A Dog’s Purpose (2017)

As soon as I saw the trailer for this, I knew exactly what would happen if I watched it – and I was right! I needed pretty much a whole box of tissues, as I’m an absolute sap for dogs, and a movie with half the purpose being the damn dog dying – repeatedly! – was never going to go dried-eyed.

Which isn’t really a complaint! A Dog’s Purpose is a wonderfully sweet little movie, told with a voice-over from a dog questioning his purpose through a handful of lives. He seems quite bemused at finding himself a puppy again and again, but the narration isn’t allowed to stray too far from a canine perspective. So, for instance, he thinks his people kissing must be a search for food hidden in the mouth, and the donkey is re-labelled ‘horse dog’. Sure, it can be a little cliched, but it fits.

Despite stints as a police alsatian and over-fed corgi, the initial and main part of the story is as much about owner Ethan’s life in a small town in the 1960s, growing up, and how hopes and dreams ebb and flow. I liked that there is a sense of each successive life revealing a little more of the ‘big picture’ to the pup, and – as the trailer very nearly spoils – how that circles back to the beginning again.

To be honest it’s sweet and familiar rather than particularly meaningful, and what depth there is is more than a little well-worn. But if you manage not to shed a tear over the course of the movie then – well, you must be a cat person – and hiss to that 😉

PS I wasn’t aware of the controversy surrounding this movie, but as far as I can read it was a claim that the dogs had been mistreated in the water scene and was proven false.

Released: 5th May 2017
Viewed: 10th May 2017
Running time: 100 minutes
Rated: PG – the small child at the end of my row seemed entirely fine; it was just me crying like a baby!

My rating: 7/10

Their Finest (2016)

The Second World War was a time of enormous social change, not least because – as one character in the film puts it – women and old men get opportunities they wouldn’t normally, since all the young men are off fighting and dying.

One such opportunity arrives for Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton) when she’s recruited to write ‘slop’ – i.e. women’s dialogue – in the Ministry of Information’s propaganda films. She’s soon working as part of a scriptwriting team to write an “authentic and optimistic” movie to inspire the beleaguered nation to continue to support the war effort – and, perhaps, persuade the Americans to join in to what they’ve been viewing as a European issue.

As the movie-within-the-movie progresses, we get to watch often prickly relationships develop into friendships, all against a very un-cosy backdrop of the realities of the ongoing war. Far from the sweet and gentle movie I was expecting, people do die, or see their lives buried in rubble, or just cower in the tube tunnels as the air raids go on night after night. And yet, still, people get on and the movie goes on, and overall there is hope.

Based on a novel with the much better and more illuminating title, Their Finest Hour and a Half, this is worth a watch for romantics and realists, and those who will – like me – smile the broadest at the scenes of how a ‘real life’ event is taken apart and put back together to tell a story more ‘worth telling’.

Released: 21st April 2017
Viewed: 25th April 2017
Running time: 117 minutes
Rated: 12A with a surprising (although not exactly gratuitous) amount of swearing, and some quite dark and potentially upsetting deaths

My rating: 7.5/10

Lost For Words – Stephanie Butland

“A book is a match in the smoking second between strike and flame.”

Loveday Jenna Carlew works in a second-hand bookstore, Lost For Words, in York. She’s a bibliophile and a loner, and as the book progresses we slowly start unravelling the mystery of her past and what’s made her so suspicious of people and of attachments.

I surprised myself by how much I loved this book. It’s not my usual genre at all – I picked it based on the bookshop setting (a definite weakness of mine!) but somehow expected something a little less real, and a little more magical. By the end, though, I was definitely snuffling, and read the second half of the book practically in one sitting!

At first, I didn’t really take to Loveday (a traditional Cornish name, I learned). She’s young and awkward and makes too many comments – because this is told in first person – about people reacting to her tattooes, as if she’s some kind of punk chick when the ink is actually the first lines from her favourite novels.

As the story continues there are still a few moments when I thought she was being a bit… well, she pushes everyone away and defends it as ‘sensible’, and the remarks did occasionally have me rolling my eyes. And then the story turns out to be a bit of a romance – absolutely not my genre!

And yet… woven through alternate chapters is the mystery of Loveday’s childhood, and it’s impossible not to feel for her. The past is handled so very well, and makes the present scenes very understandable and real.

As I said, by the time I got to the last few chapters I was invested enough to be teary about it all. Any book that moves you so is probably a worthy consideration for a first-line (see top) tattoo – or, more realistically, a good review!

Not one I’d recommend to everyone, but for something a bit different, or a bit less ‘genre’ than my usual reading, definitely a great find.

NetGalley eARC: 368 pages / 18 chapters
First published: April 2017
Series: none
Read from 15th-19th April 2017

My rating: 8/10

Hidden Figures (2016)

Once upon a time, the word ‘computer’ actually meant a person – someone who does computations. Before we had the electronic versions, even the ones that took up vast rooms of space never mind the power in your phone, calculations all had to be done by hand. And that includes the complex mathematics required to put a man in space – equations for speed and orbit and so many other life-threatening details, all requiring a human brain, pencil and paper.

In the early 1960s, a battle was going on between the USA and Russia to win the ‘space race’: being first was everything in launching satellites, putting a man into space, orbiting the Earth, reaching the moon. And while NASA struggled with such lofty goals, the people working for them were often facing much more fundamental struggles: to be fairly treated if they weren’t white men.

Hidden Figures is based on the true stories of three black women who not only worked for NASA, but were fundamental in the successes that included the famous “One small step” for Neil Armstrong in 1969. History tells of rooms of white males, and finally this movie is trying – albeit imperfectly at times – to point out that that is far from the whole story.

I absolutely *loved* this movie. It was heart-wrenching watching the snubs and struggles, and I felt so pleased to live in a world where my reality is to see that with a large dollop of ‘WTF?’ – shame we’ve still got a ways to go! The film has you rooting 100% for the three female leads – and quite frankly I’m shocked that there were no Oscars taken home – while keeping the story focused on the space race. Such is the power of the story-telling that, even more than half a century on and knowing how things turned out, I was still on the edge of my seat as the flimsiest of tech hurtled brave souls into space.

If I have any complaints about the film, it’s only that I think it still sugar-coated some of the struggles. I have read that the whole removing of bathroom signs was quite wrongly handed to a white character, for instance. It was fascinating – and a bit sickening – to see what life was like under segregation and when women were so openly second class citizens – but for every gain seen, I did find myself wondering if, for instance, the husbands were really so supportive of their ‘little women’, or if that had been brushed over for the sake of keeping the movie up-tempo and uplifting.

Still, absolutely recommended – best film I’ve seen in a long time!

Released: 17th February 2017
Viewed: 28th March 2017
Running time: 127 minutes
Rated: PG

My rating: 9/10

Logan (2017)

By 2029 there are almost no mutants left. None have been born in the past 25 years, and those that were left… well, bad things happened. Even the legendary Wolverine, whose healing powers may or may not have once had him considered all but immortal, is sickening. Dying.

Perhaps the one thing keeping him going is caring for the frail Professor Charles Xavier, hidden away in the desert and force-drugged to try to suppress the effects of dementia on the most powerfully psychic brain on the planet. Like I said, bad things happened.

And then something shocking: a young mutant, a child. She’s in terrible danger – but can Logan be persuaded to help… and will that be enough?

I’ve seen and enjoyed all the X-Men movies over the years, but this is a beast of an entirely different colour. The moody tone of the trailers was spot on in preparing viewers for a dark, often emotional, final part of the Wolverine trilogy (although there is no requirement to have seen either X-Men Origins: Wolverine or The Wolverine, or indeed, any of the other X-Men movies, really, as long as you have a vague notion about the character) – and I’m going to say that this is the movie the character has deserved all along.

What’s different? That emotional content. The serious tone and added ‘reality’ of the struggles of aging, even as a ‘superhero’. It’s admittedly a less ‘fun’ movie than its predecessors, but wow it hits in the feels (as the young people say ;)).

There’s still a lot of action, of course, and the use of a 15 certificate ups the blood and gore factor significantly – again, that (and the profuse swearing) probably add to the realism of the piece: there’s nothing coy about those famous claws going through a man’s skull, splattering brain about the place.

The story is also surprisingly satisfying, I felt. There are thematic similarities to previous installments, perhaps.

Overall, this swaps cheerful for powerful, but man what a way to end an era of X-Men movies!

Released: 1st March 2017
Viewed: 3rd March 2017
Running time: 137 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 8.5/10

T2 Trainspotting (2017)

Twenty years ago, a little movie about the most unlikely of subjects – an Edinburgh youth with an on/off heroin addiction – become something of a cultural phenomenon for Scotland. In preparation for viewing the sequel, I rewatched the original and was amazed at just how iconic 90% of the scenes had become and still remain.

That two decade wait is a genius move for this follow up, with the aging of the characters playing a huge role in the story. Renton’s been living clean – and hiding out – in Amsterdam since the events at the end of ‘T1’, but when events send him home to Edinburgh it’s not long before his old friends – Spud, Sickboy, and Begbie – are once again turning his life upside down.

I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this movie as much as I did. Although I was glad for the rewatch of the original – there are flashbacks and references that do benefit from a familiarity – it’s not an easy watch. The sequel, however, really has moved on twenty years. Sure, there’s still some drug-taking, sex, a lot of violence, and the dialogue is surely 90% swearing 😉 but there’s just so much more depth to this story. As one of my equally-impressed colleagues put it, you don’t often get to see a (serious) “coming-of-middle-age” tale.

So T2 becomes about these men facing middle age, their lives not what they’d hoped. Heroin might be (more or less) behind them, but as the new – and quite brilliant – “Choose Life” speech shows, the world has only changed so much and not all for the best. Throw in some revenge story lines, the attempt to reforge friendships and find… not purpose, but just something to do – through all of this, the character studies are done brilliantly and yet subtly. I came out feeling this movie had twice the content of the 2-hour running time, which is absolutely not something I was expecting – nor the bits where I was almost crying with laughter!

Of course, chuck in the extra layer of seeing my hometown on screen – including my bus stop, yay! – in the same cinema as the premier was held, of seeing twenty years pass not just for the characters but also in my own life… your mileage may vary, but I was wowed.

Released: 27th January 2017
Viewed: 10th February 2017
Running time: 117 minutes
Rated: 18

My rating: 9/10

Passengers (2016)

The future of space colonisation will require some way to account for the centuries of time it will take to fly to even the nearest planets to us. One solution is suspended animation: put your passengers to sleep for the duration of the crossing. So what happens if you wake up expecting to be on a new Earth, only to discover you’ve woken up 90 years too early?

That’s what happens to Jim (Chris Pratt), after the ship sustains damage from a debris field. So, the first part of this movie is about the solitude of one man, adrift between worlds.

The next phase of the film occurs when a second passenger, Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence), joins him. Much to my surprise, a good part of this is a love story – literally about the last two people ‘alive’, and possibly about as opposite as they could be.

Finally – and without spoiling anything – the movie shifts into action-packed disaster territory, as the interstellar ship light years from home starts developing a few, urm, glitches…!

There was a fair bit of controversy around this movie. Despite trying to avoid spoilers, I did hear one comment that led me to guess the ending – and was then quite surprised when that actually happens practically at the start of the film. And to be honest, I don’t entirely get the complaints: for one, it’s a movie and as such requires a dramatic plot, and secondly, it’s a HUGE plot point, not just something thrown in randomly or without thought. You might not agree with some of the choices, but then, you’re not in that situation – and that’s the whole point. I’m not dismissing the ‘ickiness’ of it in many ways, but my fears that I was going to join the half of the population hating this movie because of something completely inexcusable being written in were completely unfounded.

And actually, the moral dilemmas plus the change in pace, those three ‘movements’, added a lot more depth than I was expecting from a space-based action movie – although, we get that, too. And I for one found it a rather satisfying story.

Released: 21st December 2016
Viewed: 6th January 2017
Running time: 116 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 7.5/10