Saturday, July 23, 2016

BBQ Time.

Last Tuesday and Friday, I attended two BBQs (the second was immediately after the Sports Day).  Thought I'd post the foodporn from the two events!

I erroneously thought those two pieces of butter at the bottom of the plate were cheese, haha. Oops! The beef in this burger was insane, Five Guys, who? Hidden under all the vegetables is also some tomato/salsa-type dip, which really gave the vegetables an extra kick.


The filling in this burger was chicken, and the pieces had been pre-sliced, so they fit into the gap easier. The salad was very healthy, but I would have liked to have seen more in the way of sauces to give it a bit of flavour.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Film review: WHEN MARNIE WAS THERE (Hiromasa Yonebayashi, 2014)

Remember when I complained about how due to the restricted choice of films screened at Cineworld cinemas, despite watching 42 films on the Unlimited card last year, I saw a meagre 2 foreign films? Well, I’ve already seen half that number of foreign movies on my Odeon Limitless card, at Panton Street Odeon, where I saw When Marnie Was There.


Ever since she was young, 12-year-old Anna Sasaki has been an outsider. She doesn’t fit in with the children in her year at school, feels disconnected from her foster parents and her social awkwardness is compounded by a deleterious breathing problem, which rears its head when she feels upset or stressed.

Deciding the key to Anna’s breathing attacks, and hence, her timidity, is clean air, her foster mother Yoriko (whom Anna refers to as ‘Auntie’) sends her to spend the summer with Yoriko’s relatives, in a coastal town. A few days after arrival, Anna spots a blonde girl in the window of a seemingly deserted mansion across the shore. The enigmatic girl introduces herself as Marnie, and a bond is immediately formed between the two girls.

Based on British author Joan G. Robinson’s novel of the same title, writers Masashi Andō, Keiko Niwa and Hiromasa Yonebayashi altered the location in the original story from Norfolk to the Japanese town Hokkaido. Graciously, nothing has been lost in translation. The story is simple, but told cleanly and elegantly, and the themes of bereavement and isolation, tackled with immense sensitivity.

As she embarks on her personal journey, audience members will recognise elements of themselves in the protagonist Anna, who is crippled with self-doubt, feeling she had never been loved due to her parents and grandparents having died when she was a baby. But behind those fragile Anime eyes, still waters run deep. She’s surprisingly intense for her age. The question of whether or not Marnie truly exists, or is just a figment of Anna’s imagination is soon broached. But you get so lost in the budding friendship between the two girls that it is only of secondary importance.

From the outside, Marnie seems to have an enviable life, living in a huge house with extravagant parties thrown by her parents. But inwardly, the two girls are just as alone and unhappy as each other. It is because of this similarity that Anna lets down her walls around Marnie, and we come to learn why it is that she feels so badly about herself. It is sad that a 12-year-old could feel so bad about themselves, but this just makes her blossoming friendship with Marnie ever the more rewarding. Throughout When Marnie Was There, the two characters embrace quite a few times, and it is refreshing that a film can capture the innocence behind such a sweet act.

As with all Studio Ghibli films, the film is exquisitely rendered. One shot, which taps into audience’s doubt of whether Marnie is real or of Anna is Fight Clubing us, is cleverly done without being so over-stylistic as to detract from the story. Unlike recent Disney and Pixar movies, which, for better or for worse, always feature a message, When Marnie Was There concerns itself with straightforward, unpretentious storytelling. The film is entirely about Anna, Marnie and their connection, and if anything about their relationship spoke to me, it was in an organic way, rather than feeling corny or heavy-handed. And finally, although it is by all intents and purposes a harmless U-rated film, it is not just the title that evokes memories of Hitchcock: there is a distinctly suspenseful undertone running throughout.

When Marnie Was There doesn’t reach the imaginative, pulse-racing highs of Spirited Away or the heart-shattering pathos of Grave of the Fireflies, but it is a delightful experience all the same, one which doesn't allow itself to get bogged down in the sadness to celebrate some of the richnesses of life: friendship, family and the power of memories. The hand-drawn animation is beautiful; I lost count of the number of beautiful visuals in it. At the film’s big reveal, I sobbed with abandon. Crying can be cathartic sometimes!

When Marnie Was There is said to be Studio Ghibli’s final film, although whether this is true proves to be seen. I sincerely hope that’s not the case: no-one tells delivers moving story like Studio Ghibli.


Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Suicide Squad gets rated 15 by the BBFC!!!

Although I'm not a comic book aficionado, I've really enjoyed most of the cinematic adaptations of comic books, whether the plot has centred around superheros (Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy) or something darker (the Korean OldBoy. Not so much the Hollywood remake).

When I heard Suicide Squad was getting the movie treatment, I was excited for several reasons. Firstly, the premise: conventional 'baddies' being sent on a thankless mission that will probably result in death. Due to me being such a nice, well-adjusted person (😂), I often side with the bad guys in movies (case in point: Michael Madsen's sadistic lunatic in Reservoir Dogs and a certain blonde lady in Gone Girl who I never talk about are two of my favourite film characters). So the fact that Suicide Squad was revelling in the characters' villain status meant this was the perfect film for me!

Secondly, the devil may care, vigilante feel of the trailer made the film look bloody awesome. And finally, the casting of Margot Robbie, another blonde lady who I never talk about, (Naomi Lapaglia in Wolf of Wall Street is my pick for sexiest femme in a film, but that's a discussion for another day), as Harley Quinn!!!

However, trepidation crept in when I heard it got rated PG-13 by the MPAA. The whole premise of the movie is that these are villains using their villainous skills to save the world, and in doing so employing all manner of unorthodox methods (and by unorthodox I mean shady) and I struggled to see DC Comics' full adult vision with such a candyfloss, albeit, lucrative rating.

Furthermore, as someone who is all too familiar with having countless 12A films almost ruined for me due to boisterous kids in the crowd (watching Ghostbusters on Saturday a shining example of this, some of the eight year olds cheered every time they saw a ghost! Given that the film is called 'Ghostbusters', I don't think I need to highlight that it occurred. A lot.), I was not looking forward to sharing my viewing experience of Suicide Squad with kids. And having it bastardised by them.

Thankfully, I won't need to!!!! The BBFC have slapped a 15 certificate on Suicide Squad, and a 15 over here means only 15 year olds and above will be let in. If some baby-faced 13 year old tries it, they'll be ID'd, and promptly shown the door.

The 15 certificate was given for 'sustained threat, moderate violence'. Compare that to Deadpool, another 15-rated comic book adaptation released this year's BBFC short insight: 'strong language, strong bloody violence, strong sex references', and it's safe to say that Suicide Squad will sit at the lower end of a 15, particularly given that in the majority of cases, PG-13 aligns to a 12A over here.

But a 15 is a 15 is a 15, and it means I get to watch a talented ensemble cast (and Cara Delevingne. #IWentThere) kicking ass all over the place, without snot-nosed kids contaminating the audience!

Suicide Squad is released in the UK on August 5th.


(The level of nerdy will now escalate, you have been warned!)


For the film trivia collectors, of which, I am of course one (heck, it's the only round in Trivial Pursuit where I ever get any points!!), Suicide Squad being awarded a 15 by the BBFC and a PG-13 in the States might be the most high-profile case of the two film certification boards mismatching.

Whilst, as mentioned previously, most PG-13s get their equivalent here, the 12A, differences in opinion aren't uncommon. A few recent movies that got PG-13 in the States and a 15 here include the Blake Lively shark movie The Shallows, as well as Nerve, and Mustang.

In fact, most upper-end PG-13 rated horror movies receive 15 here, mainly due the the threat being judged to be too intense for a 12A-rated horror movie. It's interesting that 'sustained threat' was the defining factor for Suicide Squad's 15 rating.

Up until now, The Sixth Sense is probably the most 'famous' film I can think of that got 15 here and PG-13 in the States. But, as I said, horror movies getting different ratings in Britain and America are not that unusual.

I'm calling it: Suicide Squad is the most high-profile case of a disparity in ratings between the MPAA and the BBFC. But I love it. Not just because it means I avoid my biggest fear (whiny pests), but because it shows the BBFC are capable of independent thought, and don't just mirror their American counterparts robotically.

Finally, in Suicide Squad, the Joker features. Heath Ledger portrayed this character in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight, with disturbing menace, so much so that he posthumously won a well-deserved Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

He was so good, so convincingly scary, that it caused The Dark Knight to become the BBFC's most complained about film of all time: 364 expressions of dissatisfaction were filed, mainly from parents complaining about how frightened their kids had been by The Joker.

Although I never wrote in, this is a phenomena I saw firsthand: my entire family (me, my mum, my dad and my brother who was ten at the time) watched it at a Butlins cinema. During three scenes: the pencil scene, when Ledger held Maggie Gyllenhaal hostage, and Aaron Eckhart's burnt face, my brother was so afraid he hid his face in my arm to avert his gaze.

(This is now super-ironic because these days, I force my 18-year-old brother to watch films that I'm too chicken to alone with me, such as the Hollywood re-make of OldBoy. Although let's be real, the scariest thing about the remake was Sharlto Copley's acting. #IWentThereAgain.)

In Suicide Squad, the Joker will be portrayed by Jared Leto, who, like Ledger, has won an Academy Award for BSA (I thought Jonah Hill should have won that year, but, of course I'd say that as he played my Spirit Animal). From the trailer, his green hair, white face and bared decaying teeth indicate that he is no less sinister than Ledger's portrayal of the same character.

Given how much headache The Dark Knight caused the BBFC, I wonder if this played on their mind when they were eenie meenie minie mo'ing over that 12A vs 15 decision.

Hit Me with Your Best Shot: ZOOTOPIA

I've been a long-time reader and admirer of Nathaniel's Hit Me With Your Best Shot series over at every film fan's Bible, The Film Experience, devouring all the entries from afar. The premise is simple: each week, a set movie is decided, and film bloggers present their favourite shot in the film, with their justification.

I thought I'd make like the protagonist Judy Hopps from this week's target, Zootopia, and take a step out of my comfort zone. Rather than just reading the articles, I thought I'd contribute with my entry, about my favourite scenes in Byron Howard, Rich Moore and Jared Bush's fabulous Disney cartoon, which remains, at my time of writing, my favourite 2016 cinematic release.

Because I have a lot of feels about this masterwork, I'll list not one, but five scenes, in descending order, just so I get to ramble on about Zootopia for longer. ❤️

SPOILERS FOLLOW, so don't read if you haven't seen Zootopia yet!!

Five: pirate DVDs

The pirate DVD scene tickled me for many reasons, mainly because I love allusions to other movies, trivia and Easter eggs, and this scene contained them aplenty. The bootleg DVDs that the shady Duke Weaselton is trying to flog are all plays on Disney movies, past and present: Pig Hero 6 (Big Hero 6), Wrangled (Tangled), Wreck-It Rhino (Wreck-It Ralph), and three upcoming movies: Mewana (Moana), Giraffic (Gigantic) and Floatzen 2 (Frozen 2).

Personally, I could not get enough of the Frozen allusions in Zootopia, and howled when cynical Chief Bogo at the ZPD tells Judy to "let it go". The knowing film and pop culture references littered throughout Zootopia really were a welcome treat!

In fact, even Duke Weaselton's name is a play on a  character name from a previous Disney movie: the Duke of Weselton in Frozen. In a savvy bout of voice-casting, Alan Tudyk does the voice of both characters.

Four: now you're just milking it
Although Zootopia is Disney, and with Disney, I generally know to expect a reassuring outcome, I must admit they had me fooled briefly in this scene. The way Nick's fangs were bared and the malevolence in his green eyes, not to mention the apparent terror in Judy's eyes, made me think for a second he had genuinely turned wild and really was going to eat her.

But, fortunately, in a nod to the first scene of the film, where Judy as a child had put on a play extolling her well-intentioned but naive belief that any animal could be anything they wanted, the fox and the bunny were just acting. Our hero remained intact.

Three: Gideon's Redemption

This scene played well because of the resolution it offered something that had occurred at the start: in one of the film's few distressing scenes, child!Judy had been scratched by a school ground bully, a fox by the name of Gideon Grey. The way Gideon was drawn, clothed and voiced gave the impression he was an anthropomorphic version of the 'hillbilly' trope. Judy had felt the brunt of his claws because she had stepped in when her helpless friends had their tickets stolen by him. Gideon, having earlier been embarrassed publicly by Judy at the school play, obviously felt bad blood towards her, and decided to teach her a lesson.

In the scratching scene, the actual scratch was masked, but, as with another Disney movie Tangled, when the witch stabs Flynn below the screen, sometimes it's what you don't see that is even more haunting. Here, you just saw Gideon pounce at Judy, him swiping at something, and then two savage scratch marks. Surprisingly intense for Disney.

Fast forward 15 years, and Gideon has learnt the error of his ways. He's doing well for himself, as one of the top pastry chefs in the tri-burrows and even partners up with Judy's parents. He seeks out his one-time prey, explaining that he had 'a lot of self doubt, that manifested itself in unchecked rage and aggression', offering personally baked goodness as a peace offering.

I like this scene a lot, for two reasons. Firstly, it gives Judy some closure for a fairly traumatic experience that occurred at the start of the film. I felt better knowing she had received a genuine apology. And secondly, Gideon's seemingly simple ramblings about 'night howlers' offer our heroine, when she seems to be at pit bottom, a revelation that reignites her sleuth senses, just when she was all ready to give up on her dream of being a police officer. This story arc both propels the plot along, and accentuates the film's overarching message: that you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, and anyone, no matter what shape or size, can achieve anything.

Two: Don't Know When to Quit

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The aforementioned scratching scene did offer one ray of light: despite Judy getting wounded, she achieved what she came for: recovering her friends' tickets. This illustrates her resourcefulness and never-say-die spirit that may infuriate jaded co-workers, but makes her a tremendous heroine and a character female Disney fans can really look up to, regardless of species.

Judy's determination and grit in the face of man other characters who instantly judge her to be too small, too cute, too weak to be a police officer, carry her throughout the movie. Along with Kate McKinnon in Ghostbusters, she represents my choice for #MovieCharacterGoalz of 2016.

One: Dumb Bunny
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2016 is the year of the Odd Couples solving mysteries. In The Nice Guys, Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe must put personality differences aside to investigate a missing actress. In Central Intelligence, big Dwayne Johnson and little Kevin Hart have to retrieve a USB stick. In Grimsby, sloppy Sacha Baron Cohen and slick Mark Strong have to team up to save the world. I could go on (I mean, Kevin Hart's been in two odd couple movies this year alone).

In each of these cases, I have enjoyed the chemistry in the duos, and the way the characters play off each other; how they go from hating to loving each other. But this dynamic works the best between Judy and Nick in Zootopia.

The two get off on a ropey start, when Nick cons Judy into paying for a giant ice lolly which he later repackages and sells to others for profit. Things get worse before they get better, when she, playing the cunning fox at his own game, entraps him into helping her on a case, which she is desperate to crack, to prove her worth as a bonafide cop.

Gradually, over the process of cracking the case, the two build a rapport. Then rapport turns to trust, as Nick confides in Judy about why it is that he's so crusty (the flashback sequence in which this occurs was even more upsetting than the scratching scene; I'm not ashamed to say I cried). But Judy, in all her well-intentioned loquaciousness, dubs predators as 'primitive savages' at a press conference,  in doing so, revealing some subconscious prejudices of her own. Their friendship is shattered as a result.

In this scene above, Judy begs for Nick's forgiveness.  Ginnifer Goodwin, who delivers some exceptional voice-acting in this movie, really shines in this scene, delivering a monologue embedded with regret, sorrow and pathos. Jason Bateman, equally as good, imbues Nick with good-natured cheekiness and playfulness.

I mentioned that Judy was a great role model for girls, and I think the fact that she isn't infallible, and committed this mistake, makes her more appeasing. Because like Judy, humans, too, are flawed. We all make mistakes, some of them colossal. Nick recognises this, and forgives her. But not before a bit of payback: recording her admitting that she 'really is just a dumb bunny'.

The shot above encapsulates everything about Judy and Nick's friendship that made Zootopia such a delightful movie. They bicker, they banter, but they've always got each others' backs. 🐺🐰

Monday, July 18, 2016

Outfit of the Day: Cowboy Chic.

Shirt: Hollister
Shorts: Oasis
Hoodie: GAP

Trainers: Adidas

It's possible I may play with my hair a bit too much. #DatNarcissism

Bonus photo: elegance in motion. Ahem.

I don't think the hottest cowboy of all time, aka Leonardo DiCaprio in The Quick and the Dead, needs to worry about a competitor to his title, haha


Sunday, July 17, 2016

Film review: THE NEON DEMON (Nicolas Winding Refn, 2016)

I gots my Odeon Limitless card!~~~~ Having shelled out £232 for a next-to-useless Cineworld Unlimited card for 2015-2016, I won't be suffering fools gladly in terms of movie cards, so if there are any glitches, I will definitely document them on my blog. I christened my Odeon card with Nicolas Winding Refn's The Neon Demon).

Jesse (Elle Fanning), a wide-eyed, virginal 16-year-old from small-town America, uproots to Los Angeles in the hope of becoming a model. Immediately, heads are turned by her. Ruthless modelling scout Christina Hendricks signs her up straight away, telling Jesse to fib about her age so she can get work. Make-up artist Ruby (Jena Malone) develops a soft spot for Jesse, wanting to take her under her wing. And two competing models, both blonde and gazelle-limbed like Jesse, but lacking her youthful naiveté, Gigi (Bella Heathcote) and Sarah (Abbey Lee Kershaw) smell blood. Literally.

I was anything but a fan of Nicolas Winding Refn's 2011 snorefest, Drive, and alarm bells rang when the title credits evoked the neon lights and electro-soundtrack of said film, particularly as, in a distinctively masturbatory flourish, the director's initials were emblazened across the entire sequence. It was almost like NWR was staking a claim on his ponderous self-indulgence; owning it. And indeed, many of the scenes in The Neon Demon look like extended shoots for some quirky music video. A beautifully shot, meticulously-directed music video, but a music video nonetheless. Chief examples that come to mind are a red-hued scene in which Jesse goes on some kind of ego trip, kissing her reflection repeatedly, as well as the film's unsettling open sequence, when our pretty lead is shot with make-up blood applied convincingly around her neck.

NWR's licentious directing style would detract from a good story at the best of times. But The Neon Demon doesn't even boast that. It is a film that tries to do too much: both a Icarus-type tale of Jesse's vanity getting the better of her, mixed with some casual cannibalism amongst models and a whole flock of unsavoury characters, not least Jesse's motel-owner, a super-pervy Keanu Reeves. In trying to do too much, it doesn't succeed at any of its objectives, other than some cheap shocks. The dialogue between characters is implausible and downright laughable at times, and Jesse's sudden modulation from an innocent sweet girl to a malicious megalomaniac, is contrived, to say the least. You have to completely suspend your belief to get on with The Neon Demon; I lost count of the plot holes I encountered.

Fortunately, the actors aren't quite as immersed in their own egos as Jesse and NWR are. Elle Fanning, who impressed me very early on, in 2010's Somewhere, continues her hot streak here. She really does the best she can with an under-written character and tries to inject some humanity into Jesse. At the start of the film, she's an artless, naive kid who just wants to get some modelling gigs. By the
end, the audience finds her self-awareness at her beauty, and the power it brings her over everyone, insufferable. It is a testament to Fanning's charisma and screen presence that she can convey this personality transition so well.

One element that she is let down by, however, and again, this is an issue with the artificial script rather than her acting performance, is that Jesse repeatedly declares how gorgeous she is, and others echo this sentiment. Whilst Elle Fanning is indisputably a very attractive girl, with big blue eyes and rosebud lips, she isn't better looking than Mad Max's Abbey Lee Kershaw, or Dark Shadow's Bella Heathcote, two model-come-actresses who are truly supermodels in the full sense of the word, and got to where they are through graft and natural beauty unlike Kendull Jenner who got there through nepotism. This greatly underscores any supposed envy they're meant to feel for this bright new upstart. So when Sarah asks Jesse, in a voice full of genuine longing, 'how does it feel to walk into the room and know you're the Sunshine?', when Sarah looks like this (see below), the dialogue just doesn't ring true.

The MVP of The Neon Demon for me, was Jena Malone as Ruby, who's dedication to her role truly cannot be faulted. Unlike competitor models, Ruby doesn't thrive in Jesse's downfall, so when she looks out for her, you believe Ruby's compassion to be legitimate. But under the veneer of Ruby's friendliness, Malone tantalises with a hint of moral ambiguity. There is one scene in The Neon Demon (probably the main contributor to its well-earnt 18 certificate) wherein Ruby carries out an aberrant act, and I can think of countless actresses, less established than Malone, who would have told NWR to get stuffed. It was an aversive scene to watch; it must have been infinitely more difficult to film. But Jena Malone, as she does in all her roles, performs with both professionally and convincingly. I cannot give her enough kudos for that. If she can do wonders with such a shoddy script, just imagine what Malone could do with a semi-decent one.

Similarly, Lee and Heathcote aren't employed as just good-looking clothes-hangers in this film. They, too, have their share of unappetising acting work to do, tasks that you wouldn't ordinarily expect women this beautiful to have to do. The fact that they not only did them, but acted well (a rarity for former models in films; I still have nightmares when I think about Cara Delevingne's acting [if you can call it that] in Paper Towns), indicates to me that these two Venuses have promising film careers ahead.

And because it was so utterly nonsensical, The Neon Demon didn't prove to be quite the enjoyable trash I'd been hoping. The savage imagery was bad enough. But I could have made allowances for that if the film had carried some semblance of a script, which it didn't. But to the movie's credit, I found it a hell of a lot more arresting than Drive, and that was mainly due to the strong work from the film's three blondes, and especially Jena Malone. Give that girl a decent script, stat!!