#52FilmsbyWomen

REVIEW: The Knight Before Christmas (2019)

When medieval English knight Sir Cole (Josh Whitehouse) is magically transported to present day Ohio, he meets high school science teacher Brooke (Vanessa Hudgens) and together they must figure out how he can complete his quest in order to return home.

The Knight Before Christmas is one of those Christmas films that is most definitely not good, but at times it can be weirdly watchable and that’s mostly down to the charm of Vanessa Hudgens.

The Knight Before Christmas is a classic fish out of water tale. Being a medieval knight Cole knows nothing about anything from technology to food and everything in between. This leads to what are supposed to be funny moments – sometimes they are, sometimes they aren’t. After Brooke hits Cole with her car she takes him in as she feels bad and it’s obvious that he’s lost his memory what with him having old fashioned speech patterns and believing he’s a fourteenth century knight and all.

You do have to give Netflix kudos for having a character in The Knight Before Christmas sitting down and watching another one of the Christmas films. I guess it makes sense in terms of costs and the legalities but it’s still kind of funny. I’m pretty sure they namedropped a fictional country that features in another of their Christmas films too. Does this mean that there’s a Netflix Christmas Film Cinematic Universe?

The close relationship between Brooke and her sister Madison (Emmanuelle Chriqui) is nice and they feel like believable siblings without Madison being solely relegated to the supportive family member. Hudgens and Whitehouse don’t have a lot of chemistry but they’re not terrible together. As Cole and Brooke slowly begin to understand and care for one another you can’t help but wish they’d realise how they feel a lot sooner – but then where would be the drama and “suspense”?!

The Knight Before Christmas is cheesy predictable Christmas nonsense. It’s harmless but forgettable but Vanessa Hudgens’s charm and big doe eyes save it from being awful. 2/5.

REVIEW: Arthur Christmas (2011)

When a child is missed on Christmas Eve, Arthur (James McAvoy) the clumsy youngest son of Santa (Jim Broadbent), races against time to deliver her present with the help of elf Bryony (Ashley Jensen) and his grandfather (Bill Nighy), much to the dismay of his older brother Steve (Hugh Laurie) who runs a tight ship at Christmas and isn’t impressed with Arthur putting the whole operation at risk.

Arthur Christmas is a lot of fun and a great adventure. It pokes fun on how Christmas is so commercialised nowadays and it’s almost a military operation to get all the presents and organise everything when the shops are heaving with people. At the North Pole Santa is more of a figure head of Christmas, and instead it’s his son Steve, along with millions of elves, that run the show. The sequences of the elves dropping off presents in dozens of homes in seconds are entertaining and inventive and they contrast nicely with the picture of Santa and his helpers that we generally have. That kind of typical Christmas is what Grandsanta reminisces about, when he used a wooden sleigh and a dozen reindeer to deliver presents.

Arthur loves Christmas. He believes whole heartedly in what his father does, the magic of Christmas and that every child matters. He’s almost naïve in his enthusiastic optimism, especially next to Steve’s stoic pragmaticism, but it’s charming too as he wants everyone’s Christmas to be special.

The dialogue is hilarious, and the writing is so sharp that the family arguments feel real. While Mrs Santa (voiced by Imelda Staunton) doesn’t have as large a role, she’s a soothing presence over tense family dinners and a the most practical out of all her family members. There’s a lot of great sight gags too, many of them courtesy of the countless elves running around the place.

The animation is beautiful and impressive. From how the operations centre at the North Pole is shown off in all it’s glory with all the screens and high-tech gadgetry to then how Arthur, his family and the elves feel so warm and alive. The North Pole is all icy blues but the colourful Christmassy jumpers and clothes that Arthur and his family wears brighten up the place and makes it feel lived in.

Arthur Christmas isn’t just a funny film, it’s also one filled with heart and sentimentality without being too twee. It does such a good job at offering a new and imaginative take on how Santa could possibly deliver presents to every child around the world, while never losing the spirit of Christmas. Arthur Christmas is a proper old-fashioned family film that everyone, no matter their age or whether or not they believe in Santa, can enjoy. 5/5.

REVIEW: Charlie’s Angels (2019)

When systems engineer Elena (Naomi Scott) blows the whistle on her employer misusing a dangerous technology, Charlie’s Angels Sabina (Kristen Stewart) and Jane (Ella Balinska) are called into action to save Elena and to stop the technology from getting into the wrong hands.

It seems that Charlie’s Angels has been predominately slated before it was even released here in the UK and, after seeing it, it definitely doesn’t deserve all the hate. That being said, while Charlie’s Angels is more entertaining than you might’ve heard, it’s not without its problems.

For almost every fast-paced and exciting action sequence, there’s one that is just a little dull. The same can be said for the comedy, some one-liners really work, while others really don’t. But, it’s the cast, who all look like they’re having a lot of fun, that make this film.

Kristen Stewart gets the chance to show off her comedic chops and steals just about every scene she’s in as the sarcastic and motormouth Sabina. Naomi Scott does well as the fish out of water Elena while still almost seamlessly finding a place amongst the super spies, while Ella Balinska gives a star-making turn as the serious Jane. All three of them have their “hero moments” and they are all really satisfying.

The supporting cast are all good too. The title of Bosley is now what all the Angels’ handlers are known as and Djimon Hounsou, Patrick Stewart and Elizabeth Banks all put their own spin on what a mentor-type character should be like. Sam Claflin plays Elena’s power-hungry boss and while he’s no in the film a lot, his scenes when he’s scared for his life are hilarious thanks to the expressions on his face.

The third and final act of Charlie’s Angels is when the film really comes into its own. Once the trio of heroines are more of a cohesive unit and all the motives and bad guys have been revealed, that’s when everything comes together. This is when you truly see what a Charlie’s Angels film with these three characters could be like and it’s so fun and entertaining that you wish the film had found its groove sooner. Seeing Elena, Sabina and Jane be proper action/spy heroines makes me hope that this film somehow gets a sequel because now this trio is a solid team, I want to see them save the world again.

Charlie’s Angels is fun. The humour doesn’t always land but the charm of the three leads pulls it through. The final thing I have to quickly mention is the costuming in Charlie’s Angels as it is brilliant. It’s so nice to see female characters in outfits that are practical but look good and show off each character’s personality. 3/5.

REVIEW: Hot Pursuit (2015)

Uptight and by-the-book cop Cooper (Reese Witherspoon) tries to protect Daniella Riva (Sofia Vergara), the wife of a drug boss, from crooked cops and murderous gunmen as they race across Texas so Riva can testify.

Hot Pursuit is a crime-comedy film which isn’t that funny. Witherspoon plays the uptight and desperate to prove herself cop well, but her character is very one note for the majority of the film, and that one note can become grating after a while. Vergara’s Riva is loud and brash, and watching her and Cooper clash can sometimes be fun, however her shtick does get repetitive rather quickly.

There are the usual tropes of the witness trying to get away, the arguments and then the unlikely duo working together to survive. It’s when Cooper and Riva do reluctantly work together that the film starts to be fun, but there’s too many times where one turns on the other, so they end up at cross-purposes again and it feels like the story and the characters have taken three steps back again.

One thing Hot Pursuit has got going for it is it does get to the main plot and the action pretty quickly but it also has some very cringey and almost wince-inducing moments too as jokes fail to land and everyone just looks very awkward.

Unfortunately, the funniest part of Hot Pursuit is the gag reel that plays during the credits. That gets you laughing out loud, and a few proper belly laughs too, whereas the rest of the film is lucky to get a few chuckles at best.

Hot Pursuit is full of clichés and not very funny, though the sparks of what could be great chemistry between Witherspoon and Vergara manages to make the film a bit more bearable. 2/5.

REVIEW: The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2012)

In 2011 Changez (Riz Ahmed), a young Pakistani man, tells his story to journalist Bobby Lincoln (Liev Schreiber). How as he chased corporate success on Wall Street, he found himself caught up in the conflict and tension in a post-9/11 world.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist is told through flashbacks. In the present Bobby tries to figure out whether or not Changez had anything to do with the kidnapping of an American academic as tensions rise between Pakistani students and police and the CIA are never far away. And in the flashbacks Changez is living the American Dream, he has a lucrative job on Wall Street and he is dating photography artist Erica (Kate Hudson), until that dream starts to crumble after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

The harassment that Changez goes through in New York just because of the colour of his skin is tough to watch and is a harsh reminder that little has changed in the world today. It highlights how people are so quick to judge and make assumptions and how dangerous those assumptions can be – not just for the target of those assumptions, but the people around them too.

Riz Ahmed is brilliant as a young man, struggling to consolidate the different sides of him. He has such a strong presence and nearly every single shot of the film has him in it. You find yourself hanging off his every word as he tries to explain himself and find what makes him happy.

The story of The Reluctant Fundamentalist is all about ambiguity, but the execution can be a little heavy-handed especially in the beginning. Still, The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a gripping drama with a great central performance from Ahmed and supporting turns from Schreiber and Kiefer Sutherland who plays Changez’s Wall Street boss. 4/5.

REVIEW: Someone Great (2019)

When Jenny (Gina Rodriguez) and Nate (LaKeith Stanfield) break up after nine years, a week before she’s set to move across the country for work, she’s determine to enjoy one last NYC adventure with her two best friends Erin (DeWanda Wise) and Blair (Brittany Snow).

Someone Great is like a love letter to the friendship between women. Jenny, Erin and Blair have been best friends for years and the way they interact feels like such a real relationship. They’re at different points in their lives both in terms of work, romance, and responsibilities but they all have fears about growing up and how they might not have reached their goals. Erin is a lesbian and scared of commitment and putting labels on her relationship with Leah (Rebecca Naomi Jones), Blair is in a relationship with a guy who annoys her and Jenny has just got her dream job that she’s worked so hard for but getting the job is the catalyst for the end of her relationship. But no matter what is going on in their lives, they are there for one another to listen, to make each other laugh, and to try and make things better.

Besides the wonderful relationship between the women, the honest portrayal of romantic relationships is great too. Sometimes you grow apart and don’t love the other person, but you don’t hate them either. Other times it can hurt as you still love them, but you know you’ve grown up into a different person to the one you were when you got together. Relationships evolve and they don’t always work forever, and it can be heart-breaking but there can also be someone there to help you through it.

The trio of female leads have great chemistry but the chemistry between Rodriguez and Stanfield really stands out. The way their relationship is told through flashbacks, as Jenny hears songs that reminds her of different times, is great as you can see the ups and downs but it’s bittersweet as you also see how young and happy they were.

Someone Great is funny, sweet and touching as it shows the realities of growing up and growing apart. The soundtrack is fab and every element of it is balanced so well; the humour, the drama, the characters, the relationships – it all comes together in a surprisingly heart-breaking yet heart-warming romantic comedy with a twist. 5/5.

Mid-Year Film Update

I don’t usually do mid-year check ins with my film-related goals (mainly because I don’t have many) but after having a look of my stats on Letterboxd, it was something I fancied doing.

My main film-related goal of 2019 is to continue watching 52 films directed and written by women. I’m happy to say I’m well on track with that. This is in part thanks to my Reel Women movie marathon in May as I watched 12 films directed in women in 24 hours so that helped me catch up as I was lagging behind a bit before then. I’ve seen 30 films directed by women so far this year (you can find a list of them all here) and I’ve watched 32 films written by women (a full list of those are here). My favourite films made by women I’ve seen this year have been Unicorn Store, What They Had and Capernaum. They are three very different films but are all powerful in their own way.

I don’t think I’ve made a dent on my unwatched DVD’s/Blu-Rays at all this year as when I have watched a DVD it’s been of a film I’ve already seen. I actually have more than what I started the year with as I bought an Alfred Hitchcock boxset from a friend a few months ago.

My favourite thing about Letterboxd Pro is the actor and director stats. I thought it’d be cool to keep a record of who were my most watched actors of the first six months of 2019 and then see if and how there’s any changes by the time December rolls around.

My most watched actors of 2019 so far are:

I went on a bit of a Brie Larson binge in February, watching six of her films that I’d never seen before that month! I don’t know if another actor will become my most watched by the end of the year, but I think she’ll definitely be in the top five. Keanu Reeves and Ian McShane were a bit of a surprise, but I rewatched/watched all three of the John Wick films a few months ago so it does make sense. I’ve also started to rewatch and review all the Fast and Furious films (including the two short films I never realised existed) so that’s why some of those actors are here and I think a lot more of them will be there once I’ve finished my rewatch. Whether or not it’ll be a majority Fast and Furious-actors list at the end of the year (like it was with Harry Potter last year) remains to be seen.

My most watched directors of 2019 so far are:

This isn’t so exciting, and they can be put down to the John Wick films, MCU films, and then Cretton directed two films starring Brie Larson. I’ll be interested to see what other directors will end up on my most watched of the year list as there’s still plenty of room. Justin Lin will definitely be there as he directed a fair few Fast and Furious movies.

In the first half of 2019 I have seen 117 different films and have been to the cinema 35 times. A full list of what I’ve seen is here. I haven’t been putting pressure on myself to watch a film every single day, instead only watching things I want to watch and when I feel like it, so I was surprised that I’d still managed to watch so many. I’m going to continue to not put pressure on myself when it comes to watching films. I’ll probably see a good chunk more at the cinema before the year is out – I’m a big fan of seeing between two to four films in the cinema on a Saturday – but I won’t go out of my way to see EVERYTHING.

What’s been your favourite film you’ve seen so far this year? It could be a 2019 release, or an older film you’ve seen for the first time. Some of my favourites I’ve seen this year have been Avengers: Endgame, Instant Family and Short Term 12. Each month I share my Top 5 First Views on Twitter if you ever want to see what new-to-me films I liked the most each month.