A to Z in April 2020

A to Z Blogging Challenge 2020 Masterpost

Another A-Z Challenge successfully completed. This year it was all about watching some of the many DVDs that were sat on my shelves and this challenge got me watching and reviewing twenty of them.

Sign Up Post
A –The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)
B – Boys Don’t Cry (1999)
C – Carlito’s Way (1993)
D – The Dead Pool (1988)
E – The Edukators (2004)
F – Family Plot (1976)
G – Good Bye Lenin! (2003)
H – House of D (2004)
I – Imagine Me & You (2005)
J – Jarhead (2005)
K – K-19: The Widowmaker (2002)
L – Let the Right One In (2008)
M – Monster (2003)
N – National Treasure (2004)
O – Outlander (2008)
P – Playing It Cool (2014)
Q – The Quake (2018)
R – Ray (2004)
S – Sudden Impact (1983)
T – Troy (2004)
U – Unforgiven (1992)
V – Vertigo (1958)
W – West Side Story (1961)
X – XXY (2007)
Y – You Again (2010)
Z – Zookeeper (2011)
Reflections Post

Reflections on the A-Z Challenge 2020 Edition

Another April gone by, and what an interesting April that was!

I’m thankful I was so well organised this year and had over half of my posts already written and scheduled before April began, because the end of March and April itself was tough. Three of my close family died in March (non COVID-19 related but I don’t know if that’s better or worse) and then there was living life under lockdown. It was good to have this challenge to focus on though and have some structure in an ultimately very confusing time.

I’m very pleased I completed the challenge for a number of reasons. It’s my senventh year of taking part in this challenge and I do like how it’s become a “thing” for me and my blog. I’m happy it made me cut down my unwatched film list by twenty. My updated list of films I own but haven’t watched is on Letterboxd and I’m always looking for recommendations. The six films I reviewed that weren’t part of that list were ones I found on Netflix or similar.

The month started on a high with The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford which I gave four stars but it ended on a low with Zookeeper which I do not recommend and gave one star. The films I most enjoyed watching a writing about were The Quake, Imagine Me & You and West Side Story. Though I have to say it was hard to review so many films in such a relatively short space of time – my brain’s not made to work that way.

My stats for April this year weren’t as good as last year but were better than the 2018 edition, so I’ll take that. The most popular A-Z posts were my reviews of Let the Right One In, National Treasure and K-19: The Widowmaker. Previous years A-Z posts also got a lot of hits including the posts I wrote about for Bucky Barnes and Happy Hogan last year, and Hermione Granger and Kingsley Shacklebolt that I wrote for the 2017 edition of the challenge.

Because of the aforementioned personal and wider world issues going on, I visited very few blogs which is a shame. I mostly did a good job at keeping up with replying to comments and I should have hopefully got to everyone by the time this post goes live.

Every year in my reflections post I ponder whether or not I’ll take part in the challenge next year, and this year’s no different! But I think as long as I have an idea well ahead of time that I can write and schedule posts for, then I think I will. I think it’d be nice to at least do this challenge for ten years in a row – only three more to go!

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my A-Z posts this month. This blog will go back to a roughly equal amount of posts and books and films now. I hope all of you who took part had a successful A-Z in April, and sorry I didn’t get to your blog. For more information on the A-Z in April Challenge visit the website.

Z is for Zookeeper (2011)

Kind-hearted zookeeper Griffin (Kevin James) is a much loved by his co-workers and the animals in his care. However, Griffin is unlucky in love so when he reconnects with ex-girlfriend Stephanie (Leslie Bibb), the animals in the zoo decide to break their code of silence in order to help him win her back.

Zookeeper is not good, and it also struggles to figure out what it is. The scenario of animals taking and helping out a zookeeper makes it targeted towards younger audiences. However, the humour is full of inuendo that children won’t understand or find it funny, and the adults who might find it funny, are unlikely to be watching this film in the first place.

The special effects for the animals aren’t terrible, however the choice of voice actors might well be. I’m not saying you expect a certain voice to come from a bear or a giraffe, but a lot of the voice cast didn’t suit the animal or give a good performance. So many of the animals sounded grumpy or were mean. They weren’t exactly friendly and if they’d been human with those attitudes, I doubt Griffin or anyone else would’ve been friends with them.

Kevin James gives a perfectly bland performance as nice guy Griffin. He has no chemistry with Bibb, or Rosario Dawson who plays a vet at the zoo, so one has to wonder how he is cast as a romantic comedy type lead. He is good at falling over and crashing into things though. So, there’s that.

I doubt anyone would consider this a spoiler, or care if it was, but I have to mention what happens during the end credits. All of the animals sing Boston’s “More Than a Feeling” and it’s one of the weirdest things I’ve seen and one of the worst things I’ve heard. Especially when Sylvester Stallone tries to harmonise with Cher. Yep, that is something that happens. No offence to Cher, she’s amazing, Stallone on the other hand, is not.

Zookeeper is unfunny, predictable, and somewhat unsuitable for the kids it’s aimed for. Just don’t waste your time. 1/5.

Y is for You Again (2010)

When Marni (Kristen Bell) realises her brother Will (James Wolk) is about to marry, Joanna (Odette Annable) the girl who bullied her in high school, she sets out to expose his fiancée’s true colours.

There are so many things that do not work in You Again but perhaps the main thing is that there’s more chemistry between Bell and Wolk who are playing siblings, than Wolk and Annable who he’s engaged to. From the opening scenes where you learn how terrible Marni’s high school life was, her brother Will is always there to jump to her defence and while sibling relationships like that are great, as the film goes on the dynamic between them feels far closer than two siblings should be. And as Marni’s vendetta against Joanna grows, it often feels like no one would be good enough for her brother, not just the fact that Joanna bullied her in school. It could well be Kristen Bell’s fault for being adorable and being able to bounce off just about anyone.

There’s some brilliant female talent in You Again but due to a poor script (people who are a part of the same family talk to each other like their just acquaintances a lot of the time) and a generic plot, they don’t really get to show off their comedic talents that well. Jamie Lee Curtis plays Marni and Will’s mother while Sigourney Weaver plays Joanna’s aunt. Turns out that they were friends in high school that drifted apart for some unknown reason, so there are two generations of feuding women here. Betty White is in it too and she has some of the funniest moments, and while Kristen Bell is charming she is not great here.

The central themes of this film are not handled well. The messages that everyone can change, people can deserve second chances, high school shouldn’t define the rest of your life – they’re all great but are bigger and more sensitive themes than this not that funny comedy can handle. The conflict between Weaver and Curtis’s characters was more interesting and neutral. This is because for a long time you don’t know why they fell out, and neither does Jamie Lee Curtis’s character, and when everything comes to ahead you can see both sides and no one was the out and out villain. Unlike the situation between Marni and Joanna where Marni suffered a lot at the hands of Joanna and her friends, and there’s no way anyone who was bullied would want the bully to be a part of their family.

I’m potentially going too deep in what’s supposed to be a fun comedy, and comedies can have serious messages or stories in them, but You Again just doesn’t do enough to make you feel sympathy for Joanna or forgive her.

You Again has a few funny moments, Curtis and Weaver’s characters and history are interesting, but on the whole You Again is just a mindless watch with nothing that memorable about it. 2/5.

X is for XXY (2007)

Trigger warnings for sexual assault.

Fifteen-year-old Alex (Inés Efron) is intersex and is living as a girl, but she and her family begin to wonder if she’s emotionally a boy when another teenager’s sexually advances bring things to a head.

XXY is set in a small coastal town in Uruguay and unfortunately, a lot of people there are closed minded about people who are different. Alex and her family have kept the fact she’s intersex a secret but as everything comes to a head, the cruelty of others is revealed and it is uncomfortable to watch.

XXY is a slow, thoughtful film. Many times the camera lingers on Alex, her body or just her face, as she wanders alone. The coastal setting with the beach and the stormy sea fits the tone of the film as Alex often feels alone as no one can know how she feels, even her parents who want to look out for her. Her father (Ricardo Darín) is especially kind and protective and he puts in a lot of time and research into figuring out how best to support Alex as she tries to decide who she wants to be.

Inés Efron gives a brilliant performance as Alex. Showing the hope and fear she feels, as well as her rebellious nature. The chemistry between her and Martín Piroyansky who plays Alvaro, the son of her mother’s friends who comes to stay, is there but it’s interesting. The dynamics between their two characters are constantly shifting as they get to know one another and make a connection that neither of them was expecting.

XXY is a sincere take on the struggles a young person can face when figuring out who they are, and if they’re OK with that. The haunting score and stark setting makes XXY feel bleak but there are moments of happiness and hope their for Alex and her family too. 3/5.

W is for West Side Story (1961)

When two teenagers from rival gangs fall in love, Tony (Richard Beymer) is from the Jets and Maria (Natalie Wood) is from the Sharks, the tension between their respective friends builds towards tragedy.

West Side Story is one of those classic and much-loved films that I just hadn’t seen before even though I do tend to enjoy musicals. Now I’m happy to say I’ve watched it and enjoyed it. I also discovered that I knew a number of the songs in West Side Story, but never realised they had originated from the musical, for instance; “Somewhere” and “I Feel Pretty”.

West Side Story is a bit slow to start, especially as the opening ten minutes is mostly young men clicking their fingers threateningly and having dance battles. However once the characters and the rivalry between the Jets (Polish Americans) and the Sharks (Puerto Ricans) is set up the movie goes by at a steady pace with great songs and dancing. West Side Story also offers commentary on racial divides, how unachievable the American Dream is and, with the song “Gee, Officer Krupke”, how the authorities try to blame crime on everyone and everything but themselves.

The dancing really is incredible. All of the cast are extremely talented and there are so many wide shots so you can see just how well everyone moves. There are fun song and dances like “America” led by Rita Moreno as Anita. Moreno is the perfect blend of attitude and sensitivity as Anita and the way she dances and how the camera follows her is a delight to watch.

The set design and lighting add to the drama too as tensions grow between the Jets, led by Tony’s best friend Riff (Russ Tamblyn) and the Sharks led by Maria’s older brother Bernardo (George Chakiris). There’s so much red used in West Side Story, both to symbolise violence and passion and love and romance. The costumes are beautiful too, from the purple suits the Sharks wear to the dresses Maria and her fellow seamstresses wear.

While Rita Moreno almost steals the whole movie as Anita, Beymer and Wood do make a great lead couple as Tony and Maria. Their romance is sweet and powerful and while tragedy is just around the corner, they’ll do anything to stay together.

West Side Story is fun, bright and has some great songs and dances. I’m pleased I’ve finally watched this classic musical, and with Stephen Spielberg making his own version – I’m interested to see how it compares to the original. 4/5.

V is for Vertigo (1958)

Former police detective John ‘Scottie’ Ferguson (James Stewart) is suffering from acrophobia and vertigo when he’s recruited by an old friend to investigate the strange activities of his wife, Madeleine Elster (Kim Novak), but as he follows her movements Scottie becomes dangerously obsessed with her.

My second Alfred Hitchcock film and perhaps one of his most popular films – or at least one that has an easily recognisable name. Again, I knew nothing about the plot of Vertigo going into it, and I think that worked in the films favour. Though to be honest, I’m not sure how I’d describe the plot as it can get very convoluted and hard to follow.

The colours in Vertigo are beautiful. San Francisco looks stunning and there are scenes where the camera really shows off the city. There’s a lot of pastel colours in the clothes and the sets, and then there’s neon lights from hotel signs, they should clash but they don’t. A dream sequence with animation is unexpected but it’s vibrant and unsettling, really making an impact even though it’s pretty short. The “vertigo effect” is impressive and unnerving. It puts you in Scottie’s shoes when he’s at his most vulnerable.

Scottie is an interesting character. Before he starts investigating his old friend’s wife, he seems like an enthusiastic person, fun to be around even while he’s struggling with his newfound condition. He has his friend Midge (Barbara Bel Geddes) to help him, whether that’s just to be someone to talk to or to help him with a case. She’s bubbly and smart and is clearly in love with him, but he either doesn’t notice or doesn’t care. And once he becomes caught up in Madeline Elster, all he shows her is indifference which she doesn’t deserve.

As Scottie’s obsession gets more and more out of hand, the tension amps up through the score and Scottie’s behaviour. He changes as he becomes entangled in Madeline. He becomes a strong and frightening force as his passion overtakes logic and it’s uncomfortable to watch.

While the two-hour runtime of Vertigo seemed to drag at times, the ending seemed rushed as everything was wrapped up. It also seemed to have a non-ending, leaving me with more questions and wanting to know what happened to these characters next. As Vertigo is only the second Hitchcock film I’ve watched, I don’t know if this is a Hitchcock thing, or is just pure chance that both Vertigo and Family Plot left me feeling this way.

Vertigo is an eerie film with a couple of brilliant performances from Kim Novak. Her different mannerisms were fantastic, even if she didn’t have perfect chemistry with Stewart – though that might be down to how much older than her he looked. The mystery was complicated, and as the film progressed I found myself caring more about the women in Scottie’s life than the man himself, even if he was possibly driving himself to madness. 3/5.

U is for Unforgiven (1992)

Retired gunslinger William Munny (Clint Eastwood) reluctantly takes on one last job, avenge a woman who had been attacked by a couple of cowboys, with the help of his old partner Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman) and a young man, The “Schofield Kid” (Jaimz Woolvett).

Unforgiven is one of those films that’s always recommended when someone’s interested in exploring more of the Western genre. Because of that, I was expecting to really like it but unfortunately, I did not. On the whole, I enjoy Westerns and even did a module on them at university, but I really struggled with Unforgiven and found it more boring than anything else.

Unforgiven is just really slow going. The majority of the film is just highlighting how old William and, to a lesser extent, Ned have gotten. They used to be the best of the best, cold stone killers but they have changed, becoming farmers rather than killers. William’s world weariness is balanced out by The Schofield Kid’s enthusiasm. The dynamic between the youngster, keen to leave their mark, and the older gunslingers who have killed and know the toll it can have is good, but really the characters don’t have much of a personality. They are clichés of the genre and many of the characters could’ve been swapped with others from the genre with little to no effect on the plot.

Everything finally kicks off in the final act and a lot of the previous heavy-handed exposition becomes relevant as you see the change William goes through. It’s a final act that works because of what came before it, but unfortunately what came before it was often dull or meaningless. There’s a side plot with Richard Harris as gunfighter English Bob which amounts to nothing and is only there to hammer home how brutal lawman Little Bill (Gene Hackman) is. However, there are other scenes before and after the ones featuring English Bob that show how nasty Bill can be, so is Richard Harris even needed here?

Unforgiven won Best Picture at the Oscars in 1993 and while I haven’t seen the other nominees from that year, I’m still somewhat surprised it won. It looks good, with wide shots of the landscapes and the film quality makes it feels like a much older film than it is, which adds to the charm of a Western as they should feel timeless. However, Unforgiven is an arduous watch. The performances are mostly fine, but there’s attempts at humour that often don’t work, and the story and characters aren’t particularly compelling. Unforgiven just really wasn’t for me. 2/5.

T is for Troy (2004)

When Trojan Prince Paris (Orlando Bloom) falls in love with Helen of Sparta (Diane Kruger) and brings her home with him, it plunges the two kingdoms into war. Paris’s older brother Hector (Eric Bana) leads Trojan’s armies, while undefeatable warrior Achilles (Brad Pitt) fights with Greece’s forces, led by the power-hungry Agamemnom (Brian Cox).

The scale of Troy is epic. The costumes, makeup and set design should all be commended. Not sure how much of the setting of Troy is practical vs computer generated, but it still looks impressive over fifteen years later. However, the battles are hit and miss in terms of how easy to follow they are. The big battles need some more wide shots because when you see the scope of it all it is spectacular. The one on one fights though are tense and thrilling and the actors really look like they’re trying to take each other’s heads off.

There are a lot of characters in Troy, and with all the names that often have multiple syllables it’s difficult to keep track of who is who. It’s easier to refer to characters by the actor who plays them than anything else and, whether it’s down to script or performance (or both), a lot of them aren’t that memorable or are well-rounded characters.

The dialogue is really rather clunky thanks to there needing to be so much exposition to set up all of these characters and their motivations. Some of the performances seem a little wooden at times too – Orlando Bloom being the main culprit of this. The chemistry between key characters isn’t always there either, making it more difficult to invest in them and their relationship.

For instance, the one between Briseis (Rose Byrne) and Achilles is framed as a big romantic love story thanks to the score and the dialogue. But It’s often uncomfortable to watch as Byrne and Pitt do not have any chemistry and the fact that, while he says otherwise, for all intents and purposes Briseis is his captive. It makes an unpleasant power dynamic. However, the chemistry between Bloom and Bana as the two Princes of Troy is great. Kudos to the casting department because they really do look like brothers, and they work really well as brothers too.

Troy is a decent action film if you enjoy the whole sand and sandals, epic ancient history battles kind of thing. Though it’s long and drags a bit at times, on the whole it’s an engaging watch, especially if you don’t know the whole story of Troy. 3/5.

S is for Sudden Impact (1983)

Trigger warnings for scenes of rape.

After angering a gang of criminals, San Francisco Detective Harry Callahan’s (Clint Eastwood) bosses send him on an out-of-town case until things calm down. But things are never quiet for Harry. In the seaside town he ends up there’s Jennifer (Sondra Locke), a rape victim who is exacting her revenge on her attackers, and soon Harry ends up following the case.

Sudden Impact is the fourth film following Eastwood’s “Dirty” Harry. It’s been a good few years since I’ve watched the first three so I can’t compare it to them in terms of quality or Harry as a character’s story arc.

That being said, this film sees Harry as a man who sees murderers as murderers with very little grey area to move in. This means having the serial killer he’s chasing having a very understandable motive as she was a victim of a heinous crime, means there’s some interesting ground to cover in terms of Harry’s character. Unfortunately, this aspect is never really fully explored besides some lingering gazes and Jennifer being able to keep up when verbally sparring with Harry.

Jennifer is a compelling character and it’s refreshing to see her be allowed to be angry and scared, and how she seeks “justice” is never framed as a bad thing – especially once the audience knows her motives. The scenes when she confronts her rapists are powerful and Locke gives a steely performance in those moments.

The car and foot chases sometimes feel a bit dated, but the score is a great at increasing the tension in the sequences. The final act is exciting as Harry begins to put everything together and he and Jennifer both become caught up in danger.

Sudden Impact is an intriguing detective story that puts the killer almost on par with the hero in terms of screen time and understanding. 4/5.