The Gentlemen (2019) is my stand out film from April. This is a Guy Ritchie film like the Guy Ritchie films of old. I’m talking Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch back when he was the closest thing the UK had to Quentin Tarantino. I was in two minds about whether to write a separate post about this because I’m a big fan and I loved the film, but I’ll try to curb my enthusiasm and keep it brief.

Matthew McConaughey stars as an American expat Michael Pearson trying to sell off his massive marijuana business that he’s built underneath various British stately homes.  His story is told by the devious Fletcher (Hugh Grant) who has written a screenplay called ‘Bush’ about Pearson and is asking for £20 million from Pearson’s right-hand man Ray (Charlie Hunnam) not to go to the papers.

The c-bomb is dropped more times than a Ricky Gervais routine and the script is typically flamboyant and unrealistic (Trantino-esque I guess you could say) but thoroughly entertaining nonetheless. Grant is brilliant as kind of camp weasely Michael Caine character and Colin Farrell turns up a bit later as an Irish fight coach in charge of a bunch of likely lads who put ‘fight-porn’ videos on YouTube and unbeknownst to him rip off one of Pearson’s drug farms.

There’s a whole plethora of interesting larger-than-life characters set against the grimy underbelly of London. Some of the acting from the lesser-known faces on screen is a trifle wooden at times but I feel that’s part of the charm of Ritchie’s films and let’s be frank you can’t be any worse than Vinnie Jones in Lock, Stock. McConaughey is typically great but shouldn’t go unmentioned just because Grant had a field day with his character.

Disney allegedly had to wait for original author P. L. Travers to die before they could make Mary Poppins Returns (2018). Even then there were supposedly legal shenanigans with her estate before fans got to see this sequel to their classic 1964 original. This version sees Emily Blunt in the titular role as the witch come nanny who doesn’t seem to have aged a day despite her having been away somewhere while the original kids grew up and had kids of their own.

Ben Wishaw and Emily Mortimer play Michael and Jane. Michael is a widower struggling to keep a roof over his head and look after his children, quite how he can afford to pay Mary Poppins is best left glossed over. For my money the stars of the show are Blunt and founding member of hip-hop ensemble Freestyle Love Supreme Lin-Manuel Miranda as the gas lighter (not chimney sweep) Jack, who is indeed a Jack-the-lad God bless ya Mary Poppins etc.

The songs and set pieces and the story (which follows the original quite closely) are rather fun although one sequence with a group of dancing gas lighters does seem to go on forever. There’s some nice nods to the original mixture of animation and live footage with penguins making a brief appearance and even old Dick Van Dyke turns up near the end along with an even briefer cameo from Bedknobs and Broomstick‘s star Angela Lansbury probably better know these days for Murder, She Wrote. While it’s not as enjoyable as Guy Ritchie’s Disney job Aladdin, it was certainly better than the next film.

Beauty and the Beast (2017) also on DisneyPlus was pretty dreadful in my opinion but I probably went into it on a downer because I really don’t rate Emma Watson as an actor. To keep it polite, I’ll not go on any further about her in particular. Also I wasn’t a huge fan of the original film as i found it rather too traditional when compared to what they did on the original Aladdin animation for instance.

So this is a very straight live action remake of the original story despite the insertion of Disney’s first openly gay character. The songs are mostly awful but Luke Evans (The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug) does put in a rather good performance as the dastardly Gaston. Everyone else but Belle and Gaston appear to be French (including a wavering accent from Ewan McGregor as animated candlestick Lumière) which is rather curious.

Beast (2017) may be related thematically to the aforementioned turkey but is a much more satisfying bird. Starring Jessie Buckley (Wild Rose, Taboo) and Johnny Flynn (from this year’s Emma) this British film tells the story of Moll a young woman living in a lonely channel island community trying to break away from her oppressive mother. She falls in love with Pascal Renouf a mysterious outsider who is suspected by the local police of being a brutal serial killer with a taste for teenage girls.

For anyone who has grown up in a remote rural place among a tight-knit community and can remember days of desperately wanting to get out this is a must-see. The way writer/director Michael Pearce drip feeds information to the viewer and builds the tension in the story and plays with ambiguity is really great. Who the titular beast is in this dark tale is very much left to the viewer to decide and I loved the fact that we weren’t treated to a huge dollop of exposition in the third act.

Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot (2018), as is typical with Joaquin Phoenix films, looked like one thing from the trailer on Amazon Prime and turned out to be something else a little darker. Phoenix plays real-life alcoholic cartoonist John Callahan who was in a horrible car accident and ended up in wheelchair.

It’s a touching story of one man’s struggle with disability and addiction with another great performance from Pheonix supported by some great turns from other actors such as Jonah Hill who plays his guru-like sponsor, Jack Black who plays another alcoholic who was partly responsible for Callahan’s injuries and Beth Ditto (who I know more as the singer from the rock band Gossip) who has a small part as a fellow AA member.

the film is directed by Gus Van Sant best known for My Own Private Idaho and Drugstore Cowboy and benefits from the inclusion of many of Callahan’s close-to-the-knuckle cartoons, some of which I recognise from reprints on greetings cards from The New Yorker. Indeed the title of the film is a punchline from one such cartoon which shows a posse of cowboys looking at an empty wheelchair in a desert landscape.

Monsters University (2013) is the long-awaited sequel to the hit movie Monsters Inc (2001) and I’m not sure it’s really worth the wait if I’m going to be brutal about it. Billy Crystal and John Goodman reprise their roles as Mike and Sullivan and the film tells the story of the buddies before they joined the scare factory, but besides the absolutely brilliant looking animation it’s all a bit too formulaic and predictable.

I was hoping for more because usually Pixar do go to some unexpected places in their films – Wall.E and Up! for instance had some interesting and poignant moments. But like Incredibles 2 last month, this just seems like a good-looking play-it-by-the-numbers cash-grab with the usual moralistic message for kids about teamwork, friends and of course family.

Muppets Most Wanted (2014) on paper looks dangerously like the aforementioned play-it-by-the-numbers cash-grab sequel with the usual moralistic message for kids about teamwork, friends and of course family. The film follows on directly from The Muppets (2011) which I frankly enjoyed a lot and the writers make a joke about cashing in while they’re hot property. And that’s the difference I think – we’re told as adult viewers very early on not to take this comedy too seriously and there are jokes for old and young alike.

I’ve had a soft spot for the Muppets in all their various incarnations since childhood and so it was great to see them in a movie again. I’m also one of those people who really like Ricky Gervais and so with the addition of Tina Fey as the head guard of a Russian gulag this seemed like a perfect line up. The jokes are funny, the puppeteering and tricks with green screen very good and since the songs appear to be written by Flight of the Conchords’s Bret McKenzie again it’s a good fun film. Bret’s Conchords buddy Jemaine Clement also has a small role as a gulag prisoner with a penchant for am-dram.

Ingrid Goes West (2017) stars Parks and Recreation regular Aubrey Plaza and Avenger Elizabeth Olsen in a story about Ingrid, a mentally-troubled social media addict, who moves to Los Angeles to stalk and then insinuates herself into the life of an Instagram star Taylor Sloane. It’s quite a creepy and tragic film.

You hold out hope that eventually Ingrid will get the specialist treatment she so obviously needs but there’s no-one there to help her really. Well, there is Batman-obsessed landlord Dan Pinto played by O’Shea Jackson Jr. (who among other things played Ice Cube in Straight Outta Compton two years previously) who is there for her in small doses but who actually doesn’t really help since at the end of the film he provides Ingrid with all the motivation she needs to continue her obsession with social media by showing her how many hits she’s had on her suicide video. It’s an odd ending to a thought provoking film.

The Spy Who Dumped Me (2018) provoked one thought and that was that I’d just wasted about two hours of my life watching Kate McKinnon (Ghostbusters (2016)) trying way too hard to make a lame script funny and Mila Kunis looking uncomfortable as the straight ‘guy’. Writer/director Susanna Fogel who made the very funny Booksmart has tried to balance a violent spy thriller with a buddy comedy and for me it didn’t work very well. Also casting the frankly anorexic looking Ivanna Sakhno as a cliched Villanelle style hit-girl seems like a mistake for a film that has a lot of lines about feminism in it.

Unless you really are struggling for something to watch and have the ability to switch off all critical functioning of your brain, give this one a miss. The only redeeming feature I can think of is that there is a pretty cool car chase in the film and a gorgeous looking silver sports car too, but I feel like I need a wash just saying that to be honest. I can’t actually believe that this came from the same writer/director as Booksmart. Anyway, just when you thought things couldn’t get much worse along comes Jason Statham…

Wild Card (2015) is an action film. It stars Jason Statham as a gambling-addicted Las vegas bodyguard and a woman with big boobs who is only there at the start of the film to make you think Statham’s character is a lecherous drunk when in fact he’s just helping out her boyfriend so he can look hard in front of her. Statham thankfully doesn’t try to do an American accent in this one.

He goes on to punch, kick, stab and shoot his way through a bunch of bad guys and that actor from Heroes who everyone forgot about (no not Spock the other one). The film is based on a book and it sounds like lines of dialogue that look pretty cool on the page are pulled directly from the book and placed in the actors’ mouths. The effect isn’t great but actually it’s a better watch than The Spy Who Dumped Me despite it not being a comedy and perhaps because it’s only an hour and a half long.


Image by Shutterbug75 from Pixabay