Review – A Simple Favour

Writer and director Paul Feig’s films are generally good or bad, or love or hate. There doesn’t tend to be much in the way of an inbetween on any of them. For example, I loved The Heat and Spy, but really couldn’t have liked Bridesmaids more if you paid me.

So, when it came to his latest project, A Simple Favour, things were set to go either way. Admittedly, after having the trailer thrust on upon me during a cinema visit, I wasn’t bathing in anticipation. On the surface, it just looked like a Gone Girl knock-off, so I’d kind of half wrote it off. However, when some very celebratory reviews tied in with a dead weekend for me, I threw caution to the wind and went to see it. Whilst the Gone Girl vibes are definitely present, A Simple Favour does manage to avoid becoming the cheaper version it originally threatened to be. The only question surrounding the film now is whether it’s worth the time and money needed to go and see it at the cinema.

The film centres around two mothers who meet through their kids having a play date. Stephanie (Anna Kendrick) is a stay-at-home mum who loves nothing more than motherhood, whilst Emily (Blake Lively) has a high profile job in PR which doesn’t mix brilliantly with having a kid. The performances put in by both actresses were super entertaining. They played polar opposites who brought out the best (or worst) in each other, and it is in creating these kinds of characters where I think Paul Feig’s strengths lie. Kendrick seemed to be right at home as quirky vlogger Stephanie, and Lively was the perfect accompaniment as too-cool-for-school Emily. When the two of them shared the screen together, there were some magical moments to be had, and these definitely made for some of the film’s highest points.

The storyline here was pretty strong too. I liked the little twists thrown in here and there, and the ending involved a particularly impressive sequence as well. Although, as I’ve mentioned already, the film did manage to steer away from being a budget version of Gone Girl, the vibes that remained acted as more of a curse than a blessing. Some moments felt like they’d been lifted straight from that film and bastardised a bit. There were also a few things that happened throughout the story that seemed as though they’d skipped a beat. For example, why did Stephanie make the assumption that, if Emily was still alive, she’d be stalking her blog everyday? How exactly did she come to that conclusion? Why, of all things, would she be doing that? It was little things like this that didn’t quite add up for me and made it feel like too much had been attempted that couldn’t be pulled off.

One thing that no-one can take away from this film is how excellent the style is. Everyone and everything looked fantastic! Special shoutout to Blake Lively’s suit game whilst we’re on this subject – they were all very impressive, and will now be how I model my own image every day i go to work from now on.

Despite my initial reluctancy to watch it, A Simple Favour turned out to be a fairly decent film. It’s not perfect, but it’s strengths carry it through nicely. Kendrick and Lively are terrific to watch and I don’t think you could’ve found a better combination of actresses to play the two characters they did here. I love the look of the film, but unfortunately it wasn’t quite enough to detract from the points where it did occasionally lose itself through either trying to pay tribute to other thrillers of a similar nature or attempting to pull off twists that it couldn’t quite manage. Still, it’s far from a terrible film, so give it a go when you get the chance.

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Review – Jigsaw

I think I have real issues with loving myself sometimes. That’s the only explanation I could come up with for why I voluntarily decided to watch Jigsaw the other day.

After working my way through the entire Saw franchise a couple of years ago, I kind of figured one more film wouldn’t do any harm. It certainly couldn’t be any worse than the collection’s sixth instalment, which it wasn’t. But this is a Saw sequel, so whilst I was hopeful that Jigsaw would be watchable, I was never going to allow my expectations to get too high.

This film takes place about 10 years after the serial killer known as Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) died. With no sign of any of the apprentices he nurtured within the first seven films, everyone must ask themselves who could possibly be behind the mutilated bodies that have started turning up on the streets again. With this in mind, it is dead safe to say that the writers behind Jigsaw stuck to what they knew. The entire film can be summed up as follows:

1. A human body wildly appears, absolutely battered.

2. Comparisons are made between this body and those thrown up by the Jigsaw murders.

3. BUT JIGSAW’S DEAD? (This or words to that effect are uttered by someone).

4. It’s clearly Person X – they’ve always had an unhealthy interest in the case.

5. Person Y, who was never suspected, “Surprise, bitches! It was me all along.” (Cue backstory that’s not nearly as clever as it thinks it is).

I’ve to be honest, the above was a formula that was wearing thin long before this instalment. With this film though, it was starting to feel almost like a spoof of all the films that came before it. However, that may be why Jigsaw was at least a serviceable watch.

Everything about it kind of paid homage to (or poked fun at, depends what side of the fence you’re on) all the films that came before it. We had the same set of characters as we had time and time again throughout the first seven films – intelligent ones, stupid ones, selfish ones, good cops, bad cops, and that one character who is way too obsessed with the murders. The fact that we got a new set of faces fulfilling these roles once again emphasised this idea that no one seems overly keen to stray too far from the beaten path with this franchise, even if this tried and heavily tested method could do with a refresh. There’s also the backstory of how one person got recruited by Jigsaw, presumably only included so that there was an excuse to get Tobin Bell back with the ol’ moneymaker time and time again.

Jigsaw is a lot more self-aware than any of it’s predecessors however. It’s not scared to have little digs at the tropes that have made the franchise feel so tiresome in all the years it’s been running. This is something that makes it slightly less painful to watch whilst sober at least. If only the creative team had exercised this quality with the same gay abandon they seemed to wield when coming up with the traps, which were as ridiculous as we’re used to.

By now, I’m sure you’ll understand that this is far from a perfect film (gasp!). Of course, that’s not to say that the team behind it weren’t hopeful that the franchise may continue further following this film. What I’m raging about here though is the way that it looks like they – whoever THEY are – are going to do this. You’ll remember me saying Jigsaw seemed slightly self-aware. This was something that only lasted up to a point. At the end of the film, they of course pulled some twisty shit and pretty much used it as the facilitator for the cheapest, laziest reboot of a franchise that I’ve ever known. Saw died a death long ago. NOBODY needs a Marvel-style phase two to start now. And even if they do… even if someone, somewhere is desperate for more Saw in their life, it could’ve been set up so much better than this.

Anyway…

That’s my take on Jigsaw. It’s fair to say that I’m not quite fully acquainted with all of the feelings I had about it just yet. There’s definitely a sprinkling of hopelessness and a dash of anger there. Perhaps even some disappointment in myself for not knowing better. Whilst not the worst in the franchise, it is unnecessary and without a single hint of a doubt a sluggish cash grab that we will all continue to fall for on more occasions than we have already. The only saving grace here is the fact that it does seem to muster some self-deprecating humour, although not nearly enough to make up for the multitude of other sins it commits. And to think that another film has just been given the green light at the time I write this review. Will it ever end?

Review – Boardwalk Empire Full Series Review

There’s always a worry in finally being able to watch something you’ve been waiting ages to see.

Regardless of whether it be a film or a TV series, there’s a fear that it won’t meet expectations that have had plenty of time to grow.

So when I discovered the box set of Boardwalk Empire was on Now TV at long last, you can imagine my apprehension.

Well, I am over the moon to be able to say that it met every one of my expectations. I was so contented with the Prohibition-era set crime saga that I was kind of gutted when it came to an end. You know something? I can say I’ve watched plenty of good TV shows with multiple seasons, but I don’t remember any of them being as consistently good as this one. From the very first episode right up until the very last, it was rock solid. I would struggle to say the same about any show I’ve watched over the last few years.

One of the main things owing to the show’s consistent appeal was the eclectic mix of characters that were all brilliant in their own ways. And of course, where you find fantastic characters, you also find even greater performances. There’s too many for me to cover them all in this review of the full series, but I’ll cover some of the most honourable mentions.

Steve Buscemi is the ideal person to play some like Nucky Thompson. He’s played some right greaseballs during his career, and I think his turn as Nucky might be a beautiful culmination of them all. Buscemi probably isn’t the first man who comes to mind when trying to create a notorious gangster, but he absolutely owned the role and it’s hard to think that there would ever been a point where anyone else was in contention.

A truly star-studded cast stood alongside Buscemi here. Kelly MacDonald played Nucky’s wife Margaret. She underwent quite the transformation over the five seasons. Michael Kenneth Williams, a favourite of mine from The Wire, played businessman Chalky White and was as charismatic as ever. However, if I was to nail down any of the main performances for the sake of this review, I’d have to cover those put in by Stephen Graham and Michael Shannon.

Graham played the infamous Al Capone as he rose through the ranks to become a made guy. It was a very interesting performance, and certainly an entertaining one too. His Capone was a scrappy little terrier of a man, and he had the power to completely change the dynamics of a scene in seconds.

It is Michael Shannon’s performance that will stick in my mind for the longest though. That man can fucking act. Shannon was on another level entirely as Prohibition agent Nelson Van Alden. He was exciting watch, and every time I thought he’d peaked he just smashed through the glass ceiling. Every. Single. Time.

Storylines across the five seasons were fantastic, each one throwing up surprises that kept everything interesting. The writing constantly introduced us to new characters who were determined to topple Nucky’s empire one way or another. If I had to isolate one season though, I would have to go with season 3. The balance struck between all the different elements of the show was just a tiny bit more perfect on this occasion than it had been on all the others. That being said, all the others knocked it out of the park – even season 5 where I must admit I started out sceptical due to the massive amount of change that had clearly taken place between it and the one before it. I kept the faith though and was rewarded for doing so, is it went of to be one of the greatest final seasons and final episodes I’ve seen.

Written aspects aside, a 1920s drama wouldn’t be the same without all the costumes and the music – two things that define a period I think. The show always looked the part, and I think the attention to detail that the costume department possessed really shone through. There was never any disputing when in history this was all taking place because of it.

I really, really enjoyed Boardwalk Empire. There was nothing that I didn’t like about it if I’m being honest. The great mix of brilliantly well-written characters and the ways their stories intertwined, plus the flair of the roaring 1920s made for a barrage of viewing that made me feel like my life was missing something when it was over. For a history nut like myself, this was a real treat, but trust me when I say an interest in the past is not essential to fully engage with this one. An appreciation for good TV will suffice well enough.

Review – The Crazies (2010)

Slowly but surely, I’m finding myself becoming more pleasantly acquainted with horror.

I stuck The Crazies on the other night when I thought I was too tired to finish a whole film, and figuring I probably wouldn’t like it, it wouldn’t matter if I fell asleep at various points throughout.

HOWEVER –

I can report that I was surprised by how much I thoroughly enjoyed the 2010 remake of George Romero’s 1972 horror. The tale of a small town afflicted by a man-made virus after it leaks into the water supply was actually very thrilling, and I ended up having no problem staying awake for the duration.

Timothy Olyphant and Radha Mitchell head up the cast here as a husband and wife at the heart of the community the film focuses on. I quite liked their characters and the performances they gave us as they played them, although if I’m honest there was nothing overly spectacular about either of them. Olyphant is your typical small town sheriff as David Dutton. There was a real air of bravery around him and you got a very real sense that he would sacrifice himself for the good of the town if needs be. Mitchell as his wife Judy was pretty decent too. It was a bit annoying that she did a fair bit of screaming throughout the film, but as far as many of the women I’ve seen in horror go she wasn’t all that bad. At least she had sense enough to arm herself before hiding and so forth.

This is actually where many of the strengths of this film lay for me. The characters were not morons. Neither were the supporting characters, I might add. Characters with a few brain cells to rub together is probably the main thing that the horror films that I’ve enjoyed of late have in common. I was able to care about these people without feeling like it was being hopelessly squandered. To be able to have faith in something is a wonderful thing, but to be able to have faith in horror protagonists is even better.

Something else that lifted The Crazies for me was the lengthy and highly intense scenes that occurred on a few occasions throughout the film. The first one that comes memory involves a bone saw. The way it was filmed had me feeling personally attacked. The majority of it was shot from David’s point of view, which meant you got to experience it all first hand. I was squirming around in my seat, trying to dodge blows that were clearly never going to hit me. I liked that the film managed to achieve this, as so often I don’t feel horror films are invasive enough. The fact that it also managed to do it consistently too is also a plus point, and was absolutely one of the things that kept me watching.

So there you have it – yet another horror film that I’ve taken a liking to of late. At this rate, I’ll have done a complete U-turn on the genre by the end of the month and will be praying that Halloween becomes a year-long event. This one just floated my boat. Was it fairly simplistic? Yes, but it did everything it needed to in order for me to really get into the spirit of things. I completely thrived off the very real threat that existed at various points throughout the film, and I always find it a major turn-on when the main characters aren’t brain dead too. The Crazies is by no means a perfect film – quite a few aspects are pretty average at best, but it gets away with it because it’s strengths are able to pull the rest of it up. If you find yourself at a loose end one night, give it a spin – you could certainly do worse!

Thursday Thoughts – Is it time novel adaptations moved solely to television?

At the beginning of the last week, quite possibly the greatest TV show to grace our screens this year came to a knockout ending. Sharp Objects could very well seize the title of THE show of 2018 following HBO’s adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s debut novel. The scintillating performances from the show’s three female leads especially, plus Flynn’s usual spot-on writing makes for a whole eight hours where the viewer is barely allowed chance to breathe.

The show was directed by Jean Marc Vallée too, who we know has previous form with these TV novel adaptations following the Emmy success experienced by the last project he worked on before this, which was Big Little Lies.

That’s two major television series lining up consecutively in his filmography. One won pretty much all the Emmys. The other one will surely do the same?

Now, the success of both of these series are phenomenal, but that’s not really what I want to talk about here.

What occurred to me whilst watching Sharp Objects was that it is just one show in quite a long line-up of high profile television programmes to have been inspired by a novel. From HBO alone we have this, the also aforementioned Big Little Lies, plus Game Of Thrones that I know of. Across so many other networks there’s also the likes of The Handmaid’s Tale, Mindhunter, House Of Cards, Bosch, War And Peace, Hannibal, plus Lucifer and The Walking Dead (it was good once) if we throw graphic novels into the mix as well.

There’s definitely a trend for taking narratives from page to screens of a smaller kind of late. And personally I can’t fault that. From pretty much everything that I’ve seen up to now, books of any kind translate far better when not confined to a run time of 3 hours or less. That’s not to say books can’t be adapted for the big screen – there have definitely been some fine films harvested from books. It just seems to me that a higher proportion of TV shows are hits compared to the mountains of films that have managed to turn out just average despite having some of the finest page turners ever written. And following shows such as Sharp Objects, I can’t help but think on how much even some of the best film adaptations could’ve been improved if they’d have been made for TV instead.

A prime example of this would be Gone Girl. Another adaptation of a Gillian Flynn novel, this film was met with great critical applause back in 2014. I was a big fan of the film, and my viewing of it prompted me to read the book, which further blew me away. The hindsight that shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies have given me suggests that Gone Girl could’ve been even better as a TV series. The detail that the book boasted, but that unfortunately had to be cut from the film for the sake of the run time really would’ve been something else if made as a four or six-part TV show. You got more of a feel of how much of an evil woman Amy really was in the book, and I just know that Rosamund Pike’s performance would only have been even greater is more of this material had’ve been put to use.

Of course, it’s very easy to say this for good adaptations of good stories. If we were to be talking about some of the novels that would struggle to be defined as high art (Fifty Shades does come to mind, thanks to a friend on Twitter). I’ve not had the pleasure of experiencing any of the full versions of either forms in which this franchise was brought to audiences, however from what I’ve heard, none of it was great. Would we really want 6+ hours fo that delightful tale? Most likely not.

So, really, the question is, should we just save the good adaptations for TV? Because let’s face it, the bad books will still get made into something if enough people read them. How about we banish those to the movies where they can be limited to two hours or less, and then allow ourselves to savour the good stuff during a run on TV? They don’t have to be long series – some might only need to be four episodes in some cases. But with those stories where every minute detail adds quality, I think we should be allowed to enjoy it all.

Review – Searching

Every so often, a film comes along and exceeds all of the virtually non-expectations I have for it. Searching is one of those films, and I think it’s fair to say that it’s had that effect on a lot of people.

The film follows David Kim (John Cho) who has drifted from his daughter Margot (Michelle La) since the death of her mother. When Margot goes missing, David pulls out all the stops to bring his daughter home. Sounds pretty straightforward, but I can assure you that Searching is anything but.

Straightaway, the film gets off to an interesting start with an opening sequence that is majorly reminiscent of the opening to Pixar’s Up. I don’t know if it was something done intentionally, but I thought it was a nice touch and was an effective way to quickly get the audience emotionally invested in the characters.

John Cho and the character he played were both fantastic. It was the little details about David that worked wonders for the authenticity of the whole film, which is something it has been widely praised for. Things like how he didn’t instantly know what everything was or how it worked – these weren’t the biggest of things to include but they did make the biggest difference. Cho’s performance did a fantastic job of showing a father’s desperation in searching for his daughter. He was really easy to get behind, which I think is half the battle sometimes. These characters can often come off as super abrasive, and sympathising with them can be challenging as a result. David had a willingness to listen that meant he was actually a help, rather than a hindrance to the investigation, and remained very composed despite his desperations and so was massively more likeable.

Deborah Messing starred opposite Cho as Detective Rosemary Vick. Her part in the film turned out to be far more important than I had originally expected, and I think the way the story utilised Vick was brilliant. Messing was good in the role, and gave us just enough to believe she was all she said she was.

The writing for Searching is superb. Every part of it is so well crafted. Obviously I’ve already commented on some of the main characters, so I’ll now take a moment to talk about the story. What I loved about it was the fact it gave you all the hints you needed to work things out yourself, but did so s subtlety that you didn’t always pick up on it until it was too late. This meant that every turn the story made was entirely plausible, and you never once sat there thinking, ‘well, that was just for the sake of being twisty’.

The final thing I shall mention before signing off is the way Searching was filmed. It dawned on me ver early on how screen recordings were being used, however it hit me at the end that the entire film was shot this way. I loved this concept, not only for it’s originality, but for how it proves how accessible filmmaking is with a bit of creativity. I also have a lot of admiration for the amount of stage management this set up must have required. I know the difficulties I encounter when I open more than 3 windows at a time. To have been able to execute this as cleanly as it was done must’ve taken a lot of organisation, and I can only commend writer and director Amersham Chaganty for his vision here.

Searching was a surprise for me. A film that I’d have known very little about beforehand if it wasn’t for a trailer being forced upon me at a cinema screening a couple of months ago, it seems to have come out of nowhere, and that could very well be the secret to it’s apparent success so far. It takes an ultra-realistic and highly original approach to a type of story that I don’t think has been told as artfully as this before. You see real people on the screen thanks to the wonderful jobs all the actors have done, and the plot keeps you guessing until the final moments, meaning you cannot take your attention away for a second. I’ve a funny feeling this is a film that will be making it’s way onto the top ten lists of many people at the end of the year, and it’s really not hard to see why. Get yourself a ticket booked and see this film because you absolutely could do far worse.

Review – A Walk Among The Tombstones


I think I may have witnessed the best film Liam Neeson has been in in recent years.

A Walk Among The Tombstones is a 2014 crime drama following tormented ex-cop turned private investigator Matt Scudder, played here by the good man himself Mr Neeson. The story sees Matt trying to catch the criminal masterminds behind the disappearances of a series of women, whilst also dealing with a few demons of his own. Granted, this is the kind of character that’s been done to death over the years, but there are reasons why these types of guys are a popular choice – they work. Is it playing it safe? Quite possibly. However, over-complicating things is so often the downfall of many films and the people behind them. It was nice to see simple done well here, with a number of things attributing to my enjoyment of the film.

We’ll start with characters and the performances of the people who played them. Obviously we have Neeson playing our hero here. As Matt, he was your typical tough guy, pulling all the old tricks in order to comprehend suspects. I liked the fact that there was a touch of Dirty Harry about Matt. In fact, the whole film felt like an homage to these kinds of old school cop films which is definitely something that helped it garner my affections. It was a role that I think suited Neeson down to the ground. He didn’t feel like an ageing action man trying to stay relevant. Instead, he took on a solid role, put in a shift, and made sure it paid off.

Something else that made it easy to like Neeson in this film was the chemistry he shared with Astro, who played TJ, Matt’s wannabe partner. It was a such a likeable pairing. There was a lot of tough love handed out between them, which could serve to make you laugh but was also a reminder of the harsh setting of the film, which was New York circa 1999. I think the addition of TJ into the mix humanised Matt a lot. When he was around, Matt became more of a father figure as opposed to hardened, seen it all cop. Likewise, Matt’s presence transformed TJ. Both performances were very complimentary of each other, bringing out the best in either actor.

One thing I absolutely loved about this film is the look of it. The dull, dreary tones really suited the story and the characters. Everything seems to have a layer of grey cast over it, meaning you were never allowed to forget about the dark nature of the crimes at the centre of the story. This was also something that felt like a nod to the detective stories of yesteryear, which was a nice touch.

Also owing to the gorgeous appearance of this film is the cinematography. Having done the work I have done for the last year now I can honestly say that I would be so proud of myself if i had captured so many of the shots that make up this film. Some of it was genuinely stunning to look at.

A Walk Among The Tombstones turned out to be a far more pleasant surprise than I had anticipated it to be. It’s a film I really enjoyed and wouldn’t mind too much if we got a follow-up to it, although I doubt that’ll happen. It looked good, and did so many of the people who featured in it a lot of favours. Neeson is, I think, the best he’s been in a long time, and glides into the seasoned cop role effortlessly. This is absolutely worth the watch if you’ve missed it up until now.