Any Suggestions?

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My blog wouldn’t be what it is without all of the support of my followers. So I wanted to ask for your input. What movies or television do you think I should cover on here? I promise to take on board your suggestions.

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Action Series Chosen

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Thanks to everyone who voted in my poll about which action series I should cover. The winner was The Fast and the Furious Series, so I’ll review them soon.

Jurassic Park

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The delightful duo of Gill and Emma invited me to take part in a tribute to the excellent Jeff Goldblum. I’ve always been a fan of his and enjoy whenever he graces the screen. I decided to review the adventure blockbuster that is Jurassic Park.

A full on thrill ride with eye popping effects and Steven Spielberg at some of his best, Jurassic Park is an ageless spectacle with the power to shock, scare and entrance from start to finish.

Dr Alan Grant( Sam Neill), who specialises in Paleontology and Dr Ellie Sattler(Laura Dern), whose field is Paleobotany are romantically linked and currently working on another dig of dinosaur fossils .One day to their Montana dog comes eccentric billionaire John Hammond( Richard Attenborough) who has a proposition for them. He has created a theme park off the coast of Costa Rica which is inhabited by cloned dinosaurs, which his team of scientists managed to create after extensive DNA testing and sampling. Hammond is worried because there have been doubts about the safety of the park and he wants Alan and Ellie to view it and give their opinions. Naturally, they accept the offer and are joined by mathematician and chaos theory nut Ian Malcolm( Jeff Goldblum). Also visiting are Hammond’s grandchildren, Lex( Ariana Richards) and Tim( Joseph Mazzello), who are more than curious about the park. Upon arrival, Alan, Ellie, Ian and the kids are bowled over by the cloned dinosaurs that have been brought to life and in the flesh. And though some of the group have their doubts about how ethical it all is, Hammond’s enthusiasm remains undimmed. Yet all of this will change as danger lurks right around the corner. A disgruntled worker by the name of Dennis(Wayne Knight) has accepted a shady offer to smuggle out dinosaur embryos to a competitor. To do this, he sneakily shuts down the security of the park in order to disguise his theft and leave undetected . The shutdown causes all power to go out but more dangerously, the electric fences that guard the dinosaurs open, setting the scene for chaos as the many carnivorous creatures go on the hunt with humans as their prized dinner. Alan ends up sheltering the terrified kids, while Ellie, Ian, Hammond, plus game warden Robert Muldoon( Bob Peck) and chief engineer Ray Arnold( Samuel L. Jackson) , attempt to restart the power and avert more horror. It’s up to the survivors to make it through the park and to safety before they end up on the menu.

Jurassic Park finds Steven Spielberg at some of his most fun and skilled. He displays sense of wonder at seeing these prehistoric beasts and then cranks the tension up when all hell breaks loose. He knows how to entertain and keep you on the edge of your seat throughout this adventure with sequences of immense excitement and haunting terror existing right after the other. Simply put, it’s one of his best movies which is saying something considering the excellence in his filmography over the years. Memorable scenes abound like the first glimpse of the towering , the terrifying encounter with a Tyrannosaurus Rex and the nasty Velociraptors menacing Ellie in the maintenance shed as she switches the circuit breakers on and the children in the kitchen narrowly escaping being attacked. Many of these moments hold that balance between scary and exhilarating. I like the look at how playing God never ends up well, but it sure can be extremely entertaining to watch. There’s the greedy Dennis getting his comeuppance when attacked by an initially friendly dinosaur reveals itself to be bloodthirsty, Hammond’s growing realisation of what he has created and the chaos that ensues once the prehistoric creatures are let loose. One can’t speak about this movie without mentioning the influential special effects in it. They make the dinosaurs feel so real as if you could reach out and touch them. I mean, we all remember the first time we, like an awe-struck Ellie, witnessed the Brachiosaurus in all its glory, right? Or the first attack of the enormous Tyrannosaurus Rex on the visitors at nighttime? The blend of the then new CGI and animatronics is seamless in execution and so thoroughly convincing at bringing these ancient creatures to jaw-dropping. John Williams is on hand with one of his most suspenseful and alive scores; charting the wonder of the park then plunging us into the terror of fighting for survival against hungry dinosaurs.

Sam Neill has the laconic attitude right for his role, while shading it with a winning curiosity and eventual mellowing of his character’s occasional dour and solemn nature. In fact, he’s  one of the main heroes of the piece as he’s entrusted with two young children to protect against creatures he knows a lot about. Laura Dern backs him up with intelligence and when it’s called for action; her run to the shed and ordeal inside leave you on the edge of your seat as you watch an ordinary woman fighting against a terrifying situation. And of course the man of the hour and resident scene stealer is here by the name of Jeff Goldblum. Portraying the know it all mathematician who drops sarcastic yet ethical  questions, Goldblum is a hoot. And considering for a big chunk of the film he’s incapacitated, he’s still dispensing entertaining one liners among the terror and excitement. It’s the definition of a star supporting turn. In a fine showcase, Richard Attenborough subtly shows the dreams of an eccentric man of money and his realisation that it isn’t the most ideal or safe thing to do. Although his actions are questionable, he just boasts a certain geniality that is hard to fault. Ariana Richards and Joseph Mazzello are thankfully talented child actors who you feel for on this journey. Fine work also comes from Samuel L. Jackson, Bob Peck and Wayne Knight in this adventure, particularly from Jackson as the gruff chief engineer who is never seen without a cigarette.

A simply phenomenal adventure with stellar effects, fine cast, wonderful music and the masterful Spielberg at the helm, Jurassic Park is a film you can never grow tired of.

Yesterday

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Danny Boyle directs this warmly engaging tribute to the Beatles and the journey of love in a film that’s inviting without being cloying. Yesterday is the definition of a feel good movie.

Jack Malik(Himesh Patel) is a struggling young man whose passion is singing but whose never had success. He’s beginning to see that it might be the end of the road in Lowestoft as he’s not amounted to much. His best friend and manager Ellie( Lily James) attempts to sway him into not forgoing his dreams as she believes in him. This is coupled with the fact that she is desperately in love with him, though Jack has never noticed it. He is on the verge of giving up when something unusual happens. He’s riding home on his bike one night when a global power cut ensues and coincides with him being hit by a bus. Thankfully, he lives and though injured will recover. But once he comes around, Jack notices one strange fact about the world around him: no one remembers The Beatles. At first, Jack things it’s a bit of a joke but a few searches online reveal that all knowledge of them has been wiped. This in turn has led to other things not being remembered but the big one is the iconic Beatles. Jack starts to sing their music as if it’s his own to bring it the attention it deserves. This backfires as people assume he has written these classic songs and he starts to become successful. Even Ed Sheeran is impressed and his manager Debra(Kate McKinnon), who worships at the altar of greed and business, snaps Jack up. Soon he’s famous for singing these songs, but struggling with his own feelings of guilt that started off  as him trying to be good. Yet just how much longer  can Jack live a lie? And what of his relationship with Ellie, who obviously loves him?

Though it isn’t the first film to come to mind when I think of Danny Boyle’s directing, Yesterday shows him in mellow but touching mood. His eye for detail is very much on show with canted angles to signify the world being upside down for Jack and some pretty groovy transitions. Thinking on it, of late the underdog story has featured in Boyle’s films, only this time there’s a lot more laughs that show the director having fun. It’s aided by a winning script by Richard Curtis that mixes sarcastic humour and life-affirming love. Curtis often features lovable losers in unusual circumstances or being tested and Jack is no exception. The observations of what might have been without The Beatles are both funny and reflective, particularly in the last third where things get somewhat poignant. There’s a what if angle to a lot of Yesterday that’s delightfully daffy yet retains an emotional impact. And there’s a neat little unexpected twist that is very intriguing not to mention surprising. But because I’m a good guy, I shall not spoil it. Yesterday is t perfect and some areas seem overly familiar, but from an overall viewpoint, it’s a very nice experience and one that will leave you smiling.  Hearing the music of The Beatles is always welcome to my ears and hearing them performed with zeal and resonance in Yesterday is splendid. And I can’t not mention the romance of this film, which is tentative at first but eventually blooms as Jack realises just how important and loyal Ellie is to him.

Himesh Patel, who is best known for starring in Eastenders, is superb in the lead role of sympathetic Jack. Though his actions get him in trouble, he’s a character who tries to do the best and Patel brings that out of the part with a combo of subtlety and comedy. I hope to see in more movies as he’s really got potential as an actor. And I can’t forget his singing, which is also worthy for praise. Alongside him is the luscious Lily James, who is steadily becoming a very reliable actress. Her quirky mannerisms, winning smile and downright adorable nature are on full display for a lovely performance. You can’t help but fall in love with Lily James here. Ed Sheeran shows he’s not afraid to parody himself with a tongue in cheek role as a version of himself. I must say he does elicit quite a few laughs. Speaking of laughs, Joel Fry contributes fine humour as Jack’s right hand man whose not the brightest person, but who’s goofy heart is very much in the right place. On the other scale of laughs is Kate McKinnon who is simultaneously a ruthless bitch after money and an unhinged hoot The balancing act is effectively walked by McKinnon who is obviously revelling in being devious.

Capitalising on a strange but impressive premise and directed with skill by Danny Boyle, Yesterday is a charming, thoroughly enjoyable film, enlivened by the music of the Beatles and work of Himesh Patel and Lily James.

The Black Stallion

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A captivating story of a boy and his horse, The Black Stallion is a delight for the whole family. Blessed with a sublime cinematography, love for nature and understated performance, it’s simply irresistible to all the family.

It’s 1946 and young Alec Ramsey(Kelly Reno) is sailing with his father on a boat off the East Coast of Africa. While onboard, Alec discovers an black Arabian Stallion that he becomes intrigued by. Though warned to stay away by the fearsome owner, Alec refuses to. Later that night, a violent storm hits the ship, throwing Alec and the horse overboard. They are the only survivors from the storm as Alec manages to pull on the ropes around the horse. When he awakens, he is on a deserted island. Armed with the penknife his later father gave him and resourcefulness, he learns to survive. The horse also made it to the island at first, both keep a distance from each other. Over time, however Alec wins the horse over gives the horse the name The Black. They become inseparable from that moment on as a bond is solidified. Eventually, Alec is rescued and makes sure The Black comes with him. Back home, Alec’s mother( Teri Garr) is overjoyed to see him but doesn’t quite understand the bond between her son and his horse. Alec comes across old horse trainer Henry Dailey( Mickey Rooney) accidentally when The Black runs away. Henry hasn’t raced in years but you can sense he feels a bit of regret and nostalgia creeping his way once he finds The Black. Following a bit of hostility between them, Alec and Henry become friends and Henry rekindles his love of horses with a dream of racing The Black. After a few mishaps and hurdles,  Alec and Henry enter to the horse into the race and hope for success with what they truly believe is not just a horse, but a supremely special one.

Director Carroll Ballard is the perfect choice to direct this heartwarming adventure. His love for nature and the relationships humans share with the animal kingdom are splendidly evoked. Some could write the movie off as as sickly as too much sugar, yet Ballard knows how to keep us invested without resorting to overt sentimentality. Aided by the arresting cinematography of Caleb Deschanel and vivid camerawork, the friendship at the core of The Black Stallion comes to life. The main sections on the island are largely wordless and though that might sound boring to some viewers, it certainly isn’t the case. The unspoken bond between Alec and the horse is observed with nuance and eventual trust; much like a friendship between humans. We watch as Alec wins the horse over and the horse comes to respect him and it’s very beautifully portrayed. The childlike sense of wonder and excitement is imbued within the DNA of The Black Stallion and it definitely pleases the crowd with this touch. And though many may see where the story is heading when he returns to land, they will no doubt be impressed by the eventual outcome and how things play out to a rousing and joyous finale. It’s a movie with a heart that’s sole goal is to be inspiring and for the whole family, and on that score alone it’s a winner. Carmine Coppola contributes an eclectic score that mixes Middle Eastern percussion and a soaring orchestral feel that is truly a thing of beauty. It imprints itself on your mind and is just beautifully orchestrated with obvious craftsmanship and phenomenal skill at arousing emotion.

Young Kelly Reno is full of life and wonder as the freckle-faced Alec. He’s ideal casting for the role and a genuinely convincing child actor that isn’t cloying or prone to overly annoying child acting. Mickey Rooney has fun as the slightly grouchy but brought back to life horse trainer, discovering what he’s missed for so long. Rooney is subtle yet sparkling with revived energy; both are exactly the notes he needs to star here. Just like the horse, he splendidly compliments Reno as the two things that mean the most to him. Teri Garr makes the most of her small part as Alec’s mother who doesn’t quite understand his link to the horse but comes around to the idea in a way only a mother could. Hoyt Axton is here in a brief role of father and given that he’s not on screen for long, he nails the part of adventurous dad that we miss when he’s gone. The two biggest stars however are Kelly Reno and the horse; they form the beating heart of The Black Stallion.

An outstanding, life-affirming and gentle film that knows how to touch the heart with its story, acting and cinematography, The Black Stallion is a champion.

Happy Birthday Elisabeth Moss

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Elisabeth Moss turns 37 today and in the past decade or so has shown she’s a force to be reckoned with. From Mad Men as secretary turned copywriter Peggy to the enslaved Offred/June in The Handmaid’s Tale, Moss just always impresses, especially on TV. Though she is equally as excellent in movies too.So here are my best wishes to this powerhouse.

Midsommar

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Ari Aster follows up his creepy and startling debut Hereditary with Midsommar; an ambitious, head-spinning horror that builds to a stocking finale, while supplying tension, tiered meanings and an immensely dedicated performance from Florence Pugh.

Dani( Florence Pugh) is a young woman who’s just experienced a gut-wrenching trauma. Her bipolar sister committed suicide via inhaling carbon monoxide and killing her parents as well. Broken by this, Dani turns to boyfriend Christian( Jack Reynor) , who is not exactly helpful and more interested in himself. Their relationship was precarious as it was and now Dani leans on him for support which he is unable to supply her with. A few months pass and Christian, who is studying anthropology for a PHD, is invited by his Swedish friend Pelle(Vilhelm Blomgren) to a festival in his Nordic homeland. He is to be joined by fellow students reasonable Josh( William Jackson Harper) and obnoxious Mark(Will Poulter). Dani finds out and Christians reluctantly asks her to come with them, to which she accepts. She’s still reeling from her trauma and suffering with depression and anxiety, but the trip sounds like a good getaway for her. Touching down in Sweden, they go back to nature among the wide fields and mountains that are populated by a commune. Dani and the others are soon witness to the ways in which they celebrate and their intriguing but slightly off kilter ways of ritual and worship. At first, the practices seem odd but just slightly different and nothing too serious. There’s dancing, ingestion of strange ingredients with hallucinogenic qualities and the fact that everyone does things in a group which while weird doesn’t really give the impression of anything dark or macabre. Yet with growing horror, events get ramped up and grisly horror ensues for the visitors, most of all fragile Dani. What started out as a sojourn to a festival with a difference slowly morphs into a waking nightmare for Dani as things just get more and more intense, impacting on her already tenuous mental state.

Ari Aster proves Hereditary was no fluke with this electrifying and bizarre blend of psychological folk horror and a meditation on trauma. He goes for the creeping approach, peppering in shocks and even snippets of humour at the start then slowly bubbling away at the uneasiness mounting like a fit to burst volcano. Grief seems to be a subject with which Ari Aster is familiar with and Midsommar continues in that vein but from a more surreal and grander scale. The most obvious comparison to Midsommar is The Wicker Man. Both films feature a community that’s pagan religion deviates from what is deemed traditional and most of the action takes place in sunlight. References can be seen and are well done( for me it’s a high comparison with a classic), but Midsommar is its own film with a hallucinogenic sensibility and layered drama. While very much a horror film, Midsommar functions as an exploration of reaction to trauma, purging the soul and toxic relationships. The last mentioned point on relationships is especially true as things continue to go downhill for Dani. The horror hits home more for that very reason and then some. I believe Midsommar is the type of movie that is rewarding upon watching again. Pockets of information are scattered often in plain sight but make more sense once the whole picture comes together with frightening force. You’ll be left thinking about the film no matter how you feel about it that’s for sure and certain.

On a visual level, Midsommar is an assault on the senses. From a flipped shot that goes upside down in arresting fashion to the houses the commune live in that are decorated with telling murals, you can’t escape the sensory overlord and beautiful cinematography. The use of wide shots and aerial shots captures the surrounding in majestic form, fleshing out the setting that is as breathtaking as it is unsettling. Bathing events in a mostly bright sheen, horror plays out against flora and fauna in a most peculiar way. The setting is alive, quite literally in some parts as you’ll no doubt be witness to if you venture out to see Midsommar. One of my favourite touches is Dani among the ladies dancing around in circles, adorned with a flower headdress. It’s a scene that overlaps images to a dazzling effect and perfectly sums up the unusual stance of this movie. It’s spellbinding even when outrageous and stomach churning festivities are taking place, making sure you never quite look away from what’s presented to your eyes.The use of sound is exemplary, from the unusual rhythms and punctuated noises to the eerie sense of silence and stillness. It compliments the atmosphere of something being very sinister and extremely horrifying to come.

At the heart of everything is the promising Florence Pugh. Over the last few years she has impressed me with her versatility and she doesn’t disappoint with her performance  in Midsommar. She’s contained and crumbling under the burden of grief, constantly attempting to stifle her feelings. When it all comes out, Pugh nails the anguish and the sense of release, coupled with the slow and crushing sense of falling deeper into horror( or is it something else?) Her eyes are fascinating at profiling her internalised emotions that eventually reveal themselves with shocking intensity and surprising depth. Put simply, Florence Pugh impresses throughout with her surrender to challenging material. Jack Reynor nails it as the conceited boyfriend who gets put through his own horror and Reynor shines in the horrifying last act. Vilhelm Blomgren, William Jackson Harper and Will Poulter flesh out the other men of the movie who experience the terror unfolding, with Will Poulter the most memorable as the guy obsessed with getting sexy action and getting a lot more than he bargained for. As good as the guys are though, Midsommar belongs to the exceptional Florence Pugh who is for my money, going places.

Horrifying, hypnotic and hard to forget, Midsommar is one of the most unsettling films I’ve seen in a while. But like it’s predecessor, once you’ve viewed it, you can’t shake it. Ari Aster is shaping up to be a major league director and Florence Pugh is fast becoming a prominent and talented actress to watch.