PREVIEW: October 2021

Yay! We are well and truly entering my favourite of the four seasons! I may not celebrate Halloween, but I love Autumn – cooler temperatures, orange/brown foliage, and pumpkin spice lattes for the win! This October will see an abundance of posts on this blog as I write about something horror or macabre related every single day for The Second Annual October Scare Fest, and make a start on my much more sporadic series of Apprentice posts.

I also have to post reviews for some recent cinema trips – Respect and The Many Saints of Newark. Furthermore, I have a number of cinema trips lined up for October, including No Time to Die, The Addams Family 2, Venom: Let There Be Carnage, Dear Evan Hansen, Dune, Halloween Kills, Ron’s Gone Wrong, The Last Duel, The French Dispatch and Last Night in Soho. I will endeavour to get all of these reviewed by the end of October – heck, some of them will probably make up part of the Scare Fest!

Thank you as always for visiting this blog and, for the month ahead, I wish you Happy Reading, but most of all good health!

FILM: The Alpinist (2021, Peter Mortimer/Nick Rosen)

The Alpinist (2021) - IMDb

Documentary film The Alpinist is distributed by Roadside Attractions. Whilst also providing a bit of an overview of alpinism, the film follows Marc-André Leclerc, a free-spirited Canadian in his 20s, who does alpine climbing out of the limelight, more often than not by himself, but sometimes with a close friend or his girlfriend Brette Harrington. However, his preference is to do it alone, and he completes some of the boldest solo ascents in history without any ropes and the bare minimum equipment.

The film provides a good overview of alpinism and examines why people find it such an exhilarating sport, why it becomes a true passion for some people, and the cinematography that is used to capture the alpinism that people do (including some of Leclerc’s spectacularly daring ascents) makes for a visually breath-taking piece of filmmaking. The shots capture the stunning beauty and absolute magnitude of the natural world – of enormous snow-capped mountains and tall cliff faces – and the overhead shots of Leclerc and/or others climbing will put your heart in your mouth time and again as you see them above thousands of feet of sheer drops. It would be fair to say that this is not one to watch if you suffer from vertigo.

The film also provides a genuinely heartfelt celebration of the life and achievements of Marc-André Leclerc, using a mixture of interviews with him and footage of him in action, and interviews with a plethora of people who knew him personally. However, at times it does feel a little too much like hero-worshipping as – bar some reflections on his childhood from his mother – the film purely emphasises his positive points, meaning that it does at times feel quite surface-level. And actually that is indicative of the biggest issue that the film has. By providing an overview of Leclerc’s life and achievements, whilst also teaching viewers about alpinism (even providing a brief overview of the sport’s history) in the space of about 90 minutes, the film does feel like a masterclass in cramming. Were this a miniseries (which it would work better as), then far more time could be dedicated to these aspects of the film and they could each be explored in far greater depth, and resultantly given much more weight.

VERDICT: 6/10

FILM: Malignant (2021, James Wan)

The title "Malignant" in red font. The letter "i" forms a line pointing towards a woman's face, seemingly about to pierce her eye.

Horror film Malignant is distributed by Warner Bros. In the weeks following an altercation with her violent husband (Jake Abel) – which occurred mere hours before his horrific death – Madison Mitchell (Annabelle Wallis) starts to have visions of people being murdered. However, upon waking up in a state of terror, she discovers that they were real-life murders that she saw exactly as they happened. As she becomes the prime suspect in the Police investigation, a terrified Madison becomes determined to find out why she is having these visions, the real reason for which is something more shocking from her early childhood than she could ever imagine.

PROS

  • Directed with real energy and passion, James Wan clearly had an absolute blast making this film, embracing a camp style that works perfectly with such an off-the-wall mental narrative, and he also does a very good job of crafting tension.
  • A very eye-catching film, the use of low and artificial lighting and shadows by cinematographer Michael Burgess creating some very atmospheric imagery, while there is also some very vivid red used for the gore, and some truly outstanding make-up and practical effects – very shocking imagery indeed!
  • An altogether good cast is led very well by Annabelle Wallis, who absolutely throws herself into the film gives a career-best performance which is rich in raw emotion and a uniquely engaging sense of adrenaline.

CONS

  • There are all manner of plot holes, many of which stem from the fact that James Wan dabbles in all manner of different types of horror, making for a somewhat muddled film stylistically and disjointed narrative.
  • A number of the supporting cast members get little chance to shine and their performances are by no means memorable, a key reason behind that being the fact that they receive minimal characterisation and (in some cases) clunky dialogue.

VERDICT: 6/10

FILM: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021, Destin Daniel Cretton)

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Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is the 25th instalment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Whilst enjoying the slacker life in San Francisco with his best friend Katy (Awkwafina), Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) is confronted by his dark past that he thought he had left behind as a child. When his estranged father Wenwu (Tony Leung) has him brought to his dangerous organisation The Ten Rings, Shang-Chi teams up with Katy and his estranged sister, Xialing (Meng’er Zhang), to stop Wenwu for good. But in doing so, the young man may just be about to discover his true destiny.

PROS

  • An altogether very well directed film, the fight scenes here are the most magnificently choreographed of the entire franchise – wonderfully gracious yet also with a real intensity, and featuring some fantastic stunt co-ordination.
  • Very good characterisation for all of the key characters, with Shang-Chi having an excellent arc, and Wenwu having much more richness than most other antagonists in the franchise as it is his grief which motivates his decisions.
  • A solid cast, with Simu Liu, Tony Leung and Meng’er Zhang throwing themselves into the film, the former two especially bringing richness and layers to their roles, whilst Awkwafina and Ben Kingsley provide excellent comic relief.
  • As with the rest of the franchise, the film boasts excellent visual effects (mostly CGI, as well as some very good practical effects), but this is the most stunning film in the franchise, thanks to the detailed production design, clever creature designs and the rich colour palette.

CONS

  • There are some pacing issues here and there in the narrative, with some scenes early on in the film feeling a tad rushed, as is the climax, which ends somewhat abruptly, some of the characters arc resultantly also ending in abruptly.
  • The screenwriters are a little heavy-handed in their efforts to link this film with other instalments of the franchise and also in their efforts to call out some of the franchise’s past errors regarding race.

VERDICT: 8/10

Top 10 Boycie Moments in Only Fools and Horses

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This month marked the 40th anniversary of Only Fools and Horses and, only days after the 40th anniversary of his first appearance in the series as the iconic second-hand car salesman Boycie, John Challis sadly passed away at aged 79. Challis made a guest appearance as Boycie in the second-ever episode and once again in 1982, before becoming a series regular in 1983, up until the very final episode. In honour of both Challis and 40 years of Boycie entertaining the nation, I have chosen to list what I consider the 10 best Boycie moments in Only Fools and Horses.

10. Cheeky Swindling (Watching the Girls Go By)

Earlier in the episode, Del-Boy won at least £50 playing cards with Boycie in The Nag’s Head, and when they engage in their next game of the night, Del not only stops Boycie from potentially winning £128, but deceives his old friend and rival into winning only £1. In a moment of solid comic timing from John Challis, Boycie is triumphant…until he realises that he has just been swindled. Whilst one of the more simple scenes between the pair, it is well-paced, cleverly-written and an altogether very good example of their dynamic, which is one in which Boycie (a larger-than-life man with a superiority complex) would lord it over Del, who (via his quick-thinking and street-smarts) would ultimately get one over on him.

9. When Boycie Met Marlene (Fatal Extraction)

Early in the episode, Del-Boy told Rodney, Denzil and Trigger about a girl he had dated in the early-1960s who had worked in a betting shop on Lewisham Grove, but whose name he could not remember. A few days later, Boycie recounts the story of how he first met Marlene to Del, Trigger, Denzil and Mike in The Nag’s Head…only for them to realise that she was the girl Del had been referring to earlier. Not only did the ever-expressive John Challis deliver Boycie’s reflections on his meeting and being married to Marlene with effortless comedic skill, but this was a wonderful addition to the running gag about Del and Marlene possibly having an affair, and a unique play on how Del and Marlene’s chemistry was a thorn in the side to his rival Boycie.

8. Laugh is on You, Boycie (Heroes and Villains)

The most iconic thing about Boycie is his nasally, machine gun laugh, which John Challis executed absolutely magnificently. In a Nag’s Head scene in this episode, when Marlene suggests Boycie’s pants as a “cool, dark spot where [Cassandra’s urine sample] won’t be disturbed.” He does not hesitate to start laughing…until he realises that he has just been insulted, at which point Del-Boy, Rodney and Denzil all laugh at him. Featuring excellent comic timing from Challis, this moment is hilarious in its simplicity, and also because it was rather nice to see Boycie get a taste of his own medicine after years of constantly laughing at the others.

7. Diamond Smuggling (To Hull and Back)

In the 1985 Christmas special, Boycie and guest character Abdul meet with Del-Boy in a private room in The Nag’s Head, where Boycie eventually persuades Del to be the courier in an illegal diamond exchange in Amsterdam, in exchange for £15,000. The ambience of this scene – which serves as the catalyst for the whole episode – is not unlike that of a Classical Hollywood era gangster film, and John Challis brought a uniquely sinister intensity to the role like he had never done before. Furthermore, whilst it had previously been insinuated that Boycie was not above shady business dealings, this confirmed it beyond any shadow of a doubt, which would play a part in a number of his future appearances.

6. London Gangsters and Large Cognacs (Little Problems)

When Trigger informs Del-Boy, Boycie and Mike that local gangsters the Driscoll brothers have just arrived in The Nag’s Head car park, Del and Boycie are visibly fearful, and the former hides upstairs. When the Driscoll brothers enter the pub, they both leave Boycie quivering and even intimidate him into laughing at an insinuation that he is not the father of his unborn son. However, when Danny Driscoll gives Mike £1 to buy the entire pub a drink (and leave some change), Boycie immediately orders a large cognac. Not only was this a brilliant reminder of Boycie’s opportunistic and somewhat selfish side, but this scene as a whole boasts a lot of weight as to depict him as so scared is a powerful contrast to the usually loud, big and brash Boycie. Furthermore, this scene was pivotal in inspiring the premise for the Boycie-focused spin-off The Green Green Grass.

5. Marlene’s Debut (Sleeping Dogs Lie)

Throughout his first 4 years on the series, Boycie’s wife Marlene was an unseen character with a bit of a reputation – to quote Del-Boy, “Oh yes, all the lads remember Marlene.” When the larger-than-life wife for a larger-than-life man first appeared in 1985, the scene established and ultimately cemented one of British sitcom’s most iconic partnerships. Boycie is visibly irritated by her doting over Duke the great dane, and she in turn winds him up by kissing Del on the lips. Their dynamic of winding each other up would provide great comic moments for the rest of the series’ run, and John Challis and Sue Holderness were a wonderful comedic pairing. Furthermore, this scene introduced the running gag of hints that Del and Marlene were having an affair, and added a new string to the bow that was Del and Boycie’s dynamic.

4. Wanting a Baby (From Prussia with Love)

In this episode, Del-Boy and Rodney befriend a German girl called Anna, who wants to give her unborn son up for adoption. Del (in a moment of selflessness) suggests to Boycie and Marlene (who have been trying and failing to have a baby for years) that they raise the baby in exchange for paying for Anna’s flight home. As Boycie’s criminal record means that they cannot formally adopt, this seems to Marlene to be the only opportunity she may get to raise a child. While there are some good gags in this scene, it is a fine example of how John Sullivan could effortlessly write character-focused drama, as this scene fleshed out Boycie and Marlene by giving them a vulnerability which they had never had before, and also gave them more of a backstory. Furthermore, their struggles to conceive would go on to be a subplot in the series for a further 3 years, and Boycie’s (erm) questionable fertility would be a running gag for years to come.

3. “I am a Doctor” (Chain Gang)

In this episode, Del-Boy, Boycie, Mike, Trigger, Albert and Rodney club together to buy £25,000 worth of gold chains for £12,500 (£7,000 of which is Boycie’s) from retired jeweller Arnie, who wants to be rid of them due to not having paid the VAT. When Arnie has a heart attack in a restaurant with the case of gold handcuffed to his wrist, Boycie pretends to be a doctor in an attempt to get the case off of him, only for a patron to punch him and Del to have to pretend to be a Police officer, in order to stop the manager from phoning the actual Police. John Challis’s comic timing and delivery is as excellent as ever, in a scene which shows Boycie’s opportunism, within an episode that emphasises the character’s love for a shady deal, but what sets this moment apart from so many other brilliant Boycie moments is the fact that this is the first time (and only time in Only Fools and Horses) in which the character is used for slapstick, and Challis stepped up to the mark brilliantly for that. Furthermore, his rapport with David Jason in this scene was terrific – a fine example of how the real-life friends made a great double-act on screen.

2. Aubrey (Sickness & Wealth)

For 8 whole years there was one unanswered question on Only Fools and Horses – what is Boycie’s real name? Well, during a séance, his middle-name was revealed to be Aubrey, which was the name that his late father always knew him by – a fact which even his oldest friends Del-Boy and Trigger did not know. The reveal is genuinely hilarious, not least due to the brilliantly expressive John Challis’s comic timing and delivery. When Elsie Partridge reveals that the spirit of Boyce Sr. is telling his son to be a good father, Boycie assumes that his dad is once again belittling him for being unable to father a child, and walks out. Not only did this scene flesh out Boycie, in part by finally answering a question in a hilarious manner which nobody had seen coming, but this moment also foreshadowed how Boycie would soon learn that he was going to become a father.

1. Poker (A Losing Streak)

Boycie’s second appearance in the series saw him engage in a high stakes poker game with Del-Boy, who (rightly) suspected his old friend of cheating at cards. It is a testament to the late John Sullivan’s screenwriting abilities that he was able to make a poker game not only witty but also highly significant. The duologue between David Jason and John Challis has some excellent witty lines which the two gifted actors delivered brilliantly, but the real significance of this scene, the real reason why it is the best Boycie scene is the fact that it cemented Del and Boycie’s dynamic for the rest of the series. In his first appearance, they were shown to be friendly and doing a bit of business together, but this scene established that they have a friendly rivalry which is at times intense as the pair try to constantly one-up each other. Throughout the series they were shown to be both rivals and friends with an immense respect for one-another, and that dynamic would have made far less sense had this scene never happened.

FILM: 12 Mighty Orphans (2021, Ty Roberts)

12 Mighty Orphans poster.jpg

Sports biopic 12 Mighty Orphans is distributed by Sony. The film tells the true story of how, during the Great Depression, Rusty Russell (Luke Wilson) arrived at the Masonic School for Orphans, Texas to take up both teaching and football coaching posts. In 12 of the eldest boys – all of whom have had truly tragic and difficult lives – he sees the potential to play high school football, which none of them have ever done before. Rusty starts to coach them and (through hard work, discipline and a willingness to adapt) he begins to mould them into a formidable team, and in doing so gives them hope and a reason to believe in themselves for the first time in their lives.

PROS

  • An underdog story that will appeal to fans of sports films, whilst also presenting an inspiring true story that shows some of the harshest and more unknown realities of the Great Depression.
  • The narrative boasts a lot of warmth and heart as the boys come to find a sense of purpose and of value for the first time in their lives, conveying to viewers how important those things are to young people, and also find a sense of family and belonging too.
  • Decent leads in Luke Wilson and Martin Sheen, plus solid support from Wayne Knight. The 12 young actors playing the orphans are also good, with Jake Austin Walker as Hardy Brown being the standout.

CONS

  • As a biopic and a sports film, this is a very by-the-numbers film which could be of far more worth were it not for the surface-level take on serious topics such as trauma, slavery and some of the harsher realities of living during the Great Depression.
  • The antagonistic figures are among several characters who are rather caricatured, and those supporting cast members are the weakest performers.
  • Some creative choices to give the film a 1930s’ feel fail – namely trying to create black-and-white and sepia newsreel footages, and also dabbling in that style of filming at several other points. Furthermore, there are some out-of-focus shots scattered throughout.

VERDICT: 5/10

An Upcoming Sporadic Series of Posts

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I have never made it a secret that I am a huge fan of the reality-television series The Apprentice – primarily the UK iteration. By no means is it perfect television, but I thoroughly enjoy it and am of course gutted that Series 16 has been delayed so much by the pandemic. However, filming takes place this Autumn and Series 16 will air next Spring! In honour of this, between now and the new series’ airing, I will revisit the previous 15 series and look at the best of each of them – with each one I shall do two posts and list my Top 5 Tasks and Top 5 Candidates from that series.

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However, that is not all. While I have always considered the British version better, I also enjoyed the original American version that started it all. Let me clarify though, the majority of seasons (including all non-celebrity) aired in the UK pre-2016, and I liked Donald Trump as its host (none of us outside of The Simpsons knew what would happen). Out of respect for the many hours of viewing pleasure it provided me, I shall also so a Top 5 Tasks and a Top 5 Candidates list for all 7 seasons of The Apprentice and all 8 of The Celebrity Apprentice.

A total of 60 posts, I will not be doing them every day – heck, I might go for 2-3 weeks without one, but I will have them all published between now and the first episode of Series 16 of the UK Apprentice airing in 2022.

FILM: Copshop (2021, Joe Carnahan)

In a colorful comic book-style format, the main characters of the film.

Action film Copshop is distributed by STXfilms. Assassin Bob Viddick (Gerard Butler) deliberately gets himself arrested so that he can be held in the same Police station cell block as con artist Teddy Murretto (Frank Grillo). However, mobster Anthony Lamb (Toby Huss) and his goons infiltrate the station in order to take out Teddy, which ignites bloody, all-out mayhem, with rookie cop Valerie Young (Alexis Louder) getting caught in the middle.

PROS

  • Decent performances from Gerard Butler, Frank Grillo, Alexis Louder and Toby Huss, who throw themselves into the film with intensity.
  • Cinematographer Juan Miguel Azpiroz utilises low, artificial lighting very well, which makes some of the later action scenes all the more gritty.

CONS

  • Stylistically the film starts out as a tribute to the grittier action films of the 1970s/1980s (some potential there!), but after that it stylistically becomes a lot more muddled, with director Joe Carnahan doing grit, whilst dabbling in comedy and character-driven storytelling.
  • A dreadful screenplay, which includes a muddled and unfocused narrative that is replete with highly illogical moments and fails to give any real substance to themes such as police corruption, and also boasts very clunky dialogue, some outdated stereotypes and a brief glorification of torture.
  • No matter how gritty the action scenes may be, the stunt co-ordination is laughable and it is impossible for one to suspend their disbelief when watching the stunts, whilst some scenes boast slapstick that is quite the drag and frankly pathetic really.

VERDICT: 3/10

Announcing The Second Annual October Scare Fest!

Well, we are now more than halfway through September. We are now entering Autumn (or Fall), which is my favourite time of year. The temperature gets lower, the leaves turn a lovely orange/brown and coffee shops start selling pumpkin lattes. It is wonderful. And of course, you cannot have Autumn without October. While I do not celebrate Halloween, I do love horror and the macabre (which – some claim – makes me a bit of an anomaly). As such I am delighted to announce that, having had an absolute blast doing it for the first time last year, I shall be doing The Second Annual October Scare Fest next month!

Oh yes, it is returning! What does The Annual October Scare Fest look like? Well, every day in October I shall publish a post around the themes of horror and the macabre, starting with a review on October 1st of the 1990s’ slasher film I Know What You Did Last Summer. These posts will be mostly reviews (films, literature, video games and television, as per usual), but there will also be some lists, and perhaps some other post-types (I have not finished planning it yet).

Do bear in mind that these posts shall not all concern out-and-out horror, but that discussed which is not horror will nevertheless feature scary or horrific aspects and elements, and it will all be stuff which can safely and fairly be classified as the macabre. Therefore, a post could concern an 18-rated film replete with torture and gore, or it could concern darker moments in a children’s television series. At the end of the day, my love of the macabre first began at 8-years-old, but there were certainly darker aspects to a lot of the film, literature and television which I consumed before then.

So, that is what will be coming up in October – 31 posts in 31 days. I cannot wait to continue annual tradition here on the blog, and hope that when it is September 2031 that I will be announcing The Twelfth Annual Scare Fest. I look forward to publishing the content next month, and hope that you enjoy reading it!

FILM: Annette (2021, Leos Carax)

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Avant-garde musical Annette is distributed in the UK by MUBI, following its premiere at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival. Stand-up comedian Henry McHenry (Adam Driver) embarks on a passionate relationship with soprano Ann Defrasnoux (Marion Cotillard), which produces a daughter Annette…who is portrayed by a wooden marionette. In the initial years following Annette’s birth, Ann’s career flourishes whereas Henry’s takes a nosedive after multiple allegations of past abuse surface. Henry resultantly starts to go off the rails, and his loved ones start to see an unhinged side to him that they had never realised existed.

PROS

  • With a unique vision coming through and a somewhat off-kilter style, Leos Carax directs this film with real flare and passion and keeps his focus on the characters and their relationships, which makes for captivating viewing, and he also has fun with some tongue-in-cheek moments and casual fourth-wall breaks.
  • A very quirky and charmingly off-kilter narrative which grows increasingly intense as the narrative progresses and Henry becomes slowly more unhinged – screenwriters Leos Carax and the Sparks Brothers proving themselves to be masters of slow-burn tension. Within this, they also incorporate a plot point which resonates wonderfully with the Me Too movement, and present a blunt, clever and often shocking depiction of the toxic and destructive nature of both (male) egotism and celebrity culture.
  • Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard both give outstanding performances, really throwing themselves into the film and portraying Henry and Ann with emotional intensity, while their chemistry is absolutely electrifying and captivating to watch. They are backed by an excellent supporting cast, with Simon Helberg being the standout member as the Accompanist, whom he plays with real vigour and a charmingly camp quality.
  • The Sparks Brothers are not who one would immediately assume to be collaborators with Leos Carax, but by Jove are they a great team, the musicians doing an excellent job of penning the songs, which are very catchy but also have a charming, slightly off-kilter quality, which perfectly compliments Carax’s vision and directorial style.
  • A very eye-catching film, with the production and costume designs and lighting boasting a rich colour palette that cinematographer Caroline Champetier frames magnificently, her shots having a painterly quality. As for the wooden Annette marionette – she can be interpreted in multiple ways, giving the film further depth.

CONS

  • The worst song (due to its sheer repetitiveness) is the one which is utilised the most times over the narrative’s course, becoming an increasing slog to sit through, while some scenes use songs for dialogue that can just be spoken words (think Les Miserables, but not to that extent).
  • Some parts of the film end very abruptly, including Ann’s narrative arc and one other key plot point (I can say no more for risk of spoilers), and these would have benefited from some more screen time and focus to flesh them out a bit further and give them some more weight.

VERDICT: 9/10