PREVIEW: July 2022

Halfway through 2022 already? Good gracious! A number of posts were published during June and I FINALLY finished my series of Apprentice posts. Looking ahead to July, it is going to be a busy month, but I have some cinema trips lined up, including DC League of Super-Pets, Joyride, Minions: The Rise of Gru, Nitram, The Railway Children Return, Thor: Love and Thunder and Where the Crawdads Sing. I will endeavour to get reviews for all of these films published, as well as some other posts – time permitting of course!

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

FILM: The Black Phone (2021, Scott Derrickson)

Horror film The Black Phone is adapted from Joe Hill’s short story and is distributed by Universal, following its premiere at Fantastic Fest 2021. Set in 1978 Denver, teenager Finney (Mason Thames) becomes the latest victim of serial child abductor The Grabber (Ethan Hawke). Locked in a soundproofed basement, an old (supposedly broken) phone on the wall rings at least once a day, and through it the ghosts of The Grabber’s previous victims speak to him, instructing him on things that he can do to make his escape possible.

PROS

  • Scott Derrickson helms this film with a deft hand and – along with cinematographer Brett Jutkiewicz’s outstanding use of low lighting and shadows – crafts a highly atmospheric and tense piece through the claustrophobic setting and long takes. He also ensures that visually the flashbacks and dreams have the quality of something from the 1970s.
  • Ethan Hawke is captivating in his most unnerving performance of all time, but the true stars are Mason Thames and Madeleine McGraw (as Finney’s little sister), who bring a lot of raw emotion to the film and prove themselves to be natural talent.
  • Although to an extent this is of course a film about a child against his captor, the narrative is ultimately about Finney’s growth as he goes through an emotional rollercoaster and finds his courage and motivation to attempt escape through the phone conversations.
  • A thrilling and very clever climax in which so many moments from earlier in the film have excellent pay-off and provide the viewer with a pleasantly surprising sense of catharsis.

CONS

  • Given how increasingly conscious of a serial child abductor everyone becomes in the opening half-hour, it feels implausible that people do not seem to make that much effort to ensure no child ever walks home alone.
  • The closing feels slightly inconsistent with the rest of the film and ultimately stinks of wasted potential. Sorry to be so vague as I would otherwise risk spoilers, plus there is an incredibly rushed redemption scene.

VERDICT: 8/10

FILM: Elvis (2022, Baz Luhrmann)

Following its premiere at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival, biopic Elvis is distributed by Warner Bros. The film charts the career of Elvis Presley (Austin Butler) from being discovered as a 19-year-old talent by the opportunistic Colonel Parker (Tom Hanks) to the superstar’s final performance mere days before his death at aged 42, and also depicts how he was exploited and abused by Parker, how he resultantly became addicted to prescription drugs, and the impact which this had on his marriage to Priscilla (Olivia DeJonge).

PROS

  • Baz Luhrmann brings his unique style of unrelenting hyperactive energy to a number of early scenes, but in particular the concert scenes, which are brilliantly executed and absolutely captivating. Yet he also brings great emotional weight and gravitas to the Third Act, making them compelling viewing.
  • Austin Butler gives an outstanding performance as Elvis, bringing so much fantastic energy and charisma, yet also a moving sense of vulnerability
  • Handsome and detailed production design and costume design gives the film a very good sense of period authenticity, whilst the surprisingly low lighting for a Baz Luhrmann film visually emphasises that there was a darker, more tragic side to this story, no matter how much glamour there was.

CONS

  • A good 10-15 minutes could have been cut from the first two Acts and it would not have made a noticeable difference to the narrative, and in these two Acts Baz Luhrmann’s direction feels a lot more unfocused and his hyperactive energy unchanneled.
  • Given the (to say the least) problematic nature of the Colonel’s role in Elvis’s life, it feels wrong to have him as the narrator framing everything, plus he is such a prominent role throughout that at times Elvis feels like a supporting role in his own biopic.
  • Whilst there are good aspects to his performance, Tom Hanks feels misdirected, particularly in scenes where the Colonel is elderly. Most other supporting players get little chance to shine and feel like they are being treated as part of a tick list of people who were part of Elvis’s life.

VERDICT: 6/10

FILM: Good Luck to You, Leo Grande (2022, Sophie Hyde)

Comedy-drama Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is distributed by Lionsgate, following its premiere at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Recently retired widow Nancy (Emma Thompson) desires romance and passion after a boring marriage. She hires sex worker Leo Grande (Daryl McCormack) in the hope of finding that and, over the course of several meetings, Nancy is able to both come out of her shell and understand herself better as their conversation-heavy meetings prove to be a surprising time of self-discovery.

PROS

  • Director Sophie Hyde brings tremendous nuance and a deft hand to the film, helming long duologue-heavy takes which give the film a charming naturalistic quality, and ensures that the film is very much character-focused throughout, that their conversations drive the narrative.
  • Two outstanding performances from Emma Thompson and Daryl McCormack, who bring astonishing amounts of sensitivity and vulnerability to Nancy and Leo, have wonderful chemistry with each other, and also absolutely nail their comic timing and delivery in the required scenes.
  • A strong balance between comedy and drama, with the former primarily being the plethora of witty innuendos and the latter being the emotional rollercoasters that Nancy and Leo go through in their sensitively written relationship.
  • Despite the subject-matter, dialogue and scenes of a sexual nature do not take up that much of the runtime at all, as the emotionally raw and compelling duologues between Nancy and Leo are spaces of self-reflection in which they come to terms with aspects of themselves.

CONS

  • A few gags around the experience of middle-class motherhood which lack the originality and sharpness of the innuendos, feeling like much more of a play to stereotypes than anything else in this film.
  • A few contrived moments that ultimately exist to be mere page-filler as they add nothing of any real substance to the narrative, in particular a scene involving a phone call which really disrupts the flow of the scene and merely offers a slight elaboration on a point which had already been made clear.

VERDICT: 8/10

The Best of The Apprentice (2004-2019)

Over the course of a number of months (October 2021-June 2022) I wrote a 60-part-series on the best of The Apprentice, in honour of the long-awaited return of the UK version in January 2022. The only reality television franchise that I have ever been a fan of, I wrote Top 5 lists for the candidates and tasks of every season of both the original American Apprentice and the American Celebrity Apprentice, and the first 15 series of the British Apprentice – the three iterations of the global franchise that I have watched throughout.

Here I have brought together all of my posts into one place, and the links to the individual posts are listed below. I hope you enjoy reading (at the very least one or two of) them, because I had a great time going down Memory Lane as I revisited them!

The Original American Apprentice (2004-2007, 2010)

The British Apprentice (2005-)

The American Celebrity Apprentice (2008-2017)

Top 5 Tasks of The Apprentice Season 7

At last concluding my series of Apprentice posts to mark the long-awaited return for the UK Apprentice, it is now time for me to finish revisiting Season 7 of the original American Apprentice – a.k.a. the recession-themed effort to revive the original civilian format – under a far less controversial Donald Trump. Gosh, those were the days! Originally airing from September-December 2010, 16 candidates who had been hit hard by the Great Recession entered to win a game-changing executive position within The Trump Organization, for which they did an initial 11 business-related tasks. Of those 11, some naturally stood out more than others and were more interesting and (in some cases) entertaining for me. It is worth clarifying that these are my favourite tasks and, before writing on my Top 5, there are some which just missed out, so here are the…

Honourable Mentions

  • Office Designs (Task 1): both teams had to create a modern office space…in New York. Quite possibly the most Trump task concept ever!
  • Doggy Day Care (Task 3): I love dogs, but this task was a first as men’s PM James (wrongly) benched David mid-task over a personality clash.

5. QVC (Task 11)

Both teams had to write, direct, produce and start in live segments on shopping channel QVC, and it went back to being men versus women due to their only being 4 candidates left. Clint and Steuart versus Liza and Brandy. The men went for handbags, which surprised everyone until PM Clint admitted that he knew a lot about them due to his wife having had an enormous collection of them prior to the Great Recession. The women went for watches and, when starring in the live segment, the highly poised, eloquent and elegant Brandy did an outstanding job. And Steuart also did when he presented the handbags with a natural charm, charisma and articulate sales pitch. I might have bought the watch, I definitely would not have bought the handbag, but I could watch such natural presenters as them all day.

4. Pedicabs (Task 6)

Following a double-firing on the disastrous previous task, the deflated men went into this one – doing pedicab tours of Manhattan, most money raised wins – at a disadvantage as it was four men against six women. PM Anand was determined for them not to lose a second consecutive task (despite David being an irritant whom he, Clint and Steuart were fed up with), and things started looking up when Mahsa and the women’s PM Kelly failed the pedicab test. The men did Roman chariot themed tours that started outside Trump Tower and really threw themselves into it – David and Clint even had a brief swordfight mid-ride. The women went for “Babes on Bikes” – they took the sex sales approach and targeted the monied men by starting on Wall Street…seemingly forgetting that Wall Streeters are New York based guys who would probably be fired if their boss spotted them on a pedicab. As such, it was no real surprise when the women lost by over $600!

3. Fashion Shows (Task 5)

Both teams had to create and host catwalk shows for Rockport shoes – the men’s team (led by Wade) had to do one for women’s shoes, the women’s team (led by Stephanie) had to do one for men’s shoes. Wade and Stephanie were both good PMs and delegated well, although the former was more relaxed than the latter. Up until the day of the shows themselves, things generally looked good for both teams – at that point it was too close to call, which I always like. The women’s show was first and Brandy was a phenomenal emcee. It would have been perfect were it not for the fact that the model wearing shorts was the only one with scabby legs. Yikes! The men’s show was a disaster – the fashion chosen by Steuart and Anand was unanimously praised, but the usually eloquent Gene had not even rehearsed – he stumbled and mispronounced words, whilst Trump (in a front row seat) visibly raged and his teammates died inside backstage. You can probably guess who won!

2. Perfume Displays (Task 9)

Before this task started there was a shocker – Anand became the only candidate whom Trump ever disqualified for cheating (back on Task 6), much to the horror of his fellow competitors. It then became Clint, Steuart and Brandy as Octane versus Poppy, Liza and Stephanie as Fortitude. The task was create in-store displays for Kim Kardashian’s new line of perfume, with Clint and Poppy as the respective PMs. Octane were at a disadvantage on a perfume task – two men and Brandy (who described herself as being the least girly of the remaining female candidates) against three (apparently very girly) women. So Fortitude won right? Wrong! Clint really tapped into his feminine side and designed a very elegant, professional-looking and high quality in-store display – the biggest surprise of the episode given he is a very masculine Texan. Over on Fortitude, Poppy created a display that was more Hannah Montana than Kim Kardashian – feather boas, glitter, sequins, it looked like something a 12-year-old in the early-2000s would have created, not something for a luxury product.

1. Viral Videos (Task 4)

Ah, viral videos – the world’s fascination with them in the late-2000s/early-2010s was quite something, so of course Trump tapped into it by assigning the teams to create viral videos for Popcorn Indiana. Clint and Mahsa led the men and women respectively – Clint was a brilliant PM as he was a natural leader, very strategic, utilised each team member well and got the point of viral videos (go big or go home!), and Mahsa was good as she was organised and excelled in the directorial role…only she did not get the whole thing about going big. In fairness to the women, they had a good concept – a man eating popcorn whilst working out and giving flirtatious looks to the women in the gym, which would play on the situation’s irony – but did not go far enough with it. The men’s video was a big scale popcorn fight that would start with two people and escalate into dozens, right outside Trump Tower, for which they shut down Fifth Avenue! I know, right! That is going big, that is the kind of concept which made for a viral video back in 2010! It was fantastic to watch this, to watch a brilliant idea come to life with such terrific energy, and it is no wonder that the men won and (eventual runner-up) Clint cemented his status as a serious contender beyond any shadow of a doubt. As for David though, he had rotten luck as he had to miss part of the task due to a broken tooth.

And with that, my 60-part series of Apprentice posts is over at long last (it only took nearly 9 months). It has been an absolute blast to write these posts as revisiting the only reality television series I ever liked was a wonderful trip down Memory Lane. I also found this to be a fitting post to conclude the series with, as I began with the original American civilian Apprentice, and I ended with the original American civilian Apprentice – the series came full-circle!

FILM: Lightyear (2022, Angus MacLane)

Science-fiction adventure Lightyear is the 26th feature-length computer-animation from Pixar, and is a spin-off/origins story to Toy Story – an introductory title card establishes that this is Andy’s favourite film, and that his Buzz Lightyear toy was a piece of merchandise from that film.

When Buzz Lightyear (Chris Evans) and his robotic cat Sox (Peter Sohn) return to T’Kani Prime from a hyperspace test (in which mere minutes have passed for them, but 22 years have passed for those back on the ground below), they find that Star Command’s base is under attack from robots that are under the command of Zurg (James Brolin). The only others who are not under the protection of Star Command’s shields are aspiring Space Ranger Izzy Hawthorne (Keke Palmer), naïve recruit Mo Morrison (Taika Waititi) and elderly parolee Darby Steel (Dale Soules), so Buzz and Sox team up with them to defeat Zurg. But nothing can prepare Buzz for the shocking revelation of Zurg’s true identity.

PROS

  • As we all have come to expect from Pixar, the animation is of course excellent as, whilst there are no particularly innovative conceptual designs on display, the animation is replete with fantastic smaller details which bring wonderful scale and spectacle to outer space and give a great sense of humanity to the characters’ expressions.
  • There are some fun moments of adventure, particularly in the latter-half, as well as some emotional weight in Buzz’s bonds with Sox and Commander Hawthorne (Uzo Aduba), whilst the stakes are raised by (admittedly generic) use of the Interstellar take on space-time.
  • Chris Evans of course brings a great heroic quality to Buzz, whilst the rest of the central cast bring good energy to their performances. The absolute standouts though are Peter Sohn as Sox, who has great chemistry with Evans and nails the dry delivery, and Dale Soules, who brings a great sense of cynicism to Darby.

CONS

  • Some quite weak characterisation means that some scenes lack the emotional weight which they would otherwise have had, whilst Zurg proves to be an especially underwhelming antagonist – from his intimidating others to the dumb twist.
  • There are some very noticeable pacing issues, particularly the rushed prologue and the padded-out climax, with the latter being especially frustrating as it features a number of weak jokes in a film full of unfunny gags (some of which even Taika Waititi cannot redeem).
  • Despite it being explicitly clear from the offset that Buzz Lightyear and Zurg of the Toy Story films are based on this film, their narratives in Lightyear raise all manner of blatant continuity errors with their characterisation in the older Pixar films.

VERDICT: 5/10

Top 5 Candidates of The Apprentice Season 7

Continuing my series of Apprentice posts to mark the long-awaited return for the UK Apprentice, it is now time for me revisit Season 7 of the original American Apprentice – a.k.a. the recession-themed effort to revive the original civilian format – under a far less controversial Donald Trump. Gosh, those were the days! Originally airing from September-December 2010, 16 candidates who had been hit hard by the Great Recession entered to win a game-changing executive position within The Trump Organization. Of those 16, some naturally stood out more than others and with presences that I liked more than others. It is worth clarifying that these are my favourite candidates rather than the candidates who did best (or showed the most competency). Before writing on my Top 5, there are some who just missed out, so here are the…

Honourable Mentions

  • Gene Folkes (12th) and Poppy Carlig (6th): the eldest and youngest candidates respectively were two genuinely nice people and much needed calm presences in the storms.
  • Mahsa Saeidi-Azcuy (9th): absolutely the series villain and the ultimate bull in a china shop, and her inability to know when to stay silent was her undoing.
  • Anand Vasudev (7th): a real contender during the first few tasks, but he made Apprentice history by becoming the only candidate who Trump ever disqualified after he was exposed for cheating.
The season opening, featuring all 16 candidates.

5. Brandy Kuentzel (Winner)

Whilst I do not believe that Brandy deserved to win The Apprentice (not least because she only stepped up once as project manager…in Task 8), she deserved to make it to the final as (despite taking so long to PM) she stood out as a contender very early on. She thought strategically, was a strong saleswoman, was unafraid of getting her hands dirty through hard graft, and had a very cosmopolitan style that came in very useful whenever she presented – and she was a natural in that role as she was posed and articulate. Plus, when she eventually stepped up as PM, she did a very good job in the role. Brandy had a strong track record throughout the process and, thanks not least to her articulate nature, natural poise and all-round professionalism, she was highly respected by her fellow candidates. A very welcome calm presence in all on-task situations.

4. Liza Mucheru-Wisner (3rd)

Some candidates stand out for their track records, others for their impact upon team dynamics. Liza….was the latter. She had good qualities as she did the hard graft and had some good ideas, but she rubbed the other women up the wrong way a lot as a result of personality clashes – Liza was unafraid to speak her mind and really fought her corner, but often too aggressively, which certainly made for interesting viewing. That was ultimately her downfall but, when he fired her, Trump (who had a soft spot for her) said that the person she got on with best was him. That certainly ended up being the case when Liza was on Brandy’s team in the final, and played a key role by being Trump’s partner in a golf tournament – he was extremely impressed by her performance on the course.

3. Steuart Martens (4th)

Another candidate who had a very good track record in the process (including 2 wins as PM), Steuart stood out as a contender very early on. He was not only an all-round hard worker who did very well in a leadership role, but he brought strong ideas to the table, was quite astute, was an excellent presenter and a fantastic salesman, not least due to the fact that that he was a very charismatic and articulate guy who had a wonderfully charming, cosmopolitan style. And of course the fact that he was annoyingly good-looking factored into his success in sales, but one cannot begrudge him that given that he was also a really nice guy, which made his performance a pleasure to watch. Steuart got on very well with most of his fellow candidates, but none more so than Clint with whom he had the most sincere and warm bromance since the original American Apprentice bromance of Troy and Kwame, with the two men having unconditional respect for one-another.

2. David Johnson (8th)

As mentioned, some candidates make these Top 5 lists because of their impact upon team dynamics, and David was certainly one of them. One had to feel bad for David, as he had been made redundant over a year earlier and had to provide for 5 young children, and the obvious resultant stress got the better of him sometimes, as he could occasionally become very flustered. When he was not stressed though, David could be a wise guy and strive to make others laugh (to very varying degrees of success, as he often irritated his teammates), which was entertaining and interesting to watch, but also he could be very argumentative and blunt, with a poor attitude – so much so that he became the first ever candidate to be benched by a PM mid-task, by James on Task 3, although Trump disagreed with James’s decision there. David did have good qualities though – he was a good salesman and, after learning that his teammates regarded him as a “virus” and were fed up with him, upped his game and behaved far more calmly and treated everyone with respect. He made outstanding contributions and was praised by his teammates for his turnaround, but even more so by Trump, and David left the process far more respected by his fellow candidates than anyone would have expected after the first 4 tasks. For that he has to be commended.

1. Clint Robertson (Runner-up)

Whilst Season 6’s James Sun will ultimately remain the most robbed runner-up in any season of the American iterations, if not of any iteration in the international franchise, Clint is certainly the second-most robbed of the American runners-up. Whilst Brandy had a solid track record, Clint stepped up far more as PM – he took on the role 3 times and won in it twice – and was far more of a natural at motivating others. A proud Texan who had extensive experience in both law and property development, his credentials alone meant that he was tailor-made for The Trump Organization – like James, it was really only his fellow finalist’s more cosmopolitan style that resulted in him losing. Clint stood out throughout the process, his excellent business and life experience making him a real asset on each and every task. He was a natural leader whose passion motivated his teammates, was very strategic and also highly adaptable (he did terrifically well in the final), an excellent salesman, an excellent contributor with ideas and creative concepts, and a hard grafter who did not consider himself above more menial manual labour. And although Clint was not afraid to call others out, he treated everyone with great respect and developed a close bond with Steuart. Plus, despite being a proud and manly Texan, he did have a feminine side that came out on Task 9, which was hilarious to watch. Naturally I, and countless other viewers, was gutted when he lost in the final, but his outstanding work on The Apprentice resulted in him getting numerous job offers after the season aired – a fact which I was delighted to learn!

Note: This season was unsuccessful enough for Trump to retire the original format permanently and was criticised over the fact that – unlike the first 3 seasons of The Celebrity Apprentice, which had aired post-2007 – it was not charity-focused. I personally think that this was ridiculous. Not only was it a pretty good season, but it was providing opportunities for people who were in hot water financially thanks to the Great Recession – sure, there could only be one winner, but many of the other candidates still got much-needed job offers and opportunities as a result of appearing on the series. And for which I have to commend this season and (I hate to say it) Trump for reviving the original format.

FILM: Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers (2022, Akiva Schaffer)

Metafictional live-action/animation hybrid Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers was released direct-to-Disney+. It has been 30 years since their hit TV series Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers was cancelled, and now Chip (John Mulaney) is a successful insurance salesman, whilst Dale (Andy Samberg) has shelled out for “CGI surgery” and attends fan conventions in desperate hope of reviving his acting career. When Monterey Jack (Eric Bana) is kidnapped, the former double-act reunite to go on a rescue mission, but will they be able to mend their broken friendship?

PROS

  • A fast-paced narrative with great energy that makes for an often very exciting investigation full of some very creative original characters and clever twists on classic Disney characters, whilst also having some nice moments of character drama as Chip ‘n Dale reflects on their pasts, their regrets and seek to reconcile.
  • The screenwriters do an excellent job with meta humour, making all manner of clever tongue-in-cheek references to modern Disney and modern cinema generally (in particular the recent crazes for reboots and live-action remakes), as well as the history of animation. Countless animated characters (at the very least) therefore cameo in clever manners, some of which are well-executed surprises.
  • The “CGI surgery” to Dale is not only a clever piece of satire, but a very detailed piece of visual effects, in a film full of animated characters in a live-action setting (a la Who Framed Roger Rabbit?), and the two are blended together very smoothly indeed – and credit to the various cast members for interacting so naturally with the animated characters.
  • Excellent voice performances from John Mulaney and Andy Samberg, who bring a lot of depth to Chip ‘n Dale and the latter brings a lot of energy; as well as supporting players J.K. Simmons, Will Arnett, Eric Bana and Seth Rogen. KiKi Layne is the main live-action performer and does a good job of interacting with the animated characters, particularly in the climax.

CONS

  • At times the film does feel a bit rushed, particularly the prologue, which could easily have been twice as long and resultantly lacks the emotional weight necessary for the narrative.
  • Chip is created with very lazy hand-drawn animation, with the least detail that the character has ever had, also being the most lazily designed character in the entire film, and he therefore stands out like a sore-thumb far more than the CGI Dale does.
  • Several animated characters whom Disney have zero rights to make cameos in this film which do not even serve the purpose of a gag, their appearances feeling merely like a power move by Disney as they blow cash on the rights to feature said characters.

VERDICT: 7/10

FILM: Garfield: The Movie (2004, Peter Hewitt)

Jim Davis’s iconic comic strip character’s big screen debut is distributed by 20th Century Fox. Sarcastic talking cat Garfield (Bill Murray) is gutted when owner Jon (Breckin Meyer) adopts dog Odie, who is good at performing tricks. These performance skills gain the attention of local TV host Happy Chapman (Stephen Tobolowsky), who kidnaps Odie, so Garfield – who has begrudgingly come to like the dog – sets off to rescue him.

PROS

  • This is a generally well-paced film, with a couple of scenes that have very good energy indeed, and a number of slapstick gags which will really entertain the target audience of children.
  • Bill Murray’s voice performance is excellent as he delivers Garfield’s lines with wonderful deadpan and strangely charming sarcastic wit, making even some of the most dreadful lines enjoyable.

CONS

  • A poor screenplay, with a number of gags missing the mark, too much focus on the frankly dull romance between Jon and Liz (Jennifer Love Hewitt), and very hammy characterisation of Happy Chapman with insultingly stupid efforts to convey that he is the antagonist.
  • A weak live-action cast, with Breckin Meyer and Jennifer Love Hewitt having no chemistry at all, whilst the hammy Stephen Tobolowsky seems slightly uncertain as to why he is in the film, and all three do a poor job of interacting with the titular CGI cat.
  • Whilst the CGI that brings Garfield to life features detailed, textured fur, his eyes look far less realistic than the rest of his body as they have a cartoonish rendering with far less attention-to-detail.

VERDICT: 4/10