Movie Reviews

Hidden Gems: Octavia Spencer

September has been a strange month for movie watching, and I hate to say I lost my passion for blogging a little too, but I’ve come so far in this challenge that there’s just no way I’m going to give up now. I’m blaming the lack of new movies at the cinema right now which hopefully is going to pick up again in October. If you aren’t familiar with Hidden Gems, it’s a challenge created by Mettel Ray, where you pick an actor or actress for each month of the year, pick 3 movies of theirs you haven’t seen yet and give them a watch in the hopes of finding a gem. This month is dedicated to Octavia Spencer!

Why Octavia Spencer?

I feel like Octavia Spencer was my underdog choice for the challenge. Without checking I think I’ve seen quite a few movies that she’s starred in, but almost always in a minor role. She lights up the screen in whatever movie she’s in though and has such a comforting presence, I’m always glad to see her. And that’s why I chose her, I wanted to find out if there were movies out there I didn’t know of where she played a bigger role.

Statistics

It’s definitely easier using IMDB for the numbers, Letterboxd is great for tracking what I’ve watched but the filmographies contain too many limited series, unreleased movies and shorts that are difficult to sift through. So, IMDB has 76 feature-length movies listed under Octavia Spencer’s name. Of those, I’ve seen 20, which I guess isn’t so bad. Some of my favourites include Hidden Figures, The Help, Ma and Fruitvale Station (the latter is one I watched for another Hidden Gems pick!)

I’ve also seen The Shape of Water, Zootopia, Snowpiercer, Spider-Man, Onward, Gifted, Instant Family, The Witches, Dolittle, Bad Santa, Dinner for Schmucks, Thunder Force, Miss Congeniality 2, Bad Santa 2, Superintelligence and The Nines.

This was the moment I realised I’d seen most movies where Octavia played a lead role, and so my 3 choices ended up being Smashed (2012), Luce (2019) and Paradise (2013).

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Smashed (2012)

Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Aaron Paul are the leads in this drama about alcoholism and becoming sober. Octavia Spencer plays a small role as Jenny, a woman Winstead’s character meets at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. It’s a minor role for Spencer but she’s the perfect woman for the job, being both sympathetic but stern.

I enjoyed this movie about as much as one can enjoy watching alcohol ruin a life. Smashed has a lot of heart, an interesting story and some stellar acting, but it was missing the spark needed to elevate it to a higher level. It’s very generic as far as movies about addiction go. I’m glad I watched it, though!

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Luce (2019)

Now here we have a movie with a bigger role for Octavia Spencer. There are arguably two leads in Luce. Kelvin Harrison Jr. who plays Luce, born in war-torn Eritrea and adopted in the USA, an all-star school athlete and accomplished speaker, who has animosity towards one his teachers. That teacher is Harriet Wilson, played by Octavia Spencer, who got Luce’s friend kicked off the running team and has multiple concerns about Luce which she shares with Luce’s parents.

This movie has so many layers, I think it takes two viewings to really wrap your head around it. It’s a complete mind game between Luce and Harriet and I kept swapping my mind back and forth between who’s side I was on. To begin with, I was completely on Luce’s side. Then we got to learn more about Harriet and her situation at home and I fully empathised with her. By the end of it I didn’t have a clue who to root for.

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Paradise (2013)

What, and I repeat WHAT, is this movie? I had to triple check I had the right year for it because everything about Paradise screams early 00’s. It’s about a young girl raised in an extremely religious town who suffered horrific burns over her entire body as a result of a plane crash, and has lost her faith in God as a result. That sounds like it’s going to be a powerful drama, doesn’t it? That’s where you’re wrong, because what happens next is she uses her settlement money to run away and party in Las Vegas with Octavia Spencer and Russell Brand.

If anything, this movie toes that line of ‘so bad it’s good’. The first half at least is a barrel of laughs, if you can see past the racism that wouldn’t be tolerated in movies nowadays (or in 2013 I would have thought?!). The second half eases on the humour and tries to be a more serious movie and that’s where it really fails. It’s hard to believe Paradise is directed by the same person as Juno!

Final Thoughts

No gem this month, although once I started to look through Octavia Spencer’s filmography I could almost guess that would be the case, I think I’ve seen her greatest movies already, unless there’s something still hidden you can recommend me? Next month is Emily Blunt, and I’m feeling quietly optimistic there’s a gem to be found there.

Movie Reviews

The Peanut Butter Falcon (2019) – Film & Wine Club

peanut-butter-falcon-movie-reviewWell, it’s a good job we had to skip a week of Film & Wine Club (more about that here if you don’t know what I’m talking about) because I’m so behind on writing! My Mum had social plans, how dare she, right?! Me and Dad reckon she made plans on purpose because the next movie choice just happened to be one of his! For context, the last time my Dad was allowed to pick a movie was his birthday around 3 years ago when he made us all watch the full-length version of Lawrence of Arabia. Obviously, a classic movie, but with the amount of pause breaks my family have it took us around 5 hours (perhaps a slight exaggeration!).

Anyway, the third pick was another of mine, The Peanut Butter Falcon! A re-watch for me of course so I won’t do a full review of it but it certainly made me realise something. Put on the spot to pick 3 great movies that I want to recommend, the first 2 were both movies containing an adventure in the wild with 2 characters who at first don’t like each other much, but become family by the end. Turns out I have a type without even knowing! My third film into the hat was Donnie Darko which I later realised I’d already convinced my family to see, I have a back-up in mind but I can’t tell you guys because my parents read here!

I adore The Peanut Butter Falcon, though. It’s a beautiful story about friendship, family, overcoming the impossible and living life to the full, following your dreams. Zak (Zachary Gottsagen) is a young guy with Down’s Syndrome, forced to live in a retirement home but desperate to escape to find the wrestling school ran by his hero. Whilst on the run he meets Tyler (Shia LaBeouf), who is also on the run after making some dangerous enemies. Tyler recently lost his brother and holds himself guilty, which ultimately leads him to helping Zak pursue his dream whilst also escaping his predicament.

I could put on my critic hat and talk about how great it is to see Down’s syndrome represented in such a positive light, something I’ve never seen in any other movie, and how phenomenal it was for Zachary Gottsagen to play that role, and I would be so right! But all I really need to say is how wholesome the movie is. I dare you to try and dislike it.

That watch was over 2 weeks ago so tomorrow I’ll fill in the gaps with another Film & Wine Club post, then I’ll be up to date! But after this we picked another film out of the hat and it turned out to be another of my Mum’s choices, Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005), so stay tuned for my thoughts on that!

Movie Reviews

Hidden Gems: Margot Robbie

Goodness me, I think this is the first Hidden Gems post that I’m writing at the very last minute rather than scheduling well in advance! There’s just too much fun to be had – it’s a 3 day weekend here in the UK and the weather has been STUNNING, meaning very little time to hide indoors and write! But alas, the end of another month is here and so it’s time once again for a Hidden Gems post, a challenge created by the amazing Mettel Ray. Her pick this month is James McAvoy and I’m excited to see what she’s seen – I’m a huge fan but definitely haven’t watched many of his movies. My pick this month if you haven’t seen already is Margot Robbie!

Why Margot Robbie?

Margot has only flown onto my radar in recent years but she’s an actress who I’ve never found any big faults with, I’ve tended to enjoy the things I’ve seen her in. That was until I, Tonya and Bird of Prey where she simply blew me away with her talents! From what I’ve seen of her in interviews she seems like a genuinely lovely person in real life too so I definitely wanted to explore some of the movies she’s been in that I’ve overlooked or simply not heard of.

Statistics

Letterboxd has 30 projects listed under Margot Robbie, I took out 8 (shorts and unreleased movies), leaving 22. Of those 22 movies I’ve already seen 13, a lot more than I thought I had, to be perfectly honest. My favourites include I, Tonya, Birds of Prey and About Time.

I’ve also seen Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Suicide Squad, The Big Short, Focus, Peter Rabbit, Peter Rabbit 2, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Goodbye Christopher Robin and Slaughterhouse Rulez.

My picks for the challenge were for a variety of reasons and ended up being Z for Zachariah (2015), Bombshell (2019) and Mary Queen of Scots (2018).

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Z for Zachariah (2015)

This movie was actually already in my watchlist so there’s a blogger out there who watched this years ago and wrote a review positive enough that it made it a desirable watch for me! It’s a bit post-apocalyptic, just hunkering down and getting by, lonely kind of movie that winds up focusing on a love triangle between Margot Robbie, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Chris Pine.

And there’s my problem, I guess. There’s no scenario where I wouldn’t pick Chris Pine and those ridiculously blue eyes every single time. On a serious note, it’s a good movie, just too quiet and slow for my liking. Loved the ending, though. That was tense!

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Bombshell (2019)

Obviously this is quite a recent pick that was a January 2020 release for me in the UK. If I’d known what was around the corner I’d have been at the cinema for it in a heartbeat but at the time there were other things to watch and although I loved the cast, the story didn’t seem compelling enough to get me to commit to a cinema trip for it. It’s based on the real-life story of how a group of women take down the head of Fox News for abusive behaviour.

Now, the tale is an infuriating watch and as always with movies like this, the screen of text at the telling explaining the aftermath made me angry as hell, but from the trailer I was expecting this to be told in a style similar to The Big Short or The Wolf of Wall Street, and it really fell short of the mark. An intriguing tale, but told in a dull way, which is a shame.

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Mary Queen of Scots (2018)

I don’t like period dramas, ok? I’ve tried to dance around the subject before but there’s just no point. A period drama featuring royals is, quite frankly, the worst – in my mind at least. But if anyone is going to get me to change my mind it’s going to be a dynamic duo in the form of Margot Robbie and Saoirse Ronan. It’s a fight for the throne and all I really knew about it was from memes mocking the way Margot Robbie’s character looked.

News flash – I still hate period dramas. The ending to this one was powerful, I’ve got to give it credit for that. The final 15 minutes were something fantastic to behold, it’s just a shame everything before that bored me to tears.

Final Thoughts

Needless to say. I did not find a gem this month. Not even close to finding one. But I can say I’ve seen over half of Margot Robbie’s movie work now and even after watching a few duds, I couldn’t say she put in a bad or a lazy performance. I’ve heard about all the work she’s putting in to push for Gotham City Sirens and I hope she succeeds, she’s certainly the perfect choice for Harley Quinn. Next month is Paul Rudd’s time to shine!

Movie Reviews

Standing Up, Falling Down (2019)

standing-up-falling-down-poster-movie-2019Director: Matt Ratner

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Runtime: 91 Minutes

Main Cast: Billy Crystal, Ben Schwartz, Grace Gummer, Eloise Mumford, Nate Corddry, Jill Hennessy, Caitlin McGee, Kevin Dunn, Debra Monk

Plot: Mike Wazowski and Sonic the Hedgehog become best friends. Scott (Ben Schwartz) is forced to move back in with his parents as his career as a comedian in LA is struggling. After meeting with Dermatologist Marty (Billy Crystal), the two form an unlikely friendship and help each other with their issues.

My Thoughts:  One of my favourite genre fusions has to be the dramedy, a mix of comedy and drama. It was Little Miss Sunshine (2006) that first caught my attention and I haven’t turned one down since. Sure, there have been bad ones but the good ones are often excellent rather than average. I’d never heard of Standing Up, Falling Down until I got an email about it but as a huge Parks and Rec fan, I was never going to shy away from a movie with Ben Schwartz as the lead. This movie might not bring anything new to the genre but I adored almost every moment of it.

I don’t think I’ve seen Ben Schwartz in a more serious role, and I hope he lands some more on the back of this because he does it well, and of course he shines best in his funnier scenes. It was Billy Crystal who surprised me the most, though. His character has gone through so much pain but he tries to take it in his stride, improve himself and find the good in every moment. He has one scene in particular that I won’t mention for spoilers that really tugged on my heart strings. I haven’t watched many of his movies, I have to admit, but I’ll make an effort to.

What I loved the most was that there was a pivotal moment in the movie that I should have seen coming, in fact I’m sure you all will have done, but I got caught up in the daily lives of these two characters and just didn’t want it to end. I don’t know, I think maybe I’m hyping it up a bit too much, but you know when you find a movie with characters you just feel a real connection with? That’s me with Standing Up, Falling Down. If you give it a go I hope you enjoy it as much as I did! Oh and one more thing – that Twitter account, @dermatol_OG, is real! Don’t look it up until you’ve finished the movie though.

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Best Bit: Skipping past the emotional, spoiler-filled moment, Scott’s relationship with his sister is so funny. The banter between them is so real and one of my favourite moments is when Scott turns up at the pretzel stand she works at and ends up terrifying her co-worker.

Worst Bit: I know that Marty did some wrongs in the past but man, he didn’t deserve to be treated the way he did by his own son. That scene on the front lawn was so upsetting to watch.

Fun Trivia: I can only find two bits of trivia for this. One is a huge spoiler and the other is a vulgar reference to The Revenant (2015) that I’ll spare you the trouble of reading.

My Rating: 4 and a half Jägerbombs which, UNLIKE the characters in this movie, I know how to make. WAY too much energy drink was used in those ones!

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Lists

Thursday Movie Picks: Favorite Cinematography

When I first got in movie blogging in 2014 I was only really watching the same kind of movies I’d ever known, all romcoms, comedies and blockbuster action flicks. Being a blogger has obviously opened my eyes to the whole spectrum but back then I had no time for what I know as ‘Oscar movies’. I actually laughed at the trailer for Whiplash (2014) but when I saw it? Wow.

That year, like many movie bloggers, I put together my predictions for the Oscars. They were all blind guesses, I’m not going to lie. Even now there are some categories I still have to make a guess at, I don’t think I’ll ever understand the difference between Sound Editing and Sound Mixing. But one category in particular confused me more than ever, and that was Best Cinematography. To try and explain it to someone else would make me look like a tit, but my best understanding of it now is the way a movie looks. You know those moments where you think wow, that looks beautiful? That’s cinematography.

And that’s the topic of Wandering Through the Shelves’ Thursday Movie Picks this week. So before I make a bigger fool of myself, let me share some of my favourite shots.

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1917 (2019)

I could have picked 100 shots from this movie, it’s absolutely stunning. But this moment during night time is the one that sticks with me. I was already exhausted and on edge, and then in this quiet, stunning moment there’s a shadow in the distance and we have no idea if they’re a friend or foe.

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La La Land (2016)

Los Angeles has a special place in my heart. My husband and I first visited in 2016 on our honeymoon, and we went back last year with our daughter and my parents and brother to celebrate our 30th birthday. My favourite way to spend the day there was at one of its many beaches, walking the pier was just so peaceful. That’s just one of the many reasons I love La La Land.

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Sicario (2015)

Sicario was one of those first few movies to really shock me when I was still discovering movies outside my comfort zone. It was so tense, and yet absolutely stunning at the same time. The scenes shot at night time were incredible.