Don't be put off by my title: there is nothing sinister here chaps!! Indeed, with my general 'bloggings' I shall attempt to delight and astound you out of the mundaneness of a middle class suburban life, into the magical world of the Sophster!! Mystical...

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

25 years in film: 1994

It's time for your regular trip back into the good old '90s with 25 years in film!

Today, take a journey with me back to 1994, when I took the phrase 'terrible twos' to a whole new dimension. Whilst I was hitting other children and demanding hoola hoops, 1994 saw some iconic films released (spoiler: it was a GREAT year for Jim Carrey)! Without further ado, let's get stuck in...


FORREST GUMP

"I'm sorry I had to fight in the middle of your Black Panther party."
Like a few of the films in this blog feature, I didn't watch Forrest Gump until about 10 years after it was released - but I don't think it's possible to curate a list of top '90s films without mentioning this absolute classic. Besides being one of the most quotable films in history (box of chocolates anyone?) Tom Hanks manages to portray a character of questionable social skills and 'below average IQ' with such warmth and humour that we rooting for him within the first 5 minutes of his leg braces being removed. The clever use of historical context permeates the film with a sense of irony (on Vietnam: "We was always taking long walks, and we was always looking for a guy named "Charlie""). It's one of the first films that wholeheartedly deals with disability, both mental and physical, without flinching and with real heart - not to mention a bangin' soundtrack. #ForrestandJennyForever

"They just aren't 99p any more..."

See the original 1994 trailer, here (first 3 mins 40 seconds). It's a bit epic. 

THE LION KING 

"Asante sana squash banana, wewe nungu mimi hapana!"
From the opening sunrise to the closing roar of Simba atop pride rock, this is an undeniable masterpiece. I think 100% of people reading this will have seen The Lion King at least 10 times so I won't bore you with the details, just my highlights: Hans Zimmer's magical score inflected with African harmonies and rhythms, Scar's sarcastic put downs ("A monkey's uncle") Mufasa's afterlife speech ("REMEMBER WHO YOU ARE") and Rafiki completely trolling Simba ("The past can hurt...").  Throw in some slimy yet satisfying grubs, a warthog hula dance and some sassy hyenas and what's not to love?


Enjoy this original trailer (which, interestingly, sells the film on how the illustrators captured animal characters on screen).

THE SANTA CLAUSE 

"Charlie, stay away from those things. They're reindeer, you don't know where they've been. They all look like they've got key lime disease."
"Oh, c'mon Soph, not ANOTHER Christmas film!!" Is what a cynical person would say. It's not my fault that the film studios in the '90s seemed to be obsessed with outdoing each other in festive frivolity - and I was a child at the time. The Santa Clause (the first one, not any of the sub-standard sequels) was frequently watched in my house, and I have strong memories of 'elves with attitude' (shudder), Santa's monogrammed silk PJs and a storm of CGI reindeer. I mean, it really wouldn't be a bad thing if Father Christmas did turn out to be Tim Allen, would it? Especially as he does bear more that a passing resemblance to my dad...

Separated at birth?
 See the gloriously dated trailer, complete with great hairstyles and suspect humour, right here.


THE MASK

"THAT'S A SPICY MEATBALL!"
One of THREE major Jim Carrey hits of 1994 alone (scroll down for more), I think this is possibly his greatest 'zany yet also quite scary' performance - other contenders are The Grinch and Count Olaf. A character that would be at home as a villain in one of Tim Burton's Batman films, Carrey has a field day being the all shooting, all dancing, maraca shaking anti-hero, who becomes a green skinned menace whenever puts on an enchanted wooden mask he randomly found (I mean, you can't make this stuff up). A 'love or hate' film, I've always been a sucker for Carrey's amazing physical comedy, ad lib and impressive gurning - so it's a thumbs up from me. 

Actual image of me eating a garlic baguette 

See what audiences were in for in full colourful comic book glory, here

ACE VENTURA: PET DETECTIVE

"If I'd been drinking out of the toilet, I might've been killed."
Yes, it's ridiculous. Yes, the script is pretty awful, the plot flimsy. Yes, it's bad taste. But as a kid in the '90s, there was no better prospect than Jim Carrey frolicking around in a Hawaiian shirt, surrounded by tropical animals and spouting toilet humour. He somehow managed to become a real-life cartoon character and - not gonna lie - I loved it.

"What can I say, it pays the bills!" 
 Watch the original trailer (it actually made me laugh a lot more than I remember), here.

That comes to the end of 1994. I may have missed out such classics as Pulp Fiction and The Shawshank Redemption, but I think I've hit on the films resonated with me more...

Expect the joys of 1995 in the next week or so, but in the meantime, we'll play out 1994 with this contemporary mini disco anthem:

Monday, 14 August 2017

Sophie's Film Choice #20: CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS: THE FIRST EPIC MOVIE

It is indeed, epic.

Having heard only great things about this film, I headed to the Hatfield Galleria (of 'Hey Galleria'-sang-to-the-tune-of-Macarena fame) bright and early last Saturday to go and see what all the fuss was about. Fans of the 'graphic novel' series had congregated from far and wide to witness a cinematic event that we were told would make 'LOL' history. At 10AM, all seven audience members sat down to await the greatest super hero movie of the year so far.

What you need to know: Harold and George are best friends and committed to saving the students from a life of drudgery caused by their tyrannous headmaster, Mr. Krupp, by pulling as many pranks as possible on the teachers (an early montage conveniently shows them all). Added to this quest, the two besties spend hours up in George's treehouse, creating their very own comic book series - Captain Underpants. The angle: instead of most super heroes who merely look like they are wearing underwear on top of their clothes, Captain Underpants wears only underwear! And a cape, of course.

When Harold and George are caught red handed on a particularly naughty prank by Mr. Krupps one day, they are told they will have to be put into separate classes. It's basically the end of the world. In a desperate attempt to change their fates, they manage to hypnotise him into becoming their exceedingly silly and enthusiastic fantasy super hero - Captain Underpants - at their will. Hilarity ensues.

HOPE DIES HERE. 
From the very opening sequence of the film, where Harold and George's voices sing along badly to the Dreamworks introduction (boy fishing on a moon), the giggles begin. What follows is a 90 minute treat of silly songs, smart one liners, parodies and pranks galore which seem to have captured audiences of all ages.

Kevin Hart and Thomas Middleditch do an amazing job at voicing George and Harold: even though they clearly aren't children, they inject the perfect amount of drama and cheekiness into the characters to make the pair endearing and genuinely funny. In fact, the two leads have the edge over the laughs throughout. Highlights include: the Saturday song (where you can wear your PJs ALL DAY), the jubilant walking sequences and 'quiet fives' (a wiggly fingers high five for when you have to be extra secret).

The rest of the film, including the refreshingly simple plot, the evil Professor Poopypants (enough said) and the school swot who is scientifically proven to have NO sense of humour, all really act as vehicles for Harold and George to continually delight us with their adorably comic friendship.

Calvin and Kanye: the early years
By keeping the plot line and characters relatively simple and bold, the film is able to explore a whole load of other techniques to make it infectiously chaotic and quirky. The 'home made' feel of some of the sequences replicates the resourceful and unbridled imagination of childhood: at points, the 3D animation is replaced with other medias, like a cute sock puppet sequence and a 'flip-o-rama' which takes us through the climax of the film (apparently too 'gory and expensive' to show in the proper form).

The songs that sound like they are being made up as they go along, the witty asides, and references to other film genres through slo mo and inspired music choices (significantly, without explicitly copying any other films) all add to the offbeat charm of Captain Underpants. It takes me back to the early days of Dreamworks, when Shrek was first released in theatres: well paced, energetic and referential, with a universal wit and just the right amount of silliness.

TRA - LA - LAAA-ving this film. Will appeal to fans of The Muppets, more recent Disney (Moana, Frozen) and, of course, loyal Captain Underpants fans.

Who doesn't love a high waisted brief?

Friday, 11 August 2017

Sophie's Film Choice #19: A MAN CALLED OVE

I was tasked with coming up with a birthday 'date night' for my boyfriend on Wednesday - so, being a sophisticated couple, I chose to head down to our local 'posh-cinema-with-a-bar' to see a Swedish film with subtitles.

(We'll ignore the fact that I'm seeing Captain Underpants at the weekend. But there will be a review.)

Whilst I settled down with my glass of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, I was ready for probably my only Scandi comedy drama of the year.

A Man Called Ove was actually released in late 2015 in Sweden, but didn't make it to the UK until June this year. Based of Fredrik Backman's 2012 book of the same name, the story follows Ove, the ultimate grumpy old man, as he repeatedly attempts to commit suicide - but something more important just keeps coming up.

When we first meet Ove, we know about this much: he's 59, his wife has recently passed away, he's just been fired from his job as an engineer, and he's pretty much had enough of the world. The offbeat and genuinely funny opening montage, in which Ove verbally abuses a lady in a flower shop and goes around setting his neighbourhood to rights, shows him as a fussy, uptight and downright mardy stickler for the rules. However, even at this early stage in the film, we get a sense that there's a lot about Ove we don't know.

The original casting for 'Better Call Saul' 

The real insight begins when he decides to commit suicide (for the first time). Just as he's securing the rope around his neck (literally), he's interrupted - by the damn noisy neighbours. This is the first of a string of repeated suicide attempts throughout the film, which, while they may sound depressing, actually serve two very important purposes:

  1. Each time Ove is 'about to die', he sees elements of his earlier life - his childhood, working life and marriage - flash before his eyes. These extended flashback scenes, which are romanticised and evocative in tone of films like Forrest Gump and Big Fish, uncover a tragic past in which Ove has repeatedly loved and lost. By the time we get halfway through the film, our sympathies are 100% on his side. 
  2. Every one of Ove's suicide attempts gets rudely interrupted at the very last moment with superb comic timing - be it someone illegally driving through his housing estate, children banging on the window, or a pregnant lady just needing a lift. Soon we come to expect these interruptions, already smiling as he secures a noose around his neck. Every time the film gets too close to an overly sentimental moment, we are pulled back at the last minute with a proper funny skit. 


"That is an impressive packed lunch"

The first interruption happens when Parveneh, a Persian immigrant, moves into the neighbourhood with her children and Swedish husband, Patrick. From their first crash landing into the estate, Ove steps in to make sure they are playing by the rules. However, he's soon won over by Parveneh's refreshing frankness, generosity and insistence that he is a good person (and her cute kids help). When I reflected on this film after leaving the cinema, I was reminded of Pixar's Up: the old man who has lost all hope in the world's humanity after losing his loved one is brought back down to earth with new people that need him.

Some of the funniest scenes in the film revolve around his relationship with Parveneh, and the way in which they deliver hard truths to each other. His speech to her in the car during their less than successful driving lesson had the whole audience in fits.

"This suit was more static than I thought..."

A Man Called Ove is masterful at using the light and the shade to reflect the bittersweet nature of real life. Moments of very real distress and sadness are brought into relief through some killer one liners or well timed interruptions, demonstrated beautifully when Ove has a heart attack and, whilst falling to the floor, insists that the ambulances don't drive into the pedestrianised estate.

It's also film that demonstrates how actions speak louder than words. Whilst Ove is unusually quiet and even solemn, he always chooses to do what's right - which is to do everything in his power to help others. As much as he tries to keep to himself, his ultimate good nature and handiness attracts more friends than he ever bargains for.

Most strikingly, the film constantly reminds us of the unpredictability of life, by sitting on a knife edge between life and death. As Ove's late wife Sonja says, "Either we die, or we live". Both, it turns out, are a difficult commitment. A surprisingly heartwarming and uplifting film that I would recommend if you get the chance to see it.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

10 Film 'n' Food combos for a healthy balanced diet

As I was licking un-cooked granola mix from a spoon yesterday, it got me thinking. There must be some way to combine two of my greatest loves - film and food - into one delicious, nutritious package. As I got rid of the taste of honey by munching on some mini cheddars, I found the answer.

I've paired some classic films with the perfect meal to eat whilst enjoying them. Let your favourite flicks occupy ALL of your senses, with this delectable movie menu!

1. Ratatouille and... Tian Provencal 



Ratatouille is one of my favourite Pixar films: I love the romantic Parisian setting, the goofiness of the characters... and, most importantly, the FOOD. It's an obvious choice for a movie and meal combo (if you forget about all the potential rat hairs in the soups etc). You would think that ratatouille would be the obvious food to eat with this film - BUT you would be wrong! Whilst perusing Rachel Khoo's My Little French Kitchen the other week, I discovered that Remy the rat doesn't in fact change the critic's mind through a ratatouille, but instead, through a Tian Provencal (i.e. lots of tasty veggies sliced in a colourful spiral). Give it a go with Rachel's recipe, here! Of course, best enjoyed with a cheeky glass of 'vin'. 

2. Chef and pork Cubanos


John Favreau's Chef makes me want to eat ALL THE FOOD. In fact, it makes me want to open up my own food truck business just so that I can make and eat cheese + meat based snacks all the live long day. Above all though, I found myself craving one tasty item that stars in the film - pork Cubanos (Cuban grilled cheese sandwiches). They are basically the toasties of the gods and your key to eternal happiness. Find a bangin' recipe here (posted by Jon Favreau himself. Obviously).

3. Home Alone and a MASSIVE pizza 














I don't think this really needs explaining. Order yourself a lovely cheese pizza for one and get in the festive spirit. I'm not posting a recipe because the only way forward is to booby trap your house and order takeaway.

4. Chocolat and a Summer Salad 














As should you.

5. Princess and the Frog and Gumbo (followed by Beignets)
















HUSH UP AND LOOK AT THE GUMBO! Mama Odie's words of wisdom ring true. Get into the New Orleans spirit with a viewing of the magical Princess and the Frog accompanied by a comforting Gumbo - with a kick of Tabasco, of course. Remember to mince those mushrooms just right! Recipe(s) here.

And for dessert, keep Mardi Gras going with some sugary Beignets:













6. Hot Fuzz and Cornettos 















Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg's series is called the 'Cornetto trilogy' for a reason - but Hot Fuzz holds them in the highest esteem. Nothing is so urgent that you can't have a cheeky Cornetto first, especially police work. If you want to do things by the book, make sure to grab the blue original kind (strawberry is for Shaun of the Dead and mint choc chip is for The World's End). It goes without saying, but beware of... BRAIN FREEZE.

7. Matilda and pancakes















As if anyone needed an excuse to make a stack of pancakes, this is IT. Best watched as a Saturday brunch film, stick on this irresistibly cute film and get whisking! If you're feeling particularly frisky, maybe even add in some cheeky choc chips or 'bluebs'. You might even find it in your heart to pull out your old primary school recorder to accompany that one Rusted Root song that people actually know whilst you're flipping. Recipe here.

8. Howl's Moving Castle and a Fry Up













And for Sunday... it's got to be Studio Ghibli's Howl's Moving Castle - with lots of eggs and bacon. This film is especially great for a hangover: dreamlike and peaceful in the right parts, with enough humour and action to keep you engaged throughout. You will need those fried goods on hand though: there are multiple mouth watering scenes of eggs and bacon being cooked and devoured - and you don't want animated food envy.


9. Lord of the Rings and PO-TAT-OES











Don't be a fool of a Took. Boil them, mash them, or stick 'em in a stew, I don't care.


10. Pulp Fiction and burgers














Bonus points if you can eat the burger as menacingly as Samuel L Jackson (without dripping burger sauce everywhere). Maybe this even becomes a whole diner style meal - go crazy!

There's my top 10, but if you can think of any other stellar film and food combos, stick your tasty comments below. Bon Appetit!

Friday, 4 August 2017

Sophie's Film Choice #18: DUNKIRK

Get ready for 2 hours of very shallow breathing.

Last night I had the pleasure (or should I say panic) of seeing Christopher Nolan's latest film, Dunkirk, at the Barbican Centre. Incidentally, I would recommend the venue, especially if you are 25 or under (I'm still clinging on to those last few months of being officially 'young'). The sound was delivered in hair raising clarity, which I was told was a pre-requisite of experiencing this film.

I'd heard a little bit about Dunkirk prior to my outing, and despite the lovely Pizza Express salad beforehand, I knew this wouldn't be a normal Thursday night throwaway jaunt.

Heralded by Churchill as a 'miracle of deliverance', Nolan's latest piece (partially) details the evacuation of British soldiers who were cornered on Dunkirk beach by the enemy forces in 1940. In a much simpler plot structure than some of his other work (I'll be the first to admit that I still don't quite know what happened in Inception), the film follows three strings: the land (over one week), the sea (over a day) and the air (over an hour).

The oxygen supply I needed at the beginning of the film 
If you're expecting huge war epic battle scenes, or sentimentalised, tear-jerking slow motion sequences, then don't hold your breath. You'll need to save that breath for the duration of the film anyway.  From the very opening sequence (the land), we're immediately transported into the heart of Dunkirk, urgently fleeing from the prospect of immediate death and surrounded by gunfire. And this sets the tone for the next two hours, accentuated by Hans Zimmer's constantly ticking, rumbling soundtrack.

Whether on land, sea or air, every moment of this film is charged with urgency, doom and the fight for survival. The spitfire pilots isolated in their cabins and trying to protect those down below are running out of fuel by the second; the sea rescuer civilians are completely unarmed and unprepared for the brutality of what they are about to face; the boys stranded on the beach, only teenagers, are constant prey for the enemy.

No 1D reunion any time soon, then
The land sequences, constantly haunted by the threat of bombers overheard, affected me the most. Following a group of young soldiers who look like they should still be in school, we invest in every attempt at returning them home to safety. With every set back and near-death experience (and there are many) my heart creeped just a little higher into my throat. Imagine that scene in Titanic when you think Leo is going to be trapped on the lower deck and drown: but the same tension is in EVERY SCENE.

The sea strand is subtly played and heart-wrenching in a very unexpected way, whilst the air perspective lets us see how the chaos down below interplays, even giving us a glimpse into the future due to the clever time shifts. Only in the final moments of the film, when the soundtrack turns to silence, do you quite realise the sensations it has provoked. You might need a drink afterwards.

"Cabin Fever, AHH" "..." 
Whilst most of us will never even be able to imagine the horror and fear of being trapped on Dunkirk beach, this film is the closest thing I've seen to conveying the persistent threat and panic that would have ruled every minute of your day and night. Nolan manages to capture the essence of a nightmare, when you feel the threat of danger whilst only half remembering that it isn't literally going on around you.

A nuanced and sensitive film, with no gore, gratuitous speeches, CGI or over-acting, Dunkirk is a refreshing and surprising take on the war film genre and I would highly recommend.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

25 years in film: 1993

We're heading back to the 90s once again with your second instalment of '25 years in film', in which I select my most memorable films from each year of my life. Millennials, you are in for a TREAT. Everyone else, feel free to mock me. I'm just doing what makes me happy.

1993 was a stellar year in entertainment. Meatloaf, Mariah Carey, Fresh Prince and Aerosmith were just some of the acts topping the charts - and that's not even mentioning that time Take That became Buddhist monks:

"Dear God, keep Gary Barlow humble..." 
But we're not here to talk about music (unless it's a particularly prominent soundtrack). Let's get cracka-lacking on my most significant films of 1993!

JURASSIC PARK

"Yeah, but, John, if The Pirates of the Caribbean breaks down, the pirates don't eat the tourists."
Jurassic Park marked the dawning of a new breed of action-adventure film, one with sophisticated special effects (you genuinely thought those dinosaurs could be real at one point, admit it), amazing set design, decent acting and humour pitched perfectly to break the tension at the opportune moments (Jeff Goldblum at his finest). Critically, we're not just shown a load of dinosaurs in the first scene - the story builds up real tension, anticipation and danger well before the 'big reveal'. I'm actually a fan of the whole Jurassic Park franchise for this reason. Even though Jurassic World was criticised by a lot of die-hard fans, for me the elements are all still there, i.e. maybe dinosaurs are safe this time? Oh no, they are still chasing and eating people, accompanied by a rousing John Williams soundtrack. I'm entertained.

Actual footage of people in their kitchens after watching Jurassic Park.
This original, amazingly understated teaser trailer is just really cool and clever, too.

COOL RUNNINGS

"Cold? I'm freezing my royal Rastafarian nay-nays off!"
After watching Eddie the Eagle on Netflix the other day (which I would highly recommend), I was reminded this other classic Winter Olympics 1988 underdog story. It's a niche genre, I'll give you that. My family generally prefer winter sports to summer sports (it's a pity sports day in England didn't involve a ski slalem), so what better than a cheesy Disney film based around them? Throw in John Candy in his prime, a bunch of 'zany' Jamaicans and some snobby Scandinavians and you're on to a winner - in VHS form.

"I just can't get you out of my head"
See the original trailer, here.


BENNY AND JOON

"They used to be fat and juicy and now they're twisted. They had their lives stolen. Well, they taste sweet, but really they're just humiliated grapes. I can't say I am a big supporter of the raisin council."
I didn't discover this until I was about 15 and in my 'Johnny Depp fan club' phase (which was unfortunately obliterated after the second in the Pirates of the Caribbean borefest). It's a completely sweet, charming celebration of all things eccentric, with some cheeky little nods to classic films of the past (JD's homage to Buster Keaton is surprisingly non-annoying) whilst encapsulating an off-beat, indie feel of the time. Highlights include an unconventional way to make toasted sandwiches, a staggeringly confident hospital break-in, and the perfect use of 500 Miles by The Proclaimers. A great Sunday afternoon treat.


Get a feel for Benny and Joon with this original trailer (plus you can swoon at a twenty-something Johnny Depp before he got all puffy and weird). 


THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS 

"Attacked by Christmas toys? That's strange, that's the second toy complaint we've had."
Man, the 90s was THE decade for festive films! I think if I had actually watched this as a small child I would never have slept on Christmas eve, for fear of the 'Sandy Claws'. One of the earliest full feature stop motion animations, this film seems to come directly out of Tim Burton's head, the characters dark, comic and full of expression. It's Hammer Horror meets Broadway musical, with extremely sophisticated music and lyrics by Burton's long time collaborator, Danny Elfman. A perfect film to watch in that middling period between Halloween and Christmas. But probably not with kids.


See the perfect horror/festive blend, here

Finally, because who could forget it... 

HOMEWARD BOUND

"Whatever you do, don't lick yourself!"
Ever since my mum got a puppy a couple of years ago, we've all got a bit sentimental about animals. So I don't think I would even DARE watch this film now, it was tear-jerking enough in the first place! Having not watched it for at least 15 years, I can't remember whether Homeward Bound is a genuinely GOOD film (although I suspect not), but it's one of those classic animal movies that sat on everyone's shelf alongside such greats as Fievel, All Dogs Go to Heaven and The Land Before Time. So it had to be recognised. The main thing that sticks with me is when the golden retriever can't get out of the ditch. SOB.

SUCH JOY
See the rootin-tootin trailer, recorded DIRECT FROM VHS, here.

On that beautiful note, put away your lava lamp because we're heading back into the 21st century. Next time, we get to 1994 (when my main priorities in life were buggy tantrums and cold McDonalds chips. Classy). 

Thursday, 27 July 2017

My top 8 Disney Villain songs. Ranked.

It's about time I devoted a post purely to Disney. Let's skip all the cutesy stuff though and head straight over to the dark side. 'Be prepared' for some serious, sinister, sassy singing, dastardly dance moves and reprehensible rhymes as we begin...

The Disney Villain song countdown!

SENSAATIONAL news... 

Whilst villains should be applauded for their unconventional dress sense, sarcastic and scathing humour and downright evilness, one of their main strengths is their unparalleled musical numbers. That said, let's kick off with our first golden nugget:

8. Mine, Mine Mine 

Film: Pocohontas
Evil Villain singer: Governor Ratcliffe 
Best line: "With all you've got in ya boys / Dig up Virginia boys!"



From the camp assistant with his 'Hey Nonny Nonny' backing vocals, to the 'Diggity Digg' refrain of the pick axers (not be confused with 'No Diggity') to the mid-song harpsichord breakdown, this number showcases Governor Ratcliffe's extravagance and greed in glorious Renaissance splendour. He's evil and he loves shiny things (we're about 50% the same, then). It's even rounded off with a dramatic duet between John Smith ('This beauty untold') and Ratcliffe ('it all can be SOLD!'), making it all the more theatrical! This tune is built for the stage.

7. Hellfire

Film: Hunchback of Notre Dame 
Evil Villain singer: Judge Frollo 
Best line: "She will be mine or SHE. WILL. BUUURRRRRNNN!"



Did someone just turn the heat up over here? Jeez, I'm breaking out in a sweat! This is probably the most evil Disney villain song ever written. 100% dark, no comic respite, naked flames, sin, adultery, ominous, faceless monks chanting about death. Shadows everywhere. Frollo has serious issues and it's powerful to watch (even more powerful than the wind in his face during the climactic moments)! All I can say is, get the hell out of there Esmerelda...

6. Friends on the Other Side 

Film: The Princess and the Frog
Evil Villain singer: The Shadow Man
Best line: "Sit down at my table, put your mind at ease / If you relax it will enable me to do anything I please"


We're taking things to a much jazzier place now with the Shadow Man and his all singing voodoo mask chorus. The bandiest legged of all the villains, Shadow Man is the master of optical illusions, tricks and killer dance moves (those splits though)! Together with his evil Peter Pan shadow, awesome neon skull face paint and jaunty top hat, he's a style icon as well as a terrible human being. It's dark, it's trippy, it's seedy and it uses an electric organ: yes, this song screams DO NOT TRUST THIS MAN!

5. Prince Ali (Reprise)

Film: Aladdin
Evil Villain Singer: Jafar
Best line: "Prince Ali turns out to be merely Alaaadin" (it's all in the delivery) 



As far as reprises go, this is up there with the best. Just when you think Jafar won't get a chance to stretch his vocal chords, he saunters in with this absolute banger. Gleeful, bitter and positively serpentine, he takes Aladdin DOWN in this short, sweet number. He even SLAPS him at one point. Ouch. Also, this is the first in our countdown to end with a classic evil cackle (don't worry, it won't be the last).


4. Mother Knows Best

Film: Tangled
Evil Villain singer: Mother Gothel
Best line: "Gullible, naive, positively grubby, Ditzy and a bit, well, hmm, vague / Plus, I believe gettin' kinda chubby, I'm just saying 'cause I love you"



This number is perfection. The cutesy, buoyant tone mixed with scathing passive aggressive lyrics makes this one of the sharpest and cleverest Disney songs ever. Donna Murphy's attention to detail in the voice acting is superb (you don't have to watch the scene to revel in its sickly, infuriating deliciousness). Mother Gothel is scenery chewing, evil stepmother goals and she LOVES it.

3. Gaston

Film: Beauty and the Beast
Evil Villain Singer: Gaston
Best Line: "Now that I'm grown I eat five dozen eggs, so I'm roughly the size of a BARRGE!"  



To be honest, every tune in Beauty and the Beast is an absolute classic, and 'Gaston' is no different. At this point in the film, we haven't quite seen the full extent of Gaston's devilish personality (that's to be revealed in the 'Gaston reprise', also very noteworthy), so the cheery waltz is a perfect accompaniment to his ridiculous arrogance. It's kind of like an even more hammy 'Oompa Pa' with better lyrics. One thing is for sure: we'll never run out of examples of how amazing Gaston is (particularly when it comes to expectorating)!

2. Poor Unfortunate Souls 

Film: The Little Mermaid
Evil Villain Singer: Ursula
Best line: "Don't underestimate the importance of... BODY LANGUAGE!"



Sass personified (or should I say seawitchified). Ursula's cabaret style performance, complete with full stage make-up and wobbling bosom will be burned onto our retinas for ever more. She signalled in the beginning of the new, comically dark Disney villain that was later followed by icons like Scar and Hades: dark, twisted but really fun to watch. 'Poor Unfortunate Souls' cements Ursula as the boss of the sea. I mean, she's really an entrepreneur in soul stealing.

1. Be Prepared 

Film: The Lion King
Evil Villain Singer: Scar
Best line: "I know that your powers of retention are as wet as a warthog's backside"



I think this song is in my head about 30% of the time. The catchy rhythm and sultry lyrics are the perfect blend for a killer villain song, and leave you with chills that not even Mufasa could create (and we're talking "Mufasa Mufasa MUFASA!"). Scar skulks and struts his way through his evil jam like a true diva, taking down hyenas as he goes. His evil marching army, smoke canons and elevating rock formation give him centre stage in this magnificent number. And, to top it all off, we get the rare EVIL CACKLE to boot!

That's my top eight - are there any you think I've missed? (Disclaimer: I limited the list to songs sung BY villains, so Cruella De Vil doesn't count. I didn't forget it. Just for the record). Also, which of these do you think is the best cackle? (Don't be getting nightmares, now):

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Sophie's Film Choice #17: MY COUSIN RACHEL

Before I begin: Rachel is not actually my cousin (her name is Charlotte). I wouldn't feel the need to clarify that, but it was a source of confusion earlier today.

Also, there's the fact that Rachel is the character, being played by an actress called Rachel. You know what, I think the whole thing is set up to confuse us even more that the film already does... #conspiracytheory

Now that's cleared up - in the words of Ethel Merman - let's GO ON WITH THE SHOW!

I don't know if I mentioned this but I'm taking a little break from work at the moment. This makes way for the sweet, sweet bliss of... afternoon trips to the cinema!! It's an amazing glimpse at retired life.

My new crew

So, what treat were the mature audience and I in for? An intriguing one, I'll say. Having never read Daphne Du Maurier's original novel, I wasn't quite sure what to expect when I sat down for a two hour mid-afternoon treat: all I did know was that it all boils down to the opening (and closing) phrase of the film: 'Did she? Didn't she? Who's to blame?'

The set-up: Philip, a young, slightly hapless English farm-owning gentleman (you know the type, think Poldark) is brought up by his older cousin, Ambrose - not the custard. Life is great. But THEN Ambrose gets very ill and is sent away to Italy to recover in the sun (I wish that happened whenever I got ill). There, he meets ANOTHER cousin - Rachel - and falls in love (which was OK in those days). But then one thing leads to another and he ends up dying. Rachel suddenly seems VERY suspicious, and Philip seems pretty bent on killing her when she comes over to England to visit. However, as with all murderous feelings, they eventually turn into love. Complications ensue.

I gathered from an interview with Rachel Weisz on the Kermode and Mayo film review (i.e. Wittertainment) that the character of Rachel was kept particularly elusive throughout the entire film, as the leading lady and the director both decided - separately - whether she was guilty, and didn't tell the other. This decision showed itself throughout the film, keeping me guessing from beginning to end.

Classic British Summer outfit 

Rachel doesn't even appear for the first 20 minutes or so of the film, building an enormous sense of suspense before we've even seen her on screen. When she does decide to turn up, she's in constant control of her emotions: even her more 'vulnerable' moments seem planned and measured for dramatic effect.

This is counter-acted with the young, passionate and naive Philip. An orphan, he's never known real female company - and it SHOWS. Described as a 'puppy' by Rachel herself, he's completely over-ruled by his emotions, giving into complete infatuation - bordering on obsession - within literally 24 hours.

He who smelt it, dealt it 

The relationship between these two opposites is richly and subtly portrayed, both parties appearing on the cusp between happiness and madness. It's a creepy, almost mother-son relationship which is stomach-churning and strangely addictive to watch. My only criticism would be that the character of Philip does come across as a bit dim: his rash decisions persistently come back to bite him, even though all of his old friends are trying to help him out. I mean, I would lose patience after a couple of weeks.

Visually, the film is beautifully shot, with noticeable attention to detail - the warm, rich colours of Italy contrast with the gothic darkness of the English country house; windows, arches and trees give natural frames to the most intimate scenes, making us feel like spies looking for clues. Pastoral beauty and rugged landscapes meet the dark decadence of the inner-house scenes. A sharp, close focus on Rachel's face gives the film the edge of a thriller. There's even one scene where we are looking up at the window and you half expect a 'Woman In Black' style hand to slam on the glass.

 'Caaaann You Feel the Love Tonight' 

Gothic tropes colour the whole film: Rachel's lace mourning veil which gives her an air of other-worldly mystery, the many candle-lit scenes where Rachel is the one controlling the lighting and extinguishing of the candles, and the brilliant, Hitchcock-style strings which add an extra depth of foreboding to the dramatic climaxes. The tea stirring couldn't fail to remind me of Get Out (which my dad tells me stole it from something else, please comment if you know what he's talking about)!

All in all, a very enjoyable, unnerving and atmospheric mystery (which may make you avoid cliffs for a while).

Thursday, 20 July 2017

7 stages to the Ultimate Old School Sleepover

It seems I'm on a nostalgia trip this week (as you'll tell from Tuesday's post). Today, I want to put a new suggestion on the table... can we please bring back 'turn of the (21st) century' sleepovers? If you think this is a bizarre request and would much rather go out drinking at pubs like a normal adult, let me convince you otherwise. With a LISTICLE!!

7 beautiful stages to the Ultimate Old School Sleepover 





1. The rental 


Who doesn't have excitement-fuelled memories of being driven to Blockbuster by your friend's dad, browsing the VHS-filled aisles and carefully selecting the films that would set the tone for your evening? The Blockbuster card was a staple in every parent's wallet, just waiting to be brandished whenever the moment came. You just had to follow the simple rules: rewind and post back within 48 hours: no-one needs a Blockbuster fine of shame.


Good news! There are still 12 Blockbuster stores open. You just have to... move to Alaska. Or I guess you could just stream something if you're not THAT committed. 

2. The necessity of pizza 


You can't have a sleepover without pizza. Really, it's the only food choice for said occasion. You don't need cutlery, you can share it with a flexible amount of people, and... well it's pizza. The choices? Domino's (obviously, but only if you can get a deal), Papa John's (minus that DIABOLICAL garlic dip), or, a fun alternative... make your own, yo! This was a particular treat at one of my friend's houses, and doubles up as a team building activity. Share those ingredients, cook together, eat together, STAY TOGETHER. 


3. Film snacks 


Keeping on the theme of food, let's not forget the unsung heroes: the snacks. Microwave popcorn that gives you a kitchen firework display and inevitably burns the roof of your mouth, Haribo Starmix (kids and grown ups love it so) AND... ice cream. So much ice cream. Ben and Jerry's Phish Food if you're lucky. Tesco's own chocolate ripple if you're on a budget. But remember to save enough for the elusive 'midnight snack.' 

4. Home cinema time!! 


The snacks are in and it's time to get down to business. Get your comfies on (PJs completely necessary), grab a blanket/cushion, fill every available bowl with snacks, make sure the 2 litre bottle of Pepsi (that came free with the pizza) is at arms length, and turn the lights down low. The programme? 

7:00pm: One mild-moderately scary film (12A): think The Village, The Others, Sixth Sense 
9:30pm: Toilet / snack refill break / de-scare 
9:45pm: Chick flick/comedy (also 12A): A Cinderella Story, She's the Man, Bring it On, etc. 

Because who wants to go to sleep mildly scared? NOT ME.

5. Tween beauty regime 


This can take place before or in between the two feature films of the evening. Options: face masks (the ones in the sachets with the photos of women with fruit on their eyes), nail painting (multiple colours preferable) or perhaps something hair related. But NO eye make up. That can wait until you're at least 15, thank you very much. 


6. Late night chats


The films are over, the lights are out, but the night is still young. Time for some post-film discussion, starting with comparing thoughts on the leading men, planning sequels and the 'alphabet game' (name a film beginning with A, B, C etc). If there is stationery available, get on the consequences game. Or it might even be time to start planning the NEXT sleepover. Whatever happens, NO SNOOZING til 1pm. 


7. The next morning 


The sleepover isn't over til the last person leaves. Therefore, breakfast is not to be underrated. One parent might provide delicious bacon sandwiches. Another might let you keep your sugar high topped up with pancakes, chocolate sauce, and... if you can stomach it... MORE ice cream. The possibilities are endless (but don't settle for anything healthy). The aim is to feel terrible but triumphant. 


The seven stages are complete and I think I've done enough to convince you. Let's all move to Alaska and get this PARTY STARTED! 


Tuesday, 18 July 2017

25 years in film: the beginning (1992)

Come with me on a journey into the past...

The 90s, to be precise.

To commemorate my quarter life (should I be so lucky as to live to 100), I've taken a look back at the films that have made a lasting impression on me over the last 25 years. To clarify: in NO WAY are these the best films in the world - although some are extremely decent - but they each have a character, a story (and pretty much all the other elements that make them films. Duh). I was going to make this one post, but there were TOO MANY absolute classics, so we'll do bite-sized, yearly chunks. Just to prepare you for the long haul.

So, without further ado, get into your flowery leggings, grab a 10p Freddo and kick back in your inflatable sofa... we're going to 1992!


A bit about me at this time:

Age: 0-12 months
Hobbies: crying, being sick, crying some more

Obviously I don't remember any new releases from this year, but looking back on it there were some gems which have been a big part of my life since, starting with...


ALADDIN 

"Or can I call you 'laddie?'"
The third film in what we (at least in my family) call the Disney Renaissance, Aladdin is probably in my top 5 favourite Disney films of all time. It's perfectly paced, the characters are cheeky and flawed (including a CARPET who we actually CARE about), the villain is properly evil and ridiculous in good measure, and we're treated to songs of TOP Menken/Ashman quality. Prince Ali just has the best lyrics, and acts as the perfect vehicle for Robin Williams to shine as the multiple-character-changing Genie. A bonafide weekend watch whatever the occasion. 


I also feel that I relate to Abu on a personal level. I would not have given up that bread roll. 

It goes without saying that we all love Aladdin, so I'll let this cheesy 90s trailer say the rest.

HOME ALONE 2: LOST IN NEW YORK

"Do bundle up, it's... awfully cold outside" 
Ok, so we can probably agree that this isn't necessarily a GOOD film. But don't worry, I'm not going to include any non-Macaulay Culkin sequels down the line. For anyone who hasn't seen Home Alone 2 - it's essentially a re-hash of the first film - but in New York. The creepy broom man is replaced with a creepy pigeon lady, etc - it's all very by-the-book, festive family fun. However, we simply must take into account one key element: THIS film has Tim Curry in it. Being fabulous.



SOLD. (Don't believe me? Here's another fantastic original trailer). 

WAYNE'S WORLD  

"I don't even own a gun. Let alone many guns that could necessitate an entire rack." 
This film is an absolute classic in my family and I'll always associate it with growing up - the jokes have stayed with me from primary school (I think I must have first seen it when I was about 9) and will continue to for years to come. It's ENDLESSLY quotable, spoof-ridden, high voltage joy and is the best way to enjoy Bohemian Rhapsody. Any film that has Alice Cooper describing the historic origins of Milwaukee is on to something great. We are not worthy.


This trailer makes me so happy inside.

THE MUPPET CHRISTMAS CAROL

"No cheeses for us meeses"
This is quite simply the best Christmas film ever made, and I'm sure not a year has gone by that I haven't watched it during the festive season. Charming, funny, with super catchy songs, this adaption is suprisingly true to the Dickens' original story, even lifting a significant amount of original text for the screenplay (albeit spoken by Gonzo). Although you do need to allow for some dramatic license: it did lead me to think for years that there were two Marley brothers...

Miss Piggy as Mrs Cratchett is genius, as is "Fozziwig" (you can't write this stuff). Also, get the tissues to hand for the homeless bunny and... TINY... TIM. *SOB*. A must-watch, even just to see Michael Caine dance as if he is just discovering his arms.


Get in the unseasonal spirit with this cheeky original trailer.

And purely for the nostalgia...

HONEY, I BLEW UP THE KID

"I just think I'm more responsible than most people" 
Again, definitely better films, but I remember watching this a lot as a kid. Maybe I had a secret wish to become some kind of babyzilla and trample tall buildings? Probably. I was pretty violent. This was a sequel to the - probably superior - Honey, I Shrunk The Kids, where a goofy, hapless Rick Moranis accidentally turns his children flea-sized, leaving them to battle seemingly gigantic insects and slide off leaves. This time, it all goes the other way. Mayhem ensues. 


Disclaimer: I don't recommend this film. The trailer is quite funny though (and you get to see a HUGE baby). 

The nostalgia train stops here for today. Next time we'll delve into the excitement of 1993, but until then I'll leave you with this anthem...



Any glaringly obvious films I've missed from 1992? Do comment below!



Saturday, 10 June 2017

Sophie's Film Choice #16: WONDER WOMAN

To set the scene for this post: I'm currently on an East Midlands train, with a Caffe Nero iced coffee, rinsing the free Wi Fi by streaming Spotify and tapping away on my macbook air. I'm practically the millennial version of J K Rowling.

Now I've got that out of my system: to business. Last night I saw Wonder Woman. And now I want to BE her. So to stop myself from crying inside, I'll just have to write about the film instead.

Having been officially bummed out by most films in the DC universe that I have seen (the Batman franchise mainly), I had heard much happier things about Wonder Woman - including a lovely, candid interview with Gal Gadot on the Kermode and Mayo film review - and took a stab in the dark that this would sufficiently fulfil my 'Friyay' vibe. Me and my lovely work colleague hotfooted down to Leicester Square (from our conveniently placed Covent Garden office), grabbed a cheeky Burger King and took our seats for two and half hours of escapist, super hero fun. 
"Don't. Stop. Me. NOW!"

Having purposely steered away from the trailers (because of course all the best parts are in them, amirite?!) I found Wonder Woman totally refreshing. I've seen a lot of coverage on the feminist strengths/weaknesses of the film, so I'm just going to take it as I found it with some things that left an impression on me: 

Gal Gadot gives such a lovely, powerful yet vulnerable portrayal of Diana (aka Wonder Woman, although no one calls her this yet) that she immediately wins you over. As an origin story, we witness Diana as she is brought up by the Amazons (inc. Claire Underwood with a... Greek? Turkish? accent) to hold the only the highest ideals and become a stunningly fierce warrior. When catapulted into the human world during the First World War by Steve Trevors (Chris Pine), she puts the rest of the characters to shame in her genuine belief that humans are wholly good. Plus her hair in the slo mo scenes is so swishy. 

The culture shocks work in many ways: from a Lord of the Rings/Game of Thrones style opening which reveals the golden and luscious Themyscira, to the grey, polluted scenes of London, to the eeriness of the Western Front, there is ample opportunity for both comedy and reflection. Diana's reactions to early 20th century human customs, including trying on wartime ladies' fashion ('How can a woman possibly fight in this?') are contagiously charming, helped along by Lucy Davis' comically matter-of-fact performance as Steve Trevor's receptionist. When Diana doesn't understand why the men won't risk going over the top into No Man's Land to save innocent lives, the results are uplifting and quite beautiful. 

"The pool did NOT look like that on the Thomson website"

It doesn't go over board on super hero references. There are deliberate nods to Batman to frame the film, as well as a cheeky ribbing of Clark Kent's 'undercover glasses' look in the clothing shop, but the film concentrates on the story at hand. In fact, I would describe it as more of a war film with a super hero protagonist than vice versa. (There is a battle scene towards the end that is very reminiscent of X Men, but we'll forgive that as we are in a WHOLE other universe). 

The chemistry between Diana and Steve definitely works (even if laid on a little thick at times due to some obvious one liners, overly lingering close ups and one perfectly timed snowfall). Both characters are driven by the need to protect others, yet self assured and confident of their own abilities - i.e. actually likeable. People have criticised the relationship as profoundly un-feminist: Diana is too naive or innocent and Steve acts as a teacher figure, but to me this is completely misread. The humour and joy in their chemistry grows from the very difference between this assumption and reality.

Eg: 

Assumption: Diana is from a land of no men. She clearly doesn't know what sex is. 

Reality: She is more well read about reproduction and the 'pleasures of flesh' that probably any man alive. 

Assumption: Diana is a woman and therefore needs protecting. 

Reality: Let's all hide behind her because we will literally die immediately in this war unless she's fighting like a demon.

"Moaning... Myrtle?"
I could go on and on but I'll wrap up with some final thoughts/highlights: 

1) The 'Golden Lasso of Truth' is epic and I want one.
2) Could Chris Pine be the next generation of Leo Di Caprio? Will keep track.
3) Little girls have some great new role models this last year (there were some definite echoes of Disney's Moana in the film's themes).
4) Could have done with a little less CGI / electric guitars. Let's not get into Twilight territory now.
5) If Indiana Jones tells us anything, chuck in a few evil Germans and you're on to a winner. 

All in all, great Friday fun which makes you want to run through the streets in an armoured dress, baring your wrists at things and feeling like a boss. Big thumbs up! 

Til next time gang,
 Super Soph™

PS. Now stopping as it turns out I get travel sick when writing on trains. This is clearly why I don't have a multi-million dollar book series.