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, 17 September 2017

Sophie's Film Choice #23: THE BIG SICK

Continuing my new found zest for the silver screen this summer, I took 'bae' along to a viewing of The Big Sick at our local 'cinema with a bar' last Thursday. As expected, the auditorium was full of 20 and 30 something couples ordering cheese plates (yes, with grapes and everything) and preparing for a suitably 'indie' romantic comedy.

In case you haven't heard much about this film (it didn't have a HUGE buzz around it), it follows the first few months of the relationship between Pakistani comedian Kumail Nanjiani (played by the real-life Kumail, who you might know as Dilpesh from Silicon Valley) and his now wife, Emily V. Gordon. The barriers in their way? 1) His parents are strict Muslims which means that Kumail must have an arranged marriage (Emily is a white non-Muslim) 2) Emily gets VERY ill. Like, 'goes into a medically induced coma' ill. That's not a spoiler btw, it's in the trailer.

Actual image of me trying to block out a woman's GLARING PHONE SCREEN. Srsly ppl.

Talking of the trailer, there's one thing I want to get out of the way: all the best jokes are in there. For a film marketed as 'gut-bustingly funny', there are actually very few laugh out loud moments (I counted about 4), which puzzled me at first. However, after a less than promising start - watching stand up comedians doing comedy that isn't very funny, and then watching their 'banter' as they laugh at how funny each other are - the film thankfully takes a turn into something much more bearable. With the arrival of Emily, we soon start to realise that The Big Sick isn't a raucous, 40 Year Old Virgin type comedy that we might expect from producer Judd Apatow - it's a romantic indie drama with funny moments.

The chemistry between Kumail and Emily (played with nuance and charm by Zoe Kazan) feels authentic from the beginning. Their one-on-one scenes seem like they could have been (at least partially) improvised, their awkwardness giving way to a genuine fondness for one another. The whole story, based on true events and co-written by the real Emily, feels deeply personal. Whilst Kumail's 'comedy skit' moments come across as a tad self-indulgent, he is pulled back with a swift one liner every time. When Emily discovers his family's plans for his future (remember, the whole arrange marriage thing?), her reaction is believably shocked and embarrassed. And then she gets very, VERY ill.

"Umm, who invited Paul Hollywood? Turn around and see what he's WEARING (but be subtle)"

The next section of the film centres around Emily's parents (played by Ray Romano and Holly Hunter) and Kumail, as they come together unexpectedly at Emily's bedside. Having been fully briefed on the ups (and downs) of their daughters relationship with him, they are decidedly cagey at first. However, some of the funniest scenes in the film explore how these three work out their differences and get to know one another, whilst occasionally cracking under the pressure of having a loved one's fate in the hands of doctors. Romano doesn't overplay his role and fits perfectly as Emily's slightly socially awkward, wise-cracking New York dad with his heart firmly in the right place. I mean, everybody loves him, right?... Hunter is equally likeable as Emily's mother, a tough mid-westerner who doesn't mince her words (even though she sounds like she's gnawing on something most of the time).

Whist Romano and Hunter deliver a masterclass in portraying the complex emotions of marriage, Nanjiani doesn't do quite as good a job. It might just be something to do with his face, but every time he is supposedly 'breaking down with emotion', he looks like he wants to laugh. This is particularly uncomfortable in the bizarre scene where he decides to go on stage at a stand up gig and just start telling the audience about Emily's illness and how the infection is spreading whilst fighting back 'tears'. I mean, if you feel that terrible, you wouldn't do the gig. This is a shame, as a story that has real emotional resonance soon starts feeling overly sentimental due to this forced performance.

Waiting for Season 8 of Game of Thrones like... 

However, what the film gets right is balancing these overly emotional moments with some truly wry comedy; which takes me to Kumail's very 'traditional' family. His mother's matchmaking as she invites a line up of single Pakistani women to just 'drop in' on family meals is a genuinely funny trope, and many of the film's laughs stem from the family's straight faces as Kumail tries to crack jokes ('always with the comedy' is his mum's long suffering catch phrase). The 'culture clash' gag which runs through the film is well judged; a scene in which Kumail is heckled by a racist bigot and defended by Emily's parents is both excruciating and moving to watch.

All in all, The Big Sick tells a worthy story with wit and charm. However, whilst it tries to be a modern day Annie Hall, it doesn't QUITE match up to this classic comedy status. With some overly cheesy screenplay and a little smugness, it nearly tips over the 'quirky for no reason' edge, but saves itself with a real heart and some strong performances from most of the leads. Definitely worth seeking out as a date night film when it comes to Netflix / some other streaming service.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

The Cinema Lover's Workday Soundtrack (hour by hour)

If, like me, you spend most of your days with your headphones firmly attached to your head (whether to drown out commuters / drills / bad chart music etc.), you're probably quite selective in how your music choices shape your day. With that in mind, I've put together a suggested soundtrack for the typical office worker, based entirely on film scores! Let's jump out of bed and get started (warning: as is usual from me, there is plenty of Disney and Pixar to be found)...


What's going on:

Music choice: The Lion King 

Who wouldn't rise out of bed like a lion to the majestic sounds of "NANTS INGONYAMA BAGITHI BABA!!" and accompanying African drums? Make sure to only select the Hans Zimmer parts of the soundtrack though, not the character led songs (unless you want your morning ruined by the ironically named "Morning Report").


What's going on: 

Music choice: Monsters Inc / A Bug's Life / Toy Story 

Find a spring in your step with one of Randy Newman's rousing title scores. These are guaranteed to give you a sense of purpose as you power through train stations and tick off your mental to-do list (effects may be boosted by a coffee and/or pastry based snack). 


What's going on:

Music choice: A Superhero soundtrack

This is the first half hour at your desk, so you'll need something urgent and awesome to power you through. Feel like every email is a life or death situation, with a kick-ass superhero soundtrack. I would recommend Tim Burton's deliciously dark Batman score, or perhaps the sleekness of the original Iron Man soundtrack. Whichever superhero you envision yourself as, pick a score to match!

9:30 - 1PM 

What's going on:

Music choice: Chocolat / The Imitation Game / Lion

Depending on your mood, the weather, and whether you had that 'on the way to work' coffee, you can select from these soundtracks. I've picked Chocolat for when you need a gentle morning 'pick me up', The Imitation Game for when you have to tackle hard intellectual problems (which you clearly do first thing, right?) and Lion for when you're just in the flow and want to envelop yourself with beautiful music.

1 - 2PM 

What's going on:

Music choice: (500) Days of Summer

You've been working super hard all morning, so it's time to treat yourself to... some lyrics! It's important to have a proper break at lunchtime, so take yourself on a walk, meet a friend or play a game of cards with the wonderfully inoffensive and timeless indie soundtrack that is (500) Days of Summer: Feist, The Smiths and Hall & Oates? There's something for everyone. Can be substituted with the original Shrek soundtrack if it's a Friday and you're feeling fruity.

2PM - 4PM 

What's going on:

Music choice: Anything John Williams (E.T, Star Wars, Indiana Jones etc)

We're back to wordless tunes to keep you focussed in the afternoon, but that doesn't mean you can't treat yourself. Bask in the guaranteed epic-ness of a John Williams soundtrack, be it Jurassic Park, Harry Potter, Star Wars, E.T, Indiana Jones or many, MANY more. There are enough nostalgic soaring violins and timpani to see you right through the afternoon slump and out the other side.


What's going on:

Music choice: Dreamgirls / Pitch Perfect

You're leaving work after a pretty friggin productive day. Get your sass on with a musical soundtrack! I've picked Dreamgirls for a bit of Mo Town / soul flavour, or Pitch Perfect if you're ready to serenade your fellow passengers on the train. Other musicals would also work, but please, PLEASE: no Les Miserables right now. There's a time and a place.


What's going on:

Music choice: Sing Street / Guardians of the Galaxy Awesome Mix

You've just got back from work, so it's probably time to have a quick chill out (Simpsons fans, I'm with ya) and then... get some dins on! If you're anything like me, eating is a cause for celebration, so put on some music you can dance / sing to. I've picked Sing Street for a feel-good 80s inflected feel, or Guardians of the Galaxy Awesome Mix if you want to get even more cray cray.


What's going on:

Music choice: Ratatouille / Midnight in Paris

You made it to DINNER TIME! If you have a significant other, or if you just fancy a cosy restaurant-like feel while you are stuffing your face with carbs, I'd recommend the Parisian sounds of Ratatouille (gypsy swing with some romantic ballads) or Midnight in Paris (cool 1920s jazz and swing with a French flavour). Bon appetit!

8 - 10PM 

What's going on:

Music choice: Finding Nemo / Pride & Prejudice / Moonlight

You've done everything you need to do for the day - now it's YOU time. Whether that's taking a long soak, doing some home yoga or reading, these soundtracks will peacefully round off your day (there are a few scary shark bits in Finding Nemo so you might want to check those tracks first).

There are thousands of equally epic soundtracks out there to choose from, so if you have any suggestions for scores that get you through the day, comment below. Happy listening!

Thursday, 31 August 2017

25 years in film: 1995

We're taking it back to dem old skool days again with your regular fix of '25 years in film'.

This time, we're bang in the middle of the '90s:1995! At this stage, I'm 3 years old, still pretty violent and my worst fear is being 'too hot'. Thank goodness some epic films came out that year to partially distract me.

First up, one of the greatest...

Toy Story 

"Don't you get it?! You see the hat?! I am Mrs. Nesbitt!"
Probably one of the best trilogies of all time (I'm ignoring that a fourth instalment is on the way as it makes me unduly angry), Toy Story holds a place in everyone's hearts, whatever the generation. As well as being an amazing technical feat - the first full length computer animated film - the clever premise and instantly memorable band of characters (special shout-outs to comedy legends Mr Potato Head and Hamm) are what make this a classic. Who would have thought that Woody, a 'child's plaything', could have such a multi-dimensional character that he goes through a emotional arc of jealousy, guilt, redemption and loyalty, all within 90 minutes? And that a 10 year old child with pyromania could be quite that terrifying? One thing is for sure, I treated my toys with much more care after watching this film.

"Woody? Did I leave the oven on?"

See the original theatrical trailer, here (which just doesn't seem quite right without Randy Newman's score). For more context on the creation of Toy Story and other Pixar films, I would recommend Creativity Inc. by Ed Catmull (it's really a business book but gives a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at many of Pixar's classics). 


"I like gruel"
Listen with your heart, you will understand... that Pocahontas is up there with the best Disney films of the '90s. With spellbinding music by our main man Alan Menken, genuinely funny characters, a talking tree and a cute raccoon, there really isn't much to complain about. Even Mel Gibson's singing is pretty decent. Whether Pocahontas should marry Kocoum or not, she looks pretty resplendent surrounded by the colours of the wind.

"I TOLD YOU to bring the sat nav"

To see the original trailer, complete with lots of swirling leaves, click here.


"You just saw three monkeys go by on a motorcycle, didn't you?"
This is THE '90s family adventure film. Jungle animals, Robin Williams playing his usual strange man-child role which somehow attracts women, hunters chasing civilians through supermarkets, indoor monsoons - it has it all. While the effects might not be particularly 'special' by today's standards, let's not pretend that we weren't checking the fireplace for ankle grabbing vines and scrutinising our reflections in the mirror to see if we were turning into monkeys for days afterwards. Jungle drums will never sound the same again.

"Hey Macarena... ARGHH!!"

The original trailer, which pretty much covers the whole story, can be found here.


"He does dress better than I do. What would I bring to the relationship?"
One of two Jane Austen adaptions in today's list (scroll down for more), Clueless is a favourite in my family - my dad even loves it more than a grown man should. The pre-cursor to such Rom Com greats as Legally Blonde and Mean Girls, Alicia Silverstone's Cher (named after "a great singer of the past who now does infomercials") is the archetypal rich girl, 100% deluded by her own self-worth. Deliciously satirical but loveable to the last, Clueless retells Austen's Emma in the most kitsch way possible, whilst retaining all the plot's twists and turns. Plus, who doesn't want Cher's rotating wardrobe?

"This avocado cost £1.50 and it wasn't. Even. Ripe."

See the perfectly pitched original trailer, here.


"Baa-ram-ewe! Baa-ram-ewe!"
He's a pig who thinks he's a sheep dog. There are singing mice. Need I say more? That'll do, pig.

"Sheila?" "Here." "Sharon?" "Here." 

Catch the original trailer, here (it's a bit heartwarming).

Sense and Sensibility

"If you cannot think of anything appropriate to say, you will please restrict your remarks to the weather."
Almost as iconic as the BBC's adaption of Pride & Prejudice, the 1995 version of Sense and Sensibility is a staple for any Sunday afternoon, along with a cup of tea and a piece of cake. In two hours, you can appreciate Hugh Grant's signature awkwardness, Kate Winslet's infectious romanticism, Alan Rickman's stoic gentlemanliness, Hugh Laurie's dry put-downs and - of course - Emma Thompson doing what she does best; keeping ALL THE EMOTION behind the eyes. With all the classic Austen tropes (love triangles, the obsession with getting every single woman married, people getting rescued from storms, charming strangers who turn out to be douchebags etc), this film leaves no Regency stone unturned. A timeless classic.

"I think... Dumbledore just died."

See the extremely American original trailer, here.

That's a wrap for 1995. Come back for 1996 very soon, which boasts an equally eclectic mix of films (and continues the Disney Renaissance period). To play you out, a top hit of 1995 (and one of my favourites to groove to in my buggy)...

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Sophie's Film Choice #22: THE BEGUILED

That's right - two reviews in a week! I think I'm getting a little addicted to afternoons at the cinema: old Doris and Marjorie are starting to recognise me and save me a seat.

After the rip roaring fun of Spider-Man on Monday, Wednesday called for a genre I always hold dear to my heart - a period drama. But not just any period drama - a Southern Gothic thriller. Whether it's Gone With The Wind or Little Women, I've always been partial to a sassy southern belle and a civil war setting, so I was looking forward to Sofia Coppolla's take on Thomas Cullinan's pulp classic, The Beguiled. Knowing very little about the story apart from the promise of a dark spooky house and 'brief strong sex', I settled down with my Orangina, waiting for the drama to unfold.

Time for a Disney show tunes medley
From the outset, Coppolla positions this film firmly as a thriller. From the opening shot which follows a little girl picking mushrooms - all alone - in the forest - humming a creepy tune - the tension begins to build. When she discovers the injured Yankee soldier John McBurney (Colin Farrell) and hobbles him back to a derelict, almost abandoned girls' boarding school, it feels like we're in for some kind of ghost story.

Perhaps surprisingly at first, old McBurney lives the bachelor's dream. Surrounded by seven women spanning generations, he seems to be able to charm every single one of them in a matter of minutes (I guess he is Irish, after all). Soon the girls are falling over each other to get a piece of him, and what was supposed to be a short stay before they turn him into the Confederates becomes weeks. Of course though, like all good dreams, things soon start to go South (figuratively this time).

"Did you bring me Pringles?" 
Whilst the film has been criticised for a lack of drama and slow pace, I didn't notice this as a major problem. The subtle and intimate tone of the film, for me, added to the tension and central mystery of the plot: who is playing who? Crucially, the women of the house have very little back story. In fact, they rarely speak candidly to each other at all, remaining either in a pack, or only splitting off to shamelessly flirt with McBurney. The rivalry between Edwina (Kirsten Dunst) and Alicia (Elle Fanning) is charged, but never openly discussed. I mean, there are a lot of knowing glances. It sometimes felt like an Agatha Christie, where all sorts of secrets live under one roof and if one person leaves the drawing room they are guilty of something.

The sense of stillness throughout adds to the haunting tone: as the film progresses, the women feel more and more like some sort of ethereal cult, headed up by the ever ghost-like Nicole Kidman as school mistress Martha Farnsworth who conducts their evening prayers by candlelight. Kidman never loses control: she holds a confident authority over the girls and every decision they make (the good, the bad and the ugly). When the group perform music for McBurney, they place themselves into a portrait like formation, gazing down at him with an intensity that would put anyone on edge. Shots are slow and steady, peering through doors, down corridors and through binoculars: there is no escape from the enemy, whoever that might be.

"Who loosened the ketchup lid?!"
Colin Farrell's McBurney is the only character to break the silent, unspoken tension - seemingly glib and agreeable, he's a much needed antidote to what otherwise could be a painfully staid atmosphere. His portrayal of the character is genuinely charming and a light relief. However, his passions soon turn him into a grade A douchebag and end up costing him an arm and leg... whether or not he is the victim of events, Coppolla makes us think about gender stereotypes and what it means to manipulate others.

A beautiful looking film with strong yet understated performances and a real sense of chilling danger, The Beguiled is definitely worth seeking out on a cloudy afternoon (especially when you can even get home in time for a cup of tea)! Just don't get too comfortable in a house of seven women who haven't seen men in months.

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Sophie's Film Choice #21: SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING

Just when I thought my spidey senses had tingled enough, along came the third take on Spider-Man in as little as 15 years. Always one of my favourite super heroes (being the silliest and nerdiest), I cast aside my cynicism of this money-making ploy, and went along with my mum yesterday afternoon to see the latest version, Spider-Man: Homecoming.

Following surprisingly positive reviews, I was feeling pretty confident that this would be one of the better spidey films: and I was right. It might even be my favourite so far. Fans of indie comedy (Edgar Wright's work, Michael Cera's awkardness, old John Hughes films) will be in for a treat - this is a smart, funny and refreshingly unromantic take on the franchise which should particularly resonate with - dare I say it - 'Millenials' (shudders).  

"Cool Deathstar mate"
Spider-Man: Homecoming - as suggested by the title - is, first and foremost, a high school comedy. After the slushy romance of the last version starring Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone's surgical attachment, Tom Holland's Spider-Man is a 100% awkward, only-just-pubescent teenager. Although the actor is 21, the character of Peter is only supposed to be 15 at this point. Girls are only just coming on to his radar - and they are firmly in third place behind 1) His internship with Tony Stark (a genius concept) and 2) His #nerdgoals friendship with school pal, Ned. 

Indeed, my mum was very pleased when she discovered that Tony Stark would be making more than a passing appearance in this non-Iron Man film. Known to be the most self-centred and arrogant of all the Avengers, Stark's 'mentorship' of Peter Parker is a joy to watch. The film opens on Peter's handheld camera as he documents an overly excited 'video diary' of his first days with Stark, which hilariously sets up the chemistry between the two. Peter is the new intern, wide eyed and ready to join the Avengers as soon as possible: Tony is the unconvinced mentor, literally programming Spider-Man's suit with a 'training wheels' mode. Urging Peter to stay out of his hair while he has better things to do, he enlists the help of Happy (the ironically straight-faced Jon Favreau) to screen his calls. Sick of being treated like a kid, Peter obviously ignores Tony's instruction to be a 'friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man' and finds more than enough trouble to fill 2 hours of action-packed entertainment. 

The beauty is that Peter Parker most definitely IS a kid. Under the (seemingly) watchful eye of Iron Man, he makes mistakes and has to be bailed out multiple times. He's extremely clumsy and doesn't know how to use his web shooters properly yet. He spends long evenings in, building LEGO Death Stars with his friend, Ned (who is the only one that knows he is Spider-Man and is gleefully excited by this). He's part of the school maths team. He has no idea how to ask a girl out. He wears t-shirts with chemistry jokes on them. He's even told by a local criminal that he needs to work on his intimidation tactics. But this is the bedrock of Spider-Man and why we love him - he's the gawky underdog, who truly appreciates his own powers because they are brand new and FREAKIN' AWESOME. 

The friendship between Peter and Ned (played by Jacob Batalon) is a refreshing move away from the normal romantic central plot of the Spider-Man films. Whilst Peter does fancy a girl at school, there's a sense nothing will really come of it (the romance is likely to establish itself more strongly in the next instalment). The geeky relationship between these two best friends is much more fitting and fun, as they live out their comic book dreams and work together 'just like real super heroes' in the climax of the film. I'm looking forward to seeing these grin-inducing characters develop as the series progresses.  

"She doesn't even GO here"
By ditching the well-worn origin story (we've been bummed out enough times by now), Spider-Man: Homecoming leaves plenty of time for well-paced, rough and ready action sequences, without overcomplicating the plot. Spider-Man training up is all well and good, but what's a hero without a villain? Michael Keaton ditches his previous super hero cape and takes on the antagonist role in this film: reminiscent of Willem Defoe's Green Goblin in the original Tobey Maguire franchise, Keaton plays Adrian Toomes (a.k.a. Vulture), a man with huge secrets, deadly technology at his fingertips and far too many close links to Peter. To say any more would be spoilerific, but I will say that Keaton's unhinged smile works perfectly in this role - and we may not have seen the last of him yet. 

In a world where Iron Man is deemed responsible to coach a teenager whilst drinking whiskey on a beach and Captain America is giving government sponsored gym tutorials in schools, Marvel has neatly integrated Spider-Man into the franchise with humour, heart, and a solid identity: champion of the teen nerds. Bring on the sequel! 

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

25 years in film: 1994

It's time for your regular trip back into the good old '90s with 25 years in film!

Today, take a journey with me back to 1994, when I took the phrase 'terrible twos' to a whole new dimension. Whilst I was hitting other children and demanding hoola hoops, 1994 saw some iconic films released (spoiler: it was a GREAT year for Jim Carrey)! Without further ado, let's get stuck in...


"I'm sorry I had to fight in the middle of your Black Panther party."
Like a few of the films in this blog feature, I didn't watch Forrest Gump until about 10 years after it was released - but I don't think it's possible to curate a list of top '90s films without mentioning this absolute classic. Besides being one of the most quotable films in history (box of chocolates anyone?) Tom Hanks manages to portray a character of questionable social skills and 'below average IQ' with such warmth and humour that we rooting for him within the first 5 minutes of his leg braces being removed. The clever use of historical context permeates the film with a sense of irony (on Vietnam: "We was always taking long walks, and we was always looking for a guy named "Charlie""). It's one of the first films that wholeheartedly deals with disability, both mental and physical, without flinching and with real heart - not to mention a bangin' soundtrack. #ForrestandJennyForever

"They just aren't 99p any more..."

See the original 1994 trailer, here (first 3 mins 40 seconds). It's a bit epic. 


"Asante sana squash banana, wewe nungu mimi hapana!"
From the opening sunrise to the closing roar of Simba atop pride rock, this is an undeniable masterpiece. I think 100% of people reading this will have seen The Lion King at least 10 times so I won't bore you with the details, just my highlights: Hans Zimmer's magical score inflected with African harmonies and rhythms, Scar's sarcastic put downs ("A monkey's uncle") Mufasa's afterlife speech ("REMEMBER WHO YOU ARE") and Rafiki completely trolling Simba ("The past can hurt...").  Throw in some slimy yet satisfying grubs, a warthog hula dance and some sassy hyenas and what's not to love?

Enjoy this original trailer (which, interestingly, sells the film on how the illustrators captured animal characters on screen).


"Charlie, stay away from those things. They're reindeer, you don't know where they've been. They all look like they've got key lime disease."
"Oh, c'mon Soph, not ANOTHER Christmas film!!" Is what a cynical person would say. It's not my fault that the film studios in the '90s seemed to be obsessed with outdoing each other in festive frivolity - and I was a child at the time. The Santa Clause (the first one, not any of the sub-standard sequels) was frequently watched in my house, and I have strong memories of 'elves with attitude' (shudder), Santa's monogrammed silk PJs and a storm of CGI reindeer. I mean, it really wouldn't be a bad thing if Father Christmas did turn out to be Tim Allen, would it? Especially as he does bear more that a passing resemblance to my dad...

Separated at birth?
 See the gloriously dated trailer, complete with great hairstyles and suspect humour, right here.


One of THREE major Jim Carrey hits of 1994 alone (scroll down for more), I think this is possibly his greatest 'zany yet also quite scary' performance - other contenders are The Grinch and Count Olaf. A character that would be at home as a villain in one of Tim Burton's Batman films, Carrey has a field day being the all shooting, all dancing, maraca shaking anti-hero, who becomes a green skinned menace whenever puts on an enchanted wooden mask he randomly found (I mean, you can't make this stuff up). A 'love or hate' film, I've always been a sucker for Carrey's amazing physical comedy, ad lib and impressive gurning - so it's a thumbs up from me. 

Actual image of me eating a garlic baguette 

See what audiences were in for in full colourful comic book glory, here


"If I'd been drinking out of the toilet, I might've been killed."
Yes, it's ridiculous. Yes, the script is pretty awful, the plot flimsy. Yes, it's bad taste. But as a kid in the '90s, there was no better prospect than Jim Carrey frolicking around in a Hawaiian shirt, surrounded by tropical animals and spouting toilet humour. He somehow managed to become a real-life cartoon character and - not gonna lie - I loved it.

"What can I say, it pays the bills!" 
 Watch the original trailer (it actually made me laugh a lot more than I remember), here.

That comes to the end of 1994. I may have missed out such classics as Pulp Fiction and The Shawshank Redemption, but I think I've hit on the films resonated with me more...

Expect the joys of 1995 in the next week or so, but in the meantime, we'll play out 1994 with this contemporary mini disco anthem:

Monday, 14 August 2017


It is indeed, epic.

Having heard only great things about this film, I headed to the Hatfield Galleria (of 'Hey Galleria'-sang-to-the-tune-of-Macarena fame) bright and early last Saturday to go and see what all the fuss was about. Fans of the 'graphic novel' series had congregated from far and wide to witness a cinematic event that we were told would make 'LOL' history. At 10AM, all seven audience members sat down to await the greatest super hero movie of the year so far.

What you need to know: Harold and George are best friends and committed to saving the students from a life of drudgery caused by their tyrannous headmaster, Mr. Krupp, by pulling as many pranks as possible on the teachers (an early montage conveniently shows them all). Added to this quest, the two besties spend hours up in George's treehouse, creating their very own comic book series - Captain Underpants. The angle: instead of most super heroes who merely look like they are wearing underwear on top of their clothes, Captain Underpants wears only underwear! And a cape, of course.

When Harold and George are caught red handed on a particularly naughty prank by Mr. Krupps one day, they are told they will have to be put into separate classes. It's basically the end of the world. In a desperate attempt to change their fates, they manage to hypnotise him into becoming their exceedingly silly and enthusiastic fantasy super hero - Captain Underpants - at their will. Hilarity ensues.

From the very opening sequence of the film, where Harold and George's voices sing along badly to the Dreamworks introduction (boy fishing on a moon), the giggles begin. What follows is a 90 minute treat of silly songs, smart one liners, parodies and pranks galore which seem to have captured audiences of all ages.

Kevin Hart and Thomas Middleditch do an amazing job at voicing George and Harold: even though they clearly aren't children, they inject the perfect amount of drama and cheekiness into the characters to make the pair endearing and genuinely funny. In fact, the two leads have the edge over the laughs throughout. Highlights include: the Saturday song (where you can wear your PJs ALL DAY), the jubilant walking sequences and 'quiet fives' (a wiggly fingers high five for when you have to be extra secret).

The rest of the film, including the refreshingly simple plot, the evil Professor Poopypants (enough said) and the school swot who is scientifically proven to have NO sense of humour, all really act as vehicles for Harold and George to continually delight us with their adorably comic friendship.

Calvin and Kanye: the early years
By keeping the plot line and characters relatively simple and bold, the film is able to explore a whole load of other techniques to make it infectiously chaotic and quirky. The 'home made' feel of some of the sequences replicates the resourceful and unbridled imagination of childhood: at points, the 3D animation is replaced with other medias, like a cute sock puppet sequence and a 'flip-o-rama' which takes us through the climax of the film (apparently too 'gory and expensive' to show in the proper form).

The songs that sound like they are being made up as they go along, the witty asides, and references to other film genres through slo mo and inspired music choices (significantly, without explicitly copying any other films) all add to the offbeat charm of Captain Underpants. It takes me back to the early days of Dreamworks, when Shrek was first released in theatres: well paced, energetic and referential, with a universal wit and just the right amount of silliness.

TRA - LA - LAAA-ving this film. Will appeal to fans of The Muppets, more recent Disney (Moana, Frozen) and, of course, loyal Captain Underpants fans.

Who doesn't love a high waisted brief?

Friday, 11 August 2017

Sophie's Film Choice #19: A MAN CALLED OVE

I was tasked with coming up with a birthday 'date night' for my boyfriend on Wednesday - so, being a sophisticated couple, I chose to head down to our local 'posh-cinema-with-a-bar' to see a Swedish film with subtitles.

(We'll ignore the fact that I'm seeing Captain Underpants at the weekend. But there will be a review.)

Whilst I settled down with my glass of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, I was ready for probably my only Scandi comedy drama of the year.

A Man Called Ove was actually released in late 2015 in Sweden, but didn't make it to the UK until June this year. Based of Fredrik Backman's 2012 book of the same name, the story follows Ove, the ultimate grumpy old man, as he repeatedly attempts to commit suicide - but something more important just keeps coming up.

When we first meet Ove, we know about this much: he's 59, his wife has recently passed away, he's just been fired from his job as an engineer, and he's pretty much had enough of the world. The offbeat and genuinely funny opening montage, in which Ove verbally abuses a lady in a flower shop and goes around setting his neighbourhood to rights, shows him as a fussy, uptight and downright mardy stickler for the rules. However, even at this early stage in the film, we get a sense that there's a lot about Ove we don't know.

The original casting for 'Better Call Saul' 

The real insight begins when he decides to commit suicide (for the first time). Just as he's securing the rope around his neck (literally), he's interrupted - by the damn noisy neighbours. This is the first of a string of repeated suicide attempts throughout the film, which, while they may sound depressing, actually serve two very important purposes:

  1. Each time Ove is 'about to die', he sees elements of his earlier life - his childhood, working life and marriage - flash before his eyes. These extended flashback scenes, which are romanticised and evocative in tone of films like Forrest Gump and Big Fish, uncover a tragic past in which Ove has repeatedly loved and lost. By the time we get halfway through the film, our sympathies are 100% on his side. 
  2. Every one of Ove's suicide attempts gets rudely interrupted at the very last moment with superb comic timing - be it someone illegally driving through his housing estate, children banging on the window, or a pregnant lady just needing a lift. Soon we come to expect these interruptions, already smiling as he secures a noose around his neck. Every time the film gets too close to an overly sentimental moment, we are pulled back at the last minute with a proper funny skit. 

"That is an impressive packed lunch"

The first interruption happens when Parveneh, a Persian immigrant, moves into the neighbourhood with her children and Swedish husband, Patrick. From their first crash landing into the estate, Ove steps in to make sure they are playing by the rules. However, he's soon won over by Parveneh's refreshing frankness, generosity and insistence that he is a good person (and her cute kids help). When I reflected on this film after leaving the cinema, I was reminded of Pixar's Up: the old man who has lost all hope in the world's humanity after losing his loved one is brought back down to earth with new people that need him.

Some of the funniest scenes in the film revolve around his relationship with Parveneh, and the way in which they deliver hard truths to each other. His speech to her in the car during their less than successful driving lesson had the whole audience in fits.

"This suit was more static than I thought..."

A Man Called Ove is masterful at using the light and the shade to reflect the bittersweet nature of real life. Moments of very real distress and sadness are brought into relief through some killer one liners or well timed interruptions, demonstrated beautifully when Ove has a heart attack and, whilst falling to the floor, insists that the ambulances don't drive into the pedestrianised estate.

It's also film that demonstrates how actions speak louder than words. Whilst Ove is unusually quiet and even solemn, he always chooses to do what's right - which is to do everything in his power to help others. As much as he tries to keep to himself, his ultimate good nature and handiness attracts more friends than he ever bargains for.

Most strikingly, the film constantly reminds us of the unpredictability of life, by sitting on a knife edge between life and death. As Ove's late wife Sonja says, "Either we die, or we live". Both, it turns out, are a difficult commitment. A surprisingly heartwarming and uplifting film that I would recommend if you get the chance to see it.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

10 Film 'n' Food combos for a healthy balanced diet

As I was licking un-cooked granola mix from a spoon yesterday, it got me thinking. There must be some way to combine two of my greatest loves - film and food - into one delicious, nutritious package. As I got rid of the taste of honey by munching on some mini cheddars, I found the answer.

I've paired some classic films with the perfect meal to eat whilst enjoying them. Let your favourite flicks occupy ALL of your senses, with this delectable movie menu!

1. Ratatouille and... Tian Provencal 

Ratatouille is one of my favourite Pixar films: I love the romantic Parisian setting, the goofiness of the characters... and, most importantly, the FOOD. It's an obvious choice for a movie and meal combo (if you forget about all the potential rat hairs in the soups etc). You would think that ratatouille would be the obvious food to eat with this film - BUT you would be wrong! Whilst perusing Rachel Khoo's My Little French Kitchen the other week, I discovered that Remy the rat doesn't in fact change the critic's mind through a ratatouille, but instead, through a Tian Provencal (i.e. lots of tasty veggies sliced in a colourful spiral). Give it a go with Rachel's recipe, here! Of course, best enjoyed with a cheeky glass of 'vin'. 

2. Chef and pork Cubanos

John Favreau's Chef makes me want to eat ALL THE FOOD. In fact, it makes me want to open up my own food truck business just so that I can make and eat cheese + meat based snacks all the live long day. Above all though, I found myself craving one tasty item that stars in the film - pork Cubanos (Cuban grilled cheese sandwiches). They are basically the toasties of the gods and your key to eternal happiness. Find a bangin' recipe here (posted by Jon Favreau himself. Obviously).

3. Home Alone and a MASSIVE pizza 

I don't think this really needs explaining. Order yourself a lovely cheese pizza for one and get in the festive spirit. I'm not posting a recipe because the only way forward is to booby trap your house and order takeaway.

4. Chocolat and a Summer Salad 

As should you.

5. Princess and the Frog and Gumbo (followed by Beignets)

HUSH UP AND LOOK AT THE GUMBO! Mama Odie's words of wisdom ring true. Get into the New Orleans spirit with a viewing of the magical Princess and the Frog accompanied by a comforting Gumbo - with a kick of Tabasco, of course. Remember to mince those mushrooms just right! Recipe(s) here.

And for dessert, keep Mardi Gras going with some sugary Beignets:

6. Hot Fuzz and Cornettos 

Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg's series is called the 'Cornetto trilogy' for a reason - but Hot Fuzz holds them in the highest esteem. Nothing is so urgent that you can't have a cheeky Cornetto first, especially police work. If you want to do things by the book, make sure to grab the blue original kind (strawberry is for Shaun of the Dead and mint choc chip is for The World's End). It goes without saying, but beware of... BRAIN FREEZE.

7. Matilda and pancakes

As if anyone needed an excuse to make a stack of pancakes, this is IT. Best watched as a Saturday brunch film, stick on this irresistibly cute film and get whisking! If you're feeling particularly frisky, maybe even add in some cheeky choc chips or 'bluebs'. You might even find it in your heart to pull out your old primary school recorder to accompany that one Rusted Root song that people actually know whilst you're flipping. Recipe here.

8. Howl's Moving Castle and a Fry Up

And for Sunday... it's got to be Studio Ghibli's Howl's Moving Castle - with lots of eggs and bacon. This film is especially great for a hangover: dreamlike and peaceful in the right parts, with enough humour and action to keep you engaged throughout. You will need those fried goods on hand though: there are multiple mouth watering scenes of eggs and bacon being cooked and devoured - and you don't want animated food envy.

9. Lord of the Rings and PO-TAT-OES

Don't be a fool of a Took. Boil them, mash them, or stick 'em in a stew, I don't care.

10. Pulp Fiction and burgers

Bonus points if you can eat the burger as menacingly as Samuel L Jackson (without dripping burger sauce everywhere). Maybe this even becomes a whole diner style meal - go crazy!

There's my top 10, but if you can think of any other stellar film and food combos, stick your tasty comments below. Bon Appetit!

Friday, 4 August 2017

Sophie's Film Choice #18: DUNKIRK

Get ready for 2 hours of very shallow breathing.

Last night I had the pleasure (or should I say panic) of seeing Christopher Nolan's latest film, Dunkirk, at the Barbican Centre. Incidentally, I would recommend the venue, especially if you are 25 or under (I'm still clinging on to those last few months of being officially 'young'). The sound was delivered in hair raising clarity, which I was told was a pre-requisite of experiencing this film.

I'd heard a little bit about Dunkirk prior to my outing, and despite the lovely Pizza Express salad beforehand, I knew this wouldn't be a normal Thursday night throwaway jaunt.

Heralded by Churchill as a 'miracle of deliverance', Nolan's latest piece (partially) details the evacuation of British soldiers who were cornered on Dunkirk beach by the enemy forces in 1940. In a much simpler plot structure than some of his other work (I'll be the first to admit that I still don't quite know what happened in Inception), the film follows three strings: the land (over one week), the sea (over a day) and the air (over an hour).

The oxygen supply I needed at the beginning of the film 
If you're expecting huge war epic battle scenes, or sentimentalised, tear-jerking slow motion sequences, then don't hold your breath. You'll need to save that breath for the duration of the film anyway.  From the very opening sequence (the land), we're immediately transported into the heart of Dunkirk, urgently fleeing from the prospect of immediate death and surrounded by gunfire. And this sets the tone for the next two hours, accentuated by Hans Zimmer's constantly ticking, rumbling soundtrack.

Whether on land, sea or air, every moment of this film is charged with urgency, doom and the fight for survival. The spitfire pilots isolated in their cabins and trying to protect those down below are running out of fuel by the second; the sea rescuer civilians are completely unarmed and unprepared for the brutality of what they are about to face; the boys stranded on the beach, only teenagers, are constant prey for the enemy.

No 1D reunion any time soon, then
The land sequences, constantly haunted by the threat of bombers overheard, affected me the most. Following a group of young soldiers who look like they should still be in school, we invest in every attempt at returning them home to safety. With every set back and near-death experience (and there are many) my heart creeped just a little higher into my throat. Imagine that scene in Titanic when you think Leo is going to be trapped on the lower deck and drown: but the same tension is in EVERY SCENE.

The sea strand is subtly played and heart-wrenching in a very unexpected way, whilst the air perspective lets us see how the chaos down below interplays, even giving us a glimpse into the future due to the clever time shifts. Only in the final moments of the film, when the soundtrack turns to silence, do you quite realise the sensations it has provoked. You might need a drink afterwards.

"Cabin Fever, AHH" "..." 
Whilst most of us will never even be able to imagine the horror and fear of being trapped on Dunkirk beach, this film is the closest thing I've seen to conveying the persistent threat and panic that would have ruled every minute of your day and night. Nolan manages to capture the essence of a nightmare, when you feel the threat of danger whilst only half remembering that it isn't literally going on around you.

A nuanced and sensitive film, with no gore, gratuitous speeches, CGI or over-acting, Dunkirk is a refreshing and surprising take on the war film genre and I would highly recommend.