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...

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...


FORREST GUMP

"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. 

THE LION KING 

"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).

THE SANTA CLAUSE 

"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.


THE MASK

"THAT'S A SPICY MEATBALL!"
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

ACE VENTURA: PET DETECTIVE

"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

Sophie's Film Choice #20: CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS: THE FIRST EPIC MOVIE

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.

HOPE DIES HERE. 
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.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

25 years in film: 1993

We're heading back to the 90s once again with your second instalment of '25 years in film', in which I select my most memorable films from each year of my life. Millennials, you are in for a TREAT. Everyone else, feel free to mock me. I'm just doing what makes me happy.

1993 was a stellar year in entertainment. Meatloaf, Mariah Carey, Fresh Prince and Aerosmith were just some of the acts topping the charts - and that's not even mentioning that time Take That became Buddhist monks:

"Dear God, keep Gary Barlow humble..." 
But we're not here to talk about music (unless it's a particularly prominent soundtrack). Let's get cracka-lacking on my most significant films of 1993!

JURASSIC PARK

"Yeah, but, John, if The Pirates of the Caribbean breaks down, the pirates don't eat the tourists."
Jurassic Park marked the dawning of a new breed of action-adventure film, one with sophisticated special effects (you genuinely thought those dinosaurs could be real at one point, admit it), amazing set design, decent acting and humour pitched perfectly to break the tension at the opportune moments (Jeff Goldblum at his finest). Critically, we're not just shown a load of dinosaurs in the first scene - the story builds up real tension, anticipation and danger well before the 'big reveal'. I'm actually a fan of the whole Jurassic Park franchise for this reason. Even though Jurassic World was criticised by a lot of die-hard fans, for me the elements are all still there, i.e. maybe dinosaurs are safe this time? Oh no, they are still chasing and eating people, accompanied by a rousing John Williams soundtrack. I'm entertained.

Actual footage of people in their kitchens after watching Jurassic Park.
This original, amazingly understated teaser trailer is just really cool and clever, too.

COOL RUNNINGS

"Cold? I'm freezing my royal Rastafarian nay-nays off!"
After watching Eddie the Eagle on Netflix the other day (which I would highly recommend), I was reminded this other classic Winter Olympics 1988 underdog story. It's a niche genre, I'll give you that. My family generally prefer winter sports to summer sports (it's a pity sports day in England didn't involve a ski slalem), so what better than a cheesy Disney film based around them? Throw in John Candy in his prime, a bunch of 'zany' Jamaicans and some snobby Scandinavians and you're on to a winner - in VHS form.

"I just can't get you out of my head"
See the original trailer, here.


BENNY AND JOON

"They used to be fat and juicy and now they're twisted. They had their lives stolen. Well, they taste sweet, but really they're just humiliated grapes. I can't say I am a big supporter of the raisin council."
I didn't discover this until I was about 15 and in my 'Johnny Depp fan club' phase (which was unfortunately obliterated after the second in the Pirates of the Caribbean borefest). It's a completely sweet, charming celebration of all things eccentric, with some cheeky little nods to classic films of the past (JD's homage to Buster Keaton is surprisingly non-annoying) whilst encapsulating an off-beat, indie feel of the time. Highlights include an unconventional way to make toasted sandwiches, a staggeringly confident hospital break-in, and the perfect use of 500 Miles by The Proclaimers. A great Sunday afternoon treat.


Get a feel for Benny and Joon with this original trailer (plus you can swoon at a twenty-something Johnny Depp before he got all puffy and weird). 


THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS 

"Attacked by Christmas toys? That's strange, that's the second toy complaint we've had."
Man, the 90s was THE decade for festive films! I think if I had actually watched this as a small child I would never have slept on Christmas eve, for fear of the 'Sandy Claws'. One of the earliest full feature stop motion animations, this film seems to come directly out of Tim Burton's head, the characters dark, comic and full of expression. It's Hammer Horror meets Broadway musical, with extremely sophisticated music and lyrics by Burton's long time collaborator, Danny Elfman. A perfect film to watch in that middling period between Halloween and Christmas. But probably not with kids.


See the perfect horror/festive blend, here

Finally, because who could forget it... 

HOMEWARD BOUND

"Whatever you do, don't lick yourself!"
Ever since my mum got a puppy a couple of years ago, we've all got a bit sentimental about animals. So I don't think I would even DARE watch this film now, it was tear-jerking enough in the first place! Having not watched it for at least 15 years, I can't remember whether Homeward Bound is a genuinely GOOD film (although I suspect not), but it's one of those classic animal movies that sat on everyone's shelf alongside such greats as Fievel, All Dogs Go to Heaven and The Land Before Time. So it had to be recognised. The main thing that sticks with me is when the golden retriever can't get out of the ditch. SOB.

SUCH JOY
See the rootin-tootin trailer, recorded DIRECT FROM VHS, here.

On that beautiful note, put away your lava lamp because we're heading back into the 21st century. Next time, we get to 1994 (when my main priorities in life were buggy tantrums and cold McDonalds chips. Classy).