Let me tell you a story. I was in Sainsbury’s and I’d seen the above whiskey (spelt with an ‘e’) for a number of weeks. I was intrigued, cos the Pogues famously know/knew their whiskey. But the distillery wasn’t evident on the bottle, and so I thought £26 was just a bit too much of a risk. Every week I saw it on the shelf – and it didn’t seem to be selling. THEN! Sainsbury’s reduced it to £18. For 70cl of single malt. ‘I’m in!’ says I. Tried it last night. Veeery good. Will have to get some more. It’s peaty (of course) and a touch sweeter than Scottish whisky (without an ‘e’), but it has complexity (far less wishy-washy than a Speyside, for example) and a pleasing burn. Scores a very good value for money 8 out of 10 from me.
Some critics have said that you can’t spoof Eurovision because it’s already so self-aware that it’s a satire of itself. Those critics are nitwits. Let me tell you: if you like anything about Will Ferrell, Rachel McAdams or Eurovision, you’ll love this movie, and you’re guaranteed to cry like a baby at the end (unless you are hard-hearted, in which case you don’t like Eurovision anyway). The thing that works so well about the film is that the humour is affectionate rather than spiteful, and the film absolutely gets the ‘spirit’ of Eurovision.
Ferrell and McAdams play two musical Icelanders from a small fishing village who are obsessed with making it in Eurovision. They make offerings to the local elves, they play weddings to perfect their skills, and they suffer the mockery of everyone they know (including Pierce Brosnan, who wonderfully plays the role of Ferrell’s long-suffering father). The head of the Icelandic bank is dead-set on Iceland never winning Eurovision (as it will bankrupt the country and reveal he’s been syphoning off funds), so he sees to it that the worst possible Icelandic band wins the national competition: Ferrell and McAdams (who are the band ‘Fire Saga’), by hook and by crook, therefore win through the nationals and make it to the semi-finals in Edinburgh. Enter the conniving Russian act (played superbly by Dan Stevens, with his entry song ‘Lion of Love’) looking to split up our romantically innocent Icelandic couple!
What more could you want? Oh, yes. Costumes. Check. Cheese. Check. Extreme camp. Check, darlings, check! Look, it’s the most watched movie in the world right now (making Netflix very happy), and there’s a good reason for that. The lockdown really isn’t that much fun, and this movie reminds us that we might just have fun again one day.
Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams give us some brilliant laughs in this new Amazon Prime movie. It’s a feel-good satire of middle-class rivalry (#FirstWorldProblems). A group of childless friends live for their Friday games’ night. They are ridiculously competitive. Then, Jason’s older brother comes to town and declares he’s gonna take games’ night ‘up a notch’! A real-time kidnapping and murder-mystery role play begins… and all too soon we’re not sure what’s real and what’s pretend. The stakes are raised when the older brother’s mafia friends start getting involved, closely followed by the FBI and so on. But our friends have brilliant ‘game skills’, including lateral thinking and problem-solving, meaning precious little can get the better of them. It’s the game of their very lives!
I’m a bit of a writer, and this is one of those movies I wish I’d written myself. There’s a laugh out loud joke every 5mins, and such a variety of joke-type that there’s something for everyone, including the hard-bitten viewer. Coming to the end of lockdown, this film is just what I needed. 8.5 out of 10 from me!
So, there was a nuclear war and a new ice age wipes out humanity… except for three thousand of us who managed to get on a train/arc powered by a perpetual-motion engine. The poorest of the three thousand end up in cattle class (called ‘The Tail’ of the train), then there’s third class, second class and first class. Segregation of the classes is brutally policed. Resources are scarce in The Tail, where it’s dog-eat-dog. Meanwhile, the decadent elites are drinking champagne at the head of the train. That is the way of things: the order and balance of things. Until there’s a murder in first class! Yikes. There’s only one murder detective on the train (played by the very cool Daveed Diggs, of Hamilton fame), and he’s stuck in The Tail. He’s taken out of there by Jennifer Connelly (who runs the train) and ordered to track down the killer. But our detective has some demands he wants met first!
This new Netflix show is great, great fun. If you’ve ever read (or seen) J.G. Ballard’s High-Rise (or A J Dalton’s Gateway of the Saviours), it’s sort of like that laid sideways and sent hurtling along rails. At the same time, there was a (rather superior) movie version back in 2013, apparently. Aaaanyway, there are neat ideas, great visuals, a decent mystery and interesting social commentary. What more could you want during lockdown? (Okay, okay, many things, but it’s a start.) Check it out. It scores 8 out of 10 from me.
Like the Amazon Prime show Alex Rider, Hanna tells the tale of a super-teen who has been abused and/or experimented upon by society (i.e. mean adults, the older generation, etc). The Hanna series is based upon the 2011 cult movie of the same name, so has tight plotting, just like Alex Rider (based on the Horowitz novels). Why is there a proliferation of series like this? Well, it’s the state of the world today, isn’t it? Who’d wanna be a teen in the modern era? Not me. It’s either a) become an unfeeling monster to survive or b) end up exploited and collateral damage. Bleak?
You bet. Bleak. But it makes these shows relevant, insightful and important. It exposes the brutalisation of youth (the key theme of the dystopian YA genre)… and there is still a dash of hope to be found. Our young protagonists, by hook or by crook, manage to survive while still holding on to their humanity. So it’s not all doom and gloom. Thank goodness for that. Hanna has great action sequences, touching humour, heart and… deep, deep understanding. Definitely worth a watch. 8.5 out of 10.
Once more Amazon Prime shows Netflix how it’s done. Get yourself a top notch author (e.g. Anthony Horowitz) of fantasy, thrillers or whatever, take their brilliant novel(s) and turn them into a TV series. Easy, right? You’d think. Yet Netflix still believes that getting themselves hack scriptwriters who really don’t have the craft or genre-knowledge required to write a quality fantasy or thriller novel will result in a great TV show: meaning we end up with utter junk like Bright, The Dark Crystal travesty, etc.
And I was ready to hate the Alex Rider series. Well, it’s YA, isn’t it? A cheap knock-off of James Bond. But my nephews and niece like the novels, so I thought I’d give it a whirl. And wow! It’s tightly-plotted, superbly acted (well done Otto Farrant, not to mention Vicky McLure), veeery inner city London, init, masterfully directed, properly multicultural and refreshingly cheeky (in the style of Kingsman, if you’ve seen that). Honestly, do yourself a favour and start watching it today, even if you have to pay the evil of Amazon for the privilege. This is one deal with the devil that it would be sinful not to take up.
Based on the Valiant comic book, the sci-fi movie Bloodshot is an updated Universal Soldier, which of course is an updated Frankenstein story, which is of course an updated Pinocchio story, which of course is an updated Satan-rebelling-against-God-as-maker story. But Frankenstein is the Ur science fiction story that seems most conspicuous here. Vin Diesel plays the animated corpse – and he’s quite convincing as a corpse. All the actors around him have to work particularly hard to keep him animated, as it happens. The fact that he’s incapable of any inflection or intonation in his voice does make you wonder if he’s even capable of any emotion (or thought) behind those tiny eyes of his. The mad scientist of the piece is played by Guy Pearce, who really doesn’t have much to work with.
Now, you may say that I should have expected the film to be pretty pants, given that it’s a Vin Diesel vehicle. But I’d have to come back with Pitch Black and the Chronicles of Riddick – both decent sci-fis with the big guy in the lead role. Bloodshot‘s all a bit of a shame, really, because some of the early plot twists are quite decent, and the action sequences are visually impressive (although without any genuine jeopardy). Were it not for VD, it could all have been that bit better.
Plot? There is one of a sort. A dead soldier is resurrected by a scientist and used as a self-repairing (nanobots/nanites) killing machine. The machine is driven by a desire for revenge based on false memories. But the machine then becomes properly self-aware and wants to break free of its murderous programming! There’s one decent scene between monster and maker, where the maker nearly convinces the monster that having clear orders, purpose and direction in ‘life’ is far better than being entirely free. VD grunts and groans his way through it all, failing to grasp the more complex philosophical implications of it all, and then kills everyone and everything. The end.
Is there any point watching it at all? Should you save yourself 1hr40mins? Well, fans of Eiza Gonzalez will find the movie pleasant viewing, so there is that. Otherwise, it scores 5 out of 10 from me.
A lot of (British) writers simply do it by instinct… instinctively reducing huge themes into a clear and deceptively simple plot… without ever rationally unpacking the genius of what they’ve done. The unpacking bit is important for agents, publishers and readers, however – as they often lack the instinctive genius of the writer. Yet that means a writer needs to wear two heads (like Worzel Gummidge) if they’re ever going to be commercially successful. I always cite JK Rowling and Terry Pratchett as examples here – they’re okay/good writers, but they would never have succeeded if they hadn’t had acute business minds as well.