Scene 21 – Hector and The Search for Happiness

So in 2013, we the audiences were treated to The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, which saw Ben Stiller undertake a world-traversing voyage to understand the meaning of life…which is apparently a big deal. This time around sees Simon Pegg trying to get in touch with his happy-self, as weird as that sounds… in Hector and the Search for Happiness.


Based on French psychiatrist François Lelord’s best-selling novel of the same name, and directed by Peter Chelsom, Simon Pegg plays our dissatisfied protagonist Hector; a quirky psychiatrist who realises his methods aren’t really helping his patients, and so embarks on a trip around the world, reaching destinations such as Shanghai and The Himalayas,  in a bid to discover the secret of happiness….ps. its cake, lots and lots of cake…


Chelsom does well to capture the energy of the various locales, and if nothing else the aesthetics within the film are mostly impressive, all the more so when you consider the tight budget…especially in comparison to Walter Mitty. As for the film’s relatable messages, the bulk of them hit home, though the heavy-handed manner in which their executed can leave much to be desired. Sadly, it’s not the only problem, with an unfocused  screenplay. This is exemplified in the final act; Hector’s ultimate realization is extremely sudden to say the  least and feels like it comes completely out of nowhere.


Pegg is known more for his comedy chops than his dramatic acting, but here the focus is on the latter. Of course, as an actor Pegg proves up to the task in the emotional moments, but even for an actor as good as Pegg he cannot always imbue Hector with likability, as written our protagonist is too immature and self-indulgent to inspire much empathy. A prime example of Hector’s less than endearing decision-making comes when he cheats on his girlfriend days after departing for his voyage….cue every Beyonce song!


A supporting cast that includes Stellan Skarsgård, Christopher Plummer and Toni Collette is always going to class up proceedings, and they are all enjoyable enough in their roles, but there is little cohesive power between their characters’ musings on happiness. Again, like in the instances with Pegg, it isn’t down to the actors faults more so that of the screenplay.


So just like your older sibling…It’s not as profound as it thinks it is, and the screenplay disappoints more than it impresses, but Hector and the Search for Happiness is a harmless, solidly performed romp. Those pursuing true happiness need not apply, but those content with mild entertainment should be satisfied.

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Scene 20 – Ant Man

We’re back!!…and by we’re I mean me…so alone…


Sorry to my readers (roughly three people, including my…well, if she could read)…for  the lack of blogs in the past few weeks, just been uber busy and really haven’t had time. But I have made time now and will continue to do so…


One thing I will add is the weeks Watched, Read & Listened To List, may seem impressive but its actually a combination of the past three weeks due to the back log…but anyway on with the blog…


This weeks movie is set in the mega-film-world know as the Marvel Cinematic Universe…comic book nerds around the world rejoicing…about the movies, not so much about the Hipster like phase that comics have now fallen into. the vastly growing Marvel Universe, which has already brought us global successes such as The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy, delves back into its inner sanctum to deliver a new tale, that of; Ant Man. Paul Rudd takes the lead as Scott Lang, a robin hood-type burglar who has just finished a stint in jail and is hoping to change his ways, and to be a better father for his daughter…on the count of three everyone…awwww….


Unfortunately, as if this tale was scripted…life as a convict makes it difficult to Scott to keep his job and he is forced into burglary once again. With a little help from his friends, he manages to break into an old guys house and break open a safe only to find what seems to be a retro-biker outfit. Unbeknownst to Scott and co, the house belongs to super-genius Hank Pam (Michael Douglas), founder of Pam Technologies, and owner of said suit, which has the ability to change the atomic structure of a person, i.e. miniaturize a person to the size of…well you guessed it from the title; an ant.


The casting of Paul Rudd was a highlight for me, as I knew from being a fan of the character, that it would allow him to bring his charm to the role. Scott Lang isn’t as smart as Tony Stark or as strong as Captain America, but he is more resourceful than both..there I said it! He is quick on his feet and able to ‘MacGyver’ his way out of any situation which was fascinating to watch. I also am aware that I did just use ‘MacGyver’ as a verb there, and in hindsight, am shocked that it isn’t used that way on a more frequent basis…I blame rap music. So…as Scott Lang learns more about the suit and the ants, he is able to add his unique qualities of sharp thinking and resourcefulness to form into this new and unique type of hero.  Surprisingly, for me one of the best parts of the film was in fact the ants. Explain the different types of ants and the advantages of them, and in a sense turning them into Ant Man’s Bat-Utility-Belt.


The film also has plenty of heart, not only thanks to Paul Rudd, but also thanks to its supporting cast. Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilly (who plays Hope van Dyne) share a father-daughter relationship, which in turn is beautifully echoed to that of Paul Rudd and his daughter Cassie. With Scott Lang being the first Marvel superhero who has a child, they don’t shy away form it.


Bringing in the comedic value was Scott Lang;s small team of enthusiastic consist played by Michael Pena, David Dastmalchian and T.I. Add to that the villain, played by Corey Stoll, who added just a tad more than the average Marvel villain. He had an awesome suit in the form of the Yellowjackets and a clear reason about why what he was doing was wrong. However, he doesn’t actually get that many scenes and it would have been beneficial to see him at a younger age to explain some of his back-story…but there is only so much time you can keep an audience in its seats.


This film manages to stand on its own, there are elements only made possible by being in the Marvel-verse, but it doesn’t heavily rely on them, which I thoroughly enjoyed. It has been a while since we’ve had a standalone superhero film which isn’t a sequel, other than Guardians of the Galaxy…but you get what I’m saying. In essence, this film is a comedic heist film that happens to feature a superhero. what was refreshing was that we saw Scott Lang as a hero foremost and added the ‘super’ later. At the same time they managed to op up the Marvel world by exploring the micro-verse and showing us a small…pardon the pun, insight into the world of quantum.


I really hope that Ant-Man is going to be a hard sale to conventional audiences. People find the trailer funny and/or they love Marvel films which will get them into the seats, but when the title is Ant-Man it sounds ludicrous, and not in a positive sense. Having listened to a Stan Lee interview on the Nerdist Podcast, I’d say the old charmer would be pleased with how Ant Man turned out. His many reasoning for how it wasn’t a fan favourite as a comic being that the concept of his size wasn’t truly exploited, i.e.. Ant Man in a comic panel by himself, so his size isn’t really shown. But that is not a problem here, as transferring of mediums actually highlights this character more than it would have with previous Marvel ones. And I guess it’s true what they say…great things come in small packages!!…now I don’t know if that was a gentleman vegetable joke or just a cheesy line…but thats a question for another day!

Scene 19 – Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is a film that does about what you’d expect from a sequel that finally hits theaters almost ten years after its predecessor,  it gives the audience more of the same in terms of style and characters, but  not a whole lot more to be honest . Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller return to co-writing and directing duties, bring the same visually stunning style that made the first movie  so resonate with audiences and fans.


The sequel takes ironically enough takes place in the same world; Sin City,  and once again tells its eerie noir vignettes through multiple character point-of-views full of its signature gratuitous violence, over-the-top vulgarity, and the black and white comic book panel style interspersed with dramatic splashes of color for effect.


Much of the original cast returns as well, and thankfully the nine years since the original Sin City have been kind to those actors…well the CG has been kind and done wonders for Mickey Rourke, who returns as the fan favorite Marv. Marv is just as insane and unpredictable as he was the first time around as he bashes skulls and swigs whiskey in his unusual but entertainingly written way.


Jessica Alba is given much more to do this time around as her character Nancy finally lets Sin City and the loss of Hartigan (Bruce Willis) corrupt her. It can be a bit confusing as to when the stories in Sin City: A Dame to Kill For do actually take place, as this particular story takes place after the first film, but other segments/characters, including a pre-gold eye Manute (Dennis Haysbert replacing the late Michael Clark Duncan), take place notably before the events of Sin City.


The notable new cast are actually a nice switch-up, and add the few factors of the film that somewhat outdo the original Sin City. Josh Brolin was born to play a character in these films with his square jaw and lined face, and he takes the focus of the movie, playing the dangerously smitten Dwight. Dwight can’t say no to his ex-lover Eva (played conveniently by Eva Green)…and to blame him who could, considering she is naked for pretty much the entirety of her scenes.


Eva Green yet again steals every scene, just as she did in 300: Rise of an Empire, and looks stunning with the black-and-white contrast mixed with her red lips and green eyes. This style of cinematography suits her down to the ground and she is clearly going through one of the most productive parts of her career, playing outlandish, strong and not always virtuous characters.


Another welcomed addition is Joseph Gordon Levitt, who brings one of the more noir-ish storylines as Johnny, a poker player that’s on a roll with revenge on his mind….if that doesn’t sound like a line from a movie poster I don know what does! His clash with the returning Powers Boothe as Senator Roark ends up being one of my favorite portions of the film, as it is so suited to the noir style.


Sin City: A Dame to Kill For suffers from many of the same problems that the first film had, namely a severe imbalance in the quality in effects and artistic values. Some scenes, such as a sequence that sees Marv beat up the bad guys from the point-of-view of the camera following him through windows in a mansion, almost Hulk-esque,  are brilliantly directed by Rodriguez. Then on the other hand  we have scenes like one with Marv and Nancy on motorcycles, which look so fake and poor that it’s almost laughable. I know Rodriguez is a director that likes to walk the line in terms of his vision and how he goes about achieving it, but its scenes like this that take away a lot of the artistic argument for these films.


Another point I had are the stories, or their extremities rather, as the stories/characters get so excessive or extreme, just for sake of being shocking, and end up ultimately feeling fake.…again this could be analysing  Sin City as a fiction movie rather the a comic adaptation movie. They, as in comic book adaptations,  are speaking to the raging hormone fanboy audience that prefers something more colorful to usual language, saying that is not that there isn’t a place for this type of storytelling, but it will certainly take down an otherwise intelligently original film.


Fans of the original film will find Sin City: A Dame to Kill For satisfying to those same distinct tastes for stylized violence and larger-than-life quirky characters. But even with some exciting new additions to the cast, the film never goes beyond the trappings of the original film and rarely, if ever, does anything better.

Week 18

It’s that time again kids, this weeks Watched, Read & Listened To List.

This week I watched and read quite a bit of stuff….highlight of the week is a Tv show I discovered on Netflix called Danger 5. For those of you who don’t know about it, it is a show like a real-life remake of Thunderbirds…if Thunderbirds was created by the same people who done Team AmericaGarth Marenghi’s Darkplace. It is one of the best Tv shows that I have seen in a very, very long time!!


Soundtrack of the week this week is Steven Price’s score for last years critically acclaimed Gravity. I remember listening to this for the first time in the cinema, and it was such a huge sound! A huge sound for such a minimalist score that is, and I for one it got the critics attention as many great minimalist score usually slip by unnoticed behind the film itself which is a shame. Take the initial track for example Above Earth, and listen to it through headphones or really good speakers….throughly evoking work.


On with the list…

All caps, bold: MOVIE
All caps: TV SERIES
All italics: Book
Quotation marks: “Play”
Italics, Quotation marks: “Short Story

ENTOURAGE (4)
ENTOURAGE
AQUARIUS
JAY AND SILENT BOB: STRIKE BACK
DAWN OF THE DEAD
FOXCATCHER
VEEP (2)
BO BURNHAM : WHAT
ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT (4)
DANGER 5 (4)
NICK OFFERMAN : AMERICAN HAM
FAT, SICK & NEARLY DEAD
IT FOLLOWS

Till next  week…

“That’s some bad hat, Harry.” – Brody,  Jaws

Scene 18 – It Follows

First and foremost before we begin with this or last weeks blog rather, I would like to apologise for it’s lateness. *For dramatic effect you should read the next line as Nick Offerman*… This is due to the fact that I was in Edinburgh…drinking scotch, so really I don’t have to apologise. But I will be making up for it with two updates, this one and my regular one…but now lets fly through a really fast synopsis to kick this off…


Here we go, So after Jay (Maika Monroe) and her boyfriend have ‘the sex’, he tells her that he has passed a curse onto her and now something will begin to follow her. And when it catches up with her, it will kill her. Sure enough, she begins to experience an inescapable feeling that someone, or something, is after her…*cue creepy music*


It Follows is a subtly creepy, yet beautifully composed shocker, featuring moments of which will haunt you along with the template quote of filler. It blurs the line between sex and death, tapping into some very dark and primal fears such as abandonment, betrayal of loved ones, social ostracism. Most obviously it mines that very specific fear of being pursued so relentlessly by something unknowable, harmful and without-reasoning; that unshakable fear that someone or something is creeping up behind you, getting closer and closer, until you can’t resist the urge and must turn and look…it took me back to when you were younger and watch a horror movie in a friends that you really shouldn’t have, before commencing the one step forward – two steps back walk home.


The atmosphere of dread is evident from the beginning as a panicky opening scene immediately pulls us into the story and forcibly submerges us, breathless with tension, until a shock climax of horrifyingly grotesque imagery reveals what happens when the follower catches up to the followed. The fact that we never see what the girl is running from, only that she is terrified enough to run helplessly, half-dressed past her own father on the way to her car in an attempt to escape ‘something’ just adds to emotion of the scene, with the full panning camera clearly and dramatically shows that there isn’t anything behind her. Adding to the odd, ominous feeling throughout is the fact that much of the action takes place in daylight hours, and in places you would expect to find relative safety when being followed by someone or something unknown; buildings bustling with people, bland suburban streets …. saying that there are a few scenes when Jay is being followed where she runs off to an abandoned park by herself to try escape, which as we all know is from ‘How to stay alive when a creepy creep is following you’ manual is a complete no no…but hey, I’m just being picky. It’s this mix of mundane and otherworldly that imbues It Follows with much of its effectiveness.


Many horror films feature unsettling subtext regarding sexuality and sexual angst…this is the perfect time to revisit practically every 80’s slasher movie. So the core premise of It Follows is just another strand from the 80’s subtext, this time that act of ‘the sex’ instigates untold terror when a curse is passed between lovers…and when you think about it It Follows is a far better movie title then ‘The Curse of the STD’…which sounds like an over 18 episode of Scooby Doo. David Robert Mitchell’s script carefully lingers on the moral implications of the situation as Jay agonises over whether or not she can bring herself to pass on the curse to someone else. Her boyfriend assures her she’ll have no problems doing so as she’s ‘so pretty’…is that a compliment?


Underpinning the fairy tale aspects is the almost complete absence of parental figures; Jay’s alcoholic mother is momentarily glimpsed around the house, but she is never shown to engage with her daughters. It isn’t necessarily an unloving relationship they have…it’s just how things are. Jay and her sister seem protective of her, they discuss how telling her about certain things is not an option, she just couldn’t handle it….suggesting that there is a lot more going on then we are told. Her father is only depicted as a figure in a long-ago taken photo suggests that his absence, though we aren’t told why and that may be the reason for their mother’s alcoholism. The entire film is peppered with these little subtleties, making for a rich and immersive experience. The fractured family unit speaks of how the younger generation of today has had to grow up fast and learn to survive with little guidance or instruction, with peers substituting for absent parent figures.


Before it’s torn apart and rendered utterly terrifying, writer/director David Robert Mitchell creates a world instantly familiar in its reassuring mundanity, peopled by normal characters. A strange sadness, perhaps a lamentation of lost childhood, wafts throughout, as adolescent characters face unimaginable horrors just beyond, but oftentimes within their cosy, tree-lined suburban environs, as they emerge into adulthood and experience firsthand its myriad dangers and traumas. There’s something about the autumn that speaks of the melancholy of years spent in beige-tinted suburbia, longing for life to begin and stuff to happen….I’m still waiting!


Mitchell creates a subtle mythology around the ‘otherworldly stalker.’ In an effort to catch up to them, the follower takes on the guise of people its victims know and love, but we never find out what it is, where it came from or even how it came to being. For all we know, it’s an ageless, timeless thing that has just always been following marked individuals across the globe…scary thought. We glimpse it in various forms, some genuinely unsettling  but the most terrifying thing about it is its sole intention: to violently destroy whoever it is following. Its purposeful, measured pace ratchets up the tension as Mitchell utilises wide angled shots – again reminiscent of John Carpenter’s Halloween – to suggest the presence of something lurking in the shadowy periphery of the screen, watching. Wraith-like camerawork enhances tension by gliding back and forth between the different viewpoints, or perceptions if you will, of characters, and there’s an uneasy quietness to the composition of many shots. Danger isn’t announced…it is gradually suggested.


As genuinely terrifying as it is, It Follows is also a film brimming with moments of exquisite, un-selfconscious beauty. As mentioned, there are strong visual echoes of John Carpenter’s Halloween, with its quiet, suburban setting resplendent with the  shades of autumn, and of Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides, with its ethereal, oddly dreamy atmosphere and frequently sun-dappled cinematography. Even the night scenes are lit with a familiar and oddly comforting orange glow of street lights. When things turn horrific and start to encroach upon this setting, the unsettling impact is undeniable. There is frequently striking imagery such as the girl sitting alone on a beach lit by her car headlights….don’t worry it happen with the first ten minutes.  The highly atmospheric score comes courtesy of Disasterpiece (Rich Vreeland) and segues between airy, Tangerine Dream-esque sounds, with beautiful yet stark electronic drones which chill the back of the neck, and full-on panicked intensity.

It Follows has a deathly delivery, and is a great representation of a modern horror.

Week 17

It’s that time again kids, this weeks Watched, Read & Listened To List.

This week I watched and read quite a bit of stuff….highlight of the week has actually turned into highlights of the week. Finally got around to watching Max Mad: Fury Road….and if you haven’t seen it…do! It channels the essence of the original movies, with the practical effects and it really delivers. Tom Hardy was stuck in Bane mode for the first two acts…but Charlize Theron holds the helm. I also got to see Jurassic World…and what can I say…I may have cried when within the first 15 mins. The only thing I hated about the movie was the last 15 mins or so..it was like they had been writing the the script for the last 10 years and a half an hour before the deadline they scribbled down the 15 minute ending….but it is still worth seeing over and over again..


Soundtrack of the week this week has to the return of Jurassic Park by the legendary John Williams….I don’t think this need an explanation, only the part where I listen to the soundtrack while following the musical score…That probably need some explaining…but you won’t get it.


On with the list…


All caps, bold: MOVIE
All caps: TV SERIES
All italics: Book
Quotation marks: “Play”
Italics, Quotation marks: “Short Story

JURASSIC PARK – THE LOST WORLD

JURASSIC PARK III

GAME OF THRONES

JOHN WICK

EX-MACHINA

BLACK MIRROR

THE ENGLISH TEACHER

UTOPIA (2)

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD

HANNIBAL

THE SOUTH BANK SHOW : G.R.R MARTIN

THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT

THE UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SMITH

THE STAG

DAREDEVIL

JURASSIC WORLD

ENTOURAGE (14)

“One should try everything he can in his career, expect folk dancing and incest” – Sir Christopher Lee, RIP…

Scene 17 – The Wicker Man

This weeks blog changed last-minute with the sad news that the legendary Christopher Lee had passed away. So as a small tribute I decided dedicate this movie to one of my favourite Christopher Lee movies, which when going back to revisit his work…is pretty hard to pick. So after I spent a few moments persuading myself not to watch The Lord of The Rings for the millionth time, eventually landing back at the iconic film that is The Wicker Man. This decision may not be a surprise to most people, but it really took a lot to pick this movie. It is of course an amazing film, but Christopher Lee had so many amazing films! He is credited to 278 films, doing on average 3 to 4 movies per year in his heyday…and not only is that prolific, but there is also a lot of quality to go with this quantity over his 69 year career within the industry.


So lets delve back to a decade that was a hotbed of experimental, ground-breaking and now classic horror films, the 1970’s. The Exorcist was the first of the genre ever to be nominated for an Oscar for Best Film, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was sweeping America like a psycho-chainsaw-wielding plague. This era also saw Dario Argento creating giallo – gore films like Suspiria, pushing the boundaries of movie gore. FUN FACT : Giallo is the Italian word for yellow, which was also conveniently the colour of the pages of the Italian paperback crime thrillers on which the horror film sub-genre were based…I know right?!!…I should get out more….


Moving to England, film-maker Robin Hardy took this flourishing sub-genre and added an English twist, coming up with the idea to insert Pagan rituals into a small island community resulting in the classic film The Wicker Man. The synopsis goes as follows…Police officer Neil Howie (Edward Woodward) is called to the island of Summerisle to investigate the disappearance of a little girl. Upon arriving he is introduced to various members of the community who explain that they aren’t Christian but rather follow old Pagan rituals. Disturbed, but not perturbed unlike these cowboys of police men we have today,  Howie continues his investigation, uncovering facts that lead to a potentially startling discovery regarding Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee) and ‘the wicker man.’


The slow reveal of the truth behind the Island’s ritualistic religion is one of The Wicker Man’s greatest strengths. Not content with using typically English and recognisable imagery like Old English pubs, Punch and Judy or the Maypole, it subverts and adds levels of tension and fear quite brilliantly throughout. This overwhelming English feel is transferred across to the cast that includes classic British actors like Edward Woodward and Russell Waters, all held together Christopher Lees in possibly his best ever performance. All these elements combine presenting the audience with a view of 1970’s Britain, with their quintessential – British reactions adding a very sinister and eery element to the film. This level of realism, both in terms of religious doctrine and true human expression is one of the contributing factors to The Wicker Man’s success and long-lasting influence. Its sort of the same conversation that people are having today with practical effects Vs CGI…but I digress.


One of my favourite scenes or exchanges of dialogue rather is at Howie’s shock of the lack of Christianity or understanding of Jesus Christ to Lord Summerisle’s retort “Himself the son of a virgin, impregnated, I believe, by a ghost…” As is it’s designed.. to make the audience feel uncomfortable, it left me feeling anxious, which isn’t easy if you have read my other blogs and my perception of horror movies….and still does to this day, about a decade after I saw it first…which is essence of a truly great horror film.


Horror films are now one of the most obviously formulaic film genres, with great horrors subverting these conventions or toying with preconceptions. The Wicker Man not only stands tall as one of the most original and unassuming horrors of the 1970s, but stands the test of time as one of the most chilling and fascinating horror films of all time. This is only solidified by the truly ground-breaking performance of Christopher Lee. And that is one of the great things about film….even though they are gone, and it really is a huge tragedy, his legacy, his truly amazing gift and talent is caught and lives on in his 278 films, and I for one shall continue to watch and admire his work.

RIP Sir Christopher Lee, 1922 – 2015