PREVIEW: December 2019

Whoa…less than four weeks now until Christmas! That is mad! But I am excited, as my festive wear (including beard baubles) is all ready to go! Most of all, however, as a Christian I cannot wait to celebrate the birth of Christ, and the love which God showed the world on that day!

While I will be busy in December with Doctoral Studies and Christmas-related stuff at church, I will still be blogging regularly and seeing new releases. November 2019 has seen a fair few posts, including POST 700 on this blog – my review of The Irishman. I cannot believe that I have surpassed the 700-mark, and hope to eventually surpass the 7000 mark (in about 20-25 years time, assuming that my mathematics is correct), and I must thank everyone who has visited the blog over the years. My content may not be the greatest in the world, but it is a joy to be able to share my thoughts on the creative arts with you all.

Anyway, during December I will be seeing a number of new releases, including Cats (I am simultaneously terrified and curious), Charlie’s Angels (out tomorrow in the UK, I will be seeing it on Monday as I am away this weekend), Honey BoyJumanji: The Next LevelStar Wars Episode IX: The Rise of SkywalkerBlack ChristmasLittle WomenMarriage StoryKlaus and The Two Popes. I will endeavour to (time permitting) get reviews for all of these published.

As always, thank you so much for visiting my blog, and for the month ahead I wish you Happy Reading and a Happy Christmas!

FILM: Judy and Punch (2019, Mirrah Foulkes)

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Following its premiere at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, comedy-drama Judy and Punch is distributed by Samuel Goldwyn Films. In the English town of Seaside, Punch (Damon Herriman) and his wife Judy (Mia Wazikowska) do a popular marionette show, of which Judy is the real star. At home, Punch struggles with alcoholism and, in a drunken rage one day, he beats Judy to near-death. Believing that he has killed her, he hides the body in the forest and tries to cover up his crimes. Judy, however, is found and nursed back to health by a cult who live in the forest, and she begins to plot her revenge against her husband.

PROS

  • A rather quirky, off-kilter and different film in its style and execution, and I have to commend director/screenwriter Mirrah Foulkes for aiming to have a different voice with her art.
  • Mia Wazikowska is a solid lead here, bringing lots of raw emotion to Judy, while Damon Herriman plays Punch’s theatricality very well.
  • A handsomely framed film, with detailed production design and costume design aiding the quirky style and darker tone of it all.

CONS

  • The dialogue feels very clunky and forced for the most part, which robs comedy from some humorous moments and weight from some more serious moments.
  • There is a real lack of balance between the dramatic and comedic aspects of the narrative, with a lot of the jokes being just too dark, while the film ultimately is a bit too theatrical.
  • While there are no awful supporting performers, there are no memorable ones either, as many characters (particularly the cult) are little more than extras.

VERDICT: 5/10

FILM: Frozen II (2019, Chris Buck/Jennifer Lee)

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Frozen II is the 58th feature-length animation from Walt Disney Animation Studios. Three years after the events of the first film, a mysterious voice (Aurora) calls out to Elsa (Idina Menzel). This ultimately leads to her embarking on an adventure beyond the Kingdom of Arendelle with Anna (Kristen Bell), Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), Olaf (Josh Gad) and Sven. On this adventure, Elsa discovers the origins of her powers, and she and Anna discover some dark secrets from their family’s past, which they must right in order to save Arendelle itself.

PROS

  • A beautifully animated film, which boasts a rich colour palette, lots of small detail and texture, and very expressive characters.
  • There is a quite fun and charming sense of fantasy to this film in its concepts, while the narrative (particularly the second half) has a fun and (at times) exciting sense of adventure.
  • Ultimately Frozen II comes back to the heart of the franchise, which is the sisterly bond between Anna and Elsa, and the importance of family.

CONS

  • The first half is quite slow and clunky, the film taking a while to get going and find its feet.
  • Some lacklustre characterisation, with poor gags surrounding Anna and Kristoff’s romance (especially in the latter’s efforts to propose), while Olaf is a highly irritating presence who gets too much screen time.
  • The songs (with one exception) lack the depth and heart of the original’s, with far more forgettable and clunky lyrics. They are simply uninspired and lack warmth.

VERDICT: 5/10

FILM: Blue Story (2019, Rapman)

Junior Afolabi Salokun, Eric Kofi-Abrefa, Khali Best, Kadeem Ramsay, Stephen Odubola, Micheal Ward, Karla-Simone Spence, and Rapman in Blue Story (2019)

Crime-drama Blue Story is distributed by Paramount Pictures. Timmy (Stephen Odubola) comes from Deptford, while his best friend of five years, Marco (Michael Ward), comes from Peckham – two South-East London suburbs whose gangs are in an ongoing and deadly postcode war. Timmy and Marco have avoided the gang warfare and remained best friends, but when circumstances force them to become involved with their respective local gangs, their friendship is pushed to the ultimate test, as is their humanity.

PROS

  • Director and screenwriter Rapman draws on his own experiences of growing up surrounded by gang violence in Deptford, meaning that there is a real sense of authenticity to the dialogue and the power-struggles within the gangs. Most of all, however, the personal nature of the narrative is seen in Rapman’s honest depiction of gang warfare as something which is well and truly futile, and which has devastating, wider-reaching consequences, which those involved do not truly realise until it is too late.
  • Rapman’s direction and screenwriting, when coupled with Simon Stolland’s close-up cinematography and Mdhamiri Á Nkemi’s quick-cut editing, gives the film a real energy and intensity, which conveys well just how unrelenting and intense gang warfare ultimately is, and also just how shocking and life-changing it is end up so quickly in something as deep as that.
  • A talented ensemble cast, but the stand-outs are lead actors Stephen Odubola and Michael Ward, who give passionate, multi-layered performances that convey the turmoil, confusion and complexities of their characters’ emotional arcs, and the pair also have a good on-screen rapport with each other.

CONS

  • The narrative covers a period of several years and has a huge ensemble of characters, whose lives and relationships all take on significant changes during that period. As such, the film does feel a bit rushed on occasion, and the film could benefit from being 10-15 minutes longer (it’s just over an hour and a half). In fact, given the serious, hard-hitting subject matter, and the huge period and ensemble it covers, this film could easily be expanded into a damn good miniseries.
  • Rapman narrates the film, often breaking the narrative by summarising what has happened and what happens in the time-gap between two scenes, which does break up the pacing and flow of the narrative quite noticeably, preventing us from piecing it all together as we go along.

VERDICT: 7/10

FILM: Harriet (2019, Kasi Lemmons)

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Biopic Harriet is distributed by Focus Features, following its premiere at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival. The titular Harriet is Harriet Tubman (Cynthia Erivo), who escaped slavery in 1850 and became an abolitionist and conductor on the Underground Railroad, leading hundreds of slaves to freedom, seeking the guidance of God on every mission she embarks on.

PROS

  • Cynthia Erivo gives a nuanced and wholly captivating central performance, showing Harriet’s emotions through expression and gradually building an ever-growing sense of courage and authority through her body language.
  • This is a very well designed film, with a lot of attention to detail by the production design department in their recreation of 1850s’ America, while the costume design department create a good sense of period authenticity with their work.
  • Cinematographer John Toll handsomely frames the entire film, capturing the beauty of rural America very well, but most importantly conveys the sense of claustrophobia which Harriet and other slaves endure at various points in the narrative, and also utilises shadows and silhouettes nicely in Harriet’s missions.

CONS

  • The narrative is very surface-level and feels like a tick-list a lot of the time, meaning that it lacks weight and substance, while the PG-13 (USA)/12A (UK) that the screenwriters chased means that the film often feels very restrained and there is no real sense of horror to the depiction of slavery.
  • It is ironic that such a subdued narrative is accompanied by a very over-the-top musical score by the normally dependable Terence Blanchard, who is clearly trying to create a score which would match the weight of the real-life story as opposed to the adaptation, and resultantly feels (at best) intrusive with this film.
  • The grainy, over-saturated visual quality of the visions which Harriet receives from God makes the film feel more like a supernatural journey than the spiritual journey which it is meant to be.

VERDICT: 5/10

The Apprentice Series 15, Week 8: Steam Train

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Task Summary

While not an annual task, The Apprentice has had some good corporate event tasks. This year, Lord Sugar tasked the teams with putting on a corporate event at either end of the Belmond British Pullman steam train, and revealed that he had arranged them a corporate client each. Lord Sugar then appointed Ryan-Mark as Empower’s Project Manager and Lottie as Unison’s. Ryan-Mark went for a luxury British theme (with the team to dress as royalty), and appointed Pamela as sub-team leader to take charge of catering and entertainment (a string band); Lottie went for a 1920s’ circus theme, choosing Carina as sub-team leader in charge of catering and entertainment (a juggling double-act).

Ryan-Mark, Marianne and Lewis met their client, with Marianne gauging that they were a fairly young organisation, who liked their celebrations and were marking their company’s 40th anniversary with the event. Lewis went in with the arranged proposed price of £500 per head, but Ryan-Mark agreed on £199.50 a head, which their client said was the maximum they could do. Ryan-Mark decided that they may have to scrap the entertainment, depending on the kind of discount that Pamela and Thomas could negotiate. The sub-team heard the band and Thomas negotiated down from £250 to £230, which the band said was the lowest they could go. Thomas phoned Ryan-Mark, who gave the go-ahead (clearly out of his desire for luxury).

Lottie and Scarlett met their client, who liked the proposed theme, but would only pay £200 per head, but their only real request was for their to be no dry glasses (which Lottie promised them). Afterwards, Lottie contacted Carina and Dean, telling them to tighten the alcohol budget (so that there would be no dry glasses, but nobody would get drunk), and also not book the entertainment. Carina, having basically been told to provide unlimited drinks, tightened the alcohol budget, but not by the amount Lottie expected; and she and Dean also met with the juggling duo (as they had already booked the meeting before Lottie called). The duo juggled knives and displayed acrobatic skills, so Carina booked them as a circus-type act would go down well with a client expecting a circus theme.

The day of the events came. Ryan-Mark put Pamela and Marianne in the kitchen, while he, Lewis and Thomas did front of house. Spirits were high by the time the train set off, thanks to the band, and the great front of house hospitality. However, it was only there that Lewis asked about dietary requirements. Fortunately, Pamela had that morning sorted some vegetarian risottos (two for £50!) just in case, but they had no gluten-free option. Unfortunately, all they could provide the lady with celiac disease with was a fruit salad instead of a two-course meal. As a result, the food was served a lot later than planned.

Appalled that Carina booked the entertainment, despite her forbidding it, Lottie phoned her and Scarlett (the kitchen sub-team) from the car and made Scarlett sub-team leader. Their event did not get off to such a good start, as glasses were dry quite quickly, and some of the clients were waiting for Dean and Lottie to bring top-ups for as long as a half-hour. However, eventually the clients had a good time, not least due to a delicious meal arriving at a sensible time. Both events saw some big mistakes by the teams, so it was tough to predict the winner. In the boardroom the next day, it was revealed that both clients had requested partial refunds and it was very close – Empower’s profit margin was £15.50 less than Unison’s, so Lottie’s team scraped the win (easily one of the narrowest wins in the history of The Apprentice).

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My Thoughts

Empower: Ryan-Mark was massively in his element in brainstorming a luxury event, and his team were behind him from the offset. His vision was very good, and it is a shame that it did not quite square with the demographic of his clients. Meanwhile, Pamela was a good sub-team leader, thinking on her feet on the day of the event, while Thomas was charming and a much calmer presence than in previous tasks, showing that he had listened to Lord Sugar’s constructive criticisms. Ultimately, however, Ryan-Mark shot the team in the foot by not enquiring about dietary requirements when meeting the client, despite the fact that he has a severe nut allergy himself, and his excuse that Marianne should have done it was not good enough. They put on a fantastic event, but that was the reason for the partial refund, and it is a pity (and somewhat frustrating) that that one mistake cost them the win.

Unison: Lottie was also in her element in organising a high quality, corporate event, and at first it looked like she would make a great PM, as her teammates were on board with her (bar Dean wanting to be at the corporate meeting). However, Lottie demoting Carina the next day from the sub-team leader role made her come across as childish and dictatorial, especially as Carina ultimately made a logical (and right) call. Credit to Carina for rising above it, and showing herself to be far more mature than Lottie. The latter was especially apparent on the train, as Lottie kept clashing with Dean, towards whom she was simply patronising. Plus, dry glasses early on is terrible (Karren Brady critiqued them there and then for that) – it was the lesser event, with lesser teamwork.

The Result: Both teams made notable mistakes. While Empower’s mistake with the catering was foolish, they still did not deserve to lose for it, as they tried to rectify it as best they could. Unison, however, did not deliver the experience which Lottie promised (as the dry glasses proved), and Lottie really clashed with her team (in front of the clients!), so as a team they did not deserve to win. It was such a marginal win as well so, no matter how well the teams had worked together, I would have felt sorry for Empower.

Final Boardroom

For the final boardroom, Ryan-Mark chose to bring back Marianne (for not asking the client about dietary requirements – although it was clear that it was a personal thing, following her criticisms of him last week) and Pamela (for reasons which he said that he would reveal in the final boardroom). Thomas, however, spoke up for Pamela and, to Pamela’s horror, he ended up volunteering to take her place out of disgust at Ryan-Mark choosing to bring her back without good reason. Ryan-Mark changed his mind and brought Thomas back instead of Pamela. If you went on Twitter within 24 hours of this episode airing, then you would be unable to escape the fact that, in his act of gallantry, Thomas won the hearts of the entire British nation, not just the admiration of his fellow candidates. Pamela later revealed that one moment from beforehand in “Loser Cafe” which did not make the final cut of the episode saw Thomas say that if Ryan-Mark wanted to bring somebody back for the booking of the entertainment then it should be him, so he truly did not believe that there was any reason for Pamela to be brought back.

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Pamela could not believe her ears when Thomas offered to take her place in the final boardroom

In the final boardroom, Lord Sugar raised Thomas’s track record (losses on 7/8 tasks) and asked if he could truly rein in his more forceful nature, as Thomas booked the string band in spite of Ryan-Mark saying that they may have to veto it. Thomas, however, pointed out that he did not force Ryan-Mark’s hand as he phoned, made him aware of the costs and asked him to make the call, which Ryan-Mark did. Marianne backed Thomas, stating that Ryan-Mark agreed for the act to be booked, due to his fixation on luxury. Ryan-Mark then berated Marianne for not asking the client about dietary requirements, stating that she should have done so to fulfil his instruction of getting a feel for the client. Marianne pointed out that gauging allergies is not the same as gauging the type of person somebody is, and also that (as a man with a severe nut allergy) he should have thought to step in and ask himself. Lord Sugar and Claude Littner made it clear that they agreed with Marianne on that and that Ryan-Mark’s excuses were not good enough. Lord Sugar then summarised and made it clear that he would not let Thomas’s gallantry affect his final decision, before ultimately firing Ryan-Mark, with regret, for his poor excuses and inability to accept criticism, and for not being the calibre that Lord Sugar is looking for in a business partner.

Ryan-Mark Parsons, The Apprentice 2019 candidate
Ryan-Mark Parsons

In Week 2, Lord Sugar indicated that he respected Ryan-Mark’s desire to go into business at only 19-years-old and that he knew from his own experience that Ryan-Mark would make mistakes, ergo his “with regret” is understandable. After that, Lord Sugar let Thomas and Marianne remain in the process due to their track records, and it was clear he is hoping for them to get some more wins under their belts. As he left, Thomas said “See you later”, to which Lord Sugar (with a smile said) “I hope not”, to which Claude also smiled, highlighting the fact that they both have a soft spot for Thomas. I fully agree with Lord Sugar’s decision this week. Ryan-Mark was not a team player and needs to learn to take responsibility for his mistakes and accept criticism, as opposed to making poor excuses. Yes, he only suffered a narrow defeat, but his self-righteousness and disrespect towards his team in the boardroom are not qualities that somebody would want in a business partner.

As for keeping Thomas and Marianne in the process, based on their track records, I also agree with Lord Sugar’s decision. Thomas may have only won one task out of eight, but he himself has never been the reason for a loss, often being the main asset to his team. Plus, his gallantry almost certainly worked in his favour, as it showed him to be somebody who has his teammates’ backs. Meanwhile, Marianne has good business acumen and a lot of experience, being a good asset to her team on each task, despite making some mistakes along the way.

Thoughts on the Remaining Candidates

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  1. Carina Lepore – twice the winning Project Manager, with a great track record as a leader and team player, she has also shown her maturity in rising above criticisms from teammates, although she can be a little blunt at times.
  2. Dean Ahmad – despite showing that he does have some skills, he certainly comes across more as a passenger more than any remaining candidate, so he will really have to pull a rabbit out of the hat if he wants a shot at the Final.
  3. Lewis Ellis – his chances in the process continue to look good as he remains a nice chap and team player, who is level-headed and clear thinking, with a plethora of proven skills which have helped win several tasks.
  4. Lottie Lion – she is skilled in sales, analytical thinking and strategy, but her leadership style as PM and sub-team leader alike is like a bossy school teacher. Despite her skills, the fact that she rubs people up the wrong way will almost certainly work against her going ahead.
  5. Marianne Rawlins – she is good at understanding her teammates’ strengths and weaknesses and working with them, and does have good business acumen. She has made mistakes, but she has proven herself to be a mature and capable asset to her team.
  6. Pamela Laird – she has consistently been a calm and collected presence, and a team player who contributes well. She is a somewhat quiet presence, but that may not actually be a bad thing as she plays her part diligently and without making a big song and dance of things.
  7. Scarlett Allen-Horton – she has so far proven to be a level-headed team player with a number of good business skills, and a passion for the tasks which regularly shines through, although at times she could do with speaking up a little more.
  8. Thomas Skinner – a very kind, genuine and sincere fellow, with real passion and fantastic salesmanship, who has earned a soft spot with Lord Sugar, Claude Littner and Karren Brady. While he has lost 7/8 tasks, he has never been the reason for the loss, and the fact that he is reining in his more forceful side is sure to work in his favour going forward.

FILM: Last Christmas (2019, Paul Feig)

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Festive romantic-comedy Last Christmas is distributed by Universal. Almost a year after the heart transplant which saved her life, Kate (Emilia Clarke) is an absolute mess, who is regularly getting inebriated, falling out with the people in her life and taking a very lackadaisical attitude to her work. As Christmas is approaches, she meets a charming, yet mysterious gentleman named Tom (Henry Golding). The two begin to spend time together, and Kate soon begins to develop feelings for him. However, more significantly, Tom motivates her to get her life back on track and make up for her past misdeeds. But what could the mystery to this fellow be?

PROS

  • At the heart of this film is the bond between Kate and Tom, which is engaging to watch as Emilia Clarke and Henry Golding give good performances and have an excellent chemistry with each other.
  • There is some real warmth and festive spirit to this film, aided especially by the production design, which makes London in Christmas look very appealing visually.
  • There is always some power in a narrative which shows somebody trying to atone for their past, but what works well here is the depiction of how even just small steps and gestures can make a huge difference if the motivation is good.

CONS

  • The gags are nevertheless rather hit-and-miss, not least due to some reliance on cliches. There is also some misjudged political commentary that paints an all too simplistic picture of post-EU Referendum Britain.
  • There is an almighty twist that is rather cliched indeed, but is made very predictable early on by some of Paul Feig’s directorial choices and some of Brent White’s editing choices.
  • There is an enormous supporting ensemble, but many of them are very underused, while Peter Serafinowicz and Rob Delaney’s comedic talents are wasted in a cameo.

VERDICT: 5/10

FILM: The Irishman (2019, Martin Scorsese)

NOTEThis is Post 700 on this blog. Seven-hundred posts into blogging here, and I have loved every minute of it.

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Following its world premiere at the 2019 New York Film Festival, crime-biopic The Irishman is having a limited theatrical run before coming to Netflix on November 27th. The film tells the true story of World War II veteran Frank Sheeran (Robert DeNiro). He worked as a delivery driver in the 1950s, before later becoming a hitman and getting involved with mobster Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci) and his crime family. Through this he befriends Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino), head of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, eventually becoming Hoffa’s main bodyguard. As he gets ever deeper into the world of underground crime, Frank becomes known as “The Irishman”, but gradually his new line of work (when coupled with violent temper) drives a wedge between him and his family.

PROS

  • For veteran director Martin Scorsese to round off an excellent decade of filmmaking with a crime film (his bread and butter) is very fitting, but even more so for it to be a 3 hour and 30 minute film with long-term friends and collaborators Robert DeNiro and Joe Pesci! Scorsese once again shows himself to be a master filmmaker by crafting, with real nuance and detail, a slow-burn and consistently riveting piece of cinema that depicts a gradual descent into a criminal underworld and loss of humanity. Furthermore, he shows his love, respect and trust for the audience by knowing when to make something blatant and when to make implications.
  • Screenwriter Steven Zaillian and cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto both truly get what it means to help craft a film which is Martin Scorsese through-and-through in their roles. The former gets what it means to present the narrative of a Scorsese film, by putting the relationships between the characters at the very heart of the narrative, rather than the crimes themselves. The latter crafts the magnificent long takes and tracking shots which Scorsese is famed for (for Goodfellas more than any other work).
  • Martin Scorsese’s decision to tell the story of Frank Sheeran’s descent into the underground world of organised crime, and the relationships that came with that, via flashback was a stroke of genius. As Frank reflects on a long life and career, both the good and the bad, and also the value of the friendships that he formed, it is clear that the veteran director is reflecting on the complexities of the ageing process, and his own career and friendships with a sense of nostalgia. The latter is made most evident by the fact that this film reunites him with long-term friends and collaborators Robert DeNiro and Joe Pesci for the first time in over 20 years.
  • It is a true joy to see veteran actors Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci and Al Pacino co-star together in a film at this stage of their careers (especially as Pesci is now semi-retired). All three of them give 150% to this project, giving some of the best performances of their respective careers with passionate, multilayered turns, and the three of them have terrific on-screen chemistry which helps carry the film.
  • A unanimously strong supporting ensemble, with memorable turns from Stephen Graham, Ray Romano, Bobby Cannavale, Harvey Keitel and Jesse Plemons. The best supporting ensemble member, however, is Anna Paquin (who plays Frank’s daughter, Peggy, as an adult), who has a wonderful chemistry with Al Pacino, and conveys Peggy’s increasing resentment of Frank very effectively through her body language.
  • As Frank’s life story and criminal career are told by the elderly Frank in flashbacks, CGI techniques are utilised to make Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci and Al Pacino appear younger. This has been done a number of times in films before and looked appalling, but here it looks absolutely perfect. Were I flicking through channels and stumbled upon a scene from The Irishman which depicts them as younger men, then I honestly would just assume that I had stumbled upon a film from the 1980s which I had not seen before.

NITPICKS

  • Given that this is a nostalgic reflection by Martin Scorsese on his career and close friendships with actors, it would have made sense to give Harvey Keitel a little bit more screen time, seeing as Keitel starred in his directorial debut – Who’s That Knocking at My Door (1967).

VERDICT: 10/10

LITERATURE: The Shining (Stephen King, 1977)

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Originally published by Doubleday, The Shining is an American supernatural horror novel. Recovering alcoholic and aspiring writer Jack Torrance takes the position of winter caretaker of the famous Overlook Hotel, an isolated resort in the Colorado Rockies. For the six-month period he moves into the hotel with his wife, Wendy, and five-year-old son, Danny. Danny possesses “the shining”, a variety of psychic abilities that result in him being able to see the hotel’s horrific past and the forces and ghosts that haunt it. As an almighty snowstorm isolates them from the rest of the world, the supernatural forces at work in the Overlook begin to take hold of Jack, putting himself, Wendy and Danny in mortal danger.

PROS

  • Stephen King once again proves himself to be a master of horror, as he builds suspense incredibly well with a slow-burn description of a supernatural presence which is gradually increasing in strength. He also crafts detailed backstories for the three Torrances (meaning that the reader understands the demons and vulnerabilities of each, as well as Danny’s titular “shining”), and for the Overlook itself, which builds the unnerving sense of horror which the hotel has and gives us a greater understanding of the forces and presences which haunt it.
  • The horror is further aided by Stephen King’s descriptive writing style, which not only helps us to picture the Overlook in our mind’s eye, but also picture in shocking detail the horrific events that happen, as King describes everything from noises to internal injuries in such detail that you cannot help but visualise it all, wincing and getting goosebumps in the process.
  • Stephen King further shows his versatility as a writer by showing different events from different perspectives, including young Danny’s, and the moments from Danny’s perspective are highly amusing and naturalistic as they capture a childlike innocence and perspective of the world wonderfully. Furthermore, this aids in giving a sense of mystery and intrigue to Danny’s titular “shining”, as Danny does not totally understand it and so we (the readers) come to understand it with him.
  • In the backstory of Jack’s alcoholism and his continuing struggles with those demons in the present, we see Stephen King’s writing at its most personal, as in the numbing description of alcoholism he reflects his own struggles with it. As such, Jack is a wonderful central character, as the detailed backstory and well penned internal monologue make him a multi-layered and nuanced character, who has darkness and vulnerability in equal measure, meaning that we invest in him and find it all the more saddening and horrifying to see the Overlook gradually tighten its grip on him.
  • The creation of Overlook chef and Danny’s confidant and fellow shiner, Dick Hallorann, was an inspired move, with him serving as a wonderful supporting character due to his genial and warm nature, and the fact that he is a straight-cut character with a huge heart, meaning that whenever we have a chapter with Dick we know exactly what kind of character to expect. The bond that Dick develops with Danny, and later on Wendy, is a really touching one, and it is impossible to read their moments together and not feel your heart becoming warm.

NITPICKS

  • There are odd typos here and there, a couple of which result in glaring grammatical errors. Ultimately I do not blame Stephen King for this, as anybody can make the odd typo, but the fact that the editors did not notice them is vexing.

VERDICT: 10/10

FILM: Le Mans ’66 (2019, James Mangold)

Note: outside of the UK and various European countries, this film is titled Ford v Ferrari.

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Sports biopic Le Mans ’66 is distributed by 20th Century Fox, following its premiere at the 2019 Telluride Film Festival. In the 1960s, car manufacturer Ford are facing hot water for the first time in their company’s long history. Taking a gamble in the efforts to rejuvenate the company, Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) commissions a team of designers and engineers, led by visionary Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) and his racing driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale), to create the Ford GT40. The goal is for this car to be the racing car which could beat Ferrari at the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans event, but to create such a car in a tight time frame will be very difficult.

PROS

  • This is a meticulously directed film, which is approached by James Mangold with real gravitas. Mangold’s vision for the film is very clear throughout, as is his passion for the project, and he brings to the screen a consistent tone and a narrative with a logical progression, showing himself to be a visionary filmmaker of real talent.
  • Co-written by the Butterworth brothers and Jason Keller, the film simultaneously brings to the screen a fascinating depiction of a phenomenal true story, a heartfelt tribute to people who are passionate about their work, and a celebration of teamwork. As such, it is a film which will appeal to a broad audience, regardless of whether they are motorheads.
  • A good cast led very well by Christian Bale and Matt Damon, who have a terrific chemistry and on-screen bromance. Bale plays the straight-talking Northern Englishman very nicely with great comic timing, and has very good chemistry with Noah Jupe (who plays Ken’s young son, Peter). Damon, meanwhile, plays Carroll with real confidence, being a dynamic screen presence.
  • A visually stunning film, with every single moment being very well framed by cinematographer Phedon Papamichael, particularly the racing scenes, in which he emphasises the emotional and exhilarating journey for the driver just as well as the art and skill of high-speed racing. The editing department do a great job with the footage, making the racing scenes very intense but very exciting in equal measure.

CONS

  • Ferrari staff and racing team members, including Enzo Ferrari (Remo Girone) himself, are depicted at various points throughout the film, but in many scenes they speak Italian without subtitles, but in others they do. Ultimately it is the inconsistency which is the issue.
  • Some supporting characters could do with a bit more characterisation – e.g. Ford’s Senior Executive Vice President Leo Beebe (Josh Lucas), who is little more than an oily egomaniac; or a bit more focus – e.g. Ken’s wife Mollie (Caitriona Balfe), whose character could have benefited from far more focus in the final 20 minutes or so.

VERDICT: 8/10