REVIEW: STARTER FOR 10

Starring

James McAvoy (X-Men: Apocalypse)
Alice Eve (Star Trek Into Darkness)
Rebecca Hall (THe Awakening)
Dominic Cooper (Agent Carter)
James Corden (One Chance)
Simon Woods (Pride & Prejudice)
Catherine Tate (Asterix: The Mansions of the Gods)
Elaine Tan (Apartment 406)
Charles Dance (Game of Thrones)
Lindsay Duncan (Alice in Wonderland)
Benedict Cumberbatch (Doctor Strange)
Mark Gatiss (Sherlock)

James McAvoy, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Elaine Tan in Starter for 10 (2006)In 1985, Brian Jackson is a first-year university student and information sponge. Since his working-class childhood in Southend-on-Sea, Brian has loved the TV quiz show University Challenge, whose famous catchphrase—”Your starter for 10″—gives the film its title. Soon after arriving at Bristol University, Brian attends a party where he meets the left-wing politically conscious Rebecca, with whom he seems to have an instant connection. Brian attempts to join their University Challenge team but narrowly fails to secure a spot when he helps another potential candidate, Alice, cheat on the qualifying test. Brian falls for the glamorous Alice and tries to date her, despite her multiple signals that she only sees him as a platonic friend.James McAvoy, Benedict Cumberbatch, Elaine Tan, and Alice Eve in Starter for 10 (2006)As the term starts, Brian is invited to join the University Challenge team after one of the other members falls ill. The captain of the team, Patrick Watts, is a stuck-up post-grad who has managed to remain team captain despite never having achieved success on University Challenge. Brian immediately impresses the rest of the team with his wealth of trivia knowledge and uses his time with the team to get closer to Alice, eventually getting invited to her house for the Christmas holiday. Unfortunately, Brian embarrasses himself in front of her family by getting stoned while trying to impress Alice. He returns to Bristol to spend the rest of the vacation and meets Rebecca again. They once more hit it off, but as they are hooking up, he inadvertently calls her “Alice”, offending her and ruining the moment. Following his romantic failures, he talks with Spencer, his friend from Southend, who tells him that he is in legal trouble on account of his criminal activities. Brian invites him to a party before he has to face the judge.Mark Gatiss, James McAvoy, Benedict Cumberbatch, Elaine Tan, and Alice Eve in Starter for 10 (2006)During the party, Patrick insults Spencer’s upbringing and belittles him in front of the rest of the partygoers. In retaliation, Spencer hits Patrick in the face and disrupts the event. In the aftermath, Brian shares a drink with Rebecca and tries to apologise for his behaviour. However, Rebecca still feels that Brian is in love with Alice and encourages him to follow his heart and tell her how he feels. He takes her advice and arrives at Alice’s flat to declare his love, but discovers Spencer already there. Excited by his violent behaviour at the party, she had invited him back to her place. Brian feels betrayed by both Alice and Spencer, especially since he had told his friend how he had felt about her. Brian falls into a depression and struggles with not only concentrating during University Challenge practices, but also with his studies, threatening his university place. Patrick becomes increasingly frustrated with Brian, and just as they arrive for their University Challenge match, berates him for his lack of focus. Brian headbutts Patrick in response, but only ends up knocking himself unconscious.He is revived backstage by Rebecca who has come to watch the show and gives him encouragement before he is escorted to the set. However, as he is being brought back to his team, Brian is briefly left with an open envelope containing the quiz questions. He reads one of the cards before putting it back in the envelope, and, inspired by the relative ease of the question, rejoins his team. The match starts off poorly, with nerves clearly getting to Patrick as he fails to answer several questions and puts the team in a hole. Brian slowly but surely digs them out of it, getting into his swing as he answers question after question. As the match is heating up and Brian’s team has the momentum, Brian inadvertently gives the answer to the card that he had previously seen even before quizmaster Bamber Gascoigne has even begun to read the question (he has merely introduced it as “an astronomy question”). Realising that Brian has seen the cards, Gascoigne suspends the match and Brian’s team is disqualified.Brian returns home and falls back into another depression, sleeping all day and ignoring incoming calls. His mother tries to get him out of the house, but the only person who is finally able to reach him is Spencer. He tells Brian that Gascoigne had gone easy on him, and that he is sorry for his behaviour and proud of Brian for chasing his dreams at University. Inspired by his friend, Brian returns to his studies and meets with his tutor, promising him that he is back for good. He then stands Alice up to visit Rebecca at a demonstration against nuclear weapons. He asks her if she could ever forgive him for all the mistakes he has made, and if they can start again. She replies that he already knows the answer, and they kiss as the film ends.

starter-for-ten-lead

Overall, impressive for its evocation of a lost age – before brands and spending took over the world – and it is guaranteed to make you grin – especially if you were there – and to sing – along. The theme of University Challenge alone will reduce a whole generation to wobbly nostalgic has beens. Excellent stuff, and one to be simply enjoyed.

REVIEW: THE LADY IN THE VAN

Starring

Maggie Smith (Harry Potter)
Alex Jennings (Belle)
Roger Allam (The Book Thief)
Deborah Findlay (Maigret)
Jim Broadbent (Paddington)
Claire Foy (The Crown)
Cecilia Noble a(Rate me)
Gwen Taylor (Heartbeat)
Frances de la Tour (Alice Through The Looking GLass)
Nicholas Burns (Benidorm)
Dominic Cooper (Agent Carter)
James Corden (One Chance)
David Calder (Rush)
Russell Tovey (Being Human)
Samuel Barnett (The History Boys)
Sacha Dhawan (Iron Fist)

Maggie Smith and Alex Jennings in The Lady in the Van (2015)The Lady in the Van tells the true story of Alan Bennett’s strained friendship with Miss Mary Shepherd, a crabby, eccentric and insanitary homeless woman whom Bennett befriended in the 1970s before allowing her to park her Bedford van in the driveway of his Camden home “for three months”. She stayed there for 15 years. As the story develops Bennett learns that Miss Shepherd is really Margaret Fairchild, a gifted former pupil of the pianist Alfred Cortot. She had played Chopin in a promenade concert, tried to become a nun, was committed to an institution by her brother, escaped, had an accident when her van was hit by a motorcyclist for whose death she believed herself to blame, and thereafter lived in fear of arrest.Maggie Smith and Alex Jennings in The Lady in the Van (2015)Much of the dialogue is between two versions of Bennet – his “real self” and his “writer self”.Maggie Smith in The Lady in the Van (2015)During her 15-year stay in his drive, Bennett balances his writing career with watching over Shepherd and providing for his increasingly invalid mother. Though he denies “caring” for anyone, he slowly becomes aware of his growing friendship with Shepherd. After coming home early from a day centre he sent her to, she dies peacefully in her sleep in her van. Alan decides to write a memoir covering the years he’s known her. In 2014, the real Bennett is shown observing this film’s final scene being filmed: his younger selves unveiling a plaque on his home dedicated to “The Lady in the Van”.Maggie Smith in The Lady in the Van (2015)It’s not the biggest dramedy out there and not even the funniest, but The Lady in the Van is bound to please just about anyone. And like the titular character, it’s a film hard to love, but once you do, it’s equally hard to resist.

 

REVIEW: INTO THE WOODS

CAST
Anna Kendrick (The Voices)
Daniel Huttlestone (Les Miserables)
James Corden (Gulliver’s Travels)
Emily Blunt (Looper)
Christine Baranski (The Big Bang Theory)
Tammy Blanchard (Blue Jasmine)
Lucy Punch (Bad Teacher)
Tracey Ullman (Corpse Bride)
Lilla Crawford (Little Miss Perfect)
Meryl Streep (The Devil Wears Prada)
Johnny Depp (Dark Shadows)
Chris Pine (Star Trek)
A Baker and his Wife wish for a child but suffer under a curse laid upon the Baker’s family by a Witch who found the Baker’s father robbing her garden when his mother was pregnant. The Baker’s father also stole some beans which caused the Witch’s mother to punish her with the curse of ugliness. The Witch offers to lift the curse, but only if the Baker and his Wife obtain four critical items for her: a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn, and a slipper as pure as gold. The Witch later tells the Baker that she asked him to do this task for her because she is not allowed to touch any of the objects.
The Witch’s demands eventually bring the Baker and his Wife into contact with Jack, who is selling his beloved cow Milky White and to whom the Baker offers magic beans left him by his father (which were stolen from the Witch) which grow into a large beanstalk; with Red Riding Hood, whose ruby cape the couple notices when she stops to buy sweets on her way to grandmother’s house; with Rapunzel, whose tower the Baker’s Wife passes in the woods; and with Cinderella, who also runs into the Baker’s Wife while fleeing from the pursuing Prince.
After a series of failed attempts and misadventures, the Baker and his Wife finally are able to gather the items necessary to break the spell. Meanwhile, each of the other characters receive their “happy endings”: Cinderella marries the Prince; Jack provides for his mother by stealing riches from the Giant in the sky, and kills the pursuing Giant by cutting down the beanstalk; Little Red Riding Hood and her Grandmother are saved from the Big Bad Wolf; and the Witch regains her youth and beauty after drinking the potion.
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However, each of the characters learns their “happily ever after” is not so happy: the Baker is worried he is a poor father to his newborn baby; the Baker’s Wife is temporarily seduced by the Prince; Cinderella is disenchanted by the cheating Prince; and the Witch learns that she has lost her powers with her restored youth and beauty. The growth of a second beanstalk from the last remaining magic bean allows the Giant’s Wife to climb down and threaten the kingdom and its inhabitants if they do not deliver Jack in retribution for killing her husband. The characters debate the morality of handing Jack over. In the process, Red Riding Hood’s Mother and Grandmother, Jack’s Mother, and the Baker’s Wife are killed. The characters quickly blame each other for their individual actions that lead to the tragedy, ultimately blaming the Witch for raising the beans in the first place. She curses them for their inability to accept their individual responsibility and disappears.
The remaining characters resolve to kill the threatening Giant’s Wife, though Cinderella and the Baker try to explain to the distraught Red Riding Hood and Jack the complicated morality of retribution and revenge. The Giant’s Wife is killed, and the characters move forward with their ruined lives: the Baker, thinking of his Wife, is determined to be a good father; Cinderella leaves the Prince and decides to help the Baker; and Jack and Red Riding Hood, now orphans, live with the Baker and Cinderella. The Baker’s son begins to cry and The Baker begins to tell their story to his son—”Once upon a time…” Meanwhile, the Witch sings to the audience a moral: “Careful what you say and do, children will listen,” meaning that children can change due to the parent’s actions and behaviors. The movie ends with the cast singing the finale and it closes with Cinderella singing, “I wish!”
On the whole, I’d say that I enjoyed Into the Woods. It was a good musical and I was particularly impressed with the quality of the singing.

REVIEW: GULLIVER’S TRAVELS (2010)

 

CAST

Jack Black (King Kong)
Jason Segel (The Muppets)
Emily Blunt (The Huntsman: Winter’s War)
Amanda Peet Identity Thief)
Billy Connolly (The Hobbit)
Chris O’Dowd (St. Vincent)
T.J. Miller (She’s Out of My League)
James Corden (Into The Woods)
Catherine Tate (Doctor Who)
Gemma Whelan (Game of Thrones)
Joe Lo Truglio (Superbad)
Romany Malco (No Ordinary Family)
Deeply depressed at his dead-end job in the mail room of a New York City newspaper, Lemuel Gulliver decides to talk to journalist Darcy Silverman. He convinces her he could write a report about his (false) extensive world “travels” saying his dream is to become a writer. After suffering writer’s block and thinking that Darcy will not want to hang out with a “guy from the mailroom”, he plagiarises a report from other publications on the internet. The next day, Darcy, impressed by his writing, presents Gulliver with a new task – to travel to the Bermuda Triangle and write an article about the legends of ships mysteriously disappearing there.
Upon arrival in Bermuda, Gulliver rents a boat and travels into the triangle. After falling asleep at the helm of his ship, he’s caught in a freak storm and the boat is overwhelmed by a waterspout. He washes up unconscious on the shore of Lilliput, where he is immediately confirmed as a “beast” by the town’s tiny people. He is captured and imprisoned in a cave, citizens claiming him to be dangerous because of his huge size. Here, he meets another prisoner named Horatio who was jailed by General Edward because he loves Princess Mary of Lilliput, whereas Edward also wants her. After the island across from Lilliput, Blefuscu, infiltrates commandos to kidnap Princess Mary, Gulliver manages to break free of the plough-machine he is forced to work and then rescues the princess from being kidnapped. Gulliver also saves her father, King Theodore from a fire by urinating on it.
Gulliver is declared a hero by Lilliput’s citizens and makes up a deal of lies saying he is the President of Manhattan, says Yoda is his Vice-President and a living legend in his homeland. Edward, however, becomes enraged due to the luxurious accommodations that have been built for him, and even being presented as an honorary general of the Lilliputian Army complete with uniform. When the townspeople find Gulliver’s boat and his things, Gulliver gets angry voicemails from Darcy, saying she has to take his place and travel to Bermuda now, and also found out about his plagiarism and now hates him. The next day, chaos ensues as the Blefuscian Navy lay siege on the city when Edward shuts down its defense system as an act of revenge for Gulliver’s treatment. Gulliver defeats the armada, invulnerable to the cannonballs being fired at him (although he receives numerous welts on his stomach). Embarrassed once more, and with Mary no longer wanting to do anything with him, Edward defects to the Blefuscians and brings with him blueprints of a robot coming from Gulliver’s Guitar Hero III game manual. The Blefuscians secretly build the robot based on Gulliver’s Guitar Hero III game manual, with Edward as the pilot.
The Blefuscians invade Liliput and the robot-wielding Edward makes Gulliver admit to the people that he is “just the guy from the mail-room” and nothing more. Edward banishes Gulliver on the shores of “the island where we dare not go” (Brobdingnag). There, he is snatched up by a “little” girl, (Glumdalclitch) who towers over Gulliver. She captures him easily by trapping him inside a glass cup. When Gulliver wakes up, he finds himself dressed up in a pink dress and is played with by the “little” girl, which ends with him being tucked in bed. Horatio, who has gone to find Gulliver after being spurned by Mary, reveals to Gulliver that Darcy has been imprisoned by the Blefuscians when she is lost in the Bermuda Triangle in the same manner as Gulliver. Gulliver narrowly escapes with him, using a parachute that he took from a dead U.S. Air Force pilot sitting in the dollhouse.
Once again accepting a duel from Edward, this time not only for Lilliput’s freedom but for its fate as well – as Edward threatens to destroy it should Gulliver fail – Gulliver ultimately defeats him with the assistance of Horatio, who disables the machine’s electrocuting weapon. Horatio is hailed a hero and gets King Theodore’s permission to court the princess. Edward, reaching the point of insanity, threatens to kill the princess, but the princess, finally having enough of Edward, beats the traitor up in frustration. Gulliver then helps to make peace between the rival island-nations by reciting Edwin Starr’s “War” and he, along with Darcy, return to New York on their repaired boat. The film ends with Gulliver, now a travel writer, taking Darcy to lunch while holding hands, after returning from another travel assignment.
Gulliver's Travels
The story is basically the same as the classic book but a modern day Gulliver, otherwise the same, it’s still a fun film for a rainy day.

REVIEW: HOW TO LOSE FRIENDS & ALIENATE PEOPLE

CAST

Simon Pegg (Hot Fuzz)
Kirsten Dunst (All Good Things)
Megan Fox (Transformes)
Danny Huston (30 Days of Night)
Gillian Anderson (Hannibal)
Jeff Bridges (Iron Man)
Brian Austin Green (Terminator: TSCC)
Chris O’Dowd (St. Vincent)
Thandie Newton (Mission Impossible 2)
James Corden (Into The Woods)
Hannah Waddingham (Game of Thrones)
Miriam Margolyes (Romeo + Juliet)
Max Minghella (horns)

 

how-to-lose-friends-alienate-people.20190201000000How to Lose Friends & Alienate People is a toothless satire raised from plain-jane mediocrity to legitimately pleasant all-rightness entirely by the performances of Simon Pegg and Kirsten Dunst. Director Robert Weide’s adaptation of the famous book is a hit-and-miss half-assery of star-skewering and romantic comedy fluff that fails to dig deep enough to draw blood despite ample opportunity, and yet its watchable. Pegg plays Sidney Young (an interpretation of the book’s real-life author Toby Young), the creator of the supposedly scathing British tabloid the Post-Modern Review. One of his former idols is Clayton Harding (Jeff Bridges, sporting an incredible wig), who has gone on to be the editor-in-chief of Sharps Magazine in New York City, where Sidney feels he’s lost his bite. After Sidney ruins one of Clayton’s fancy parties by crashing it with a pig in tow, Clayton gives Sidney a call and offers him a job at Sharps. Seeing an opportunity to bring some cutting criticism back into Clayton’s work, Sidney accepts, flying to the States to start cracking heads. Instead, however, he finds himself under the watchful eye of co-worker Alison Olson (Dunst), whose current assignment seems to be keeping Sidney in check.The main problem is the film’s fear of being truly caustic, despite it literally being Sidney’s goal to do so. It’s clear that Weide and screenwriter Peter Straughan worry that giving Sidney the teeth to tear into someone could also make him an unlikable jackass, but if there’s anyone in the world who could have balanced the anarchic with the amicable it’s Simon Pegg. Instead, Sidney bluntly nags an actor about their sexual orientation, and the joke falls flat because not only is the line of questioning more unwise than outrageous, we’ve got no bearing on the “actor” in question. A real-life recognizable face might have packed a stronger punch. Similarly, while Max Minghella’s pretentious, ego-trip director has considerably more screen time, the film never aims below-the-belt. The character is merely dazed and distant, when it’s a perfect chance to stick it to both abstract artistes and David-O.-Russell-style directorial explosions.The remaining plot tracks the love-hate Alison and Sidney’s love hate-relationship, which reeks of a Hollywood book-to-film adaptation. Could these two actually have something in common? Boy, I wonder! And yet there’s Pegg and Dunst, generating crackling romantic and comedic chemistry, both exceptionally charismatic and appealing from the first frame to the last. Props for Pegg are expected, as he continues to elevate everything he’s in, but I want to shine a light on Dunst’s performance, Her career of late is faltering more than she deserves, and while Alison’s character arc is no great shakes, she still imbues it with more life and charm than many actresses could muster. This includes the exceptionally boring Megan Fox as the exceptionally boring Sophie Maes, a movie star who is probably not interested in Sidney, no matter how much he prays. Her fake Mother Teresa biopic is chuckle-worthy, but it’s got nothing on Downey Jr.’s Satan’s Alley from Tropic Thunder.MV5BNDE1OTM2ODU1NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNDIzODE0NA@@._V1_

How to Lose Friends & Alienate People is the kind of movie you’d enjoy on television and forget by the end of the week.