stand out more and it’s easy to see why Steve Carell rose so quickly to be the huge star he is today. Again, it’s weird to think that he was still a relatively small name at this point and it took this film to help showcase his talents.

Anchorman certainly isn’t the slickest film that Will Ferrell and co have ever produced but, especially in the wake of the disappointing sequel, it has a quality that is easy to love. Watching it again always brings about a great wave of nostalgia and is great evidence to show just how far these people have come. It’s a film I’ll always love and has inspired my biography page of this very blog. As a film it doesn’t always hit the mark but 60% of the time, it works every time.

Tuesday’s Reviews – The Big Short (2015)

Christian Bale, films, meh, review, Steve Carell

The problem with awards season is that you can never be sure is something’s worth watching or not. There is so much nonsense written about everything that it’s impossible to tell what’s fact and what’s just bollocks. Look at Joy; it’s been lauded as one of the greatest films of the year but I was bored out of my fucking mind. Obviously, the praise was mostly down to J Law and her inability to put a foot wrong in the eyes of the people who matter. Another name that is constantly getting attention at this time of year is Christian Bale. Yes, everyone’s favourite Welsh psychopath is constantly being recognised for his acting prowess but I remain unconvinced that he deserves the attention. I mean he wasn’t even the stand-out in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy and he was fucking Batman! Still, everything about his latest film The Big Short seems like it should be a no brainer. It has a great cast, a script co-written and directed by Adam McKay (Will Ferrell’s writing partner) and based on the real-life story of the people who made a fortune out of the 2008 financial crisis.

The Big Short is the story of the financial wizards who predicted that subprime mortgage bonds woud collapse and bet against them. It all starts with Michael Burry, the social awkward and eccentric hedge fund manager who runs the numbers and realises what’s going to happen, He decides to earn his client’s a whopping payout by betting against the loans. Of course, nobody believes Burry and every bank he approaches with his plan happily goes along thanks to their belief in the system.

Burry gets the attention of other financially minded people who start to figure out that he’s stumbled onto something big. Trader Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling) and pessimistic hedge fun manager Mark Baum (Steve Carell) join forces to put their own stake into the credit default swap game. Finally, two young investors who managed to make a large profit from their garage start-up decide they want to play with the big boys and, with the help of retired banker Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt), also become involved,

There is a lot of important information being tossed around during The Big Short and it refuses to assume an existing knowledge from its audience. McKay and co try to downplay the seriousness of financial dealings by bringing out celebrity cameos to explain key definitions. Margot Robbie appears in her bath to explain what subprime loans are. Part of me loved McKay’s approach to such a serious subject matter and it is, by far, the funniest film you’ll probably ever see about the market crash.

Then there’s the part of me that couldn’t help but feel it was a very smug and self-important production. Like McKay is making such a big point about downplaying this piece of recent history that it becomes too much. It’s a film that doesn’t know which side of the fence it falls on. There is the one hand that wants to embrace the sexy side of market trading and celebrating how intelligent and amazing people like Burry are. Then there is the socially correct stance of anti-banks, anti-big money. Is it a cutting condemnation of a flawed system or a darkly comic celebration of the rebellious outsiders of the financial world who just don’t give a fuck?

In terms of styling and approach I did like The Big Short but I think, in it’s attempt to make a very depressing subject fun, it spread itself a little too thin. It’s a huge disappointment. Especially when you bring together such an amazing cast and don’t give them anything really meaty to work with. There is nobody in this ensemble cast who excels. Christian Bale has started to take himself so seriously that every role he plays nowadays seems to be verging on parody; Steve Carell is just one note; and Ryan Gosling isn’t even trying. There was so much potential that just didn’t end up working its way into the final product.

The problem with The Big Short is that listening to the cast and crew talking about McKay’s desires for the movie is more inspiring than anything you watch during it. Listening to him discuss why and how he wanted to tell the story made me want to like it more but I just found it lacking. It relies on the belief that people hate big banks so much that they are willing to watch rich investors make a shit load of money off working people’s misfortunes and think it’s a win.

The film has a few moments where it tries to backtrack and show sympathy for the little people who are being affected by all of this double dealing but it just comes across as too little too late. You have a couple of moments where people seem to recognise that real people will get hurt by the bubble bursting and Brad Pitt’s character has a rather limp and incredibly redundant moral speech really near the end. This film is never more pathetic than the rare moments when it tries to remind you of the human cost of the big money deals going down.

When it comes down to it, McKay doesn’t find the masses of people who lost their homes and their money dramatically compelling enough here. The real turning point in the narrative is the moment when Burry is finally able to show people that he was right. That he saw something they didn’t. The real emotional crux of this movie is that the rich, misunderstood man finally becomes richer and more understood.

Foxcatcher (2014)

Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, review, Steve Carell
So 2015 is finally here. The time that film fans have been waiting for ever since their first viewing of Back to the Future II showed us just how different life would be. Unfortunately, the strike of midnight didn’t open us up to a world of hoverboards, flying cars and shoes that lace themselves. Instead we’re looking at an even more unbelievable situation in which Channing Tatum, following in the footsteps of Matthew McConaughey and Mark Wahlberg before him, is slowly becoming one of the most consistently strong actors in Hollywood. I ignored him until I saw 21 Jump Streetand realised how funny and clever he could be. No longer just the hunky star of Step-Upand shitty rom-coms, I embraced the Tates… even though there has been something fucking weird going on with his face of late. As a person who always goes where the hype is, I’ve been looking forward to his latest film, Foxcatcher, for ages. Some of you may remember that New Year’s Day 2014 saw me watching Anchorman2 because it was all my hungover state could handle. This year, my New Year’s Eve was a much more sophisticated affair so I felt I could handle a better class of film.

Foxcatcheris the latest film from director Bennett Miller and it tells the true story of Olympic wrestlers David and Mark Schultz and their relationship with the eccentric and sinister billionaire John Eleuthère Du Pont. It is a tragic-tale concerning rivalry and the awful lengths people will go to in order to carve a reputation for themselves. Mark (Channing Tatum) and David (Mark Ruffalo) share a strong brotherly bond but are still rivals on the wrestling circuit. Despite both winning an Olympic gold, Mark finds himself consistently in the shadow of his more successful, likeable and social adept older brother. Mark has found a comfortable post-Olympics life, making a living as a wrestling coach and raising a family with his wife (Sienna Miller). On the other hand, Mark lives a quiet and lonely life in a dingy flat and surviving on fast-food and Ramen noodles.
That is until he is contacted by John Du Pont (Steve Carell) and offered the chance to move out to Foxcatcher Farm. Du Pont’s dream is to create a world-class training facility at his family’s Pennsylvania estate, which will serve the entire American team prior to the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Mark embraces Du Pont as a stand-in father and mentor but, it quickly becomes clear that Du Pont is only interested in getting Dave on board as well. Dave’s imminent arrival at Foxcatcher Farm causes a ripple affect that promises to uproot all three men’s lives.
Thanks to some amazing direction and some unexpected and fucking brilliant casting, Foxcatcherhas been creating Oscar buzz long before it came out. However, in the midst of all the hype there has been the usual smattering of negativity. The film has been written off by some for lacking depth and, whilst I’m not stubborn enough to write off Miller’s entire work, I can sort of see why some people are pissed off. The script is pretty fucking subtle and a great deal of emphasis is placed on the acting and not words to get the message across. Miller’s direction favours silence and stillness so it can feel like the story isn’t always moving forward and there are plenty of scenes that seem to drag on for fucking hours. However, all of this is just an indulgence that the film can afford to partake in. The moments of peace and quiet only help to build the tension before the tale’s inevitable tragic end. An atmosphere which is allowed to flourish thanks to Greig Fraser’s cinematography, which has clouded the whole thing in a chilling and hostile haze thanks to the desaturated colours. 
The film may go through a bit of shaky ground but it is successfully anchored by some superb performances. Offering an intense performance, Tatum holds back on the frat boy charm that has worked in his favour so far. Schultz is a lumbering, socially awkward jock. With plenty of focus on the sport, Tatum’s performance relies heavily on physical action rather than wordy exchanges but he manages to get his point across. Mark is a lonely man who feels overlooked in his field and is torn between love and resentment for his older brother.
An older brother who possesses the charm and affection that Mark so sorely lacks. Mark Ruffalo portrays Dave with control and a great deal of compassion. Dave loves Mark and wants nothing more than to keep him happy and safe. Ruffalo flourishes in the still, quiet nature of Miller’s direction and is the most capable at depicting the emotional subtext of the script. As good as Tatum and Carell are, it is Ruffalo that really gets to grips with what Miller and co. have in mind.
However, Ruffalo is consistently fucking wonderful so it’s comedian Steve Carell who has been receiving the majority of the press. And so he should. Underneath the mountain of prosthetics that adorns his face, the actor gives an effective performance and one taken on without a hint of caricature. Bottom line here, Carell is fucking creepy. Du Pont’s is forever watched by his disapproving mother (a wonderful but barely seen Vanessa Redgrave). John, in a manner that would make even Norman Bates blush, is eager to impress her but is never able to convince her of the sport’s merits.

Despite the real Mark Schultz’s recent outcry concerning the homoerotic implications this film makes about his relationship with Du Pont, I didn’t think there was that much to worry about. The film flirts with Du Pont’s apparent sexual attraction to his wrestlers but it certainly doesn’t warrant all of the comparisons being make to Steven Soderbergh’s Behind the Candelabra. Du Pont is in no way a hooked-nosed Liberace and Schultz has very little connection to Scott Thorson. 

If nothing more, Du Pont is the perfect way for Miller to satirise the moneyed classes and their dangerous patriotism and unflinching sense of entitlement. Although when it comes down to it, the filmmakers aren’t keen to make any overt statements about Du Pont’s character. Is he suffering from mental illness or is he just a fucking psychopath? So, yes, the skilled craftsmanship that went into creating Foxcatcheris worthy of all its praise but there is, annoyingly, something lacking.  

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (2013)

comedy, Kristen Wiig, news, Paul Rudd, review, satire, Steve Carell, Will Ferrell

If there is one thing you can say about Anchorman 2 it’s that it has definitely utilised its marketing team. For the past few months (though it feels like years) we have seen Will Ferrell dressed as Ron Burgundy on anything with a captive audience. Not that I’m really complaining. I utterly adore the first Anchorman film and, along with Zoolander, will watch it whenever I need an instant boost. That said, ever since the sequel was announced, I found myself unsure whether it was necessary. Anchormanwas a complete film and I just couldn’t see that there was any need to bring back the characters to continue their story. However, a friend and I found ourselves having only had about four hours sleep on New Year’s Day and needing to find an activity that took place in a dark room and didn’t involve interacting with other people. It seemed like destiny was calling.


Anchorman 2picks up several years after the events of the first film when Ron and Veronica (Christina Applegate), in the midst of domestic and professional bliss, are pushed into turmoil when Veronica is offered a promotion whilst Ron is fired. The relationship quickly falls apart and Ron must restart his life with the newfound knowledge that he is not at all capable of performing the role that he was born to have. Thankfully, Ron is quickly lifted out of obscurity thanks to the birth of rolling news so he reassembles his loyal news team and the group make their way to New York to reclaim their top-spot. All whilst Ron attempts to repair his fractured relationship with Veronica and his estranged six-year-old son Walter.

Of course it will prove difficult as our favourite newsreader is just as pompous and self-centred as he always was. The film soars when Ferrell is on screen and it is especially wonderful to see his failed attempts to face off with his formidable new rival, Jack Lime (James Marsden). Ron Burgundy is on top form when he is unrestrained and downright wacky. The moments when he is in the newsroom doing what he does best are a joy to watch.
On the other hand, there are the times when the pace slows a little: most notably the moment when Ron finds himself doing some soul-searching whilst living alone in a lighthouse. This scene echoes the “milk was a bad choice” meltdown scenes from the first but ramps up the comedy thanks to an orphaned shark. Although this segment is also littered with joyous moments there is an ever present sense that it goes on just that little bit too long. The slicker and more on point first half is pushed aside for this bizarre intermission which, other than a few brief titters, does nothing but contribute to the bloated feeling that bogs down the almost 2 hour long film.
Nevertheless, you can tell that Ferrell, and indeed the entire cast, are happy to be back playing these characters and that really helps the film move along. It’s not just a desperate attempt to make money but a chance to revisit old friends. The characters may not be entirely as we remember them but once the story gets going everything starts to feel comfortingly familiar. (Even if the make-up job needed to hide how much older Will Ferrell has got is slightly off putting and gross in close-up.)
One of the biggest stars to come out of the first film was, without a doubt, Steve Carell as the dim-witted Brick. Offering up hilarious visual gags and numerous quotable lines, Brick was the only character memorable enough to share the limelight with Ron Burgundy. This time, in a great show of self-awareness and common sense, the writers have placed Brick on centre stage with an entire subplot to play with. He is introduced to the world of dating once he meets fellow GNN employee Chani (played by Kristen Wiig). Although funny, there are moments when this feels a little bit like overindulgence and clutching at straws. Instead of just being full of zany sound bites, there are uncomfortable moments when the jokes possibly fall onto the wrong side of risqué. Although, attempting to start 2014 off with a ‘glass half full’ attitude, I intend to remember these moments as acceptable jokes instead of just Hollywood making fun of mental disability.
The thing that made Anchorman so amusing when it came out was that it was comedy for comedy’s sake: it was an entire film of Will Ferrell and co. being silly and outrageous because it was funny. Anchorman 2, perhaps in an attempt to show that the concept has grown enough to justify a sequel, takes its first pensive steps into the world of satire and, for the most part, it just about pays off. In between the familiar moments of Ron shouting and Brick being stupid, we sit back and watch as our hero climbs the journalistic ladder by creating a fresh news format by providing his audience with stories they want instead of the ones they need to hear. Filling his initial graveyard slot with fluff pieces and feel-good tales, Ron quickly becomes a ratings winner. Ferrell and co-writer Adam McKay’s attempt to have their say in regards to media moguls, like Rupert Murdoch, isn’t exactly subtle in its approach but it is possible to glimpse some sort of message within all the other noise.

For Anchorman 2 is certainly a loud film: Ferrell and McKay decided to build upon the first film by reusing and revisiting several of the jokes. The most obvious and most desperate is the big news team fight which builds on the original by throwing an insane amount of cameos into the mix along with a minotaur, a ray gun and the ghost of Stonewall Jackson. It is not that this scene isn’t funny but it just feels a little bit stale thanks to the underlying sense of familiarity. You can’t get away from the ‘been there done that’ idea no matter how many shots of Kanye, Liam Neeson and Marion Cotillard you include. Although, despite this tired idea, it does say something about the strength of the Anchorman franchise that the jumping the shark moment comes so far into the running time.

Anchorman 2is by no means as funny as the original but there are still a lot of the usual funny moments. Ferrell is a naturally funny performer and Ron Burgundy’s narcissism and lack of social awareness provides an infinite number of humours opportunities.  Admittedly, there are some that just don’t quite make it to their full potential and a lot of the jokes are stretched until they are thin enough to see through. However, the fact remains that there are plenty of real laughs to be found and, despite several potentially racist/misogynistic sequences, everything is played out to be appalling in just the right way. It is certainly not the most inspiring or well-crafted comedy of all time but Anchorman 2 has at least remembered to stay fairly classy. And if you disagree, I’ve got Jack Johnson and Tom O’Leary waiting for ya, right here.

Despicable Me 2 (2013)

animation, comedy, family, Kristen Wiig, review, Russell Brand, sequel, Steve Carell, Universal

Despicable Me was the animated success story of 2010 which saw audiences embrace the story of super-villain Gru and his accidental move into family-life. It was a refreshing and original concept that quickly became a firm favourite with moviegoers. This was thanks in no small part to his little, yellow minions who provided the young audience with plenty of incredibly silly moments. As we all know, that film ended with Gru giving up on his plan to prove just how evil he is (by trying to steal the moon no less) and dedicate himself to his new daughters. So where did that leave us in terms of a sequel?

Despicable Me 2 opens with Gru (Steve Carell) adjusting to life as a single father having to deal with such missions as throwing children’s parties, dating, interacting with pushy parents and raising his three young adopted daughters alone. After throwing in his evildoer towel, he has chosen to turn his hand to home-made jellies and jams. Unfortunately, Gru and his sidekicks aren’t exactly naturals when it comes to stewing fruits. Despite his satisfaction at playing the doting dad, Gru can’t help but suffer from the lack of excitement in his suburban life.

Thankfully, for both the super villain and his audience, Gru’s life is turned upside down when he is kidnapped by Lucy Wilde (Kristen Wiig), an agent working for the Anti-Villain League. Her boss, the uptight and snooty Silas Ramsbottom (Steve Coogan), offers him the chance to work with them to help foil a plot by an, as yet, unknown criminal who is responsible for stealing an entire laboratory to get their hands on a dangerous chemical. Leading to a completely ridiculous and unnecessary sequence where Gru is placed in a mall so he can use his inside knowledge to guess who the culprit is.

So the man who can be credited with having once stolen the moon is now working for the good guys. And therein lies the problem. Gru was a fantastic character because we found ourselves caring about a man whose sole purpose was causing chaos. It was hard not to become embroiled in his struggle to chose between his evil deeds and his new role as father figure. However, this conflict between good and evil has been long forgotten in this sequel. No longer hoping to make a name for himself as a villain, Gru now spends his time worrying about his eldest daughter’s move into the world of romance and Agnes’ dream of him finding her a mother. These side-lines attempt to bring about the emotional aspects that fuelled the first but there is no getting away from the fact that something is missing. Gru is now a disappointing watered-down version of himself. He just doesn’t have the same presence that he once had and there is a lack of energy in his family-sagas.

So Despicable Me 2 turns out to be anything but despicable. It’s just another in a long-line of unnecessary sequels intended to squeeze as much money out of families as possible. There was no need to continue Gru’s story aside from the fact that he and, more importantly, his tic-tac like minions were a big hit with the kids. It is these little yellow bastards who are the real stars of the show and they will certainly keep the youngsters watching falling out of the seats with laughter. Their hark back to a simpler brand of comedy, associated with the silent era of film, with a focus on over-the-top physical gags, visual jokes and pantomime. The Minions appeal because they were created as a symbol of silliness. They are nothing more than unadulterated fun.

However, the sequel is almost solely devoted to creating moments where the Minions are given freedom to lose control and reference as many popular trends as possible. It feels as though the dull search for the mysterious villain was simply created to glue these sequences together. Even the eventual reveal of the man Gru is searching for is rushed and he is never given the chance to explain just why we should be concerned about his plan. It’s lazy film-making and the focus is clearly on potential merchandise (as the new breed of minion goes to show). Time that should have been given to setting out the various plot-strands has instead been used up to show Minions dressed in various costumes dancing or fighting each other.

Despicable Me 2has the unavoidable feel of a sketch show that has been fleshed out with a flimsy story-arc that was written 5 minutes before the deadline. This means that the remaining cast never get a chance to make much of an impression and the returning characters are unable to remind us of what made them so great in the first film. Most notably seen in Gru’s crazed scientist friend Dr Nefario (Russell Brand) who is brought out at the moments when an easy fix is required. Some great talent has been wasted in favour of cheap laughs. This film is miles away from its innovative predecessor and you feel it throughout.

Despicable Me 2was created by the same team who brought us the first one and the team from Illumination Entertainment continue to channel the work of Chuck Jones in their follow-up. This is a animation that harks back to the early days with the Looney Tunes style humour, slapstick and in-your-face animation. It is a film that really makes use of cartoon physics and logic, where violence and danger have no deadly consequences and cars can turn into submarines and helicopters without any real effort. Despite the flaws involved, there is no doubt that Despicable Me 2 was an enjoyable film to watch and has enough to appeal to its older audience as well as the primary one.
For there can be no forgetting that this is a film intended to be enjoyed by young children and, looking at it from that point-of-view, it is a success. It may not have the overall slickness and precision that Monster’s Universityhad but it will certainly keep your young ones entertained. The older sections of the audience may find it disappointing after the freshness of Despicable Me but there is still enough of the same spirit and heart that appealed first time round. Whilst there have been far greater animated sequels, this one certainly does the job it intended to: get us all ready for the upcoming (and I’m guessing farcical) Minionsmovie.