Money Monster (dir. Jodie Foster) 2016

George Clooney
Money Monster is a gripping thriller that will keep you entertained for an hour and a half. It is a Hollywood hostage movie set in a New York television studio. It has a big name cast; George Clooney and Julia Roberts are both on top form, as an irritating TV show host and his producer. Jack O’Connell is also excellent as the hostage taker. It is directed by Jodie Foster, who does a good job subverting expectations in a genre that the audience will know well.
The script and character development are fantastic, because although all the main protagonists have flawed personalities, over the course of the film, we are given an insight to their humanity and motivation. This means that we have sympathy with all of them to some degree.
Money Monster is funny, surprising and knowing. It is also nicely subversive from Jodi Foster because all the men in the film are the brash, sensationalist types getting all the attention and the women are the ones who quietly get things done.
Don’t go to this movie expecting insights into the world of financial markets, or the effects of the 24 hour news cycle on society. Go expecting pure light entertainment, for that is what it delivers

The Mothman Prophecies (dir.Mark Pellington) 2002

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This film is supposedly based on true events that happened in Point Pleasant in 1966 and 1967. Although it is said that truth can be stranger than fiction, I have seen Disney talking animal movies that required less suspension of disbelief. I guess that this film was aimed at the part of the market that thought the X Files was a documentary.
As a horror film, it misses the mark because, although the storyline is quite dark, there aren’t really any scary moments in the film.
The acting is pretty good, Richard Gere, David Eigenberg and Will Patton all cope well in contending with a meandering storyline and their character’s unusual decision making. Will Patton goes from holding Richard Gere at gunpoint in the bath to trusting him, overnight, without much convincing.
I’m not going to say avoid this film at all costs, it was well paced and it held my attention throughout but, for me, there are better things to watch on Netflix.

Natural History Museum, London


The Natural History Museum is holding a series of special events on Friday evenings throughout the summer. Each one is different but I suspect that all of them will be awesome! I went to the butterfly ball, which had a number of talks and exhibitions about moths and butterflies. The people involved clearly love what they do, they were interesting and entertaining, we got up close and personal with moths, butterflies, spiders, snakes…
It is a fantastic experience to be in the museum at night, great to be able to wander around the normal exhibits with a drink from the bar. It is a very relaxed way to view the museum … and there are no school parties to contend with.
The talks are wonderful, the general exhibition is amazing, but even if the whole place was empty the building itself is staggeringly beautiful. Think Hogwarts on steroids! It’s incredible that even with the brilliant things on show here, that the ceilings, arches and floors can contend for your attention.
As you can probably guess, I have been struggling for superlatives to describe my night.
Go for the event, go for the general exhibition or just go for the architecture!

 

The Grand Budapest Hotel (dir. Wes Anderson) 2014

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The Grand Budapest Hotel is light, frothy escapism. The story is an unlikely but likeable tale involving the concierge, played by Ralph Fiennes, aided by the lobby boy, played by Tony Revolori.
It is crammed with famous actors in cameo roles. Jeff Goldblum, Tilda Swinton and Edward Norton are particularly memorable, but there are so many others that you could spend the whole movie saying “Oh look! Isn’t that…..”
The jokes are off-beat and sometimes off-colour. The script contains some nice aphorisms and some good one line jokes. The characters are a lovely mixture of smarmy and sharp.
The sets and set pieces are extraordinary and absorbing. It was nominated for 9 Academy awards and best set design was one of those it won.  The costumes and the acting are wonderfully camp, it also won Oscars for best make-up and best costume design.
I didn’t find any great universal truths in “The Grand Budapest Hotel” but I smiled for the full hour and a half and that is definitely a recommendation.

A Single Man (dir. Tom Ford) 2009

 
A Single Man is a day in the life of George Falconer, who is grieving over the sudden death of his partner, 8 months prior. It is set in California in 1962. Public expression of his grief would have been socially unacceptable at that time and repression is a major theme of this film.
Colin Firth was nominated for an Academy Award for his part, he is in every scene and his performance is remarkable. He portrays a man barely able to keep his emotions in check despite years of practice of self-restraint. However, he is also aware that this discipline makes the liberation all the more sweet when it comes.
I can imagine that the idea, based on Christopher Isherwood’s 1964 novel, would have been difficult to pitch to a film studio, so it not a surprise that it was self-funded by the director, Tom Ford. It is his first film and he does an amazingly good job.
Everything about this movie is beautiful; the clothes, the sets, the music. I loved “A single Man” and I recommend it, but do expect to leave the cinema in a contemplative frame of mind.

Everybody Wants Some (dir. Richard Linklater) 2016

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Do not go to this movie expecting big action, high adrenaline thrills or nail-biting tension. If you do you will be disappointed and probably bored.
Do go if you want high quality nostalgia, astute character development or an insight into group dynamics.
The story is pretty light. It follows a group of middle class, well adjusted, young guys on the first weekend of term, before their classes begin. It is set in 1980. They party, they drink, they smoke, they try to get laid. They do what they are probably going to do every weekend for the rest of the school year.
This is the strength of the film. They are likeable people in a normal setting having an average weekend and mostly enjoying life. The script is excellent – you feel that you get to know the characters and understand their insecurities.
The acting is remarkable throughout and the direction is light touch and faultless. The soundtrack is great.
So, if you want a chilled couple of hours, sit down, relax and let Everybody Wants Some!! take you back to a sunny weekend in 1980 where the world is full of potential…..

Funny Girl (dir. W. Wyler) 1968

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“Hello Gorgeous”
Barbra Streisand won the Oscar for best actress for this film in 1968. This film was nominated for 8 Academy Awards in total. It is almost always included in lists of all time best musicals.
It is too bright. It is melodramatic. It is both camp and kitsch. Omar Sharif does not sing well…….but the film is about succeeding by overcoming faults and making the most of what you do have.
This movie has Barbra Streisand, who is amazing in this film, the role could have been written for her and she grabs it with both hands and wrings every piece of emotion out of it. It has some fantastic, powerful songs that still sound great almost fifty years on. It also has a line that is often included in lists of most memorable movie quotes:”Hello Gorgeous”
If you like musicals or are interested in cinema history you have to see this film.
 

Regent's Park, London

https://www.endomondo.com/routes/731348501

Regent’s park is one of my favourite places to walk in London. This 7 kilometre walk is a lovely route around the park if you have a couple of hours to spare. It starts at Chalk Farm tube and heads up primrose hill, where there are stunning views of London’s skyline. It then heads down round the edges of London zoo and over the Regent’s canal. It gives a pretty view of the London Central Mosque before turning down the side of the boating lake. Near the foot of the lake it crosses the bridge, passing the open air theatre and going into to rose garden. The ornamental bridge has a beautiful wisteria in flower in May. It then heads to eastern edge of the park to walk along Chester Terrace a designed by Nash in the early 19th century. Finally along the southern part of the park to Park Street where you can catch buses to north London or turn left for Baker Street tube and connections to the city centre.
The photos are: (top) Skyline from Primrose Hill, Egyptian Goose by the boating lake, Regent’s Canal from the Broad Walk, (bottom) Wisteria in Queen Mary’s rose garden, Deckchairs and Daisies, The City from the Hill.

This link at the top is a downloadable route, you can download it on to your phone or tablet and follow it in real time as you walk. I am hopeful that you can expand the areas nearby on the map too, so if you decide to stop early, it is possible to see transport options nearby. If anyone spots a difficulty in using it, I would be grateful for feedback as, if it works well, I plan on publishing a list of my favourite walks from around the world.

The French Connection (dir. W. Friedkin) 1971

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The French Connection won best picture, best director and best actor at the 1972 Academy Awards. It consistently features in all-time best film lists. It has one of the most famous car chase scenes ever.
It is a gritty police drama set in New York. It was one of the first films to sacrifice sound and picture quality in order to give it added realism. Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider are both give great performances. The violence and swearing were supposedly quite shocking at the time but don’t seem so now. The story is good, if a little far fetched, even though it is apparently (very loosely) based on fact.
Seeing The French Connection, 45 years after it was made is also thought provoking. Society seems to have been institutionally racist and sexist. The movie set out to be provocative, but most shocking thing about the script now is the racial slurs. The only women in the film are mothers or sex objects.
If you are interested in either modern social history or the history of cinema, this is a must-see film.

Fatherland – Robert Harris (1992)

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Fatherland  is a murder investigation/thriller. It is set in the run up to Adolf Hitler’s 75th birthday and imagines a world where the Nazis won the second world war.
It works very well as a police procedural that escalates. It is well written and the main characters are interesting. The plot twists keep the reader engaged nicely and the story is strong enough to work without the alternate reality theme.
Setting the book in a 1964 Nazi run Europe adds an extra dimension to the book. It is not overdone, it changes some peoples motivation and skews the world’s perspective. I found the change refreshing. The book contains some fictional characters and some fictionalised versions of real characters. He envisages many of those who died or disappeared towards the end of the war as still alive and powerful after Germany won.
Fatherland is well researched and some of the scenes in the book are harrowing but it is not gory or gratuitous in any way. It was a huge best seller when it was released almost 25 years ago. I think it has stood the test of time and is still a very enjoyable read.