The Favourite (2018)

Director: Yorgos Lanthimos Cast: Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz, Nicholas Hoult, James Smith

Queen Anne is on the throne while her friend Lady Sarah, wife to the Prime Minister, runs the country behind the scenes. Lady Sarah’s cousin Abigail arrives from the countryside looking for work, and soon becomes a rival for Anne’s attentions.

As most Oscar films seem to be nowadays, this one ticks both boxes of weird and intense. This is not to say it’s not enjoyable though- much of the film is comedic, which helps to add to the absurdness of the situations that arise. It’s strange, but the fact that it’s funny makes it more accessible to wider audiences. Olivia Colman nails the eccentric and deluded Queen Anne, while Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz both play manipulative and conniving characters who have equal elements of heroic and despicable.

My surprise favourite character was Nicholas Hoult, who plays Harley, the Leader of the Opposition. I say surprise because I didn’t know he was even in it before I watched it, rather than surprise at his comedic ability. The first thing I saw him is was About a Boy, so we know he plays strange comedic parts well. As a side note, I also really enjoyed the history playing out in the background, with the war against the French and early 1700s Parliament.

The film is set in England in the early 1700s, so one of the things I enjoyed most about it was the costumes and sets (for which it has been nominated and Oscar). The women’s dresses are great to look at, while the men’s costumes are used to play a part in the story themselves as they are so ridiculous.

I liked this film more than I thought I would, as it’s intense and a bit psychological as the women go head to head, but the comedy throughout makes this bearable. It’s not suitable for children but I think it would reach wide audiences, so I would recommend giving it a go and seeing what you think afterwards. I don’t feel a particular desire to watch it again (at least not for several years) but I’m pleased I’ve seen it.

4 stars

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Book vs Film: Jurassic Park

Book: Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton (1990)

Film: Jurassic Park directed by Steven Spielberg (1993)

While sitting by the pool and rattling through several books during my recent summer holiday, I was struck with an idea: instead of following my usual formula for film reviews, I thought it I might mix it up and compare with the original novel (providing I’ve actually read it, of course). One of those poolside reads was Jurassic Park, which I also happened to have watched about a week before starting on the book, so we can start our foray into my new feature Book vs Film here.

Both the novel and film are well-known and well-regarded, but most people are certainly more familiar with the the film. With classic moments such as finding out how the dinosaurs were created (i.e. wondering if it might actually be possible in real life), the t-rex appearing from behind the trees, and the velociraptors in the kitchen, the movie is a family action-adventure with many entertaining and downright suspenseful moments. The animatronics are truly impressive, plus is has a great John Williams soundtrack and a famous cast. It won Oscars in sound and special effects, and deservedly is considered a classic.

Meanwhile, although the book is an international bestseller, it’s probably fair to say a lot less people have read the book than watched the film. Well, I’d suggest they rectify that and get their hands on a copy asap, because I would argue the book is even better than the film. It looks like a long read, but the plot moves at a fast pace and is so compelling that you can race through it. There are so many more layers to the story, for example the secrecy behind the island, the process of creating the dinosaurs, and some additional characters who meet delightfully sticky ends. As with most books and their film adaptations, the book also fills in some gaps that the film has to miss out. The primary difference I noticed was that while the film is definitely family adventure, the book is less so and has a much darker tone, plus is a lot more graphic in it’s descriptions (not for the squeamish).

The book is the winner for me in this battle, although the film is of course a classic. The book brings quite a lot more to the plate, and I think if you read the book after you’ve sen the film you’ll have a lot of “ahhh!” moments as the book provides with quite a lot more detail of exactly what’s going on behind the scenes of the mysterious island.

Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)

Director: Ron Howard Cast: Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Donald Glover, Emilia Clarke, Paul Bettany

A young Han Solo finds himself getting involved with a criminal gang planning to steal from the Empire, as he tries to get together enough money to buy a ship. Through several twists of fate he meets Chewbacca, soon becoming his co-pilot, and the untrustworthy Lando Calrissian with whom he forms an alliance of convenience.

As everyone keeps saying, this is the Star Wars prequel that no one asked for. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to know that back story of Han, as his mystery is all part of the allure, but actually the story is quite enjoyable and I liked it a lot more than I thought I would. I mean, I started with very low expectations so that probably helped, but on the whole I think it’s a good film.

Starting with the good points, Solo is a good stand alone film without have any prior knowledge of the Star Wars universe. I think that’s why it’s unfair for people to criticise it- on it’s own, as a film there’s not much wrong with it and it’s a fun family adventure. Obviously it’s no The Empire Strikes Back, but it’s not part of the central Star Wars saga so it’s not fair to compare it. Alden Ehrenreich is fine as Han Solo- at some moments I could see that he was going for some of the classic Harrison Ford mannerisms, and although he slightly misses the mark, I can justify that in my head as because he’s a younger Han Solo he’s no going to be exactly the same as the fully developed Han Solo of the original trilogy. I really liked the story of how Han and Chewie meet, and their friendship has enough screen time so that you can properly see it develop. There were lots of great little references to the original films- but not so much as to make it not work as a standalone film- such as the Kessel run (settling once and for all the Great Parsec Debate), Han’s lucky dice, his legendary blaster and of course the classic issue of Han shooting first.

As I mentioned, most of the references to the originals are subtle enough for it not to matter to new viewers but long-time Star Wars fans will appreciate them. However, without wanting to give away any spoilers, the final scene with Qi’ra (Han’s love interest) and the big reveal of who she works for may not make a lot of sense to those new to the franchise and might seem a bit random. It definitely needs expanding on and I think that’s why there are rumours circulating that Solo will be trilogy.

Solo is an enjoyable yarn, and I’d probably place it mid-table in the list of all the Star Wars films. For people who aren’t into Star Wars it’s a good entry into the franchise, and is fun and light-hearted but with well-developed characters and a storyline that makes sense. Don’t let the bad reviews put you off and miss out on seeing it at the cinema!

4 stars

The Disaster Artist (2017)

Director: James Franco Cast: James Franco, Dave Franco, Seth Rogen, Alison Brie, Ari Graynor, Josh Hutcherson

The true story of what happened during the creation of cult favourite movie The Room by Tommy Wiseau. Tommy and Greg meet at an acting class in San Francisco, and quickly become friends after Tommy’s positive, can-do attitude to life spurs on Greg to pursue his dream of an acting career in LA. When they move to LA and neither of their careers really takes off, Tommy writes a screenplay and casts himself and Greg in the star roles. However, Tommy’s not a regular director and the film takes some strange turns.

After I sat through The Room late last year, for on reason or another I never made it to the cinema to watch The Disaster Artist, simply¬†through my own general incompetence. It’s been a long wait but I’ve finally watched it- and as hoped I thought it was great. I thought it would just be a good laugh, finding out what happened behind the scenes, but actually the film has a strong plot of its own and it totally changed my perception of the characters. Yes, Tommy Wiseau is a massive weirdo and kind of a dick, but I actually really admired his outlook on life. He doesn’t care what other people think; he believes that if he works for his dream he can achieve it; he pushes Greg to be his best; and he works hard on a project he’s passionate about. Yes, the result was The Room, and although it’s not what Tommy had in mind, it’s a cult favourite that tonnes of people have seen, and the film mentions at the end that thanks to its cult status and appearance at midnight screenings for fans, the film has actually finally made a profit.

James Franco is a divisive actor and to be honest really has been in some crap films, but he’s perfect in this. He plays Tommy (ironically both directing and playing the lead role, just like Wiseau IRL), and his mannerisms and accent are so accurate that it’s hard to tell it’s not actually him. There’s a final scene after the credits in which the real Tommy Wiseau meets the character played by Franco, and you can hardly tell which is which. Dave Franco as Greg is fairly standard as Greg doesn’t really have any stand-out characteristics, but I thought Josh Hutcherson as Denny was hilarious and Zac Efron’s cameo also made me laugh just because he was so weird. James Franco won a Golden Globe for this, which I think is very fitting because I feel like Tommy has had the last laugh over the Hollywood that rejected him.

While there are a fair number of in-jokes shared by those who’ve seen The Room, I don’t think you necessarily have to have seen it to enjoy The Disaster Artist. As I’ve mentioned, the behind-the-scenes is a great story in itself that I think many would appreciate.

4 stars