Film Review: Guardians of the Galaxy

As aforementioned, I do love a good comic book/superhero movie. Like most of the audience, I knew virtually nothing about Guardians of the Galaxy going into the cinema and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who then came out of the cinema totally besotted with them all.

Guardians of the Galaxy starts with an unusually emotive opening gambit: our central character Peter Quill is still just a boy, and whose mother is dying. As he runs from the hospital, grief-stricken, he is quite literally beamed up into a space ship hovering above him. The next time we meet him, he has grown up to become an acclimatised spaceman and a criminal. He lands on an abandoned planet to steal a strange orb and judging by the crew that comes to stop him and take it for themselves (led by the criminally undervalued Djimon Hounsou); this is one super important orb.

We learn that scary, deep voiced badass no. one, Ronan (a truly terrifying Lee Pace), a dictator who wants to wipe out several other races of people, is working with scary deep-voiced badass no. two: Thanos (Josh Brolin). Thanos and Ronan have a deal to help each other destroy all their enemies and need that orb to help them accomplish all the blowing up and massacring they’re so keen to get on with. As a gesture of good will, Thanos sends his ‘daughters’ to help Ronan: the robotic Nebula (an extremely cool looking Karen Gillam) and super-assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana, who still manages to be luminously beautiful even when painted pea green). Gamora intercepts Quill (the lovely, awesomesauce Chris Pratt), who is selling the orb for his own gain, but her attempt to kill him is foiled by a sociopathic weapons genius who also happens to be a genetically modified raccoon, Rocket (Bradley Cooper, voice) and humanoid tree and ‘the muscle’, Groot (Vin Diesel, voice). Rocket and Groot turn out to be bounty hunters after Quill and all four end up in the Kyln, a floating space prison, owned by Nova Corps, some sort of nice space people/police.

Still following?

To cut a long and convoluted plot short, Quill, Gamora, Rocket and Groot, along with hard headed, revenge seeking Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista) band together to break out of prison, sell the orb, get some money and hopefully escape whatever appalling plan Ronan has in store. Naturally, things don’t go to plan…at all.

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Book Review: I Don’t Know What You Know Me From (Confessions of a Co-Star) by Judy Greer

Essay collections seem to be becoming popular again, especially amongst high profile women. I Don’t Know What You Know Me From was my third such collection, following Tiny Fey’s Bossypants and Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?

I Don’t Know What You Know Me From (Confessions of a Co-Star) is by Judy Greer, an immensely prolific actress, who will be familiar to most people who own a TV set. I picked this up because I do know what I know Greer from, having seen/owned enough films she has appeared in to legitimately start a Judy Greer collection. Greer is known for being a smart comedy actress and for playing a multitude of best friends in various romantic comedies. I like her a lot as an actor (seeing her name on a cast list usually means a plus for me when it comes to choosing films) and I think it would be fair to say that those best friend roles are usually far more interesting than our leading lady. I Don’t Know… is both a sort of memoir and essay collection, taking us from Greer’s childhood through to her move to Hollywood and subsequent acting career.

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Book Review: Never Have I Ever – My Life (So Far) Without A Date by Katie Heaney

Beware, guys – I’m about to gush. I’ve been gushing in person to everyone I know about Never Have I Ever and I’m about to do it to you, so brace yourselves.

Never Have I Ever is a memoir of sorts from Buzzfeed writer Katie Heaney. Heaney completely sold herself to me as a writer through this book. In Never Have I Ever, Heaney writes of her romantic escapades from primary school to her post-graduate degree…except that we know from the start that none of them will amount to anything. Heaney has never had a boyfriend. Ever. Nor has she had any kind of significant, ongoing romantic relationship. Heaney aims to document this rather unusual aspect of her life while examining why it might be.

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Book Review: Landline by Rainbow Rowell

As has already been well documented, I am a fan of Rainbow Rowell’s work. Though I have Attachments, Landline has ended up being the first of Rowell’s adult novels I’ve read.

Landline tells the story of TV writer Georgie and her marriage to Neal. At the start of the book, Georgie and Neal are in a pretty terrible place. Things have apparently been getting steadily worse for some time and reach a crisis point when Georgie opts to stay in LA over Christmas to work on her dream show with her writing partner, Seth, rather than make the trip to Omaha with Neal and their daughters. She is shocked when Neal decides to go anyway without her and in the days between them leaving and Christmas Day, begins to wonder whether she’ll still have a husband come New Year.

Staying at her Mother’s to avoid going home to an empty house, Georgie discovers that her old rotary phone in her teenaged bedroom still works…only instead of calling Neal in the present, she somehow calls him in the past, to the last week they spent apart, just before he proposed. Can Georgie win Neal back and resuscitate their marriage by talking to his younger self?

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Book Review: How to be a Heroine – Samantha Ellis

I’m going to be completely honest and confess that I picked up How to be a Heroine based on the title (I am always looking to be the heroine of my own story, naturally) and the book cover, which as you can see, features the spines of some of my most beloved books.

Samantha Ellis was a new name to me, but was instantly fascinating. From a culturally unusual background (Iraqi Jewish) and brought up in an insular community in London, Ellis attended Cambridge University and was a voracious reader who went on to become a playwright. I knew from the introduction – when she and her best friend make the trip up to Haworth and wander the moors thinking about the Brontës – that I’d found a kindred spirit.

After pronouncing to her best friend that being a Cathy Earnshaw was better than being a Jane Eyre and being met with astonishment, Ellis decides to revisit all her favourite heroines, from early childhood to adulthood, to see if her perception of them was correct and whether they’ve changed for her as she gets older. This results in a book that is part memoir, part feminist literary criticism.

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Film Review: Damsels in Distress

Damsels in Distress is a film about a clique of young women at a private college on the East Coast of America. We follow them over the course of a year, seen primarily through the eyes of new transfer student Lily (Annaleigh Tipton), who is taken into the group upon arrival (and slightly against her will) and group leader Violet (Greta Gerwig). This group of slightly delusional, well-meaning, over-privileged girls spend their time trying to cure their male peers of smelliness, rescue the depressed from suicide through coffee, doughnuts and dance and are crafting a brand new dance craze. Violet’s greatest wish in life is  to start a dance craze, sincerely believing this will change the world.

I really enjoyed Damsels in Distress, but there’s no denying that it’s not for everyone. Some people will find Violet and her gang too irritating to enjoy the film and the sly, witty and rather silly humour won’t be to everyone’s taste.

But I loved it; I really did. I liked it’s sneakily satirical tone and the gentle teasing of Violet and her ideas and ambitions. She is mocked but in a kind sort of way, as if the film understands that though some of her ideas are seriously misguided, Violet’s intentions are always good. I personally found Lily to be far more annoying; her constant questioning and undermining of Violet seemed nasty and passive aggressive. I found her hard to sympathise with.

I loved the sweet sub-plot of Heather (all four girls had plant and flower names) and her boyfriend Thor and his quest to learn his colours. It was ridiculous and incredibly endearing. His pathological fear of rainbows due to the humiliation they brought him was a wonderful touch. Similarly, the running gag about the healing power of good soap and nice smells seemed to get both funnier and more logical over the course of the film.

The setting of college was perfect for the film; this was a story of young people trying to find their place in the world and find some sense and purpose in life. Violet’s distress when she feels she’s lost that was palpable. Everything she does seems to be with the design of creating order in a chaotic world, to provide herself with a sense of meaning and safety. There were genuine parts of shade in the film, a lightness of touch applied to tackling the sense of confusion and ennui often felt by the young.

As I said, it’s not a film for everyone, but Damsels in Distress is intelligent, witty and thoughtful and I would heartily recommend it.

Film Review: Chef

Chef is a film about…well, a chef. Jon Favreau (who will always be Pete Becker to me) plays Carl Casper, head chef in a prominent LA restaurant. He was once the wunderkind of the food scene and the guy who gave him his first big review 10 years ago, is coming to review him again. We open on him excitedly planning meals and testing flavours, to busy and stressed to pay too much attention to his son, Percy, who lives with Carl’s ex-wife (warmly played by Sofia Vergara). His enthusiasm wanes when the restaurant owner (Dustin Hoffman) forbids experimentation and new dishes and insists Carl serves the regular menu. This is a business, with regular customers who want consistency. Needless to say, Carl does what he’s told against his better judgement and the review is a spectacular failure. The review contains some personal attacks on Carl and, introduced by his son to the world of social media, starts a Twitter war with the reviewer. This all culminates in a gigantic meltdown in the restaurant (making Carl YouTube famous) and – inevitably – getting fired from his job.

Scarlett Johansson as the restaurant’s hostess (Or maybe head waiter? Sommelier? Who knows) with whom Carl has a (slightly implausible) relationship advises Carl to take this as an opportunity, to spend time with his son and to find a way to start over and be happy. Smart advice. Carl’s remarkably generous ex-wife, Inez, takes him on a trip with her and Percy to Miami, where he started his career. There she reminds him why he liked cooking in the first place and suggests he work for himself. She pulls some strings with her ex-husband (Robert Downey Jr.) and secures Carl an old food truck. His friend ? (the never-in-enough-stuff John Leguziamo) leaves the restaurant to join him and the two of them take Percy and the truck on a cross country, circuitous trip from Miami, back to LA.

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Film Review: Belle

Belle is a British period drama, focusing on the extraordinary story of Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay, the mixed race, illegitimate daughter of a British aristocrat, raised within his upper class family in the 1700s and the unusual paths her life took.

Dido ‘Belle’ Lindsay loses her African mother while very young and is fetched by her father, a high-ranking sailor, while still a child. Unable to care for her, Lindsay leaves Dido with his uncle and family, asking that they raise her and provide her with every benefit afforded to her as his daughter. Dido grows up intelligent, elegant and beautiful but the question of her background and colour of her skin lead to consternation and cruelty as she grows up. She begins to question her upbringing and identity, looking to carve a new role for herself within society and to finally feel truly free.

What’s interesting about Belle as a film, is it carries all the hallmarks of a classic period drama: forbidden love, sumptuous costumes, careful study of the manners of the time, while also managing to be a reflection on politics, racism, feminism and self-identity and expression.

First up: I absolutely loved Belle. In fact, when it was over, I turned to my friend and told her I wanted to watch it straight over again. Amma Asante has crafted a beautiful, moving period drama that asks questions of British history through the eyes of an extraordinary woman. Gugu Mbatha-Raw was luminous as Dido, filling up the screen with a lively presence. She created a character that was intelligent, curious, passionate and bold. Her face was wonderfully expressive and so gorgeous (she wore hardly a scrap of make-up throughout). Though everyone was dressed beautifully, Dido’s clothes seemed especially exquisite, as if to make Mbatha-Raw shimmer even more. She effectively conveyed Dido’s inner conflicts, her growing resolve and appreciation for her heritage and history. The scene where she examines herself in the mirror was particularly affecting, as was the moment she glimpses a painting of herself.

Belle was about Dido finding her place as both a woman and as an outsider in her community. The film allowed her to find a purpose for herself in the world and carve a role for herself as an individual.There was a sweet romance at the centre of the story, but it felt secondary to Dido’s own development and taking control of her fate. Undoubtedly the film had to be a bit creative, as so little is known about the real Dido, but the life they breathe into her and the agency the character is given is both inspiring and engaging. An exemplary costume drama and examination of one woman’s indomitable spirit.

Film Review: Edge of Tomorrow

Honestly, I’m not sure what I expected going into Edge of Tomorrow. I like a big blockbustery action movie but I can find sci-fi a bit off-putting sometimes (sorry!). Plus, yet again, I wasn’t entirely sure what it was about (are trailers just designed to overwhelm us now? To bewilder us into seeing these movies?) Emily Blunt and Tom Cruise gave a long, slightly spoilery plot summary on Graham Norton, leading me to expect Groundhog Day meets War of the Worlds. Which is pretty much what I got. It was also smart, funny, action-packed and well paced, with a great female role for Blunt.

In Edge of Tomorrow, the future Earth has been invaded by rampaging, scary aliens called Mimics. They have been progressing across central Europe and (in a neat WWII parallel) have finally reached France. An international army is gathering in the UK, preparing to launch across the sea to the beaches of France to try and defeat the Mimics and keep them from crossing the sea. Tom Cruise plays Major William Cage, a US Army PR officer, whose main job is to get soldiers to volunteer. When an unfortunate encounter ends with him headed to the beaches to fight the enemy, he is totally out of his depth and quickly comes a-cropper. However, something odd happens and he wakes up to relive the day again. And again. And again. Cage eventually approaches super soldier Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt) after she reveals she may know what’s happening to him…

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Film review: X-Men – Days of Future Past

To catch up on the X-Men films so far, go here.

I wasn’t a comic book reader growing up, I have to confess. But I did live with an avid fan and so Marvel was an ever present part of my childhood. We were particularly devoted to the X-Men cartoons (which are still awesome, by the way). I have watched all the previous films, including the much maligned X-Men Origins: Wolverine and was looking forward to Days of Future Past, despite the fact that I had absolutely NO IDEA what it was about. Fox managed to produce just about the vaguest trailer I’ve ever seen. ‘But what is it actually ABOUT?’ I asked every TV ad, promotional interview and trailer showing, to no avail.

Is it me?

Anyway, I saw, I followed the plot (hurrah!) and I really enjoyed. My expert brother dubbed this as the best Marvel film he’s seen and I think I might be tempted to agree with him. The acting is universally excellent (though some actors are appearing in what are essentially cameos – the trailer is a little misleading) and the plot was sophisticated and written with grown ups in mind. The pace was good too; I never felt like it dragged (always a plus for me in action films – too many of them go on forever nowadays).

The plot was well structured and cleverly layered. The time travel gambit wasn’t overly complicated and easy to get with straight off the bat. It was set up in such a way that the ‘how’ wasn’t really that important, making it a lot easier to follow. It was a smart idea to use Wolverine as a bridge between the two time periods; Hugh Jackman really holds the film together and keeps a level of consistency throughout. As I mentioned, the trailer is a little misleading – despite appearances, this film unquestioningly belongs to the First Class cast. With James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence and Hugh Jackman walking away with most of the screen time, you have four great actors and charismatic leads, who lend a lot of spark to the film. Excellent support is provided by Peter Dinklage as the bad guy and Nicholas Hoult, as Hank McCoy/Beast. He really delivered on the (then) Jekyll and Hyde aspect to his mutation. I also really enjoyed Evan Peters’ appearance as Quicksilver. He put in a charming and deftly comedic performance and I’m glad he’s set to appear in the planned next instalment.

The period setting really worked (the choice of combative US president felt inevitable) and I enjoyed the sharp contrast between the past and the present. One of the best things about the X-Men has always been the way it showcases the persecution and marginalisation of minority groups in society. This film really delivered for me on the complexities of being part of a maligned group and the hard choices to be made between turning the other cheek and fighting back. While a peaceful resolution is clearly preferred, the film allows us to understand Mystique and Magneto’s reasons for feeling like fighting fire with fire is their only option and gives its leads complicated morality codes.

While First Class was good, the return of Singer at the helm does add a richness to the film. The humour, casting, acting and action were all on point and I can’t wait to see what this team does with the Apocalypse story.

 

*There will be several film reviews coming up as I have been to the cinema a LOT recently – you have been warned!