Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist (season 1)

zoey's extraordinary playlist poster

When a strange experience in an MRI machine leaves Zoey able to hear people’s inner thoughts in the form of song and dance routines, her life becomes extraordinarily weird. Rather than a special power, it can be more of a hindrance in navigating her life as a developer in a hip software company. I mean, do you need to hear your boss’s heartache while you’re trying to go for a promotion, or discover that someone has feelings for you – when you may not feel the same?

I gave this show a go on a whim, and it ended up being one of the highlights of my week over the past few months. It’s quirky and funny and heartwarming – and heartbreaking. The last episode in particular absolutely broke me – take that as a warning, rather than a spoiler. The show deals with death, by suicide or degenerative disease, divorce, relationships, religion, gender identity – it could have been a heavy drama. But instead these are the anchor to Zoey’s fantastical new ability.

And the music is such a joy! I didn’t recognise half the songs, but I am a fan of the kind of musicals this harks back to. Her new ‘quirk’ is almost like Zoey getting her own Bollywood movie world, and it never failed to amuse me to see her try to cope when friends, colleagues, or complete strangers suddenly break into choreographed routines – usually at highly inappropriate moments. I think the cast were picked for their singing ability, as all are very good, including that-bloke-from-Pitch-Perfect who was the only familiar face, bar Zoey’s parents and a few cameos.

I acknowledge that this isn’t going to be everybody’s cup of tea. It’s not light hearted enough to appeal to those who love the escapism of light musicals – think La La Land taking a darker turn, but far more natural. And conversely, the whimsy of the singing is going to be a turn off for those who prefer their drama more series, or their comedies less dancy. For me, however, it hit a sweet spot. I’m a little ‘argh’ at the way it ends, and so far no word of a second season, but otherwise, if you like a hefty dose of whimsy in your viewing, this is highly recommended.

First broadcast: January 2020
Series: 1
Episodes: 10 @ ~42 mins each

My rating: 9/10

Trolls World Tour (2020)

trolls world tour poster

Following on from the surprise success of the even more surprisingly watchable and upbeat Trolls (2016), Poppy, Branch and the gang are back for more adventures. They’re joined by a new host of voice cameos, a paper thin plot, and the unenviable feat of making the headlines for all the wrong reasons. For, in these unprecedented days of COVID-19 and lockdown orders, TWT became one of the first movies to be released straight to streaming – which is fine, given the circumstances, but now has the distributor claiming it as such a huge success they plan to continue the practise, even when cinemas reopen. War may ensue…! o.O

All of which is a bit off topic, but also the most interesting thing about the movie – sorry! 😉

If you enjoyed the first one – and hey, no judgement: it was upbeat and happy and I did too – then there’s still a lot to like here. In fact, I hugely appreciated the lack of annoying Bergens, the whiny baddies from the first movie, in the cast list. Instead we discover along with Princess Poppy (Anna Kendrick) that her band of trolls are only one sub-species: Pop Trolls. Spread across the lands are the likes of Rock Trolls, Classical Trolls, Jazz Trolls – you get the drift. Once all were one big happy family, but then musical differences got in the way and the tribes were split. But now the Queen of the Hard Rock Trolls (because heavy metal is always ‘evil’, sigh) wants to bring everyone back together – and not in a good way.

The stereotypes for the different tribes were kind of fun, particularly the Country Trolls, and Poppy and Branch’s journey across the kingdoms does give rise to more lovely ‘patchwork’ scenery which I loved in the first movie. The quest mcguffin is daft, but the music is still the highlight, now in a few different flavours.

There’s not much more to say. It goes exactly where you think it’s going to go. Kids will love it, parents will not love the price gouging going on. They might, however, enjoy the voice cameos by the likes of Ozzy Osborne, Mary J Blige, Kelly Clarkson, and Sam Rockwell. Overall, though, it’s a slightly bland remake that while offering much of the lightheartedness of the first movie, doesn’t really do anything worth raving about.

And still, it kind of fit the mood – happy and pointless was exactly what the current (inter)national stress levels probably need!

Released: 6th April 2020 (online)
Viewed: 17th April 2020
Running time: 90 minutes
Rated: PG

My rating: 6/10

Yesterday (2019)

yesterday poster

When the entire world suffers a mysterious power outage, Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) is unfortunate enough to get hit by a bus. As he recovers, he slowly starts to realise that somehow the world has forgotten various, every day things: certain brands don’t exist any more, certain ideas. But, most excitingly for a struggling musician who’d been on the brink of giving up, no one else seems to remember The Beatles.

As Jack starts to exploit his suddenly rise to the world’s best songwriter, not everything goes quite according to plan…

I’d been looking forward to seeing this since I saw the trailer. I’m a huge Beatles fan, and I love this kind of ‘what if’ concept. I was also thoroughly in the mood for something light and fun, and just nice, and that’s exactly what I got.

To say the outcome is all pretty predictable is fair enough, not least with Richard Curtis involved in anything. Thankfully this is not as saccharine as Love Actually or Notting Hill. And actually, to my amazement, it managed to surprise me at least once…!

I’d point out that this is not in the vein of e.g. Rocketman, as the music is more the character and a guitar doing cover versions. That’s perhaps a slight negative, although they are genuinely very good covers! My other negative would be Kate McKinnon, playing the less than pleasant record manager – I’ve gone from thinking she can do no wrong, to being disappointed in her roles of late, finding them not very funny at all.

Still. The rest of the cast is great, including Ed Sheeran (I’m not a fan, really) playing himself with surprising self-deprecation. The songs are of course amazing, in any version. Except perhaps ‘Hey Dude’… 😉

Overall, an uplifting feel-good movie, and don’t we all need those once in a while? 🙂

Released: 28th June 2019
Viewed: 11th July 2019
Running time: 116 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 8/10

Rocketman (2019)

rocketman poster

I’m not particularly a fan of Elton John, so this might not have been the most obvious choice of movies for me. Indeed, if you are a fan then the movie experience probably held a lot less surprise, but I got to learn about Reggie Dwight the child prodigy (able to play something on the piano when he’s literally just heard it – wow! And, so jealous!), the problems behind the rise to super stardom, and the unexpected marriage…!

The basic story isn’t too dissimilar to Bohemian Rhapsody (2018), with humble beginnings leading to stardom set against a host of personal problems. However, the rest is very different. Rocketman takes a more fantastical approach, with moments of outright musical – as in, big spontaneous song and dance routines in the street – as well as dream-like moments that conjure some of the drugged-out highs (and lows). It also has a huge plus in that Elton John is still alive and was quite happy to have a ‘warts and all’ approach. “I’ve been a c*** since 1974” he/the character says at one point, and the movie doesn’t try to shy away from showing some of that. Drugs, sex addiction, shopping binges, bulimia – the movie makes the musicality and professional success seem oh so easy, but everything else very much not.

Large praise has to go to Taron Egerton in the lead role. Amazingly, he’s doing his own singing – and he isn’t half bad at all! He also manages to do enough to convey an impression of Elton without focusing too much on that to the detriment of the acting. All in all, he absolutely makes this movie work.

There’s not much else to say. The music is excellent, the story involving, and the approach intriguing. Fan of the man or not so much, this is a really great movie biopic. Recommended.

Released: 22nd May 2019
Viewed: 7th June 2019
Running time: 121 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 9/10

Aladdin (2019)

aladdin poster

I’m far from convinced about this plan to turn all the Disney cartoons into live-action movies. Beauty and the Beast (2017) sort of summed things up for me: not as good as the original, why did you bother? I ran screaming at the thought of sitting through Dumbo (2019), and the trailer for Lion King (2019) looks like a car crash, quite frankly. And yet, Aladdin (1992) is one of my favs from the House of Mouse, and so triumph or disaster, I was curious to see what they had done to it.

So, you know the story. Street rat and petty thief falls for the princess and winds up being used as a pawn by the evil vizier. But, instead of handing over the magic lamp he’s been tasked to steal, Aladdin ends up with a genie granting him three wishes. Can he improve his life, win the princess, yadda yadda yadda?

There are a few minor deviations in this new version. Princess Jasmine gets a new song and a 21st Century update, now trying to convince her father that a girl can be a ruler, not just a wife. I approve! It also felt very well done, imo, quite organically woven into the script and not just a tacked-on moment of ‘girl power’ (I’m looking at you, Endgame!).

The other big change that hits you the most is the loss of the wonderful Robin Williams as the genie. I can’t imagine anyone being brave enough to step into those shoes – but then, if it was going to be anyone, Will Smith makes a lot of sense. He’s been derided quite harshly for the role, but – perhaps going in with such low expectations – I actually think he manages pretty well. Still, it’s a little jarring mixing the genie we know with the Fresh Prince persona slipping through, and then a sweet if odd choice of adding in a crush on the princess’s handmaiden. Hmm.

Otherwise, it feels like the aim was to match the cartoon as closely as possible, and this might have been a flaw. The rooftop chase parkour looks like CGI not gone entirely right, and a few other scenes too end up looking cartoonish – and not in a good way, often running at a slightly odd speed or just looking juddery.

So… I dunno. It wasn’t awful, even while it wasn’t great. I was entertained enough but would rather watch the original. On the other hand, it was far more successful than e.g. B&tB, and more than I expected. I’m glad I quenched my curiosity, I’m mildly impressed that they translated as much of the animation as they did, and if nothing else, Friend Like Me and Prince Ali are fab songs – and Will Smith does them well.

Released: 22nd May 2019
Viewed: 8th June 2019
Running time: 128 minutes
Rated: PG

My rating: 6.5/10

Fisherman’s Friends (2019)

fishermans friends poster

Based on a true story, this movie tells of a group of Cornish fisherman who went on to achieve chart success – continuing to this day! – with an unlikely album of sea shanties. It’s got feel-good, heart-warming British comedy-drama written all over it, and I went in (mainly to avoid Five Feet Apart but also) fully expecting to have my cockles warmed, foot a-tapping, and feeling good.

Alas, things did not go according to plan. It’s not a bad movie, and it does have many elements of the above. But, contrary to the advertising this is not so much a movie about hard-working shanty-singing salt of the earth types (I’m using all these cliches on purpose, btw – it suits the movie to a t!). Instead, we get the rather less appealing story about the cynical record exec finding that Cornwall’s heart is better than London’s glamour, blah blah, so much blah, yawn blah.

The focus on the movie is so skewed, in my opinion, that it takes a ‘real’ story and instead trots out every cliche known to man. There isn’t a beat in the narrative that doesn’t follow the archetypal story: love won and lost, darkest moment before the dawn, ‘hero’s’ change of heart. All of which bored and annoyed me in equal measure. I didn’t particularly want the London knob head to get a redemption story or happy ending. I actually dislike Daniel Mays as an actor, so putting him ahead of the actual supposed subjects of the movie was just… everything that’s wrong with the UK’s London-centricity, in a movie that was meant to distract me from politics. Argh!!

tl;dr: not enough fishermen, too much London tosser. Two hours of gorgeous Cornish scenery and the shanties would have left me happier without the story.

Released: 15th March 2019
Viewed: 22nd March 2019
Running time: 112 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 5.5/10

Mary Poppins Returns (2018)

mary poppins returns poster

The two children from Mary Poppins (1964) have grown up and, in Michael’s case, had children of his own. Following the death of his wife, however, Michael’s life is sliding into mayhem. The final straw is a repossession notice on the family home. Can the Banks family – Michael (Ben Wishaw), sister Jane (Emily Mortimer), and the three children who are more looking after the grown ups than the other way around – find a way to save their house before the bank forecloses? Well, perhaps when a strong wind blows in a familiar face…

Let’s not beat about this bush: I can only hope this is the worst movie I see this year, and what a woeful start! It’s definitely not ‘practically perfect’ in any way – more perfectly dire in far too many ways.

Where to start? Emily Blunt looks great as Mary Poppins – her shoes are a highlight of the movie for me, genuinely (!) – but then she opens her mouth and what the heck?! The mangled, talking-through-marbles fake posh accent is like some horrible impression of… I don’t even know what.

Having to listen to that my ears were well primed to start bleeding when the youngers began singing o_O

The rest of the cast are at least tuneful, but the tunes themselves are insipid in the extreme. Not one has stuck in my head – I came out of the cinema humming “Fly a Kite” from the original, after one bar of it is used in the background. C’mon!!

I did quite like the cartoon-world song and dance, something about a book and its cover, but I do not think it belonged in this movie at all. The innuendo, MP’s sudden cockney turn – what?! As much as I usually like Emily Blunt, her take on MP is borderline obnoxious at times, too.

I yawned through a lot of this movie. I couldn’t stop fidgeting. I wish to heck I’d gone to see The Favourite instead.

Some people seem to like this movie, but I really can’t imagine why – unless the ‘U’ stands for ‘under fives only’. I suppose bits of it look pretty good? But it’s so tonally off it was a painful experience. At least the only way for my moving-viewing year to go is up – which must be what that last song meant!

Released: 21st December 2018
Viewed: 4th January 2019
Running time: 130 minutes
Rated: U

My rating: 3/10