Eaten by Lions

Showing on Sky in the UK and various on-demand platforms.

Omar and Pete are two teenage brothers who find themselves alone after the death of their beloved Grandmother but in her passing she leaves the boys letters and in Omar’s tells him about his estranged father and he decides to go and find him in far off Blackpool.

Eaten by Lions is a strangely uneven film, but it does have its heart in the right place and is anchored by a nice on-screen relationship between the two brothers and especially by Jack Carrol’s Pete who strikes a nice balance between comedy and pathos.

Its problems stem from a rather flimsy premise and story, which while there are the chances to develop it and some of the characters more, never really does more than scratch the surface with them including the father/son story, which doesn’t grow much beyond son meeting infantile father! Instead it wastes time with a strange segment in the final act that sees Pete and Parveen on a wild ride through Blackpool picking up a range of waif and strays.

For all of its flaws the film does have things to enjoy, with some nice comic touches, a warm heart, some fun performances and lovely cinematography showing Blackpool off better than it ever has been.

It certainly not perfect but there’s enough good intentions to just about forgive it its flaws.

Uncorked

Showing on Netflix.

Prentice Penny writes and directs the story of Elijah (Mamoudou Athie) a young man from a black neighbourhood in Memphis who rather than following his father and grandfather into the family barbecue restaurant business, dreams of becoming a master sommelier.

What we have is a setup for a pretty standard story of boy from the wrong side of the tracks pursues an against the odds dream, with a father who doesn’t believe in him, financial struggles and a family tragedy that makes him question his choices.

But what I really liked about Uncorked was how it took that idea and played with the format. Now to me, a master sommelier seems like a very white middle class pursuit, however by placing it in a black neighbourhood provides a fun twist, the film though never makes it about race or class, but just uses that to play with stereotypes, Elijah’s friend JT (Bernard David Jones) is a great example as a young “wide boy” DJ who is equally concerned by ensuring he has drinks on coasters and his teak table as he is his music.

Uncorked is not particularly challenging and is a gentle piece of storytelling, but its heart is in the right place and it is filled with subtle humour especially from Elijah’s father Louis (Courtney B. Vance). The cast are solid throughout all offering likeable characters whose company I enjoyed.

It feels a little long and drags a bit in the final act, but it was smart enough and funny enough for me to forgive that and took full advantage of the decision to take a well trodden story and twist it just a little.

I’d suggest you get yourself a glass, pop the cork and enjoy a gentle and enjoyable story.

Sergio

Showing on Netflix.

Director Greg Barker has previously made a documentary about the life of Sergio De Mello a senior UN envoy who has spent his career travelling the worlds hot spots including Cambodia and East Timor, which eventually leads to a posting in US occupied Baghdad. His film focuses around the 2003 bombing of the UN headquarters in the city, its impact and the chance for De Mello to reflect on his lives and loves.

Wagner Moura and Ana de Armas play the two central roles of De Mello and Carolina Larriera, his later life love, both of who are fascinating real life characters with no doubt interesting life stories to share.

But here’s the problem with Sergio, while there is no doubt a truly fascinating story to tell of both of our central characters, this film pretty much fails to show any of it.

Instead what we get is a film that chooses to only occasionally explore some of De Mello’s career highs and lows and instead would rather tell a melodramatic Mills and Boone style insipid love story between De Mello and Larierra including all the over ripe romance tropes you could want, especially in a frankly dull final act.

It does seem a huge missed opportunity, with not only an interesting subject but in Moura and de Amas, two talented performer’s who even with the material given to them both deliver solid and very watchable performances.

Ultimately, Sergio is a frustrating filmĀ  there’s a really good movie trying to escape, but it can never get free of the over sentimental and cloying grasp of the frankly dull romance that surrounds it and that is a real pity, the only plus is I’m going to search out Barker’s documentary because I’m sure there is an interesting character to better understand it’s just this film is most certainly not the way to do it.

Troop Zero

Showing on Amazon Prime.

There is a lot to be said about the idea that the end of a film dictates your view of it and Troop Zero is a good example of that, because it wasn’t until right to the end that I realised I’d enjoyed it!

Set in 1977 Georgia, the film focuses on the story of Christmas Flint (played by the excellent talent that is Mackenna Grace) a young girl who is coming to the terms with losing her mother as well as being one of her schools unpopular kids, she copes with this by immersing herself in a fascination with space. Her life is changed when she learns of a NASA competition to have the words of children included on a disk to be sent to space and played out into the galaxy, however to be included she needed to be part of the winning Birdie Troop at the local Birdie Scout Jamboree, but of course she is not a Birdie Scout.

Her answer is to put together a troop made up of other kids out on the periphery of the school social ladder, which leads us to the usual story of a group of misfits trying to get together to pursue a dream against the odds and of course up against the popular kids!

What I enjoyed about Troop Zero and what its end did, was that throughout it plays a little with this common movie trope and retains a quirky nature, never been quite the sweet success story you expect, none more than Viola Davis’s Miss Rayleen who is never quite the positive cheerleader that you expect and the troop never quite achieve the things they aim for.

What I enjoyed about it most though was that it stuck true to its quirky nature right up to the end and didn’t cop out. While it’s a relatively well trodden story path, Troop Zero does it with a quirky good nature and successfully plays around with the expected twists and turns for this kind of story. I doubt it will change anyone’s life, but it’s certainly an enjoyable diversion.

The Meyerowitz Stories.

Showing on Netflix.

Earlier this year there was a lot of (rightful) praise for Adam Sandler’s performance in Uncut Gems showing that there is an actor of quality, two years previous to this was the less well known (to me) The Meyerowitz Story  written and directed by Noah Baumbach a film again in which Sandler shows there is more to his acting range.

The film focuses on the Meyerowitz family which revolves around the patriarchal figure of Harold, a lecturer and frustrated artist and how his behaviour and attitude have affected those closest to him especially his three children played by Sandler, Elizabeth Marvel and Ben Stiller. When Harold becomes ill it forces the three of them together and the 2nd half of the film focuses on how they discover a family bond that had eluded them and the more they spend time together the more the realise the relationship with their father has affected their relationship and attitude on life.

It’s a darkly comedic exploration of those relationships carried by four solid performances in the central roles and a story that relies on the cinematic trope of taking the same story from multiple angles, but in Baumbachs hands it is well executed and gives you a better understanding of the perspective of each of the character’s and their relationships.

It’s not perfect, nor a light couple of hours entertainment, but it is a well put together story that kept me engaged and interested throughout with characters who you cared about or at least had sympathy for.

If you want to see Adam Sandler in something interesting but with less stress than Uncut Gems, this is worth checking out.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

Chiwetel Ejiofor writes, directs and stars in this adaptation of the true story of William Kamkwamba a young boy who lives in a village in Malawi, that finds itself left to die as it is ravished by drought, leading to impending famine and a government that through its own financial mismanagement will not come to its aide.

The true story of Kamkwamba, a young bright boy who refuses to be beaten by the situation and the obstacles placed in front of him, is incredible enough that it doesn’t need any movie theatrics to tell it and in Ejiofor’s directorial debut we get a beautifully patient telling of this uplifting tale.

The film is purposely patient in setting the scene, showing how the situation slowly gets worse and how a whole community find themselves in a catastrophic situation not one caused by a single huge impact event, but one inflicted a small incident at a time. Ejiofor does an excellent job of building the tension with an oppressive stress engulfing the story.

Throughout Maxwell Simba’s William is a shining beacon of hope, determination and desire to make a difference, with a wonderful performance upon which the film is built.

While the film seems melodic and patient as we enter the final act you suddenly find yourself swept away, wrapped up in the situation the village finds itself in, a situation that most of us will never know and then carried away with a wondefully emotional and uplifting finale.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is an enthralling story, beautifully told and performed and in these still trying times for many, a great example of how human innovation can often overcome the most bleak of challenges.

Wine Country

Showing on Netflix.

Amy Poehler directs and stars in this tail of a group of friends who rent a house in the Napa Valley to get together to celebrate the 50th birthday of Rachel Dratch’s, Rebecca. Which predictably leads to a story of self discovery, regret and the chance to rediscover friendships, all linked by a selection of comedy set pieces, mainly centred around drinking too much wine, you know the story, you’ve seen it before.

While there is nothing particularly fresh or original here with Wine Country treading very familiar ground, I rather enjoyed it and was somewhat surprised by some of the negative reviews.

While what we get is a very nuts and bolts comedy, we have a cast of talented comic actors with a solid script that allows Poehler, Maya Rudolph, Ana Gasteyer, Paula Pell et al to show their comedic qualities. The characters are all the ones you recognise and expect to see in this kind of story and the story line unfolds as you’d expect.

With that said, It remains consistently funny, never gets to saccharine sweet and at around 100 minutes doesn’t over indulge itself and embraces its light and fluffy nature. While it’s not spectacular it’s certainly humorous and enjoyable with a cast you’re happy to spend time with and if nothing else there’s some spectacular scenery to enjoy!

If you’re after some disposable comedic movie entertainment this may fit the bill.

Jay and Silent Bob Reboot

Showing on Sky Cinema in the UK and available on streaming services.

Kevin Smith dusts off Jay and Silent Bob for another outing in their first cinematic trip since 2006.

Titled Reboot the film takes a look at sequels, reboots and remakes while simultaneously trying to be all three as Jay and Bob discover that there is a planned reboot of their nemesis film project Bluntman and Chronic and they decide it needs another road trip to Hollywood to stop it been made. As you’d expect in a film designed to parody the endless reboots and remakes it follows a very familiar storyline for those who saw “Strike Back” (there’s a funny dig at Force Awakens in there).

Full disclosure, I’m a big fan of things like Dogma and the original Jay and Silent Bob so did go into this with some trepidation and the concern was well founded as this comes nowhere near the levels of its predecessors. As a fan of the earlier films in the series there is enjoyment to be had in the multitude of cameos and nods back to the original film (Matt Damon’s Loki story particularly) but that doesn’t really sustain it, it’s not funny enough and lacks the edge and humorous “quoteability” of the earlier works.

It’s not a disaster and does have some heart to it especially with some nice moments as Jay and later Ben Affleck both explore parenthood, there are funny moments as well, but it’s nothing special, if you like the character’s or a fan of the earlier films it’s worth the watch and you’ll find enjoyment in it, if you’re neither of those, not sure it will work for you.

Eurovision Song Contest : The Story of Fire Saga

Showing on Netflix.

Will Ferrell writes (with Andrew Steele) and stars in a fictional story of an Icelandic small town band Fire Saga who find themselves as thier countries entry into the Eurovision song contest.

Ferrell plays Lars, enamored by the contest as a young boy still grieving the loss of his mother, he vows to one day win it with his lifelong friend Sigrit, played by Rachel McAdams, who credits Lars with literally helping her to find her voice.

Now it would be untrue to say that this film does not have problems, especially in an uneven first half, but it would be equally untrue to say even with its flaws, I didn’t find it enjoyable fun.

Problem wise, its first half particularly feels pedestrian with not enough laughs. It’s also unclear who it’s aimed at with a range of actors from around the globe delivering a set of seemingly stereotypical views of Icelanders with varying quality Swedish chef style accents, while also seemingly poking fun at the very competition at the centre of the story.

However half way through, as we find ourselves at the actual contest, we get a fantastically entertaining musical “mashup” which lifts the film and from their it finds its feet, focussing on the seemingly unrequited love Sigrid has for Lars, a fun performance from Dan Stevens as Russian contestant Alexander Lemtov and a surprisingly convincing appearance by Graham Norton as himself.

Rachel McAdams is a big part of how the film gets past many of its flaws as she brings a warmth and one of the less ridiculous accents to Sigrid.

It’s too long at just over 2 hours but it does has plenty to enjoy and brings more than the occasional smile.

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