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...

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: