*NEW* RICKI AND THE FLASH REVIEW *NEW*

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Meryl Streep sings and struts her way through this easygoing BUT tragically mediocre melodrama.

A musician (Streep) who gave up everything for her dream of rock-and-roll stardom returns home, looking to make things right with her family.

Penned by Diablo Cody. A somewhat mixed reaction for me. At her best, Juno. Her worst? Jennifer’s Body. This effort luckily fares somewhere in between.

We join Ricki as she performs at her local venue. A battered up pub with her regulars; half a dozen bar flies. I am a huge fan of the Streep. You know that with any film she will give 100%. It was a perfect showcase to see Streep do her best Stevie Nix impression. Anyone who has seen Mamma Mia and Into The Woods will know that she has a cracking voice.

The songs that were written for the film weren’t that bad. It was easygoing and chugged along. BUT things took a more interesting turn as Ricki has to return home to tend to her daughter (real life daughter Mamie Gummer) who is reeling from a bad divorce.

It was great seeing Streep act with her own daughter. Gummer gave as good as she got. As soon as she made her introduction and stormed into the room with her messy hair and dressing gown, I knew Streep had met her match. The fractious relationship between Ricki and Julie made for good viewing as the pair tried to reconcile their differences.

It may have been 33 years since Sophie’s Choice but Kevin Kline and Streep finally reunite once again. They worked well together and Kline played the role of the ex-husband Pete brilliantly. Desperate for the family to be together again. If anything, I was a little disappointed that he wasn’t in it enough.

And that was the main problem for me. There wasn’t enough drama. It didn’t kick off as much as I had hoped and was resolved far too quickly. A heated reunion at a restaurant was a perfect boiling point for Ricki’s sons to vent their anger at their mother who chose fame over family.

Audra McDonald’s Maureen and Streep’s Ricki sparred brilliantly together. It made for a compelling scene as we finally delve a little more into Ricki’s past. I just wish more was made of it. A few passing comments and snipey remarks wasn’t enough. You certainly felt for Ricki but you could also understand Maureen’s frustration after taking over as mum for all those years.

The problem was that after the hour marker, the film fizzed out. All the interesting family drama was put on the back burner and we were left moping over a silly little love subplot with Rick Springfield’s Greg.

Springfield played the love interest well enough. He was a likeable character BUT it was obvious that the pair would get together. To be honest from their on-stage banter and flirty exchanges, I thought they already were.

There were still some good scenes as Ricki desperately tries to hide her feelings and question why Greg would love someone like her. Awww. BUT it shied away from the real story for me.

And yes, I did clock Diablo Cody as one of the bar regulars. Ben Platt (Ol’ Benji from Pitch Perfect) still managed to annoy the hell out of me. Even in a small bartender role.

The closing quarter was far too schmaltzy for my liking. Don’t get me wrong, there were some nice moments as the family seem to accept her and she suddenly receives a wedding invitation. BUT there was a suggestion that Pete still had feelings for Ricki which was never really explored or bothered with.

It ended far too quickly and was dreadfully corny and OTT. A good old song and dance to make up for 35 years of neglect and anger? Okay. Obviously, Ricki is a singer and that was all she could offer. BUT come on! Streep may have nailed Bruce Springsteen’s ‘My Love Will Not Let You Down’ BUT, no disrespect to The Boss, I don’t think everyone would be raving to it at a wedding.

Predictable and a little too hammy for me. Streep was superb and the cast did their best. If it wasn’t for them, this could have been a very dull affair.

2.5/5

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INTO THE WOODS REVIEW

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Into the scrap heap? There’s only one way to find out.

This mixed bag of a macabre musical will certainly split audiences but I actually didn’t mind it.

(Said the guy who reviewed the Annie remake a few weeks ago)

I’m not a big musical fan BUT I’ve dabbled in the odd one or two. The classics; The King and I, The Sound of Music (Man points dropping with each title), Moulin Rouge (What?) and now Into The Woods.

I didn’t realise that this was adapted from a successful Broadway musical. So unfortunately I won’t be able to make comparisons.

Rob Marshall, the man who brought us the excellent Chicago and . . .  Nine, takes on another musical. With mixed results.

So what’s it all about? A witch (Meryl Streep) tasks a childless baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) with procuring magical items from classic fairy tales to reverse the curse put on their family tree.

The cast, bar one exception, were excellent. All perfectly chosen for their roles.

Meryl Streep proves once again why she is the best actress going, earning yet another Oscar nomination (and rightly so). I had forgotten what a great voice she had. I know! She was in Mamma Mia! But let’s be honest, that was a mess. Fun but a mess.

The sound of Pierce Brosnan’s “singing” voice will haunt my dreams forever. BUT that’s another story.

Anyway, Streep was superb and no uncontrollable arm waving this time.

She played The Witch with aplomb. Stealing every scene and singing some belters. Not enough of her.

Her closing song, “Last Midnight” was brilliantly done but her dramatic exit was a little unexpected and a bit abrupt. Which pretty sums up the last 20 minutes of the film.

After his turn in Horrible Bosses 2, I knew Chris Pine would be up for a laugh. His performance as Prince Charming was very good.

Especially during the “Agony” song. Pine and Billy Magnusson’s sing-off poked fun at the Disney prince archetype. Pine ripping his shirt off to show his muscles, Magnusson hitting the higher notes while trying to puff out his chest and flex. Hilarious.

Anna Kendrick was (to be expected) very good as Cinders. I knew she could sing after her performance in Pitch Perfect.

The opening prologue certainly got things going and introduced all the characters perfectly.

Daniel Huttlestone irritated the hell out of me in Les Miserables. A french peasant with a ridiculous cockney accent. You what? However he surprised me as Jack. Still a Cockney but it worked this time round.

Tracey Ullman (Where has she been?) was funny as Jack’s mother. Slapping him round the head in worry, hugging him the next.

Emily Blunt was fantastic (And what a voice!) as the Baker’s wife. James Corden was also brilliant. They had great chemistry and made a loveable couple.

The Baker couple were part of an original story line. It was clever how they reworked and incorporated some of the most popular fairy tales with their story line using the woods as the meeting point.

It didn’t cover too much of the same ground with the fairy tales we all love and know.

It merely showed each character returning to the woods after a pivotal moment in their story line i.e. Jack coming down the beanstalk with the gold egg, Cinderella running away from the prince, etc.

The Rapunzel story line didn’t really amount to anything. If not for Streep and Magnusson, it would have been completely unnecessary.

A revelation quite early on in the film involving her story line had so much potential but wasn’t never mentioned again or resolved. A missed opportunity. Mackeznie Mauzy certainly looked fantastic but didn’t really do much. I don’t think she even sang.

To be honest, if it wasn’t for Tangled, there would have been some serious plot holes for people not familiar with her story. (Man points gone!)

Johnny Depp had the easiest role going as the Wolf. He played it to perfection with his Bowie-esque voice.

But the song he sang. Hmmm . . . “Hey Little Girl” really made him sound quite lechy. If it wasn’t the fact that it was the Wolf singing about eating Little Red Riding Hood, it would have been a little unsettling.

Lilla Crawford had a fantastic little voice but I found her really irritating as Little Red. I mean I think Sondheim was deliberately portraying her as a little brat but she really did grate against me.

The film zipped along and kept things going but an hour and 30 minutes in, I wondered how much further this could go and with another 40-odd minutes, I could feel my attention wavering.

The songs were starting to go on a little bit and were not quite as gripping or as memorable. Don’t get me wrong, they were sang to perfection but hardly “The Hills Are Alive”.

What baffled and surprised me was how the film’s final act took such an unexpected turn. It flips everything up in the air with the stories veering away from their intended happy endings. The woods again being the brewing pot.

There were a few surprises to be had and I respected it’s attempt. It was actually a bit darker than I expected for Disney.

BUT it also left things a little too unresolved and ended abruptly with people disappearing with no explanation or a passing comment.

For all the bad press, I actually didn’t mind it. Not the best musical I’ve seen but a nice relief after the barrage of bilge I’ve had to endure this week.

3/5

THE 20 BEST FILMS OF 2014 * PART ONE

 

SO HERE WE ARE . . .

The best (or better) ones of this mediocre year. My criteria mainly focused on the ones that surprised, intrigued and entertained me. And boy, it was tough. Many have been watchable. Okay at best. What was harder was condensing my 20 WORST films. BUT there were diamonds in the rough sea of bilge that polluted the movie screens this year.

I have had to endure endless entries of mindless drivel regurgitating the same old plot, clichéd characters (even in their 3D wrapped foils) and excruciating acting or dreadful dialogue and to be honest, it’s killed my enthusiasm a little bit.

Now some entries you may question and unfortunately release dates are always different. My argument is films I’ve seen this year. Some may have been released at the end of 2013 but I didn’t see them until early January BUT that sums up my argument if they’re in here.

I won’t go on too much about each film. That’s what the other posts are for but a quick two cents if you like. Some I hope you will nod in approval. Others you may scroll back and forth hoping that this is a joke. BUT my criteria is based on surprise, entertainment and engagement. So God knows what lies in store.

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1. The Dallas Buyers Club

What? Let’s not forget this wasn’t released in the UK until February. A film that certainly surprised me. I went in not knowing what to expect and was rewarded with a different story and engaging characters that were done to justice by two actors that had seemed to be pushed into the movie wilderness. McConaughey was launched back into the limelight and rightly so, beating Ejiofor to the Oscar. I still couldn’t believe Jared Leto’s supporting role. More to him than just a singer from an emo-rock-pop band.

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2. Gone Girl

I went in expecting the worst and was rewarded with a brilliantly acted and well written piece of drama. I may have called the twist but the unravelling changed everything and made this an unexpected treat. A film with enough going on to justify it’s three hour length. Peter Jackson, I’m looking at you. The cast were superb. But the main scene stealer was Rosamund Pike. Remarkable. *Cough* Oscar *Cough*. Can Fincher do no wrong? (No, Alien 3 is awesome!)

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3. 12 Years A Slave

A visceral and haunting film that delves into the human condition of one man’s plight into slavery. Steve McQueen certainly delivered one of his most ambitious, if slightly overhyped, projects to date. A harrowing story expertly acted by a fantastic cast. Ejiofor was unlucky not to win but he has certainly proved he can handle the leading role. This was all helped by an Oscar-winning supporting turn from newcomer Lupita Nyong’o and a sinister one from Michael Fassbender.

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4. August: Osage County

An underrated drama. A perfect showcase in acting. Meryl Streep proving yet again why she keeps getting those Oscar nods. A simple story revolving a family feud. But with a family of well written characters with a huge ensemble of talented characters made this one to watch for me. Its abrupt ending may have lost marks but it didn’t ruin great performances. Shame none of the contenders won this time round.

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5. The Book Thief

Now I will admit that I haven’t read the book but if the film is anything to go by, then I really want to read it. An endearing, if slow burning war drama that is shown through the eyes of a little girl who finds solace in stealing books. A great performance by Sophie Nelisse. It’s always a gamble with kid actors, especially when they are the main characters. But a great performance that is aided by a fantastic supporting cast consisting of Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson made this an engaging and highly watchable affair with an inevitable but emotional ending.

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6. The Imitation Game

Fantastic. A suspenseful and intriguing look into the troubled genius that was Alan Turing as he helps crack the Enigma code during the Second World War. Benedict Cucumber Batch was outstanding. *Cough* Oscar *Cough*. A powerhouse performance. It helped being assisted by a stellar British supporting cast consisting of the likes of Charles “Game of Thrones” Dance, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode and that chauffeur guy from Downton Abbey. Compelling, enthralling and sombre viewing by the closing moments.

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7. The Guardians of The Galaxy

Another Marvel movie is unleashed. But what a film. James Gunn manages to make an enjoyable romp of a space opera with the same old predictable guff of intergalactic rogues turned superheroes spiel. However, I actually cared about these rogues and cannot wait for another inevitable sequel. This is all helped with a great script, fantastic cast and an awesome soundtrack. So good I saw it twice.

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8. 22 Jump Street

My name is Jeff! Yes, conforming to the masses but if when a blockbuster is this funny, who cares? Hill and Tatum are back pretty much doing the same thing which worked the first time round to better and bigger results. I laughed from start to finish. The very purpose of a comedy for me. It’s big, dumb and stupid but so funny. Invest.

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9. The Inbetweeners 2

Speaking of dumb and stupid. The boys are back but this time they’re going down under. If you’re a fan then expect the same old dirty smut that still manages to have you heaving and laughing all the way. They may be reaching their thirties but the cast were still very much on form, making this installment surpass the first movie but falls first of the iconic TV series. Get on it, my movie fwends. Fwend, aww.

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10. X-Men: Days of Future Past

Bryan came back! And brought with him another relentless X-Men sequel that restored my faith in the franchise. A little plot device allowed the director to do a little spring cleaning. A fusion of the old with the new made something completely different and very entertaining. Even the introduction of more new faces helped rather than hindered this time round. Evan Peters’ Quicksilver, I’m looking at you. There were numerous things I wanted to see more of as the film drew to a close. But all little teasers for a resurgence that I for one cannot wait to see. Plus McStewart vs. McBender in an act-off. Who can do deliver the best Magneto/Xavier? You decide.

THE GIVER REVIEW

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Hollywood gives us another post-apocalyptic teen franchise to sink our teeth into but does it make you want to?

In a seemingly perfect community, without war, pain, suffering, differences or choice, a young boy is chosen to learn from an elderly man about the true pain and pleasure of the “real” world.

Jonas: “If I’m the receiver of memories. What does that make you?”

The Giver: “I guess I’m the giver”

Childish laughter aside (I can’t believe they actually put that in there), we are handed another sci-fi teen flick with a protagonist who battles against conformity disguised as peace by a conniving dictatorship.

It certainly zipped along and wasn’t a bad way to kill 90 minutes but as I was watching I found it incredibly tough not to make comparisons to Divergent and Ender’s Game and as it concluded, all I could think was Hollywood better quit while they’re ahead before they kill more franchises.

Director Phillip Noyce has a great cast at his disposal; a mixture of fresh talent with the experienced Oscar veterans . . . and Katie Holmes. It was a surprise to see Holmes. Released from the Cruise cage to do a spot of acting. In all fairness, she doesn’t do a bad job. Let’s be honest, her acting was never brilliant. Meryl Streep does her best to make the role of Chief Elder engaging but the character is so mechanical and one dimensional that not even the Oscar winning starlet can work her magic. A shame as Streep is remarkable. She is able to pull in some emotion with her encounters with the gruffly Giver (Jeff Bridges).

Brenton Thwaites is a likeable lead. He has certainly been making the right impressions. Just not in the right films. Oculus was a dud no matter how hard Thwaites tried. Maleficent was actually not bad but his character was a little hammy. Yes, he was Prince Charming. However, he finally gets given a character he can work with and delivers a memorable performance. One to watch. Once Jeff Bridges gets over sitting looking angry and staring out Thwaites in a chair for 15 minutes, he delivers the goods yet again.

Odeya Rush (The Odd Life of Timothy Green) is also quite likeable and has some good chemistry with Thwaites. It’s a shame that there is always an inevitable romance brewing but if you finally fight conformity and stop taking a pill that suppresses emotion (Yep. I was thinking Equilibrium too), you would suddenly feel attraction, love, etc. Just a little corny for my liking.

Alexander Skarsgard (True Blood) was surprisingly wooden and seemed to be sleep walking the role but for those you have seen the film, I think there may have been a point to that. Speaking of which, I did not expect a cameo from a particular pop star as Rosemary. Let’s just say she made a swift impression.

Ross Emery’s cinematography is to die for. His use of monochrome juxtaposed against the introduction of colour as Jonas (Thwaites) begins to experience feelings and visions was a nice touch. The panning out to view the remaining colonies was a feast for the eyes. The 1984 overtones around the film was one aspect that did keep me intrigued and the idea of censoring people’s memories and using precision of language to specify exactly what they mean is something that feels all too real. And with the way political correctness is going . . . (REDACTED)

What I hate is that they give us little tidbits in the hope that we will be interested in another installment. Wrong. I want the first installment to hit the ground running and get me wanting another. NOT think that was okay. Maybe the next one will be really good. Noyce certainly ticked the boxes on pace. 97 minutes certainly breezes by with enough content to keep you watching. But the content, despite being brilliantly shot, has been done to death and so much better. A mesh of Divergent meets Equilibrium. I mean even the process in which the kids are given positions was just a futuristic sorting hat scenario from Harry Potter.

The film seemed all too nicey nicey. Until . . . a twist. A predictable one in hindsight. But a twist that turned the cheesy overtones to something much darker and it did make for a thrilling finale. However, it all ended too quickly and flatly for my liking. Now, unfortunately I haven’t read the Lois Lowry bestseller but I have it on good authority from fans that the film remains true to the source material. In that case, I will not be rushing to get the book.

At it’s best, it’s well acted, zips along, has moments of clever satire and action. At it’s worst, it’s predictable, a mix of teen and sci-fi flicks with an inevitable foot note that reeks of “THERE WILL BE A SEQUEL”

My main gripe with films like these is that they are just being churned out with no real attempt to be different. Originality is tough these days but I think Hollywood should spend a little more time looking at the source material, making a stronger film instead of relying on the same old guff or ripping off classics in such a lazy way. This is why The Host, Mortal Instruments and Ender’s Game all failed to earn another sequel. All best selling novels with die hard fans in their own rights. It’s always tough to impress fans but you can at least try NOT yammer on with corny dialogue, poor pace or stretching out a story to milk more movies. You need to impress us with the first. IF The Giver earns one, then they better come out guns blazing. A comment I use too often. (Even for Divergent).

3 (just) out of 5

TOP 20 FILMS OF 2014 SO FAR

So here we are. What films have surprised, intrigued and entertained you this year . . . so far? Now I’ve waffled on about having pretty much a season ticket pass to the cinema. So far I’ve seen 85 films this year which . . . isn’t a lot in comparison to my last year’s total of 144 (Yep, crazy) and that is because I have found it harder to enjoy films lately. I have had to endure through endless entries of mindless drivel regurgitating the same old plot, clichéd characters (even in their 3D wrapped foils) and excruciating acting or dreadful dialogue.

To be honest, it killed my enthusiasm a little bit. I see a trailer and have doubts. I have to talk myself into going, simply hoping that it will at least be watchable (which most of them are) but enjoyable? Well . . .

Now some entries you may question and unfortunately release dates are always different. My argument is films I’ve seen this year. Some may have been released at the end of 2013 but I didn’t see them until early January and it says it all if they are in here because I have found it difficult to fill my top 20. I had to pick films that surprised for not being a complete blunder or just for keeping my attention. BUT here we go.

The top 20 films of 2014 . . . so far

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1. The Dallas Buyers Club

A film that certainly surprised me. I went in not knowing what to expect and was rewarded with a different story, engaging characters that were done to justice by two actors that had seemed to be pushed into the movie wilderness. McConaughey was launched back into the limelight and rightly so, beating Ejiofor to the Oscar. I still couldn’t believe Jared Leto’s supporting role. More to him than just a singer from an emo-rock-pop band.

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2. 12 Years A Slave

A visceral and haunting film that delves into the human condition of one man’s plight into slavery. Steve McQueen certainly delivered one of his most ambitious, if slightly overhyped, projects to date. A harrowing story expertly acted by a fantastic cast. Ejiofor was unlucky not to win but he has certainly proved he can handle the leading role. This was all helped by an Oscar-winning supporting turn from newcomer Lupita Nyong’o and a sinister one from Michael Fassbender.

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3. August: Osage County

An underrated drama. A perfect showcase in acting. Meryl Streep proving yet again why she keeps getting those Oscar nods. A simple story revolving a family feud. But with a family of well written characters with a huge ensemble of talented characters made this one to watch for me. Its abrupt ending may have lost marks but it didn’t ruin great performances. Shame none of the contenders won this time round.

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4. The Book Thief

Now I will admit that I haven’t read the book but if the film is anything to go by, then I really want to read it. An endearing, if slow burning war drama that is shown through the eyes of a little girl who finds solace in stealing books. A great performance by Sophie Nelisse. It’s always a gamble with kid actors, especially when they are the main characters. But a great performance that is aided by a fantastic supporting cast consisting of Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson made this an engaging and highly watchable affair with an inevitable but emotional ending.

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5. 22 Jump Street

My name is Jeff! Yes, conforming to the masses but if when a blockbuster is this funny, who cares? Hill and Tatum are back pretty much doing the same thing which worked the first time round to better and bigger results. I laughed from start to finish. The very purpose of a comedy for me. It’s big, dumb and stupid but so funny. Invest.

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6. The Guardians of The Galaxy

Another Marvel movie is unleashed. But what a film. James Gunn manages to make an enjoyable romp of a space opera with the same old predictable guff of intergalactic rogues turned superheroes spiel. However, I actually cared about these rogues and cannot wait for another inevitable sequel. This is all helped with a great script, fantastic cast and an awesome soundtrack. So good I saw it twice.

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7. The Inbetweeners 2

The boys are back but this time they’re going down under. If you’re a fan then expect the same old dirty smut that still manages to have you heaving and laughing all the way. They may be reaching their thirties but the cast were still very much on form, making this instalment surpass the movie, not quite the series. Get on it, my movie fwends. Fwend, aww.

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8. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Now I am actually reading the book. This film lost marks for stretching out its source material to the max. However, Jackson still manages to deliver the goods by harvesting a special effects extravaganza of a movie. This slicker, darker follow up to An Unexpected Journey has left me awaiting for the final installment of the prequel trilogy. But does it really have to be three hours again?

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9. X-Men: Days of Future Past

X Men Give to Ya. A return to form from a franchise that had lost its way BIG TIME. Mixing the old with the new cast along with a time travelling plot device made for some twists and turns and a little spring cleaning as Singer made his return to the helm. With that we got an action packed restoration to former glories, near enough.

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10. The Raid 2

Despite lacking the pace and tenacity of the original and leaving us chomping our nails, waiting impatiently through the monotonous set up after a gruelling opening sequence, The Raid 2 finally delivered the goods with an all-out explosive lets-crank-this-to 11 adrenaline pumped finale with some crazy cult characters and memorable fight sequences.

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11. Captain America: Winter Soldier

A solid sequel that improved tremendously on its rushed predecessor and allowed to flesh out the ol’ Cap and some of the supporting characters that we only really had little cameos. Nick Fury, I’m looking at you. The introduction of new characters helped provide a more interesting environment. The whole adjustment to the modern era was a nice touch and gave Cap a little more dimension. If more films are to follow for the Cap, I await with anticipation.

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12. How To Train Your Dragon 2

It may not have topped the original but it still entertained the masses with terrific animation, an easy going plot and great characters. Definitely one of the better family movies out this year. I cannot wait for the next one.

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13. The Railway Man

A endearing, well acted war biopic that received such a panning, I feared the worst. However, although a little slow burning, I thought Colin Firth was incredible and was snubbed an Oscar nomination for his performance. Nicole Kidman may have been wasted in this role but the final confrontation between Firth and Hiroyuki Sanada was emotional and gripping. Worth a watch.

 

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14. Last Vegas

It know what is was from the get go. A group of old talented screen icons lapping it up in Las Vegas. It’s corny, OTT but left me smiling coming out of the cinema. Let’s be honest not all old boy movies hit it off. Wild Hogs and Space Cowboys (cough cough). The fact a sequel has been green lit, says it all.

 

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15. Begin Again

An unexpected treat. A feel good summer movie if ever there was one. Not without its imperfections. The flashing back and forth stuttered the opening and it may have ended a little abrupt and too open for my liking. BUT the songs were catchy. The cast were fantastic and Keira Knightley can sing. Oh my goodness.

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16. The LEGO Movie

How could I not? Everything is AWESOME! It’s funny, bonkers and blew the box office away. A talented voice cast boost a bunch of crazy but memorable characters with jokes and puns to entertain both kids and adults.

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17. Frozen

What? Losing movie cred. Entertaining, funny supporting characters, catchy songs. Disney returning to form and going old school with this icy escapade of a musical.

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18. The Wolf of Wall Street

Now despite complaining about the length and the hype, it was still a visceral tour-de-force of a drug induced thriller. Leo was unstoppable but did anyone else feel he tried too hard? Slight bias for me as I’m a Scorsese nut but it was still intense, funny and satirical to the max.

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19. Cuban Fury

I was torn between this and Edge of Tomorrow but despite seeing Tom Cruise killed 200 times, it was hardly original. Now, I know Cuban Fury isn’t original either but its easy going, funny and it was great to see Nick Frost come to the fore. The dance off sequence with an unexpected cameo was worth seeing alone.

 

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20. Delivery Man

Yep, you read that right. I’m going for the outsider. I read so many negative reviews that I dreaded watching this. However, I was pleasantly surprised. Now when it first started with Vaughan shouting and yelling in Spanish, I feared the worse. However, this soon turned in a dramedy and Vaughan was able to show that he can still act and be funny at the same time with an easy going story. And plus a scene stealing supporting turn from Chris Pratt as Vaughan’s useless lawyer pal made it all the better.

 

Feel free to share your top 20, debate my selections, all skip the post altogether.

COMING UP MY 20 WORST FILMS OF 2014. This will take me a whole lot longer to decide because there are so many choices!

AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY REVIEW

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Behold, an Oscar candidate. A proper one. A perfect showcase in sheer acting. I may have said that a few times now but this one takes the cake.

Brilliant, bold, riveting drama with the best acting ensemble I’ve seen in some time. Meryl Streep once again demonstrates why she still rakes in the nominations. Phenomenal. I may have to retract my bet on the Best Actress nod. Tracey Letts adapted the screenplay from her own award winning stage play. Some may argue that the film may be restricted to the house, a beautiful house at that. But I feel it works as the perfect wrestling ring for one of the most dysfunctional families I’ve seen since Arrested Development (as exemplified perfectly in the poster).

Admittedly, I was reluctant to see this. Me? Reluctant to see a film? Strange. I know. The trailer didn’t sell it for me. But Mum’s a Streep fan and so we went . . . and was pleasantly surprised. What was strange was seeing ol’ brainbox Sherlock Holmes, Mr Benedict Cumberbatch as silly sympathetic simpleton Little Charlie. An odd, if well acted, transition. After his shoddy accent in The Island, Ewan McGregor has finally mastered the American accent. The only thing I could pick at is why on Earth did he have his teeth done? Are you Rylan in disguise?! (X Factor’s Rylan Clark. If you don’t know, who that is. Well, you’re lucky). Apart from that, very good. In all fairness, the cast were brilliantly picked for the roles. The only problem with so much talent on display, certain actors get pushed to the back of the line but the fact they are still able to make an impression, shows how talented they are and how well developed the characters were. Juliette Lewis as the younger gullible naive daughter (Not surprising that Lewis would play the dimwit but she nails it so well). Delmot Mulroney as the laid back slacker with the fancy Ferrari, trying to stay cool with the kids, reeking of a mid-life crisis.

Julianne Nicholson as Ivy, the daughter that stayed while the others flew the coop. And speaking of coop, it was great to see Chris Cooper. An underrated actor who always shines. I mean only he could go from American Beauty to The Muppet Movie and nail it. Desperately trying to keep the peace in a house full of nutters, his breaking point speech was brilliantly done. You couldn’t help but root for the guy. It could be argued that Abigail Breslin and Sam Shepard were wasted characters. But the real story is between Violet (Streep) and Barbara (Roberts). Breslin’s character Jean was more of a foil to unearth their resentments and there is a reason for Shepard without spoiling anything. Great actor and the fact he made an impact with a mere couple of minutes, reciting TS Elliott was very good. But anyone could have played him. 

There are three actresses that stood out. The first was Margo Martindale (a talented actress that has played some memorable roles from some of my favourite TV shows, Dexter and The Americans. She especially struck my eye after her turn in Justified as the creepy Mags Bennett). She plays Mattie Fae brilliantly. Her chemistry with Streep was fantastic. You could have believed that they were sisters. They made it seem so natural. Now the other two and the main stars, who have been rightly nominated for Oscars respectively, are Julia Roberts and Meryl Streep as Barbara and Violet. They desperately try to keep civil during a family crisis that has finally brought all the family home, despite their strained relationship but it isn’t soon before tempers flare up and everyone’s dirty laundry is thrown about. The pair are fantastic and when they confront each other over their problems with one another, it is great to watch. Riveting and at times emotional. Meryl Streep, however, was on another level. As soon as she entered the first frame, she stole the show and dominated the film as the overbearing pill popping matriarch. Her erratic behaviour from mad ranter to a vulnerable sufferer was conveyed expertly. Her “truth telling” guilt trip at the dinner table was brilliantly done. As the film progresses, we finally get to see her vulnerability and show real sympathy for her. The final moments are a fitting end note to an impeccable performance by an incredible actress. Just watch it!

Family secrets are revealed, unexpected twists and turns jump up, it all kicks off and then . . . ends quite abruptly. The ending was to be expected but it seemed to wrap up all too quickly and loosely but then when are family matters ever really resolved? But after so much build up, tension and great acting, maybe a little more time could have been spared on the final minutes, especially when one of the characters drives away in an unexpected direction. I’m staying as cryptic as possible as I want people to see this. Speaking as someone from a big family, there were so many personalities that reminded me of my own. The dinner table scene demonstrated that perfectly, especially when Violet told the men off for taking their jackets off at the table and watching them put them back on like scorned children. I haven’t seen the play that this was based on but I would very much like to now. Some may argue that the pace doesn’t justify the means but I don’t believe so. I think it allowed the simmering tension to bring to the boil perfectly, making it better for it.

All in all, well shot, well written, well acted, well done! Hazaar! In Streep we trust 4/5

Currently ranks #14 out of 133!

STOP! OSCAR TIME. THE RANT . . . I mean nominations.

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Awards seasons is well and truly underway and of course the OSCARS are vastly approaching. The nominations are here at last. Granted, I’m a little behind. Hey, I’ve been busy. Plus it’s been good to see people’s reactions on the list. Now, it’s my turn.

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  • So first up, here are the nominees for BEST PICTURE; 12 YEARS A SLAVE, AMERICAN HUSTLE, CAPTAIN PHILLIPS, DALLAS BUYERS CLUB, GRAVITY, HER, NEBRASKA, PHILOMENA and THE WOLF OF WALL STREET. 

Mixed bag for me. Some of these riding on too much hype. Hype always helps in getting films noticed but these ones? Hmmm . . . personally, I feel that American Hustle and Captain Phillips do not deserve this nod. BEST PICTURE to me, means the best film in story, acting and . . . well everything. Both excelled as acting showcases but all in all, were both drawn out, long winded affairs that lost my interest through the halfway point. There is no need to make a film two to three hours unless the ends justifies the means. Now, Gravity is another over-hyped example. Deserves all the nods for visual and special effects but at it’s core, I personally felt the film died off when *SPOILER* Clooney did. In all fairness, he deserved a Best Supporting nod. He stole every scene. At Gravity’s core, however, is the same old predictable story of survival. I can’t believe I’m saying this but I had more enjoyment out of Armageddon! If she died, would have been a waste of time, so only one way it could go and it felt like an eternity not 90 minutes.

The others I have yet to see. The joys of being in a town where there are no independent or arthouse cinemas. BUT I have done my research. It’s great to see Nebraska and Philomena getting a nod. Philomena is a fantastic film, if unexpected nomination. However, these are definitely going to be the outside bets. Same applied for Dallas Buyers Club. Now, this is where my bias kicks in. Huge Scorsese fan! So I want Wolf of Wall Street to win. But I would say 12 Years A Slave will get this in the bag. The reaction has been a lot more united on this picture, while American Hustle and Gravity have torn people straight down the middle.

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  • Next, BEST DIRECTOR! And the nominess are; Alfonso Cuaron, GRAVITY, Steve McQueen, 12 YEARS A SLAVE, Alexander Payne, NEBRASKA, David O Russell, AMERICAN HUSTLE, Martin Scorsese, THE WOLF OF WALL STREET

Directors- not too much to say. You know who I want to win and frankly he has been ignored for too long. Scorsese finally got an Oscar but one of his weaker projects. Getting one for Wolf of Wall Street would rectify that. But I think it will be between Cuaron and McQueen. It should be McQueen but can’t help but feel Cuaron will nick something from all that astronomical hype (See what I did there).

  • BEST ACTOR – Christian Bale, AMERICAN HUSTLE, Bruce Dern, NEBRASKA, Leonardo DiCaprio, THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 YEARS A SLAVE and Matthew McConaughey, DALLAS BUYERS CLUB

In all fairness, I wasn’t surprised that Tom Hanks didn’t get a nod for Captain Phillips. Tremendous actor that he is. He only really got the final 10 minutes to show why he has earned that reputation. It was a wasted platform for him. Christian Bale was a surprise. Powerhouse actor but I felt he was incredibly passive and to be honest I have seen him do much better. He should received this nod for The Machinist. A painfully drab film that was uplifted by his sheer performance. American Hustle not so much. In all fairness, I felt Idris Elba should have had one more for Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. A flawed biopic that was carried by his sheer gravitas. I mean, Denzel Washington got one for Flight and well . . . that was nothing special. Even Colin Firth should have received one for The Railway Man. The emotion he delivers through his expressions is worthy alone. However, Leonardo DiCaprio has excelled film after film. He deserved an award for Django Unchained and should so for the Wolf. People are saying this is his year but how many greats have not been acknowledged by this noble award ceremony? Should be DiCap but money’s on Ejiofor. Great to see him get recognised for the talent actor that he is and no, not just because he was in Kinky Boots (that was filmed in my hometown. NORTHAMPTON!).

  • BEST ACTRESS – Amy Adams, AMERICAN HUSTLE, Cate Blanchett, BLUE JASMINE, Sandra Bullock, GRAVITY, Judi Dench, PHILOMENA and Meryl Streep, AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY. 

Right, love Amy Adams and Sandra Bullock but Best Actress? No. Adams’ accents were irritating, especially her “English” one. Great performance but not Oscar worthy. Same for Bullock. She expressed and delivered all the emotions any one could feel in that situation but I struggled to keep up with the film. I mean Doubt was a slow-burner but I couldn’t stop watching because of Streep’s performance. Ironically, multi-Oscar winner Streep has been nominated yet again. Not undeservedly so. She may have done some duds, but no one can doubt her performances and abilities. Keeping in mind with my previous comments, an actress I couldn’t keep my eyes off (Not like that! Well a little) was Cate Blanchett. BJ (Come on! We’re better than that!) Blue Jasmine was a ‘GOOD BUT . . .’ film for me. BUT Blanchett’s performance was impeccable. I think she will win. I really want Judi Dench to win. A fantastic actress and her performance as Philomena was funny and endearing but the buzz is pointing to Mrs B. Also, where was Emma Thompson’s nomination for Saving Mr Banks?! Shocking. Can’t believe she got cut from the list.

  • BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR – Barkhad Abdi, CAPTAIN PHILLIPS, Bradley Cooper, AMERICAN HUSTLE, Michael Fassbender, 12 YEARS A SLAVE, Jonah Hill, THE WOLF OF WALL STREET and Jared Leto, DALLAS BUYERS CLUB

Now firstly, not a bad selection. However, I do feel Hiroyuki Sanada should have a nod for The Railway Man. However, I’m not going to lie, I get confused with the release date period plus in the UK we seem to get everything a few months behind. Abdi was incredibly sinister and played the part well in Captain Phillips. I want Bradley Cooper to win. He has excelled since the Hangover and he stole the show, well almost, in American Hustle. That nod goes to someone else.  Money’s on Jared Leto who has been the dark horse and winning a few awards already for his performance.

  • BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS – Sally Hawkins, BLUE JASMINE, Jennifer Lawrence, AMERICAN HUSTLE, Lupita Nyong’o, 12 YEARS A SLAVE, Julia Roberts, AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY and June Squibb, NEBRASKA

There can only be one for me in this group who managed to make a quite pointless character enjoyable and memorable and that is Jennifer Lawrence. It’s a shame because Sally Hawkins was very good in Blue Jasmine. Interesting that Julia Roberts is supporting? From the trailer, I assumed that the main storyline revolved around her character and Streep was the supporting role? Hmmm.

Now, the others. Harsh but these ones get rushed across or are previewed during the relentless red carpet coverage or all the advertisements. It’s infuriating because these awards are still important; a good script with a good story makes a huge difference. Editing, sound, cinematography helps create a film and make it more memorable. If the sound doesn’t match or the film looks too grainy, that’s it, you’re out of there but hey ho.

  • BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY – 12 Years a Slave, Before Midnight, Captain Phillips, Philomena and The Wolf of Wall Street

Money is on 12 YEARS A SLAVE!

  • BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY – American Hustle, Blue Jasmine, Dallas Buyers Club, Her and Nebraska

A tough one. All valid candidates for a change. Now, Alexander Payne is normally the king for nailing this so I would say Nebraska. But I feel O’Russell will lose out on the bigger fish and might just sneak this. However, Oscar nominee regular Mr. Woody Allen might fancy his chances. Tough call. Gutted that Kelly Marcel didn’t get the nod for  Saving Mr Banks.

  • BEST ANIMATED FEATURE – The Croods, Despicable Me 2, Ernest and Celestine, Frozen and The Wind Rises

Got to be between Frozen and Despicable Me 2. Now, I want Despicable Me 2! Minions all the way and if they could accept it either dressed as Minions or an animated acceptance speech, that would be great (In Office Space voice). However, Frozen would be more fitting of the Oscars though. Both enjoyable none the less.

  • BEST ANIMATED SHORT – Feral, Get a Horse!, Mr Hublot, Possessions and Room on the Broom

Money’s on Get a Horse! It’s Disney, John Lasseter produced, can’t see any others beating it. Feral as the outside bet possibly.

  • BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY – The Grandmaster, Gravity, Inside Llewyn Davis, Nebraska and Prisoners

Money’s on Gravity. As much as it may have been overhyped, one thing that can’t be argued is the look of it. Beautiful and stunning. However, Prisoners was shot fantastically as well. But Gravity, all the way.

  • BEST EDITING – 12 Years a Slave, American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club and Gravity

American Hustle, methinks. I feel the film will pull in what it can because it may fall short of it’s buzz. However, Greengrass’ projects of late have been commended for their editing. Gravity may miss out in place for the more visual awards.

  • BEST COSTUME DESIGN – 12 Years a Slave, American Hustle, The Grandmaster, The Great Gatsby and The Invisible Woman

12 Years and American Hustle look outstanding in their design but there can be only one for it’s lavish and luscious costume and that goes to the Not-So-Great Gatsby.

  • BEST MAKE UP – Dallas Buyers Club, Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa, The Lone Ranger

Would be great to see Jackass to win for Knoxville’s make up but as it’s “Oscar season”, money on Dallas Buyers Club. Although strangers things have happened.

  • BEST MUSIC – The Book Thief, Gravity, Her, Philomena, Saving Mr Banks

May have cut short on everything but surely Saving Mr Banks will win this one?!

  • BEST SONG – ‘Alone Yet Not Alone’, Alone Yet Not Alone, ‘Happy’, Despicable Me 2, ‘Let It Go’, Frozen, ‘The Moon Song’, Her, ‘Ordinary Love’, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

Would love Happy to win. I mean it’s been number one in the charts over here for how long? Plus it’s a TUNE. However, Disney are a tough competitor. But let’s not forget that fateful year when Amy Adams sang live two or three songs that were nominated for Enchanted. Only for the couple from Once to win. Only one nomination in the group. Also, Three Six Mafia (Who?) have got an Oscar. Haven’t done much since. Didn’t do much before. Just stayin’ fly, I suppose 😉 Still don’t remember them? John Stewart said what everybody was thinking at the time, “Three Six Mafia 1, Martin Scorsese 0”

  • BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN – 12 Years a Slave, American Hustle, Gravity, The Great Gatsby, Her

Toss up between Gravity and OK Gatsby (What? It weren’t that good. Nice to look at, though). Got to be the Gats.

  • BEST SOUND EDITING – All is Lost, Captain Phillips, Gravity, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Lone Survivor

Gravity or The Hobbit. I would say, The Hobbit will get one preciousssss

  • BEST SOUND MIXING – Captain Phillips, Gravity, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Inside Llewyn Davis, Lone Survivor

Inside Llewyn Davis might snag this one and hopefully avoid a complete snub. We shall see. If not, there is only one, preciousss because one film of this magnitude does not simply go to the Oscars and get one award.

  • BEST VISUAL EFFECTS – Gravity, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Iron Man 3, The Lone Ranger, Star Trek Into Darkness

Gravity. Sorry, oh Smaug, breathtaking beast that you are but you cannot match the beauty of the Earth. Star Trek, fantastic effects but alas, worse than that, it’s dead Jim.

The other nominations I am unfamiliar with and I don’t think it’s fair to comment. Plus not much buzz to go. Best documentary. I’d place my bets on The Act of Killing.

  • BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE – 20 Feet from Stardom, The Act of Killing, Cutie and the Boxer, Dirty Wars, The Square
  • BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT – Cavedigger, Facing Fear, Karama Has No Walls, The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life, Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall
  • BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM – The Broken Circle Breakdown (Belgium), The Great Beauty (Italy), The Hunt (Denmark), The Missing Picture (Cambodia), Omar (Palestine)
  • BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT – Aquel No Era Yo (That Wasn’t Me), Avant Que de Tout Perdre (Just Before Losing Everything), Helium, Pitaako Mun Kaikki Hoitaa? (Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?), The Voorman Problem

A breakdown will down later on, with my Oscar checklist and bets, plus more buzz on the later categories. And let’s see how many on the Oscar lotto I can get. Such fun! Plus Dory’s back! Expect selfies. Run Spielberg Run!