Guernsey is a tiny island in the English Channel. It was occupied by Germans during WW2, and the people of Guernsey suffered deprivations of course. So it was the Nazis’ fault they had to form a Literary AND Potato Peel Pie Society one night, spur of the moment. For the rest of the war, five friends read books and then met to discuss them, whilst eating awful potato peel pie. With only a limited amount of books, Dawsey (Michiel Huisman) writes to a stranger in London, a name he finds randomly in one of the second-hand books he reads, to ask for the name of a bookstore from which he may order more. Juliet (Lily James), a writer and book lover herself, is quite taken by the request, and she writes back, including several titles for he and the society to enjoy. They keep up a correspondence for quite some time, and when the war ends, she heads to Guernsey to meet the characters from the letters in the hopes that she may write to them.
Juliet is welcomed warmly but meets with resistance when she broaches the topic of writing. The society wish to remain anonymous. They’ve suffered more than just deprivation during the war. One of the society is missing, and the rest are secretive, protective.
I loved this book. The movie feels a little less special, not even living up to its quirky title. It’s predictable and conventionally told, but gosh darn is it pretty to look at. It’s a satisfying period romance with a great ensemble cast. It’s too bad the script plays it safe, but it’s still a sweet little movie. It’s not breaking any new ground, and you’ll have to make due with London standing in for Guernsey. But Lily James is her sparkling, charming self, so if the movie is hard to love, it’s easy to like.
Two harried, 20-something assistants work for different demanding bosses in the same Manhattan building. Harper (Zoey Deutch) admires her boss, Kirsten (Lucy Liu), who is a sports reporter. Harper wants to be a writer too but so far she spends her days fetching lunch and racking up steps on Kirsten’s fitbit. Charlie (Glen Powell) is eagerly awaiting his promotion but is still just Rick’s (Taye Diggs) overworked assistant. When Harper and Charlie meet in the lobby of their building, they determine that the only way to free themselves from the shackles of serfdom is to set up their bosses romantically. And it works!
The catch is – and you won’t believe this – Harper and Charlie fall in love themselves while orchestrating this love match between their bosses. Who would have thought (other than every single one of you, plus your grandmas, plus the ghosts of your grandmas’ mid-century pet parakeets).
Set It Up is the original Netflix film billed as the rom-com to save all rom-coms. Were rom-coms an endangered species? The good ones seem all but extinct. And I’m not sure this one changed my mind about that. But it’s not terrible. It’s not as cornball cheesy as these things tend to be. The stars are charming and dripping with chemistry. But it doesn’t have a unique voice or anything that super sets it apart. It’s comfort food: the kind of mac and cheese you might bring to a potluck. Not gourmet. Not lobster mac. Not truffle mac. It probably doesn’t even have gouda. But it’s warm and creamy and just gooey enough to convince you you want it. Rom-coms are predicable almost by definition. We know they’re going to get together; the “fun” is in how they get together.
Zoey Deutch is cute and glowing and perky and seemingly born to be the quirky, sweet romantic lead (her mother is Lea Thompson). Glen Powell, who previously played John Glenn and has the smug, handsome face of an astronaut, is a good match for her, although he’s the matte paint to her gloss. Tituss Burgess, in little more than a cameo, is high-impact nonetheless, and makes an excellent case for giving him a starring role, stat. But I didn’t get a Tituss Burgess movie, I got two white actors with blindingly white smiles in roles I’ve seen dozens of times before, sometimes done better, and sometimes worse. That’s not a ringing endorsement of a movie, but ringing would be a bit over-the-top for a movie you see coming from 95 miles away. This is a tepid endorsement in 12 point, Times New Roman, which is what it deserves and all I can give.
There was nothing very honourable about the war in Iraq, and this movie knows it. It’s written by war vet Chris Roessner and he’s not afraid to paint the screen with his shame.
Private Matt Ocre (Nicholas Hoult) signed up to the reserves in the summer of 2001, thinking it would help him pay his way through college. And it might have worked had some idiots not flown planes into the Twin Towers. So off he goes to a war that’s immediately disillusioning. He doesn’t know why he’s there or what he’s doing.
Roessner watched Platoon for the first time in Saddam Hussein’s commandeered palace in Tikrit and it made him want to really pay attention to what was happening around him – it was film school he was hoping to attend, after all. Now he’s among the first of his generation to write a script about his own war.
If Ocre is a reluctant soldier, he’s also an empathetic one. Younger than most others in his platoon, he isn’t yet jaded; his naivety both a blessing and a curse in his work. He gets sent to a village where they need to repair a water main but work is slow, the days scorching, the villagers too afraid to lend a hand. It’s a clusterfuck. The movie is basically the whole war in a nutshell: it doesn’t go very well. They fight apathy every day. The two sides struggle to understand each other.
Sand Castle diverges from other recent war movies in that it shows fresh-faced new recruits being sent overseas, maybe for the first time in their lives, instead of the grizzled, cynical Bradley Cooper types we’re used to seeing. The movie is authentic but it’s no classic – a forgettable, minor war movie. But it does give Henry Cavill the chance to shout my favourite line: “Listen here you piece of shit. I hope you get shot and fucking die…Don’t translate that.”