Watching - August 2021

Paddington 2 (2017)
The best thing about this hugely enjoyable film is Hugh Grant's gloriously over-the-top luvvie villain, but even without that it's a very funny film. Brought in the whole family.
Apollo 11 (2019)
The NASA footage is amazing, not least because it reminds you how incredibly complex the whole undertaking was. Seeing the shots of the rows and rows of people at consoles at Launch Control in Florida really brought that home to me, and of course that was merely the tip of the iceberg. However, it's a big of a slog as a documentary, and the dramatic music is a bit intrusive (all a bit too Truman Show for me) but well worth seeing.
Florence Foster Jenkins (2016)
Very amusing. I watched this because Mark Kermode said it was one of Hugh Grant's best roles, and he's good, but it's Meryl Streep who stands out.
A Very English Scandal (2018)
I knew very little about the Jeremy Thorpe scandal before this. It was a good watch, but would have been better as a 1½-2 hour film rather than three hours, even when watched with breaks. Hugh Grant is very good but still obviously Hugh Grant (maybe I just know his films too well), and so was Ben Wilshaw, but together they made an odd casting decision - and not just because it's hard to forget that Wilshaw also plays Paddington. The events depicted cover almost twenty years, but Grant always looks to be in his fifties while Wilshaw in his twenties. In real life they were about eleven years apart and Thorpe was always considered young and active for a politician. Still, you can't fault the effort put into the production and I enjoyed it.
Music and Lyrics (2007)
I'll watch Drew Barrymore in most things, but here I think she and Hugh Grant (yes, August has become a bit of a Grant-fest, I'm afraid) make a good and believable couple - and certainly he is preferable to Adam Sandler. The film is sweet, light and fluffy, like a good cake - not exactly good for you, but enjoyable nonetheless.
Yesterday (2019)
An intriguing concept turned into Curtis-by-numbers. Very much like About Time, it takes a really great premise and then squashes it under a conventional romcom, while abandoning any internal consistency when it becomes inconvenient. I enjoyed it and there were plenty of laugh-out-loud jokes, but the original concept, of a man who can't find success despite having all these astonishing songs, would have been more believable and interesting, and knowing that Curtis ripped off someone else's story leaves a bit of a bad taste in the mouth.
Blinded by the Light (2019)
Oddly, 2019 saw two British films featuring pop music and Asian lead characters (although in Yesterday, this isn't a plot point), so I thought I'd watch this one too. On the surface, it has less appeal for me, as Springsteen - whose music is the inspiration for the story - has never really done it for me. Mostly this is because lyrics don't matter much to me, and so it's only Springsteen's most musical - dare I say, poppiest - moments that I enjoy. But by linking the words to the events, the film gave me a better appreciation for them and for what Bruce means to people. The film itself is moving and well-made coming-of-age story, and of the two films, this is the better. 
A Beautiful Mind (2001)
Ron Howard's award-winning film illustrates the dilemma of making movies based on a real lives: what do you change in the name of dramatisation? John Nash, the Nobel laureate mathematician at the centre of the story, was still alive when this was released, and it must have been odd for him knowing that this version of events would become what he'd be known for in the popular imagination. I can understand why the changes (and simplifications) were made: they increase the drama and make the narrative more understandable, while still being true to the spirit of his life, and as a standalone film it works very well. However, I was disappointed to find out after I'd watched it how much it differs from Nash's real life.
The Imitation Game (2014)
Also full of "dramatic licence", as the fantastic visualisation and analysis at Information Is Beautiful makes clear - somewhere between 17% and 42% accurate, depending on how strict you want to be. Of course, some simplification is necessary in order to tell the story in two hours. But there are dozens of unnecessary changes that feel like they've been made in order to fit the pre-existing Hollywood template of "lone genius saves the world". So although the film was well-made, I knew enough of the subject to know that it was highly inaccurate while I was watching it and this spoiled it for me. Cumberbatch was good though.

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