Films

Oct 13th , 2016

As a long-time fan of Lissa Evan’s writing (her novel Crooked Heart is just fantastic!) I was more than a little excited to read that her book, ‘Their Finest Hour and a Half’, has been made into a film and that it would get its UK premiere at the Mayor’s Gala during the London Film Festival. When a book I’ve enjoyed is turned into a movie I am usually a bit wary and brace myself for disappointment. I needn’t have worried; sat in the theatre I laughed out loud on more than one occasion and just about forgive Lissa & Gabby for the pack of tissues I got through towards the end.  Their Finest tells the story of a British film crew as it attempts to boost morale during World War II by making a propaganda film centred around the Battle of Dunkirk. Directed with a light touch by Lone Scherfig, with strong performances by Gemma Arterton and Sam Calfin, it is Bill Nighy that steels the show with a superb performance as Ambrose Hilliard, a past-his-prime yet extremely pompous actor. A fun film that is well worth the price of admission.

July 31st, 2016

2016 has been abysmal; I can’t turn on the television without a sense of foreboding as to what horrible thing will happen next. So it was a true delight to attend the screening of Pete’s Dragon for a bit of Disney escapism. Essentially a ‘boy and his dog’ story, the dog being a green dragon named Elliot and the boy played brilliantly by Oakes Fegley. Pete’s Dragon is thankfully a much less trippy than the 1977 version and a welcome return to Disney family entertainment at its best. Surviving a car crash that kills his parents, Pete stumbles into the woods and is rescued by Elliot with whom he builds a friendship. Fast forward a few years and loggers threaten their home, add in kindly ranger (Bryce Dallas Howard), her family, including father (Robert Redford) and hijinks ensue. A fun family movie that is cute without being saccharin and well worth the price of a ticket this Summer.

June 18th, 2016

Nashville the TV series has a loyal and vocal fan base who were bereft when the show was cancelled and fought to #BringBackNashville with a social media campaign. Lionsgate, which produces Nashville along with ABC Studios and Opry Entertainment, had been aggressively searching for a new home and finally found it in CMT this month. So it was with jubilant mood that cast members; Clare Bowen, Sam Palladio, Charles Esten and Chris Carmack stepped onto the Eventim Apollo stage (18th June 2016) on the UK leg of their ‘Nashville Live’ tour to perform songs from the show and original work. Consummate entertainers and gifted musicians, the audience were treated to an incredible two hours of toe-tapping fun. With Charles Esten and Clare Bowen even venturing into the crowd and gamely pausing for selfies. Loved for their on screen characters the actors seemed every bit as worthy of adoration as their alter egos, seemingly kind and generous as well as talented. Frequently thanking fans for their sport and crediting the campaign for getting Nashville re-commisioned. I loved the whole evening but a highlight – one that had me in tears – was Clare Bowen’s performance of “Love Steps In” a song written for her brother who had just undergone chemotherapy. Standing ovations abound, if you get the chance to see Nashville in Concert, do! (FB Photos)

April 13th, 2016

I can’t remember the last time I laughed so much! With the near constant barrage of heart-breaking news and images that seems to be on our screens these days, it was so refreshing to go to the cinema and just laugh. Florence Foster Jenkins tells the true life story of a New York heiress and patron of the arts, a dreamer who made it all the way to Carnegie Hall, putting on a solo performance despite being unable to sing. This book to screen adaptation sports a stellar cast, headlined by the one and only Meryl Streep, supported by Hugh Grant and Big Bang Theory’s Simon Helberg. Speaking to film critic Robbie Collin at Telegraph’s special screening of the film, Meryl said that she believes it is 'Florence’s childlike enthusiasm for doing something she loves, irrespective of whether she is good at it, which makes her so beautiful' (to her younger husband played by Grant). It was also what attracted Streep to the role, saying that she herself loved singing even if it wasn’t her forte it was her passion. FFJ is a truly uplifting film that serves as a very welcome antidote to the rather depressing every day, with no pretention or complexity, just unapologetic fun.     

March 06, 2016

A brilliant morning spent at the BFI Southbank, not only did I get to see an advanced preview of the latest offering from the Kung Fu Panda franchise - which was AWESOME - but to hear from the members of the Dreamworks Animation team; co-directors Jennifer Yuh Nelson, Alessandro Carloni and Bonnie Arnold, co-president of feature animation (who is also working on How to Train Your Dragon 3 set for release in 2018) in a post screening Q&A hosted by BFI events managers. Each spoke enthusiastically, clearly passionate about this movie and their craft. It was fascinating to learn of the international collaboration that brought the movie from concept to screen. I as amazed when Jennifer told the audience that she had been working on the KFP movies for 12 years with a team of 1000s spread across the globe. That not only did they animate fitting to the voices of the english speaking actors but again in parallel for the Chinese cast, essentially making 2 movies at the same time. She said that they didn't have plans to make a third movie at the end of the second, nor was the final scene intended as a teaser. Simply that they just couldn't "kill off all the Pandas". The movie was fun and pushed the boundaries even further whilst keeping all that viewers loved from the first movie. It is a story about friendship, family and growth. Great fun, highly recommended family viewing.

January 21, 2016

When I was invited to Telegraph’s preview screening of “The Big Short” I was a little dubious, a comedy about the 2008 financial crisis, really? A quick read of the cast list swayed me, there are certainly some heavy hitters on there; Bale, Carell, Gosling & Pitt plus respected director Adam McKay. The film is based on a non-fiction book The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis, which tells the story from the perspective of some of the key players who bet against (i.e. shorted) the collateralized debt obligation (CDO) bubble and thus profited from the 2008 crisis. McKay cleverly intersperses the film with cutaways to celebrities like Chef Anthony Bourdain and actress Margot Robbie to explain otherwise dry financial terms and brings together the various strands of the story with the aid of a narrator, played by Ryan Gosling, who speaks directly to the audience, drawing us into the film. I was alternately entertained, enlighten and incredulous. The Big Short is funny, great fun to watch and you’ll come out with a new understanding of the financial crisis and even angrier with bankers.

October 11, 2015

As much as I like Johnny Depp, it has been a while since I’ve seen a film that has shown off his abilities as an actor. That changed this week, when I got to see Scott Cooper’s “Black Mass” at its London Film Festival screening. Depp is nearly unrecognisable as south Boston wise guy James “Whitey” Bulger, contacts and prosthetics aside; it is Depp’s performance that brings the character to life, with nary a whisper of Captain Jack Sparrow. The film tells the true story of 1970s South Boston and the unholy alliance between FBI Agent John Connolly (Joel Edgerton) and the Irish mobster to eliminate the Italian mob, a partnership that soon spirals out of control and into American folklore. Not for the faint hearted but a well crafted movie with solid performances from its leads. Looks like this year’s Oscars are being to be battle of the gangster biopics; will it be Depp or Hardy (Legend)? Check out both films and decide for yourself.

October 7 - 18, 2015

This week, and next, will be all about the London Film Festival, organised by the British Film Institute. An annual event that is heaven for a cinephile like me, as well as swanky red carpet gala screenings of the latest blockbuster films attended by its stars, there will be a wealth of fringe screenings, masterclasses, workshops and talks. LFF presents a rare opportunity to learn from the behind-the-scenes heroes that breathe the magic into the movies, rub shoulders with the actors and directors and get their take on what went into creating what we see on screen. It is a chance to hear from the biggest names in the industry and through the documentaries, hear from luminaries from every walk of life. My LFF started with a screen talk by Geena Davis, discussing her iconic roles and her work promoting gender equality in media, a fabulous hour and perfect prelude to what I hope will be another fantastic festival. If you haven't got tickets do check the website for returns!

 

September 3rd, 2015

LEGEND PREMIERE. Tom Hardy puts in a stellar performance as BOTH Reggie and Ronnie Kray, identical twin gangsters who became the most notorious criminals in British history with a crime empire that ruled most of the East End of London during the 1960s. Their story fascinates and has been told over and over in print and on film. This retelling has garnered mixed reviews, with vocal opposition from surviving members of the family of Frances Shea, the wife of Ronnie Kray and narrator for the film. It isn't a film for the faint hearted, with some graphic violent scenes that underscore the viciousness of the Krays. However Hardy manages to inject humanity and humor too, giving the audience a glimpse of the charisma that the twins must have possessed in order for their story so captivating and enduring.

June 5th & 16th , 2015

Neil Gaiman is a favourite author of mine, appearing frequently in my ‘after lunch reads’. This month however I had the pleasure of seeing him in person at two events that went beyond the literary, which is why he’s popped up in this part of my blog. First he featured as a special guest at FourPlay String Quartet’s performance in Leicester Square Theatre, in which Neil SANG! And the second; a 5x15 stories event that brought him together with author David Mitchell in conversation with Erica Wagner at Union Chapel. Both events were a delight, I particularly enjoyed witnessing Neil & David’s mutual love & admiration play out on stage, seeming to be old friends even though it was their first meeting. Both authors defy genre & champion not only the arts but the vulnerable in society, their words entertain but also bringing about positive change. If you get the chance to hear them in person do, if not pick up their latest books & let their stories transport you. (Gaiman: Trigger Warning, Mitchell: The Bone Clocks)

May 30th , 2015

Sci-Fi London is an annual international film festival that brings together the best science fiction & fantasy films from around the world. Set mostly on the lively Southbank, Sc-Fi London is a week of slightly off beat fun (running from Fri 29 May – 7th June). I was looking forward to attending events, especially the UK premiere of ‘The Lovers’, which is written & directed by Roland Joffé & stars Josh Hartnett & Bollywood’s Bipasha Basu. I had high hopes for the film; lavish sets, stellar cast & directed by the man responsible for Oscar nominated movies ‘The Killing Fields’ and ‘The Mission’, can’t miss right? Wrong! When festival director Louis Savy announced that Joffé could no longer attend the Q&A my heart sank & it continued to do so for the next 2 hours. Lackluster performances, nonsensical script & discordant background music… give the festival a try but the film a miss.

May 17th , 2015

Last night Odeon Leicester square rolled out the gray carpet for Disney’s Tomorrowland: A World Beyond, the latest offering from The Incredibles director Brad Bird who also co-wrote the script with Lost’s Damon Lindelof. Without giving away too much; the main protagonist is optimist Casey (Britt Robertson) who is brought together with pessimist Frank (George Clooney) by ‘the girl’ aka Athena (Raffey Cassidy) to ‘fix the thing’. There’s also the requisite baddy (Hugh Laurie) all set in the rather mysterious Tomorrowland. Confused? Well, expect to stay that way but you will also find yourself exhilarated and leave the cinema, after what seems like a two hour fairground roller coaster ride, with a bit of a bounce in your step. Looking past a few plot niggles, I thoroughly enjoyed this brave family film which proved to be well worth the price of admission.

May 1st , 2015

I missed ‘Birdman’ when it was first released so it was great to be able to get another chance to see it on the big screen this weekend. Thanks to Pure HMV & 20th Century Fox I got tickets for a special screening of the film at Odeon Leicester Square to celebrate its DVD release. Migration & Grammy award winning jazz musician Antonio Sánchez, who improvised the film’s percussive score, wowed the audience with their live performance. In addition to Antonio on drums there were; Seamus Blake on Tenor & Ewi, John Escreet on Piano & Rhodes & Matt Brewer on Bass. ‘Birdman’ is an American black comedy co-written, produced & directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu. Michael Keaton & Edward Norton’s performances were faultless, with support from an all-star cast, it’s no wonder that it won Best Picture of 2014 at the Academy awards. The story follows Riggan Thomson (Keaton), a faded Hollywood actor famous for his role as superhero Birdman, as he struggles to mount a Broadway adaptation of a short story by Raymond Carver. The film is brilliantly acted,if you haven’t seen it you should definitely buy the DVD.

February 18th , 2015

Bollywood arrived in Leicester Square last night for the CTBF charity royal premiere of The Second Best Marigold Hotel. Walking the orange carpet were the film’s stars; Dame Judi Dench, Dame Maggie Smith, Celia Imrie, Tena Desae & Lillete Dubney. Absent in person but fabulous additions on screen were Tamsin Greig and Richard Gere. This follow-up, also directed by John Madden, from a script by Ol Parker, is more of a re-shuffle than a sequel. We re-join the British retirees that decided to spend their golden years in India where the last film (2011) ended, this time focusing on Sonny’s (Dev Patel) expansions plans, his imminent marriage to fiancé Sunaina (Tina Desai) and Evelyn and Douglas’ (Judi Dench and Bill Nighy) romance. The film is a soft-hearted comedy with Dame Maggie at her witty best, a lovely movie for any age to enjoy.

February 6th , 2015

I’m not a big fan of formulaic gross-out comedies so I wasn’t expecting to enjoy ‘The Wedding Ringer', which is written & directed by ‘The Hangover’ alum Jeremy Garelick. As it's exactly the kind of film that my fellow lunch-er finds uproarious I went along anyway. Surprisingly, I ended up laughing out loud along with everyone else in The Soho Hotel’s screening room, where Yahoo Movies was hosting the preview. The premise of the film is straightforward; Doug Harris (Josh Gad) is a successful, yet socially awkward groom-to-be, with 10 days to find himself a best man. Desperate, Doug is referred by his wedding planner to Jimmy Callahan (Kevin Hart), owner & CEO of Best Man Inc. What ensues is a predictable but fun film, perfect for a Friday night. Following the screening MTV’s Laura Whitmore hosted a Q&A with the film’s leads, who turned out to be thoughtful, charming & just as funny off camera as on screen. Josh even did his Olaf voice!

November 25th , 2014

Last night Angelina Jolie introduced her latest movie Unbroken at its London premiere in Leicester Square (pictured left). The film, which was produced and directed by Jolie, tells the incredible true story of Olympic runner Louis “Louie” Zamperini (played by Jack O'Connell) who, after surviving in a raft for 47 days following a near-fatal plane crash, was taken prisoner by Japanese forces during World War II and placed in a POW camp where he was tormented by a brutal camp guard known as ‘The Bird’. Louie’s is an inspiring story about survival, the resilient power of the human spirit, redemption and ultimately forgiveness. Unbroken marks Jolie’s second directional outing, following 2011’s In the Land of Milk and Honey. Aided by the Coen Brothers, who wrote the screen play, Jolie does a formidable job of bringing Laura Hillenbrand’s 2010 best-selling book to life and is already tipped for Oscar glory. I felt privileged to be able to watch this film in the company of the members of the armed forces as the chosen charity for the event was appropriately the British Legion.

October 31st, 2014

As part of a series of televised “NY Times Talks”, Sir Derek Jacobi & Sir Ian McKellen were interviewed by Pulitzer Prize–winning correspondent John F. Burns about their formidable careers & new hit sit-com “Vicous”. The evening was hosted in the Princess Anne Theatre at 195 Piccadilly; BAFTA London’s HQ & attended by the show's writer & producer Gary Janetti, who joined the veteran actors for the latter half of the talk & audience Q&A. Hearing Ian McKellen speak in person was a true privilege, despite the fact that he is unquestionable acting royalty he seemed down to earth, was riotously funny & spoke with passion in advocacy of gay rights & of being a mentor to up & coming actors, reminiscing about how encouragement from the greats had helped him, (here he names Sir Lawrence Olivier).

(A video of the talk is available on the NYT site).

October 8-19th , 2014

I’m going to cheat & do a summary because the packed programme of the London Film Festival meant that the number of films I've seen this week are in double digits. Not that I’m complaining, I thought it was the best LFF of recent memory, hosting 248 films in just 12 days across 17 venues. Opening the LFF was Sherlock himself, Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turning in the Imitation Game, brilliant film starring one of my favourite actors so no surprise I loved it but I leave you to find out more about it yourselves. Two films I do what to highlight here are; The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, the collective title of 3 films, Him, Her & Them, written & directed by Ned Benson. It explores the effects of loss on a married couple told from the perspective of Connor Ludlow (James McAvoy) ‘Him’ & Eleanor Rigby (Jessica Chastain) ‘Her’ the 2 films edited together & screened at the festival as ‘Them’. The performances from the leads were achingly beautiful, it was not a film that I would normally have sought out, which is what makes the LFF so wonderful in my opinion, the fact that it introduces audiences to new experiences. Another such film was Fury, an American war film set during World War II written & directed by David Ayer. Beyond the action & gore, we get to look at how War can not only bind men together as brothers but also strip away our humanity. There just isn’t enough space here to list all the great films this year, the festival was thought provoking & also fabulous fun. Thank you BFI.

 

   

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