Don't be put off by my title: there is nothing sinister here chaps!! Indeed, with my general 'bloggings' I shall attempt to delight and astound you out of the mundaneness of a middle class suburban life, into the magical world of the Sophster!! Mystical...

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Sophie's Film Choice #10: BLUE JASMINE

The days are getting cold and and wet, the city is covered in a sheen of rain, the nights are drawing in... it's only right that we should all go and see a Woody Allen film! I took my own recommendation on Friday night, and scooted on down to Hatfield to see one of my favourite director's latest efforts.

'Blue Jasmine' is a life-assuring piece about love and happiness, and will leave you with a warm glow inside, to fend off the winter chill. LOL JK! In fact, this film is perhaps the most heart-wrenchingly intense and tragic films Allen has written... probably since 'Husbands and Wives' (which is just an unflinching chronicle of stale marriages and break-ups - cheery)!

'Say enchilada!! :D'  '...No.'
Not surprisingly, given good old Woody's history, 'Blue Jasmine' explores some of his common themes: adultery, sex, deceit, death and snobbery (in no particular order. But all are frequent. Painfully frequent).

'If you ask me to speak elvish ONE MORE TIME.'
Following Jasmine, in a series of flash backs, and in her new life in San Francisco, we witness the brisk and catastrophic demise of a once glamorous and serene woman, into a quivering (and at times terrifying) train-wreck. Cate Blanchett is nothing less than astounding in the role, oscillating between a hyper and overly loquacious socialite, to a calmly arrogant millionaire, to a... chattering nutcase within seconds, her self-denial and psychosis kept worryingly relatable. Honestly, she is a chameleon of misery!

Desperately seeking refuge with her stepsister, Ginger (played by Sally Hawkins), Jasmine doesn't even try to conceal her disgust at the cheap Californian suburban life she must withstand. In Allen's signature style, the gaudy flat in San Francisco is set up as a direct contrast to Jasmine's spacious and minimalist New York home (the split-screen shot at the dinner table in 'Annie Hall' springs to mind), and Blanchett's willowy and pale physique makes her seem an unwanted giant in the claustrophobic, latino apartment.

'I can't believe you told me this was a 6Os themed party...'
Hawkins perpetuates a brash and bubbly naivety as Ginger, the fun-loving, honest and accepting antithesis to Jasmine, and whilst she goes for some pretty minging men (having sex with a fat old bloke in the back seat of his car... classy), we can't help but will her on to a happy ending. As is often the case in Allen's work, the eye is firmly on the female in this film, whilst the men (including the sleazy and unfeeling 'Hal', played by Alec Baldwin) are merely vehicles for their happiness and distress.

'Blue Jasmine' is, in my opinion, the best film Allen has made since 'Husbands and Wives'. Whilst I thoroughly enjoyed the beautiful scenery, warmth and quirkiness of 'Midnight in Paris', it lacked the emotional substance which this film has in spades. I would defy anyone who doesn't have a lump in their throat in the final scene. One thing is for sure, Woody Allen can recreate break-ups and break-downs like no-one else can.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Sophie's Film Choice #9: MONSTERS UNIVERSITY

Having been meaning to see this long- awaited prequel since it was released on my return from Disneyland in June (yes, I have been there 3 times in 5 years, what of it?), it's hard to believe that it took until the August Bank Holiday weekend to catch up with my favourite monsters.

In hindsight, perhaps this was not the best day to choose. Far from the quiet and empty screening I imagined, the cinema was crammed full of shouting, restless and... loquacious little terrors. A constant stream of noise created a chaotic ambience whilst I was trying to enjoy my trailers- even if it is just advertising a film about a speedy snail, show that snail respect people!

'Did you not hear the dress code either?'
However, as soon as the Pixar short began, I was immediately soothed and delighted, watching the cute umbrellas flirt with each other and found myself, as always, rooting for inanimate objects (such is the Disney way). By the time the feature film began, I was ready to enjoy it with as much zest as I enjoy any Pixar film; the first shot of a seemingly normal pigeon which turns out to be two- headed set the tone for the unexpected sense of humour that carries 'Monsters University' to a deserved place in the Pixar Hall of Fame.

Detailing Mike Wasowski's time at University, and the unusual beginnings of his friendship with James P. Sullivan, the film explores ambition, hard work vs. talent, and that sometimes neither is the route to success. Using the typical American college formula of the cliques (Jocks, Girly Girls, Emos and Misfits), the monstrous aesthetic works surprisingly well, lending itself to some intricate and hilarious gags. Some of the best moments are Sully stealing 'Archie the Scare Pig', the pair trying to cross an especially formidable librarian, and some killer moves thrown at the fraternity party.

And the winner of 'The Great Monster's Bake Off' is...
The campus setting allows for some great new characters, the underdog fraternity 'Oozma Kappa' providing consistent laughs whilst being thoroughly endearing. Consisting of a 'mature' student with tentacles, a character named 'Squishy' (enough said), a two headed semi- dancer (only one of the heads likes to dance, embarrassingly) and a philosophical 'Hug in a Mug', the team pull together through a highly satisfying montage. Also watch out for the mother. Loading the washing machine. Just watch her boogying and enjoy.

The best pairing of brains and brawn since Woody and Buzz, Mike and Sully tug at our heart strings once again, showing us that teamwork is more important than glory. Also, Mini- Mike (with braces) is the cutest large green eye socket that I've ever seen, and for that alone, I am sold.

Whilst the plot of the prequel may be less tight and more predictable than 'Monsters Inc', 'Monsters University' makes up for it through the wonderfully crafted humour, well observed and detailed characterisation, and of course, absolutely stunning visuals. In fact, in some scenes, it's hard to believe it isn't real. Apart from the monster bit, I suppose.
Sully didn't quite understand the concept of 'Jazz hands'....

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Sophie's Film Choice #8: ALAN PARTRIDGE: ALPHA PAPA

Early evening in Watford? The smallest (and emptiest) screen in the cinema? Late for the film due to insisting on a  Ben and Jerry's milkshake? A conspicuous entrance as the only under 40 year- olds in the room? Having to fumble up the stairs in the pitch black, drawing further attention to ourselves?

AH- HA!! It could only be the beginning of our time with Alan!

This needs no caption. 
After a string of wildly inappropriate trailers (including two films starring Mark Wahlberg, and a sickeningly cliched Richard Curtis film) we were ready to reacquaint ourselves with our... Norwichian (?) hero. And he delivered. That is metaphorically; he did not deliver anything to us. We were just watching him on a screen.  

Interestingly, the film is set when Alan is at a relatively high point in popularity and in his career; he presents a lunchtime show for 'North Norfolk Digital', and he actually lives in a house- not even a caravan or a hotel room! However, we soon understand that Alan is on thin ice; when a media conglomerate try to take over the radio station, he must use all his power of  brown- nosing, back- peddling and desperately confused logic to keep afloat. Enter the real Alan Partridge- hopeless, smarmy and downright cringe-worthy. But somehow likeable. 

Cleverly, Steve Coogan and Peter Baynham keep to the claustrophobic and bleak portrayal of inner Norwich that characterises Alan's gloriously uneventful lifestyle, most of the action taking place within a few streets of the radio station. Too many directors try to recreate intimate comedy on a large, sometimes international scale when converting to film, but this just wouldn't have sat right with Partridge. Why would he need to travel? He's only famous in Norwich. Well, quite well- known at least. His listeners must be in at least double figures.

Alan has become the Dark Lord. Just another day for Lynn (sigh)
The film also sees the return of some familiar faces; Alan's fiercely loyal PA, Lynn, proves as adorably tragic as ever, shocked and flattered to be offered a cup of tea, and completely submissive when told her hair cut looks like it is 'mid- explosion.' Alan's Geordie friend Michael returns (inside a cupboard), as does his long- time radio rival, Dave Clifton (now a recovering alcoholic, giving Alan full ammunition to 'have the last laugh.') Along with Monica Dolan's performance as Angela, automatically admirable as she convinces us she actually fancies Alan, as well as Colm Meaney's portrayal of Pat Farrell, the former folk loving radio DJ turned psychotic... folk loving ex- radio DJ, the film achieves new levels of hilarity. 

The beauty of the plot lies in the fact that Alan can remain pathetically incompetent and inappropriate as he doesn't lead any of the action. Instead, things happen to him. Like involuntarily negotiating a siege, having to carry a fire arm, and 'laying down some bass' to record a new, 'hostage style' radio jingle. Controlled by fear of Pat Farrell, as well as guilt for elaborately convincing the station to fire him ('JUST SACK PAT'), it is down to Alan to calm down the situation; of course, he exacerbates it, failing in all his given tasks, whilst actually managing to  undermine the police's attempts to rescue Pat's hostages themselves. The film can be compared to watching a car crash in slow motion. Repeatedly.

'I think I've got a handle on it'

If you think you will enjoy/ endure watching Coogan's chronically awkward alter- ego skulk around corridors thinking he is Tom Cruise, try to 'gee- up' the crowd whilst tied to what can only be described as a 'man lead', and fall slowly out of a window, losing both his trousers and his pants, then this is the film for you. If not, then... Smell my cheese, you mother! (Back of the net!)  

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Sophie's Film Choice #7: THE WORLD'S END

Apparently the 'mint' flavour in the 'Cornetto trilogy' ('Shaun of the Dead' being Strawberry and 'Hot Fuzz' Classic... mmm ice cream... wait where was I?). Oh yes, Edgar Wright's final instalment proves just as fresh as its dairy based counterpart.

On anticipation of this film, I was concerned that there would be a distinct case of what I call 'Austin Powersing' (using the same gags and punchlines, but just filming them from another angle. It should be added to the Oxford Dictionary soon). Watching a trailer involving Simon Pegg failing to jump over a fence... again... worsened my fears. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find 'The Worlds End' to be an altogether new and refreshing experience, as well as doing justice to the previous films in the trilogy.

Only Martin Freeman made it through to the judges house. 

Of course, some necessary changes are in order to keep things unexpected: by this point in the actors' and director's careers, a robot invasion is pretty run- of- the mill. Firstly, the Frost- Pegg role reversal serves to make Simon Pegg's character, Gary King, what he himself calls 'a bit of a dick.' Far from the empathy we feel when Shaun lost his girlfriend back in 2004, Gary's predatorial arrogance incites fear lest he is  unleashed on womankind. Scenes involving disabled toilets and getting off with school- aged girls don't do him any favours. In contrast, Nick Frost's character, Andrew Knightley, is on a par with 'Hot Fuzz's Sergeant Nicholas Angel in his determination to stay sensible, and, above all, sober.

The interplay between Gary's outright reckless stupidity and Andy's exasperated need to protect and follow him crafts this film into a cross between 'War of the Worlds' and 'The Inbetweeners,' perpetuated by the opening scenes showing school aged versions of the five unlikely heroes blundering their way drunkenly through their home town of Newton Haven. Interestingly, the location shots were filmed in Welwyn Garden City, which I'm sure my fellow Hertfordshire dwellers agree, could very well be the World's End (if it didn't contain the EPIC roller disco).

Fans of the trilogy will feel a glimmer of warmth and familiarity through playful references to the previous films. Whilst  the gang try to look natural as they nervously negotiate their way to the pub, the classic zombie impressions from 'Shaun' spring to mind, whilst we also have the pleasure of witnessing a second ex- Bond, this time in the form of Pierce Brosnan instead of  'Hot Fuzz's Timothy Dalton (don't worry, Brosnan doesn't sing in this one... I still haven't listened to ABBA since).
'Gaston! I thought you were dead!'

Other memorable performances include Martin Freeman's portrayal of Oliver, an estate agent whose vapid cheeriness makes him the perfect candidate for alien mind- invasion, and Paddy Considine as Steven, the worthy winner of love interest Sam's affection through his comparative chivalry compared with Gary (he doesn't even make rude hand gestures!) Rosamund Pike is the perfect choice as the female lead, attractive and ditzy in equal measures.

Perhaps more macabre in tone than its predecessors, 'The World's End' develops an emotional depth explored in 'Shaun' (who can forget Shaun having to shoot his own mother?) and nearly forgotten in 'Hot Fuzz.' Through earning a larger budget for the final film, Edgar Wright takes advantage of spectacular effects sequences which give the trilogy a fittingly apocalyptic ending, whilst showing how far the team have come since their debut collaboration, 'Spaced'. He also manages to make Ford Fiestas look bad- ass. (Well, even more so).

Whilst perhaps not as concise as 'Shaun of the Dead', or as consistently hilarious as 'Hot Fuzz', 'The World's End' fittingly embraces the Cornetto Trilogy's mantra; the endurance of humanity depends upon fierce friendship, blind resilience and a LOT of beer.

P.S Check out some great fan art and photos on tumblr:

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Sophie's Film Choice #6: STAR TREK: INTO DARKNESS

Having never been interested in 'Star Trek', 'The Next Generation', 'Deep Space Nine', 'Voyager', 'Enterprise' or the... 'Animated Series' (I know. I had never heard of it either, but Wikipedia would not lie to me, surely?) I was pleasantly surprised at the enjoyment I experienced at the new 'Star Trek' film series in 2009, and this instalment is just as exciting as the last.

Before we begin, I will reassure you of some consistencies/ developments from the previous film: Kirk is still smug. Scotty's accent is just as (or even more) hammy. The female crew still wear impractically short skirts. Spock is still an absolute dude. 

IT'S STAR TREK: INTO DARKNESS TIME! (Feat. terrifyingly hyperevolved Benedict Cumberbatch)

'Maybe I should have just used the door...'
Having now become an IMAX addict, the glasses were on and the gloves were off for the cinematic event of mid- May. Admittedly, I did feel like I was going to be literally speared in the eye by an indigenous alien culture in the first five minutes of the film (nearly choking on my Ben and Jerry's milkshake in the process); however the special effects and action sequences in 3D were spectacular. The conceptual work behind this film should be applauded- particularly the inventive portrayals of the futuristic cityscapes of London and San Francisco. And then their exploding. Because that's how 'Star Trek' rolls. 
'I flare my nostrils at you, sir.'

The film is true to its title: everything becomes darker, scarier and more violent, with the introduction of the franchises returning villain, Khan. Benedict Cumberbatch's portrayal of Khan, a genetically enhanced superman, is ruthless, intense and unnerving. His stare is the stare of nightmares. And he stares a lot. A bit like when you look at a cat, and it stares at you, and you don't know what it's thinking (do I stare back? Do I ignore it?) Except it's OK with a cat because they generally don't try to crush your skull. 

As if watching Benedict Cumberbatch destroying buildings, punching Spock in the face and fighting off a hoard of Klingons with his bare hands wasn't enough, all our favourite characters are back, bigger and better than before. Watching Spock and Uhura having a quiet domestic was one of my favourite moments of the film (In the words of Kirk: 'You're fighting? What is that even like?'), whilst Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto elevate the friendship between Kirk and  Spock to 10/10 on the 'welling up' scale. Man, that Vulcan has some deep feelings! Respect. 
'Live Long and Prosper.   ...I'll just go make a sandwich.'

With some light gimmicks thrown in, such as Simon Pegg and a small alien enjoying a drink in a nightclub, and Alice Eve valiantly providing the 'girl in underwear for no reason' shot, this film has all the ingredients for a Box Office success. The plot is simple yet contains enough unexpected twists to leave you crying and sobbing at once, like some emotionally unstable maniac. Of course, like Scotty, I kept my cool. (It's funny because he is the only one who, quite understandably, panics a lot.) 

All I can say is, bring on the next one! And I'll leave you to decide whether Cumberbatch has had hair implants...

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Sophie's Film Choice #5: IRON MAN 3

(Looks up from casually reading a literary masterpiece as if interrupted)

Oh hello film fans! Fancy seeing you here! It's been a while...

What's that you say? You miss my film related postulations and witty anecdotes? Then fear no longer! Like the 'real slim shady' I am indeed back. Back again. (Tell a friend). Not only am I back but I am going to enthuse your senses by accounting my experience of Iron Man 3! Don't say I never treat you. 

After a glorious evening out at Sheffield's finest 90s bar 'Babylon' (so classy that they live by the policy 'No Drinks on the Dancefloor!') me and my fellow student accomplices decided to continue the decadence by making a trip to the cinema. But not just any cinema. The IMAX. Having not been to one in years, I eagerly donned my 3D goggles over my glasses (creating a fashionable look which would allow me to see every bit of flying debris in the next two hours) and settled ready to engage with some Iron fuelled madness. 

Chillin' in my armoured onesie. 
There were trailers. Lots of trailers. In fact, I thought at one point that we may have been in the wrong screening as we were shown about 15 minutes of footage from 'Fast and Furious 6' in a desperate plea for Vin Diesel's salvation. However, after a mere 40 minutes, the film began, and was well worth the wait. 

The blend of exciting action, believable characters and appropriate humour has made the 'Iron Man' series a firm favourite of mine, not being the greatest fan of comic book films for their own sake. Despite a new writer and director, Shane Black, the third instalment maintained the charm of its prequels, with added emotion and hilarity in equal measures (only Tony Stark could show so little sympathy for a small child and make us laugh). 

Dude! Brush your teeth!
Threatened by the dangerous and infiltrating force of 'The Mandarin', a formidable villain played by Sir Ben Kingsley (the obvious choice for a militant terrorist, I'm sure we all agree), Tony Stark faces his toughest challenge yet: protecting the world, his reputation, and dealing with his increasing dependence on his own technology. (Note to self: if creating a remote controlled suit, remember to switch it off before sleeping). 

Amongst some stunning action sequences, involving multiple flying suits, falling from planes and buildings being desroyed -IN IMAX-  the characterisation in this film is better than ever. Tony Stark, played by the irreplaceable RDJ (as we in the Hart family endearingly refer to him) proves he has a heart, without resorting to the serious, look- how- hard- my life- is, Ed Norton's Hulk style acting. And Gwyneth Paltrow, recently voted the most beautiful woman in the world, is badass. She's on it kung fu style, donning the iron suit and everything! Sassy. 

Topped off by the cold, smarmy and antagonistic presence of Guy Pearce as Aldrich Killian, Stark's adoring fan turned sour (think 'Syndrome' in 'The Incredibles' but slightly less pathetic and whiny), the acting and screenplay transform this film from 'the one after The Avengers' to something much more substantial. I was well emosh. 

I am now going to provide you with my favourite moment of the screenplay:

Harley Keener: You're gonna walk away, like my dad?
Tony Stark:.... Yeah! 

And for some context, here is the child:

'You may leave me, Iron Man, but I've already acted in more films than you .'(Seriously, look it up, he was acting since birth!)
 On that note, I would thoroughly recommend 'Iron Man 3' to all fans of the series, all fans of RDJ, all fans of kick ass special effects, all fans of Gwyneth Paltrow in a bra, and anyone who wants to see Sir Ben Kingsley playing his finest role ever. Marvel- ous. (yep, I said it).