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 – 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 Meg

I don’t remember the last time I went to the cinema to watch a film with no expectation other than the fact that I was going to have about two hours of mindless fun.

Or at least I couldn’t until it came to The Meg.

I’m not going to lie to you – I got very excited when I found out Jason Statham was going to be taking on a big-ass shark this summer. What better calling was there for this guy? He lives to make films like this. He’s not fussed about Oscars, he just wants to make action flicks that entertain people, and with The Meg, he’s achieved that goal once again.

The first half hour gives you all the background and sets the scene. Admittedly, you do find yourself thinking at this point, “Hurry up and show me what I came to see.” Patience, however, is a virtue, and you do very quickly start to get rewarded once that initial phase of the film is over.

What comes next is everything you could ever have hoped this Statham vs shark movie would deliver and more. You get the big-ass shark. You get the even bigger-ass shark eating that shark, up-ending a boat in the process. Ridiculous action movie heroics and near-misses that are way too convenient for the sake of a paper thin plot that you just willingly accept because you, some way, somehow, have allowed yourself to fall hook, line and sinker for this film. It shouldn’t work, but it does. Personally I felt it could have been improved with the addition of a lot more truly terrible one-liners, however I’ll forgive the writers this mis-step due to them allowing Statham the greatest line of the whole film. Tell me one person who the words “CHOMP ON THIS YOU UGLY BASTARD”, were better suited to. The reason that man was put on this earth was to deliver that line to us.

Now, it could be argued that the only reason The Meg hasn’t been ripped a new one is because of who the lead star is. When Jason Statham is involved in a film, suddenly people become more accepting of the fact that the film isn’t, and was never destined to win Oscars; that it will not represent art in the traditional way we know it. As a result, audiences are a lot more open-minded about what the film may contain, and The Meg gets away with murder.

However, let’s take Statham out of the mix for a second and give the film some serious credit where it’s due. This film has got one of the most diverse casts that I have seen in a while in what is a now a big summer blockbuster. Regardless of how well-received it is at the box office (which has been very well so far by the looks of things), no one can deny that there is a real mixed bunch of actors from all kinds of different background involved, and that was great to see.

If you want a couple of hours to just switch your brain off and enjoy a tonne of madness then it’d be worth popping in to your local cinema and feasting your eyes on The Meg. Very little mental capacity is required to enjoy this one – in fact, the less you go in with, the more fun this will be for you. It’s a film that know exactly what it is, and doesn’t once shy away from it. It’s probably going to be one of the best cinema trips I’ll have this year, and I am completely okay with that, and I really hope that we get to see some kind of a franchise come from this because I’m all ready to do the same thing all over again this time next year.

Thursday Thoughts – How much power do TV audiences have?

Fox has been on something of a killing spree of late. After cancelling 5 shows in as little as 2 days, you have to question whether channel bosses will still have anything to run by the time they’re finished.

Amongst the massacred was Brooklyn Nine Nine. The decision to call time on this much-loved cop show was met with shock and outrage from fans (myself included). Cries of disbelief rang out across social media and soon these turned into campaigns to get the show back. In the space of just 36 hours, the show has died, been buried, and then was resurrected by Fox rival, NBC.

This reinstatement of the Nine Nine raises the question of how much power audiences actually possess, especially when it comes to TV shows. With films, it’s all fairly clear cut – if the film makes enough money, you tend to get a sequel, whether you asked for it or not. With TV, it’s not quite the same kettle of fish, however there is obviously a correlation between audience numbers and show survival rates as one of the most common reasons for cancelling a show is low ratings. Quality doesn’t seem to be a real deciding factor here either, which means this selection process is quite unfair. Shows that are actual works of art are take from us far too soon, while others that are tripe at best go on forever purely because there’s a larger audience watching it.

However, it would seem that there is hope for those good shows that come to an untimely end. Resurrections do happen – they have now saved two shows that I hold very close to my heart (one being B99, the other being Ripper Street). And on both occasions, these decisions have been brought about by the actions their audiences have taken, mainly in the form of kicking up one hell of a fuss about some idiot’s momentary (but HUGE) lapse in judgement.

So, TV audiences have power, but exactly how much do they have? To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what the answer is, but we definitely have a decent say in what makes the cut and what doesn’t. I don’t have the statistics for the Brooklyn Nine Nine revival handy, but I know that in the case of Ripper Street it took only 12,000 signatures on a petition to get Amazon to take the show on. In the grand scheme of things, 12,000 really isn’t a massive number either when you think about the 3.38million people that watched the show on average.

But here’s the thing – we are very spoilt for choice when it comes to what we watch on TV now. More so than ever before. There’s a lot of things to watch, but the actual audience size hasn’t increased as quickly, which in theory means that each new show and channel added stretches that audience thinner. Suddenly, 12,000 is a significant number of viewers for a channel to lose if it displeases them, and it’s also a significant number of viewers for a newer kid on the block to think about winning over. These two things coming together were ultimately what saved Ripper Street’s ass, and they will create similar dynamics in future that will save other shows. Why? Because in this world where everyone’s attention is being fought for constantly by at least 10 different entities, it’ll be the ones that give audiences what they want that come out on top. We as an audience must remember that we are the most important people to these TV stations, and also streaming platforms too. Without us, they have no purpose and therefore would cease to exist. NBC are giving the people what they want by saving Brooklyn Nine Nine, just as Amazon did when they saved Ripper Street. I do not doubt for a second that they will benefit from their decision, but regardless of however it turns out, they will be known to millions as the people who saved B99, and that kind of testimony packs a punch. And the only people who can provide that testimony are the audience, which is why they wield so much power.

Review – The Last Kingdom (Season 2)

If you’ve been frequenting this blog for a while you may be aware that a little show called The Last Kingdom stole my attention a couple of years ago. The historical drama, which has been liked by some to a budget version of Game Of Thrones, debuted in 2015 and took a lot of people by surprise – myself included. it finally returned for it’s second season in 2017, and despite my best efforts, I’ve only recently got round to watching it.

Was it worth the wait?

Quite possibly.

The show picks up from where it left off at the end of season one with our hero Uhtred (Alexander Dreymon), continuing his mission to rescue his sister, but very quickly it becomes apparent that his energy is going to have to be focused elsewhere too. Just like with season one, the writing was superb. I’m not sure there were quite so many surprises this time around, but then i knew more about what to expect from the show, so you could say I was more prepared.

My love for our protagonist here grows with each episode I watch. I was well on-board with the character of Uhtred in season one, but I am surely smitten with him now. Bernard Cornwall, author of the novels that the show is based on, has created a character that you absolutely want to succeed no matter the cost, and Alexander Dreymon has brought those to qualities to life in such a way that I think everyone should be allowed to have an Uhtred-type figure in their lives. It seemed that this time we got to see a more human version of the character. Dreymon showed a side of Uhtred that was ruled more by his heart than by his head. The character also felt like he had matured considerably since the last time we saw him, which was also a nice development to see.

Season two also brought with it the return of a few other characters and fleshed them out more. some got better, others got worse, and my perception of these characters hinged purely on the way they treated our beloved Uhtred, funnily enough. We also got introduced to some newer faces as well, one of which I’m guessing will go on to have a pivotal role as the show progresses through future seasons.

I seemed to me that there might have been a bit more action this time around, although whether that was as violent as the last time I’m not so sure. As I said at the beginning, when the show started in 2015 it had an element of surprise about it. As a new show, I had no idea what to expect, and it pulled absolutely no punches. This time I kind of was more acquainted with the style of the show, so knew it wasn’t going to hold back as much. did this mean it lacked as much impact? In terms of shock factor, perhaps, but as I’ve said, the show felt more mature with this season, which I think made up for it.

So there you have it really, my take on The Last Kingdom season two. Definitely a good extension to what we’d seen previously, and it’s sown the seeds for what’s to come in future. Is it still one of the best British shows you could watch at the minute? Absolutely – give it a spin.

Review – A Quiet Place

It’s very easy to underestimate the power of sound.

In a lot of good films where it is used well, noises and music can become almost like an extra character. The people behind A Quiet Place knew this, and decided to go one step further by making sound the focus of the entire film.

Let me tell you, it worked. I mean, it really worked, very well indeed.

The film takes place in, presumably, the not-too-distant future, and depicts a world that we quickly find out has been overrun by monsters that hunt their prey via sound (and which we get to see plenty of throughout the film which made a massive change for once). In order to stay alive, all living things have to make as little noise as possible, as once these creatures find you, they generally don’t leave until they’ve killed you.

A Quiet Place sets the scene in a way similar to 28 Days Later. You’re introduced to a world that has been almost entirely abandoned by everyone. Straightaway you know that something major has happened, but exactly what that is only begins to be revealed a few moments later. In one fast, and very early, change of pace, the film shows that it isn’t messing about. I was surprised because I didn’t think it would deliver on what it was dangling in front of me. I was wrong. It was a horrifically intense start to a film, and I loved it.

In terms of intensity, the film starts just as it intends to go on. I don’t think it’s entirely inaccurate to say that I lost the ability to breathe properly for the duration of the film. I’ve seen many a film and TV show that has mastered building tension in numerous scenes, but I honestly cannot say that I have been as on edge for a whole 90 minutes as I was watching this. And this is all because of sound. If we tallied it up, I reckon there was only about five minutes worth of dialogue in the whole film. The rest of it was noise and music, both of which were ALWAYS put to their best use to achieve the effects intended by director John Krasinski, who also starred in the film.

The main performances in the film allow you to really jump onboard with the high stakes that even the moments of less tension point towards. A massive battle for survival is endured by everyone, and after you see the extremes that this family has gone to in order to survive, you are completely behind them in everything they do. Emily Blunt is a talent no matter where you put her, and obviously things are no different here. Her character Evelyn has a few different layers that are added to as the film progresses, and she does a fantastic job of showing a woman who is trying her best to survive, but also a mother who would do whatever it takes in order to protect her children. Krasinski provides us with a performance that portrays similar objectives, but of course we see a more paternal approach from him in terms of this. We know that both these actors are good at what they do as we’ve had the chance to see their work on multiple occasions, however the two younger stars of this film, Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe, are simply wonderful, and I think both have their moments where they do, in fact, outshine their on-screen parents. There’s an overwhelming sense of maturity displayed in both of their performances, and this whole idea that the circumstances under which they are living has robbed them of their childhood is another reason why you want them to beat the odds. Both are smart and know what they need to do so that they don’t get killed – there’s no whining despite the constant fear that they both inevitably have. They just get on with it, which is more than can be said for a lot of the characters that have appeared in every other horror/thriller type film that I’ve seen.

I think another key thing to point out in relation to the performances is the use of sign language within them. It just brings another dimension to the film where you have to give people credit for what they’ve done. As well as this, it massively boosts the accessibility of the film too. Recently there’s been a lot of talk deafness and cinema following the success of short film, The Silent Child, and this film shows that sign language can be a massive part of film and be successful, and that a film doesn’t necessarily have to be about deafness in order to contain sign language. As film, this has a lot to shout about, but in terms of creating cinematic experiences for all, it has broken down barriers and shown that it is possible to create great films that everybody can watch.

It’s important to point out the all-consuming nature of A Quiet Place. I’ve never known a film like it if I’m completely honest (granted, I’m not that old, so it’s not the most impressive statement, but just go with it for a second). I saw this film with decent sized audience, and because I booked quite late, I had been forced to take a seat in the centre of the auditorium. Now, if I had have had my usual seat (back and centre, widely regarded to be one of the best seats in the house), I wouldn’t have been as aware of the people around me, which would’ve meant that I wouldn’t have experienced the atmosphere that that auditorium held for more or less the entirety of the film. It was almost as if we were all in sync. We’d all jump together. We’d all hold our breath together. Most notably, however, everybody was as silent as they could be for the whole time. The film had us all in such a vice-like grip that none of us felt able to make a sound either, much like the characters in the film. The writing and the ways and means by which it translated onto the screen have produced something that is a phenomenal example of how a film can move mass groups of people, and restores my faith in the fact that people will go out of their way to watch good films that don’t necessarily fit into the mainstream.

A Quiet Place is a fantastic film, and I really do think it’s going to be one of the most talked about this year. It confirms how important sound is in film, and also offers a masterclass in building suspense, keeping you on edge throughout. The characters are the kinds of people that you can actually vouch for, and as a result you are even more invested in a film that has already refused to loosen it’s grip on you. I love the fact that we get to see plenty of the monsters that are the cause of everything (unlike a recent monster movie sequel we’ve had unleashed upon us), but the fact that sign language plays such a key part in the film too is something that I think will create something of a legacy as I can’t think of another film that has featured signing so heavily that hasn’t been Oscar-bait nor has featured deafness as main part of the story.

Review – Molly’s Game

A film I’ve had my eye on for a while now is Molly’s Game. This one takes a look at the life of ‘Poker Princess’ Molly Bloom, who made millions off the back of illicit poker games in LA and New York.

Well, I really liked it. Some of the thoughts I’ve seen haven’t been quite so complimentary towards this film, but while it had it’s flaws, none of these posed any major issue for me, which isn’t bad considering this is the directorial debut of Aaron Sorkin. I thought it told a great story about a woman who learned all she could about something and then made a life for herself out of it. Fair enough, as time went by, the dream fell apart a bit, but hopefully you get the gist of what I’m saying. If I’m completely honest, I personally found Molly’s Game as empowering, if not more so than Wonder Woman thanks to the film’s glorious protagonist.

Jessica Chastain is going to win an Oscar one day. Whether it’ll be for her performance as Molly Bloom, however, I’m not sure. She was delightful as the character, and I think she made it clear that the games were not about greed for Molly – at least, that wasn’t the sole motive. Chastain really humanised her and made it easy for you to not only like her, but to also admire what she achieved. I’d love to see some Academy recognition for her here, but I don’t think the film has had quite enough momentum behind it in order for her to get it.

Idris Elba actually played a blinder here as Charlie Jeffery. I say that as though I think the man’s a terrible actor – he absolutely is not. However, I don’t think he gets the same kind of quality roles on the big screen as he does on TV. With this film though, I think Elba put in what I suspect could very well be one of this year’s most underrated performances (an early shout, I know). He had some mega scenes as Charlie that showcased his talents superbly.

It was nice to see Kevin Costner back in a good film. I’ve got bit of a soft spot for the guy seeing as he played Robin Hood in one of my favourite childhood films. Him and Chastain shared one of my favourite scenes in the whole movie – one that has come under fire massively from some viewers. Yes, you have to question how he came to find Molly in New York as he did, but if you can get past that I think you can truly appreciate what a wonderful scene the two shared.

At the heart of this film is a fascinating true story. The mind boggles as to who some of the people involved in these games were. Some theories have emerged and I’ve a few suspicions of my own as to who may have taken part in Molly’s games, but part of the magic of this film is that the way it presents some of it’s characters does allow you to speculate quite a bit.

People who aren’t poker players (like myself) might fear that the film could go over their heads if it delves too deeply into the rules of the game. I didn’t find my lack of poker knowledge to be a huge disadvantage, although there was the odd scene where I got slightly lost. Nonetheless, I would urge you not to be put off if you think the same thing might happen to you – it really didn’t make much difference to my experience of the film.

I have to say that Molly’s Game is a winner for me. Chastain proves to us once again what a monster talent she is, and Elba gifts us with a dark horse performance. Both of these pair together to tell an intriguing story that held my attention from start to finish. Sorkin has done a wonderful job with his directorial debut, and I’d be very interested to see what he brings to us in future.