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

Hidden Gems: Jake Gyllenhaal

I started August off so organised that I was scheduling blog posts instead of publishing them straight away, and even started compiling my ‘What I Watched’ monthly round-up post as the days went by, and yet here I am on the night that Hidden Gems is meant to be posted furiously putting my post together having only just watched my third pick. Can’t will them all, eh? 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. If you haven’t guessed already, my August choice was Jake Gyllenhaal!

Why Jake Gyllenhaal?

He was my first love. You may laugh, but I’m serious! Back when I was a sulky, young teenager, I watched The Day After Tomorrow (2004) and ended up with a bit of a crush on Jake Gyllenhaal. At the time, I wasn’t hugely into movies but this was the beginning of my hobby blossoming. I’d also discovered online retail (remember when Amazon and eBay were new?) and got myself copies of Donnie Darko (2001), Bubble Boy (2001) and The Good Girl (2002) on VHS just to watch more of him. The former is still one of my favourite movies of all time, and is the reason I love dark, twisty movies the most! So clearly, Jake had to be a part of this challenge for me.

Statistics

I was using Letterboxd for these statistics until now but it’s so tough weeding out all the unreleased movies, shorts and other anomalies that I think doing a manual count on IMDB is going to be easier. So, IMDB has 39 feature movies listed under his name. Of those, I’ve seen 21, which is a pretty decent figure if I may say so myself. Some of my favourites include Donnie Darko, Prisoners, Enemy and Nightcrawler.

I’ve also seen Spider-Man: Far From Home, Zodiac, Brokeback Mountain, Nocturnal Animals, Okja, Velvet Buzzsaw, Source Code, Life, The Day After Tomorrow, End of Watch, Everest, Jarhead, Demolition, Brothers, Bubble Boy, The Good Girl and Moonlight Mile.

I’ve had one Jake Gyllenhaal movie in my watchlist forever so only had to pick another two this time round thankfully. My three choices ended up being Wildlife (2018), Love & Other Drugs (2010) and Stronger (2017).

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Wildlife (2018)

This is the movie that’s been on my watchlist since it was released. Something stopped me from seeing it as soon as it came out, and over time I guess I’ve forgotten what it was even about. One thing I didn’t know at all until now is that Wildlife is Paul Dano’s directional debut! Which makes me happy because he’s so talented. Anyway, this stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Carey Mulligan as parents of a teenaged boy. Gyllenhaal’s character loses his job and his sense of purpose, and leaves his family temporarily to go and fight a raging forest fire.

The best word I can use to describe Wildlife is devastating. It wasn’t the movie I thought it was at all. It’s not a bad movie at all, quite the opposite, but it will weigh heavily on your mind for quite some time. Watching this family lose faith and seeing the effect that has is just so upsetting. I can applaud the technical aspects of everything to do with the movie but I didn’t enjoy it enough to call it a gem.

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Love & Other Drugs (2010)

Look, I’m as surprised as you are that there’s a Jake Gyllenhaal romcom that I haven’t seen yet! This one was an odd experience to say the least due to the subject matter. Gyllenhaal plays Jamie, a salesman struggling with his numbers but not for charm. He lands himself a job as a sales rep for the medical company Pfizer (heard of them?!) and starts a relationship with Maggie (Anne Hathaway), a woman with a lot of health issues but a wit even sharper than Jamie’s.

Oh, 15-year-old me would have eaten this movie up for breakfast and then watched it every weekend until she knew the words by heart. 32-year-old me has a guilty appreciation for the sheer amount of nudity on display, but can accept that this movie is total garbage.

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Stronger (2017)

I’ve found myself watching a lot of sad movies for this challenge so far. Am I unconsciously avoiding them when casually watching movies or do I need to take more time when making my selections for the challenge each month? Who knows. Stronger is based on the real-life story of Jeff Bauman (Jake Gyllenhaal), a man who lost both of his legs in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.

What an inspiring story, about an inspiring man. He went through so much, and did all he could to stay positive through it all, too. I can’t even imagine what it must have been like to have been in that situation. This would have been a decent, interesting movie with any cast, but Jake Gyllenhaal acts his absolute heart out here and just raises the bar of the whole thing. Without a doubt, Stronger is a hidden gem, I just wish I watched it sooner and didn’t have to rush at the end of the month.

Final Thoughts

It feels so good to have found a gem this month, I was starting to lose faith a little bit! It’s clear to me however that not only have I seen a lot of Jake Gyllenhaal’s movies, I’ve seen the majority of the great ones. He’s an actor who I’ll always be excited to see, no matter what kind of movie he happens to star in next. September is Octavia Spencer’s month and I’d love to hear some recommendations from you if you have any?

Lists · Movie Reviews

Hidden Gems: Nicole Kidman

July just sort of ran by without me realising! I’ve been watching a lot of movies this month but didn’t realise the days going by so I have to admit, my Hidden Gems post is a little last minute this time around. 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. I think Mettel Ray is taking a break from the challenge this month but here I am with a post dedicated to Nicole Kidman.

Why Nicole Kidman?

She was a bit of a wild card choice for the challenge to be honest. I’ve enjoyed pretty much everything I’ve seen her in, but mostly her recent TV work, Big Little Lies and The Undoing. I’m very much looking forward to the upcoming Nine Perfect Strangers, too. She seems to star in a lot of thrillers and it’s one of my favourite genres, so I was keen to explore some of her older work.

Statistics

Letterboxd has an eye-watering 106 projects listed under Nicole Kidman, I took out 41 (a lot of shorts, TV movies, short movies and mini series’), leaving 65. Of those 65 movies I’d already seen 11, and funnily enough, one of those was watched for another Hidden Gems month! Some of my favourites include Paddington, Lion and The Others.

I’ve also seen The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Aquaman, Bombshell, Panic Room, Happy Feet, Prom, The Upside and Before I Go to Sleep.

It was so tough to choose just 3 movies from the ocean of ones I’m yet to see, but in the end I went with Eyes Wide Shut (1999), To Die For (1995) and Rabbit Hole (2010).

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Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

I try not to read too much into the movies I’m picking but when I’m so lost for where to start I do try to pick some that are widely well reviewed. Eyes Wide Shut seemed to be one of Nicole Kidman’s most well regarded movies so I hoped I was on to a good start. She stars along side Tom Cruise in a dark, erotic thriller directed by Stanley Kubrick and I tried my very best to look past the 159 minute runtime.

Eyes Wide Shut is going to join some other classic movies in the category I like to call ‘Artsy, Classic Movies Everyone Loves but I Find Totally Overrated’. I’m really sorry – I couldn’t get into this at all. I get that there’s a deeper meaning behind everything that happens but a movie two and a half hours long, I could explain the plot to you in about 30 seconds. I can appreciate the acting, the directing and the cinematography for what it is, but it’s not a movie I enjoyed at all.

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To Die For (1995)

This was very, very close to being a gem for me, I enjoyed it a lot. Nicole Kidman plays a woman wanting to be a world-famous news anchor and will stop at nothing to get what she wants. What she lacks in intelligence she makes up for in determination and sheer will. When her husband is found dead, she’s the main suspect, and the movie swaps back and forth between showing us the events leading up to her husband’s death and interviews with the people who knew her.

Nicole Kidman’s character is absolutely fascinating but there’s just something about the way the story is told that holds it back from being a truly great movie. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed it immensely, but I can’t give out the prize of Hidden Gem to anything less than great. I wish more of the events had been told from her point of view so we could get a better understanding of her mind.

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Rabbit Hole (2010)

Why do I find myself attracted to such depressing movies?! They’re like a magnet to me. In Rabbit Hole, Nicole Kidman stars alongside Aaron Eckhart as parents who have recently lost their son after he was killed in a car accident. It’s a raw and painful exploration as to how people handle grief, and how they move on after such a tragic event. It’s less a movie that you enjoy and more a dive into the spectrum of human emotion.

So, another great movie. But man, it’s just too much of a downer to call a gem. The definition will be different for everyone but for me, a hidden gem has to be both technically great and enjoyable to watch. Technically, Rabbit Hole is superb but I couldn’t say it was a movie I enjoyed.

Final Thoughts

No gem this month, but two great movies out of three, so I’m not disappointed at all. I’ve learnt that there’s still so many more Nicole Kidman movies out there, I was just unlucky with my choices. I’d love to know what your favourite Nicole Kidman movies are? August is a month I’m really looking forward to – it’s Jake Gyllenhaal month!

Movie Reviews

Hidden Gems: Paul Rudd

Phew, I’m back to being more organised with my blog posts, for this week at least. I don’t like writing things at the last minute! That’s probably because the heatwave is over for now though, and I’m feeling fairly caught up with the latest movie releases. Let’s talk Hidden Gems though, shall we? It’s a challenge created by the wonderful Mettel Ray in which you choose an actor or actress for each month, and watch 3 movies of theirs you’ve never seen before in the hopes of finding a gem. Her pick for this month is Rachel Weisz and I’m really hoping she found a gem this month because I’d love to see more of Weisz’s movies! My choice for this month? Paul Rudd.

Why Paul Rudd?

Paul Rudd is just so wholesome. My introduction to him was Mike in Friends and he was instantly one of my favourite characters in the whole show. Since then I’ve seen a lot of his comedy movies and he’s now of course a huge part of the MCU as Ant-Man, a character I didn’t think I would like much – but Paul Rudd’s charm won me over. I thought I’d seen most of his best work but if there was any way to test the theory, the Hidden Gems was it.

Statistics

Letterboxd has a whopping 92 projects listed under Paul Rudd, I took out 31 (a lot of shorts and some unreleased movies), leaving 62. Of those 62 movies I’d already seen 20. A fair amount but not a huge percentage. Some of my favourites include Avengers: Endgame, Ant-Man and the Wasp, This Is the End, and Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy.

I’ve also seen Captain America: Civil War, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Ant-Man, Clueless, Night at the Museum, Romeo + Juliet, The 40 Year Old Virgin, Sausage Party, Knocked Up, The Fundamentals of Caring, Wet Hot American Summer, I Love You, Man, Role Models, This is 40, They Came Together, and Admission.

It was really tough to choose just 3 movies from the enormous selection of ones I haven’t seen yet, but in the end the three I chose were Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (2013), How Do You Know (2010) and Dinner for Schmucks (2010).

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Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (2013)

When I watched the first Anchorman movie many years ago, I’m sure I enjoyed it, so I don’t know what’s been stopping me from watching the sequel for all this time. I’ve been sat on my thoughts for this movie for so long now that I’m risking the rest of this post being late but I can’t quite work out my feelings. I think I should have re-watched the original first because one side of me is thinking that the plot was just too silly and that it can’t be classed as a gem. The other side of me knows that the silliness is the whole point and thinks the jokes themselves were hilarious!

At the time of watching my critic head was giving it a 3.5/5 but then the final showdown in the park happened. All those cameos? Absolutely brilliant! And now I’ve made up my mind. Anchorman 2 is definitely a gem!

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How Do You Know (2010)

I totally watched these in the wrong order. Imagine for a second that This Means War (2012) is one of your favourite romcoms, featuring a love triangle between Reese Witherspoon and 2 other men, and realising another Witherspoon love triangle movie was already in existence? I was so excited! In How Do You Know it’s Paul Rudd and Owen Wilson fighting for her love. A hopeless battle because, let’s face it, we would all pick Paul Rudd but still? It could have been a funny movie at least?

No. Not only was it boring and unfunny (with the exception of a drunk Paul Rudd singing to his lamp) but Owen Wilson plays one of the most unlikeable douche bags I’ve ever witnessed in film. Boo!

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Dinner for Schmucks (2010)

Weirdly, when I started watching Dinner for Schmucks I had a feeling of dejavu, and realised I’d already part-watched this movie, but clearly never finished it. That should have been the warning signal but no, I continued. And then it took me 2 days to finish it. I think I stopped at the same point as last time. The problem with this movie isn’t the actors or the characters. In fact, I could watch Paul Rudd and Steve Carrell have a blossoming friendship all day long, but they themselves were 100 times better than the plot and the script.

Final Thoughts

I think that the fact my other 2 picks downright sucked is spoiling what should be clear – I DID find a gem this month. Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues is just as funny as the original, although it’s been too long for me to compare the storyline of the two. Paul Rudd seems to be another actor of whom I’ve already seen their best movies. What’s your favourite Paul Rudd movie, maybe there’s something huge that I’ve missed? Either way, tomorrow brings a new month, and July is going to be Nicole Kidman’s time to shine!

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!