Friday, 3 February 2017

January In Review: Films, Shows and Book Events

Yet another new feature starts, as I try and keep up with a monthly round-up of films, shows and book events - wish me luck please!!


A Monster Calls

I didn't review this first time around - I was lucky enough to see a preview but only had time to dash off a quick quote. Second time around, if anything, is even better - it's a magnificently sad movie, centred on two wonderful performances. Lewis MacDougall is outstanding in his first major role as Connor, the young boy too worried about his mother's illness to be particularly scared by the giant tree monster who turns up at night, while the ever-reliable Felicity Jones is stunning as his mother. Liam Neeson's voice adds gravitas to the monster, which also benefits from a great use of CGI. And despite the overwhelming sadness, at times, there is so much compassion and hope and forgiveness here as well. Excellent!

A United Kingdom

Good script and gorgeous cinematography really brings to life both England and Bechuanaland in the late 1940s. I thought David Oyelowo was magnificent but was just a little less impressed by Rosamund Pike. Overall, though, a powerful and moving story.

Collateral Beauty

Umm... well, that was interesting.

I remember Roger Ebert once describing an actress's performance with something along the lines of "So good, she deserves a much better movie."  You could say the same about pretty much everyone here - Will Smith, Keira Knightley, Helen Mirren and Jacob Latimore, especially, are so good that they lift the first 75% or so to really watchable despite a mawkish and contrived plot. 

But that ending - oh good grief! Totally disappointed me, in ways I can't go into details about without spoilers. Still, I've seen far worse movies overall.

Hacksaw Ridge

Reasonably entertaining war movie, problematic at times but generally pretty watchable. Everyone's fine in it, nothing much about it stands out though.

Jason and the Argonauts

I was expecting this to be, if not good, at least a fun watch in the same vein as Clash of the Titans. Sadly I was incredibly unimpressed by everything except Ray Harryhausen's stop-motion, which is good for the time. I found a lot of the film boring, most of it badly-acted, and the ending seemed incredibly anti-climactic.

La La Land

Hoping to watch it again at some point so will prob go for a longer review then - I think I need to rewatch to decide on a few things. First feelings - the initial half hour or so is magical, with the first song being one of the best musical numbers I've seen in years (and gorgeous costumes, cinematography and choreography.) The last 15 minutes or so is stunning as well, everything in between is good to very good but maybe not quite as amazing as I was hoping for. In particular, I thought the focus on the main pairing hurt it just slightly; I was hoping for more big group numbers along the line of the first one. Keen to see again though!

Live by Night

I was expecting to really enjoy this - I'm a big fan of Gone Baby Gone and The Town - but this felt like a misstep for Affleck as a director. It seemed to cram too much in, at the expense of developing any characters except the lead - the three women being poorly written in particular. As well, the action scenes were nothing special. Watchable overall but disappointing.


This was lovely - great voice cast, nice story, and animation was stunning while the songs were some of my favourite Disney ones for ages! Very glad I got the chance to see it.


Stunning ensemble piece with so many outstanding performances, particularly all six actors playing the main characters at different points in their lives, and Naomie Harris as Chiron's mother. I was completely gripped by the story here and the script is excellent. A must-watch!


Super predictable but good fun; I loved the last 20 minutes! Catchy soundtrack with the highlights being Tori Kelly's Hallelujah and Jennifer Hudson's gorgeous Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight from the classic Abbey Road medley.

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

I quite often struggle with films of this length but I really enjoyed this one - it kept my attention right the way through and built to a final showdown that had me gripped. I was familiar with Ennio Morricone's iconic score, of course, and his music definitely added a lot to many of the scenes. Very glad I caught this on the big screen (having somehow never gotten around to watching it before!)

T2: Trainspotting

"The world changes, even if we don't." It's a line late on in T2: Trainspotting, but it encapsulates the problems of the four former friends at the heart of the film brilliantly. Of the quartet, none except Renton have moved on with their lives. Spud is still a drug addict, Begbie starts the movie in prison still desperate for revenge on Renton, Sick Boy has also never forgiven his old best mate for the betrayal and is running his aunt's pub, which barely has any customers.

And even Renton, who with the £12,000 from the end of the first film seems to have built a new life for himself in Amsterdam, returns to Leith, becoming engrossed in what Sick Boy points out is practically a mystery tour of his youth. 

Of course the constant failure to move on could have led to the film feeling like it was nothing more than a repeat of the first one, but while there are constant call backs - including a few brief flashbacks when we see moments of the original - it holds up brilliantly as its own story, with references to the previous movie never taking away from this one.

The quartet end up back together - that's in each other's circles, rather than reconciled - and we get to see a wonderfully plotted story play out, with all of the central quartet, and Anjela Nedyalkova as Sick Boy's girlfriend Veronika, superb. Highlights for me included McGregor's updated Choose Life speech, and the terrifying joy in Carlyle's face as Begbie reminisces about days gone by. 

Throw in a superb soundtrack, again bringing back memories of the former film with remixes of Lust For Life and Born Slippy, and this is a complete gem.

xXx: The Return of Xander Cage

I haven't seen the others and only went to this one because I was bored, but as far as fairly mindless action movies go this completely delivers everything I wanted. It doesn't take itself remotely seriously, it has a great cast (which is also far more diverse than most Hollywood films) with Deepika Padukone, Donnie Yen and Ruby Rose standing out as especially good. It's refreshingly short, lasting well under 2 hours, and being so fast paced it feels like it's even less. And as well as having three awesome female heroes, it even passes the Bechdel test! (Not by that much, admittedly, but it's hardly a film where conversation is at a premium.) Hugely enjoyable, somewhat to my surprise.

Movie of the Month: I really want to say A Monster Calls or Moonlight as they are both superbly made and I thought everyone involved was incredible, but of everything I saw my absolute favourite was definitely T2: Trainspotting, which completely blew me away.


NoFit State Circus: Bianco at Southbank Centre

Me and Debbie go to quite a lot of circus shows, and while this was enjoyable enough, it was nowhere near as good as the best we've seen. On the plus side, there were some incredibly talented performers - the juggler and the trampolinists were great, while the tightrope walker was absolutely superb. However some of the other acts were less exciting, while overall the show felt rather disjointed (not helped by the audience being constantly ushered to the side or the back to allow the performers space to move around - this idea had intrigued me when I'd heard about it, but in practice turned out to be something of a distraction. Overall this was a fun show, but didn't really stand out.

New Adventures: Red Shoes at Sadler's Wells

I love watching dance, but I'm abysmal at reviewing it, so I will just flail a bit and say that this was my favourite Matthew Bourne of the four I've seen. Stunning choreography and dancing from everyone involved, gorgeous costumes and a brilliant story.

Book events

Really quiet month for me, although February is looking better! However the two events I did go to were both very enjoyable - great to meet new authors and catch up with familiar faces (authors AND bloggers) at Scholastic's annual brunch; I loved talking to Beth Garrod in particular as I'm incredibly excited for her Super Awkward sequel. And Katherine Webber's launch for the wonderful Wing Jones, at Porky's BBQ in Shoreditch, was one of the best launches I've been too - thank you Walker! Fabulous choice of venue, a guest list with SO MANY people I love there, and I even got the opportunity to sell books for 5 minutes as well. (Major thanks to Simon from the Big Green Bookshop for trusting me to do this!)

So, a fun month! How was your January?

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