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

La La Land (2016)

There is so much buzz around about this movie that of course I had to see it for myself – and to be honest, I thought it was just ‘okay’.

Mia (Emma Stone) is a struggling actress, Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) a struggling musician and jazz nut. As their lives start to intersect, how will their relationship interact with chasing their respective dreams? And more to the point, how will the film makers add in the song and dance routines? 🙂

The opening is full-on musical: everyone – wearing primary colours, of course! – getting out of their cars in a traffic jam to do a perfectly choreographed ‘spontaneous’ routine. It was cheesy as anything – and I had such a huge smile on my face. Things continue like that for a little while, interspersed with a more normally played-out plot line, but then the musicality ebbs as the drama increases.

While this disappointed me, it actually pleased one of my viewing companions, relieved to lose the cheese factor. So, tastes do of course vary! But my preference was definitely for the kitch, the reminders of the golden age of musicals such as Singing in the Rain. I guess the slow veer into a more modern ‘realism’ was half the point though, given how it’s reflected in the plot line of Seb’s quest to ‘save jazz’.

Overall, it’s not that I didn’t like this film – because I did, quite a lot – but it sort of failed to live up to expectations for me, built both from the hype and the opening tone before it all changes a bit. True, it makes for a more mature film than I’d expect from Hollywood or the musical genre, but while it is very clearly a much, MUCH better movie than the likes of, say, Mamma Mia, for me it lost some of the fun that would make me watch it over and over.

Released: 12th January 2017
Viewed: 13th January 2017
Running time: 128 minutes
Rated: 12A (for a little bit of swearing)

My rating: 8/10 – it’s good, but possibly not worth ALL the hype!

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

The Museum of Extraordinary Things – Alice Hoffman

“You would think it would be impossible to find anything new in the world, creatures no man has ever see before, one-of-a-kind oddities in which nature has taken a backseat to the coursing pulse of the fantastical and the marvelous.”

I was expecting something in the ‘magical realism’ genre from this, something hopefully a bit like Sarah Addison Allen’s work, which I find sweet and charming and heartwarming. I suppose this isn’t a million miles away, and yet I didn’t warm to it all that much. Possibly because I found the story so dark: death and tragedy, people being treated horribly, and at least one completely evil character.

The style is also a little odd. Each chapter has a dreamy ‘introduction’ section, told from one of the two main characters’ point of view. We then switch to a third-person, more conventional story telling. Which is fine, but didn’t entirely work for me. For a start, the tone between the two didn’t always mesh, and the introspective musings could be as much of an irritation as a glimpse of character psyche – in fact, it seemed just a little like lazy character development.

I was also really surprised when the second chapter switched characters. Of course the two are linked eventually, but to begin with it was a little jarring to suddenly be reading an almost completely different story.

It’s not all awful. The stories are interesting, the writing flows well and can be quite lovely. Overall, though, my main dislike of this book was the dark tone, and quite frankly awful treatment of women – and none more than the sexual exploitation of an under-age character. Perhaps realistic to the time, but given my lighter expectations going in, I really couldn’t stomach it at all.

Paperback: 365 pages / 10 chapters (plus epilogue)
First published: 2014
Series: none
Read from 5th-20th November 2016

My rating: 6/10

Bridget Jones’s Baby (2016)

The name ‘Bridget Jones’ has become synonymous with a certain kind of woman, a rather sad and sorry singleton. We’ve followed her adventures in trying to get her man (Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001)) and then trying to figure out if ‘true love’ was everything she was after (Bridget Jones: Edge of Reason (2004)). It came as something of a relief when the trailers hyped up Bridget in a slightly more accepting phase: good job, nice flat, target weight (!), and while back to being single, enjoying the chance to hook up with Patrick Dempsey. Well…!

Of course, the heroine’s life never did run smooth, and when she also takes the opportunity to briefly reunite with old flame Mark Darcy (Colin Firth), it leaves her with a bit of dilemma upon discovering she’s ‘up the duff’: which of the two is the daddy? And quite frankly, is Bridget really cut out for motherhood?

I’m not usually a fan of ‘chick flicks’, but I have to say I was in the mood to thoroughly enjoy this and its daft humour. I liked the progression in Bridget’s life – not quite so desperate and needy and hopeless – since the first movie (I can barely remember the middle installment, tbh), while still surrounded by friends and causing disasters left right and centre!

I was a little disappointed in the development of the new love interest character, Jack, who goes from dreamy dish to new-age hippy a little too irritatingly, mainly to counteract Mark Darcy’s incredibly uptight Englishness. The question, of course, becomes: who would Bridget prefer to be the father?

The supporting cast are all brilliant, part of what really makes these movies. Best role goes to the wonderful Emma Thompson as Bridget’s doctor, getting some wonderful lines and just being super-cool. Even Hugh Grants gets a sort-of cameo 😉

Overall, it’s not deep and it’s not Shakespeare, but it was a lot of fun and might well be the best movie in a series that’s become part of pop-culture.

Released: 16th September 2016
Viewed: 13th October 2016
Running time: 123 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 7/10 – not my preferred genre, but a good example of it

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates (2016)

If you’re going to binge 4 trips to the cinema in 3 days, picking a very light and silly one to finish on seems like a good idea – a bit of a mental break on the viewing! And really, they don’t come much dafter than Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates.

The Stangle brothers (Zac Efron and Adam Devine) have a long history of ruining parties by letting their life-of-the antics get out of control. Blowing up RVs, pulling half a roof (plus occupant) down – the mayhem never ends. So when the pair’s little sister is getting married, the warning goes out: no disasters, no acting up – in fact, bring some dates to keep you calm.

We already know the pair are dumb, so perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that they think it’s a good idea to advertise online for some ‘nice girls’ to have a free holiday in Hawaii. A queue of ‘hilarious’ poor choices are offered for our amusement, before Anna Kendrick (playing rather against type) and Aubrey Plaza weasel their way into the trip – and the scope for utter mayhem is doubled!

There’s a fine line between dumb fun and just dumb, and MaDNWD rarely stays on the right side of it. The humour relies far too much on shock value, imo, and what could have been a really amusing set up is pushed into stupidity. Just keeping it a little more realistic would actually have been funnier.

Oh, and Zac Efron only takes his shirt off once 😉

Released: 10th August 2016
Viewed: 28th August 2016
Running time: 98 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 4/10