There’s a big problem with Kenneth Branagh’s 2017 filming of the Hercule Poirot-based murder mystery…. and that’s the 1974 Sidney Lumet classic featuring Albert Finney in the starring role. For that film was so memorable – at least, the “who” of the “whodunnit” (no spoilers here) was so memorable – that any remake is likely to be tarnished by that knowledge. If you go into this film blissfully unaware of the plot, you are a lucky man/woman. For this is a classic Agatha Christie yarn.
The irascible, borderline OCD, but undeniably great Belgian detective, Poirot, is dragged around the world by grateful police forces to help solve unsolvable crimes. After solving a case in Jerusalem, Poirot is called back to the UK with his mode of transport being the famous Orient Express. Trapped in the mountains by an avalanche, a murder is committed and with multiple suspects and a plethora of clues it is up to Poirot to solve the case.
Branagh enjoys himself enormously as Poirot, sporting the most distractingly magnificent facial hair since Daniel Day-Lewis in “The Gangs of New York”. The moustache must have had its own trailer and make-up team!
Above all, the film is glorious to look at, featuring a rich and exotic colour palette that is reminiscent of the early colour films of the 40’s. Cinematography was by Haris Zambarloukos (“Mamma Mia” and who also collaborated with Branagh on “Thor) with lots of innovative “ceiling down” shots and artful point-of-view takes that might be annoying to some but which I consider as deserving of Oscar/BAFTA nominations.
The pictures are accompanied by a lush score by Patrick Doyle (who also scored Branagh’s “Thor”). Hats off also to the special effects crew, who made the alpine bridge scenes look decidedly more alpine than where they were actually filmed (on a specially made bridge in the Surrey Hills!).
All these technical elements combine to make the film’s early stages look and feel truly epic.
It’s also great to see young Lucy Boynton, so magnificent in last year’s excellent “Sing Street“, getting an A-list role as the twitchy and disturbed countess.
With all these ingredients in the pot, it should be great, right? Unfortunately, in my view, no, not quite. The film’s opening momentum is really not maintained by the screenplay by Michael Green (“Blade Runner 2049“; “Logan“). At heart, it’s a fairly static and “stagey” piece at best, set as it is on the rather claustrophobic train (just three carriages… on the Orient Express… really?). But the tale is made even more static by the train’s derailment in the snow. Branagh and Green try to sex up the action where they can, but there are lengthy passages of fairly repetitive dialogue. One encounter in particular between Branagh and Depp seems to last interminably: you wonder if the problem was that the director wasn’t always looking on to yell “Cut”!
All this leads to the “revelation” of the murderer as being a bit of an anticlimactic “thank heavens for that” rather than the gasping denouement it should have been. (Perhaps this would be different if you didn’t know the twist).
However, these reservations aside, it’s an enjoyable night out at the flicks, although a bit of a disappointment from the level of expectation I had for it. I can’t be too grumpy about it, given it’s a return to good old-fashioned yarn-spinning at the cinema, with great visuals and an epic cast. And that has to be good news.
For sure, Branagh does make for an amusing and engaging Poirot, even if his dialogue did need some ‘tuning in’ to. There was a suggestion at the end of the film that we might be seeing his return in “Death on the Nile” – the most lush and decorous of Peter Ustinov’s outings – which I would certainly welcome. He will have to find another 10 A-list stars though to decorate the boat, which will be a challenge for casting!
Social Media involvement in political manipulation? Don’t be ridiculous!
Set in the near future “The Circle” tells a horror story of the social media age involving an omnipotent American corporate, pitched somewhere between being Facebook-like and Google-like (note, lawyers, I just said “like”!) Emma Watson (“Beauty and the Beast“) plays young intern Mae who, partly through the aid of family friend Annie (Karen Gillan, “Guardians of the Galaxy“, “Doctor Who”) but mostly through her own aptitude, lands a foothold job in customer services for the company. With the lush corporate campus fast becoming home, Mae is quickly singled out as having “executive potential” by the charismatic CEO Bailey (Tom Hanks, “Bridge of Spies“) and his more taciturn sidekick Stenton (US comedian Patton Oswalt).
Progressively brainwashed into believing the company’s intrusive snooping (a favourite motto is “Secrets are Lies”) is all for ‘the greater good’, Mae champions the cause until a tragedy rocks her world and her company beliefs to the core.
Whenever I watch a film I tend to form my own opinion first before checking out what the ‘general public’ on IMDB think. In this case, I must confess to being a bit surprised at our divergence of views: a lot of people clearly hated this movie whereas I confess that I found it very entertaining. Certainly with the alleged role of Russia in influencing elections around the world via social media, the film is most certainly topical! Many reviewers seemed quite upset that Watson’s character is such a ‘doormat’, in that her views are so easily manipulated by the corporate machine. But not every woman – as indeed every man – can or should be a Joan of Arc style role model in every film: why should they be?
I actually found her indoctrination into “the Circle way” as quite convincing, especially a creepy scene where two corporate lackies (Cho Smith and Amir Talai) say that they’re not checking up on Mae’s social life, but…. Watson enjoys extending her post-Potter repertoire well, but the talented John Boyega (“Star Wars: The Force Awakens“) is completely wasted in his role as Ty; the Wozniak-like genious behind The Circle’s technology. The script gives him very little to do other than stand around and look grumpy.
The film is sad in being the last movie appearance of the great Bill Paxton (“Apollo 13”) who plays Mae’s sick father and who died of complications following heart surgery two months before the film’s release (the film is dedicated “For Bill”). Tragically, Mae’s mother in the film, actress Glenn Headly (“Dirty Rotten Scoundrels”) also died suddenly at the age of 62, also due to heart problems, a couple of months after the film’s release. It’s surprising the film doesn’t have a “curse of The Circle” tag on it.
The film was directed by James Ponsoldt, who also wrote the screenplay with novel-writer Dave Eggers (“Away We Go”). I particularly liked the on-screen use of captioning (posts) which was reminiscent to me of last year’s “Nerve“, a B-movie film I rated highly that also had a string social media theme.
While the ending of the film is a bit twee – a movie definition of “being hoisted by your own petard” – it’s overall a thought provoking piece sufficiently close to the truth as to where society is going to raise the hairs on your neck.
I’m neither a Marvel fan, nor (in particular) a Thor fan….. but I have to admit “Thor: Ragnarok” was brilliant from beginning to end.
Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has been travelling the universe in search of… stuff… (I neither remember nor care)… but returns to his home planet of Asgard with a dire warning of impending ‘Raganrok’: this being the ‘End of Days’ for Asgard. But he finds the court engaged in serious leisure time!
Things go from bad to worse when Hela (Cate Blanchett, “Carol“) – someone with more than a passing relationship to Thor – arrives with a mission to assume the throne. Teamed uncomfortably with half-brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston, “High Rise”), the brothers get cast millions of light years away to a planet lorded over by a ‘grand master’ (a lovely performance, that I will leave anonymous here) who pits new gladiators in an arena against his latest champion. You’ll never guess who his champion is? Well, OK (cos the trailer gives it away)… he’s big and green!
The film’s script is hilarious. It generates an enormous volume of entertainment with laugh-out loud moments throughout; the unforseen involvement of other Marvel characters; some startling cameos all mixed with the usual brand of spectacular fights and action. Some of the action is surprising: a real eye-opener you might say.
The lead cast (Hemsworth, Hiddleston, Blanchett and Ruffalo) all perform admirably and are joined by heavyweight cameos from Anthony Hopkins (“Westworld”) and Idris Elba (“Bastille Day“) reprising their roles from “Thor: The Dark World”. Particularly impressive is Tessa Thompson (“Creed“) as Thor’s Valkyrie warrior side-kick and Karl Urban (“Star Trek: Into Darkness“) as the turn-coat Asgardian Skurge.
Directed by young New Zealander Taika Waititi (behind last year’s successful indie hit “Hunt for the Wilderpeople”) it’s a breath of fresh air for the Thor franchise, more similar to the style of “Guardians of the Galaxy” rather than the previous films in the series. Waititi also saves all the best comedy lines for himself as the ‘rock warrior’ character Korg: his New Zealand twang delivering just side-splitting dialogue.
As with most Marvel films, its a little bit flabby in places, running to 130 minutes: some of the dialogue, particularly scenes between Hemsworth and Ruffalo, feel like they needed tightening up in the editing suite. This time of course includes the scrolling of endless teams of visual effect artists in the closing titles which – naturally – 90% of the audience stay for to see if there are any “monkeys“. In fact,there are two: one fairly early on; the other right at the end. (To be honest, I thought neither of them was particularly worth waiting for).
However overall the movie is highly recommended for a fun night out at the cinema.
Fad Rating: FFFF.
I am normally highly critical of trailers for giving too much of the film away… but in this case, it’s pretty good at keeping its powder dry: it has a few spoilers, but they are subliminal. This is a film best viewed cold… if someone tries to tell you the surprises, cut them off quick!
In rather a departure from my normal posts, here’s a review of the epic concert held at the Royal Albert Hall in London last night (20th October 2017) to celebrate the 50th birthday of film, TV and videogame composer Michael Giacchino.
With the deaths in recent years of Jerry Goldsmith and James Horner (the latter sadly so untimely), Giacchino, together with probably Alexandre Desplat and Hans Zimmer, are the three people in my mind to ultimately take the throne of ‘film composer maestro’ from John Williams, now 85, who must surely want to retire from film music at some point. Giacchino grew up as a Spielberg-like film obsessive in the Edgewater Park suburbs near Philadelphia, grabbing his Super 8 camera to film his own versions of movie epics of the day. But it was music that brought him fame in the movie world, first through a lucky break in being picked to score Spielberg’s “Lost World” video game (the raptor theme from that interestingly emerges in “Jurassic World“) and then the classical orchestral music for “Call of Duty”. JJ Abrams saw his potential and hired him to score his TV show “Alias” and, of course, then “Lost”.
Giacchino is clearly a highly personable and much loved guy, in that he can count a gallery of current ‘new-kid’ directors, producers and actors as good friends: good enough to up-sticks from what they were doing around the world and fly into London to celebrate his birthday. I’ve no idea what they were “paid” for their appearances, but the introductions to all of the concert pieces were both impressive and informative.
Piece 1 – “The Incredibles”
Giacchino’s breakthrough to film came from Pixar’s Brad Bird who chose him to score “The Incredibles”: and this film’s score launched the evening’s concert. The evening’s host – Adam Savage, special effects wizard and host of “Mythbusters” on the Discovery Channel – introduced the piece dressed as Mr Incredible.
Conducted by Ludwig Wicki, the Cinematic Sinfonia hammered through the fast paced action track with gusto, with specially edited film excepts being projected on the screen. A great start.
Piece 2 – “Medal of Honor”
The orchestra was joined in this piece by the English Chamber Choir to deliver an impressively full sound with the glorious acoustics of the Albert Hall. Reminiscent of William’s “Hymn to the Fallen” from “Saving Private Ryan”, this is an impressive piece of music – given it was for a video game – and one I’d not heard before.
Piece 3 – Arranged Marriage from “Jupiter Ascending”
The Wachowski Brothers (Sisters!) film from 2015 was neither a commercial nor a critical success, and the music similarly lacked much impact on me. Played to static images of Jupiter, this was the low-point of the concert for me personally.
Piece 4 – “Jurassic World”
Host Adam Savage returns to the stage in a Tyrannosaurus costume to welcome Colin Trevorrow, director of “Jurassic World“, to introduce the track – a clever reworking of the mood of William’s original classic while never feeling like being plagerism. Again, the orchestra and choir combined to produce a goosebump-inducing sound as the film’s main theme swelled. It’s a shame that the only movie video on offer to accompany the music was the snippet with the T-Rex doing it’s final roar across the island: presumably this is down to copyright restrictions, but it would be nice for these film companies to “loosen up” a bit at events like this.
Piece 5 – “Marvel Suite”
Enter onto the stage actor Benedict Wong, who played “Wong” in “Doctor Strange“, a role he is to reprise next year in “Avengers: Infinity War”. He introduced this next piece, a medley of Giacchino music (to date) from the Marvel universe. Giacchino of course wrote the music for the new Marvel Studios production logo that starts every film, and this thrilling and urgent theme, played at great speed, opened an excellent combination of Giacchino’s music from “Doctor Strange” and “Spiderman: Homecoming“, played again against specially edited footage of the films. I can’t say that I’m a massive Marvel fan, but this was an exciting addition to the evening.
Piece 6 – “Rogue One”
Enter stage right the dark forces of the Empire, bringing in chains to the stage “Rogue One” director Gareth Edwards. Anyone who owns Giacchino’s soundtrack albums knows that the composer has a quirky habit of naming his album tracks (this started with his 10 disks worth of soundtrack music from “Lost”, which I am glad to say I own!). Edwards amusingly recounted his cutting Giacchino off at the pass from calling the “Rogue One” tracks things like “Transmission Impossible” and “Live and Let Jedi”. He also described how Giacchino had only 4 weeks to compose the music (after schedule delays meant Alexandre Desplat could no longer do it), but that as a lifelong Star Wars-nut Giacchino willingly embraced the late nights to become a part of Star Wars history (although he also played a stormtrooper in “The Force Awakens“).
“Rogue One” is another classic score for orchestra and choir, played again to some great excerpts from the film, and the dramatic finale (with the big wave) brought a tear to my eye.
Piece 7 – “LOST – Parting Words”
Another glorious highpoint of the night. Words can’t describe how much “Lost” became a part of my and my wife’s lives during its six year run. Although it had its good and less good series, the cast became like relatives to us. This music, introduced by “Lost” writer and producer Carlton Cuse, rounded off the first series, where members of the team set sail back to civilisation (no… actually… not) on their home-made raft.
Stormtroopers had found a reluctant conductor hanging around backstage, and dragged him – a Mr Giacchino – to the podium to the delight of the audience. (What? Working at your birthday party? But he was clearly loving it!)
It’s a stirring piece, played to the original video, and the combination of the live music and the on-screen presence of our long-lost “relatives” reduced both my wife AND I to tears. (I’m a real man… I can cry!).
My only criticism is that it cut at the end of the raft bit, rather than finish with the dramatic ‘John Locke hatch scene’ which I would have loved to have heard played.
Piece 8 – Married Life from “Up”
After the intermission, the orchestra was joined by the “Bond Quartet” – four ladies who on violin and cello merrily fired off the “happy” introductory music from Up. Those of you who know this film well, will know where this goes: fortunately, the scene was not shown on screen, else the tissue supply would have been utterly exhausted!
Piece 9 – “One Man Band”
(I think this one was introduced by legendary Simpson’s animator David Silverman… but I may have got that wrong). “One Man Band” is an extremely amusing Pixar short about two ‘One Man Band’ musicians competing for the coin of an indecisive young girl. Giacchino composed the music throughout, and the short was played in its entirety accompanied by the live orchestra. An audience pleaser.
Piece 10 – “John Carter From Mars”
Pixar alumni Andrew Stanton introduced this one. As well as his acclaimed direction on “WALL.E”, “Finding Nemo”, “A Bug’s Life” and “Finding Dory” and writing and producing on a range of other Pixar films, Stanton took a career diversion into live action on Disney’s 2012 Sci-fi epic “John Carter from Mars”. This was – erm – not an unqualified success! I normally find Americans tend to be quite po-faced and quiet about career set-backs like this. Not Stanton! He delightfully and disarmingly took the piss out of both himself and the film declaring it a “film no-one had seen featuring a soundtrack CD that no-one had bought”. He read from the CD liner notes (opening a shrink-wrapped copy from presumably a large crate full of shrink-wrapped copies! … Nice touch!) about how Giacchino’s music was a return to the epic orchestral sweeps of the 1970’s Sci-fi movies. And listening to the orchestra’s rendition, I would agree! Excellent stuff. Mr Stanton, if you happen to be reading this, I’d love one of the others from the crate!
By the way, Stanton gave the CD copy – signed by both himself and Giacchino – to anyone on the front row who’d seen the film. Very amusingly, only one guy put his hand up!
Piece 11 – “Ratatouille” Jazz Fantasia
Jazz is jazz – not always to everybody’s taste – and the Ratatouille music is jazz in spades. Loud, brash and often very atonal at times, it is certainly never dull and this piece reminded my of the ride at Disneyland Paris, where I recently went with one of my grandkids…. not surprisingly, since Giacchino was the musical supervisor for the 3D attraction.
Piece 12 – “Tomorrowland”
This feature was due to be introduced by director Brad Bird – another Pixar alumni – and Raffey Cassidy who plays Athena in the film. Unfortunately Brad Bird’s flight never left the US (United Airlines was named and shamed!) so after a written apology and Giacchino tribute from Bird it was left to young Raffey to introduce the piece alone: quite a challenge for a 15 year old in such a huge venue, but she did very well.
The piece was pleasant enough, but not tremendously memorable.
Piece 13 – Roar!
Roar! is from the film “Cloverfield”. “Wait a minute!”, you say; “there is no music in “Cloverfield””. That’s true, but Giacchino wrote this standalone piece to play over the closing titles.
I’m sure this was technically brilliant: atonal, chanting choir, etc. It wasn’t so much to my personal taste though. Moving on…
Piece 14 – “War for the Planet of the Apes”
Back onto high ground again. Matt Reeves, the director of both “Cloverfield” and “War for the Planet of the Apes“, introduced it. Again, another really personable and eloquent director: this new breed are a force to be reckoned with.
“War for the Planet of the Apes” was one of this summer’s most memorable blockbusters, and will feature prominently in my “Films of the Year” this year. Giacchino’s score – which he returned to conduct – is both epic and brilliant, and the showing of an edited showreel of the film made me certain to put the DVD (released at the end of November) on my Christmas list.
Piece 15 – “Star Trek” Suite
Onto the stage came JJ Abrams, to great applause. As JJ and Giacchino talked – by the way, are they seriously both trying to ape Spielberg with their facial hair?? – they were interrupted by Gonzo the Great from The Muppets, voiced by the original creator Dave Goelz. Gonzo and Giacchino, rather awkwardly, sang “I’m Going Back There Someday” from the first “Muppet Movie” – one of Giacchino’s all time favourite songs. This interlude felt rather like a “It’s MY birthday party and I’ll put on the entertainment I WANT!” moment…. but, he’s right, it is! And he can!
“Star Trek” features fantastic music, and although I didn’t personally think this rendition by the orchestra was *quite* as good as the version I heard here during the live showing of “Star Trek: Into Darkness” a couple of years ago, it was still memorable. This again was shown with a montage of scenes from all three reboot films, made poignant by the appearances of the late Anton Yelchin and Leonard Nimoy.
Gonzo the Great reappeared, roping in (literally) Giacchino and Pete Docter – Director of the Pixar classics “Up”, “Monsters Inc” and “Inside Out” – to try to “fire him through a cow”. Again, this was great fun (who doesn’t love the Muppets?) and ably reflected Giacchino’s wacky and anarchic sense of humour!
Piece 16 – “Super 8”
Probably the highlight of the night. As I said at the start of this piece, Giacchino has many similarities to Spielberg in spending a large part of his childhood filming his own “MGG Productions” from behind a Super 8 camera. This piece then was set against a video montage of scenes from this footage: Star Wars, Marvel, ET, Raiders – all were attempted with various levels of success!
This piece shows Giacchino’s relentless focus on quality. Due to a technical problem with his “click track”, he had to start and resume this piece four times before it was to his satisfaction. And boy, was it worth it. Bravo sir!
Encore 1 – “Alias”
Giacchino again returned to his roots with the exciting music from his JJ Abrams’ spy TV series “Alias”. Quite reminiscent to me of the “Man from Uncle” and “Mission Impossible” themes of my youth. Very good.
Encore 2 – “Coco”
Giacchino teased us with a beautifully Latin-orchestrated piece from the new Pixar feature “Coco”, which I believe is out later this year. Only stills were shown, but very beautiful and entertaining it looks to be sure. Can’t wait!
Encore 3 – “Speed Racer”
The tickets weren’t cheap: quote of the night… “Only Michael could throw a birthday party and get away with charging everyone £50 to attend!”But you can’t deny you didn’t get value for your money, Giacchino cemented his reputation as being the Ken Dodd of the music business (UK readers will probably understand that comment!) by throwing in a third encore, much to the alarm of some of the audience who were worried about their last trains home! This was from the 2008 “Tron”-like Jack Black feature “Speed Racer”, again shown to footage from the film.
My personal view here was that it was perhaps better to leave the audience on the high of “Coco”.
… or “Parting Words” you might say.
One thought this concert prompted was that last night there were gathered together an impressive new “brat pack” of young directors who clearly like and respect each other. JJ Abrams is clearly the high priest, and Giacchino is their in-house DJ! But perhaps we haven’t seen since the days of Spielberg/Lucas/Scorcese such a close knit team of allied skills who can bounce off each other and improve output. The quality of US movie output is perhaps on the up as a result.
Overall this was a truly excellent concert featuring a broad spectrum of Giacchino’s brilliant repetoire. I was personally disappointed that music from “Mission Impossible” wasn’t included, and – although “Parting Words” was wonderful – a complete “Lost” medley would have suited me down to the ground.
Mr Giacchino: I’m sure you’re not reading this (if you are, please comment!) but a very happy birthday to you! Please consider repeating the exercise for your 60th… London will be glad to welcome you back.
And while these elements congeal in the snow together quite well as vignettes, the whole film jerks from vignette to vignette in a most unsatisfactory way. I haven’t read the book (which might be much better) but the inclusion in the (terrible!) trailers of key scenes that never made the final cut (where was the fire for example?, the fish? the man trap?) implied to me that the director (Tomas Alfredson, “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”) and screenwriting team – Peter Straughan (also “Tinker, Tailor”), Hossein Amini (“The Two Faces of January“) and Søren Sveistrup (TV’s “The Killing”) – either didn’t have (or didn’t agree on) the direction they wanted the film to go in.
Nesbø (and indeed most crime writers these days) litter their work with damaged cops…. you have to question whether the detective application form has a mandatory check-box with “alcoholic and borderline psycho” on it!. This film is no exception. Fassbender plays Nesbø’s master sleuth Harry Hole: an alcoholic insomniac well off the rails between homicide cases. “If only Oslo had a higher murder rate” bemoans his boss (Ronan Vibert). He joins forces with newby officer Katrine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson), who has her fair share of mental demons to fight, in investigating a series of missing person/murder cases. The duo unearth a link between the cases – all happen when the snow starts to fall and to particular types of women, with the protagonist leaving a snowman at the scene.
The plot is highly formulaic – I guessed who the killer was within about 20 minutes. But what makes this movie stand out, for all the wrong reasons, is that it has one of the most stupid, vacuous, flaccid, inane, ridiculous … (add 50 other thesaurus entries)… endings imaginable. My mouth actually gaped in astonishment!
There are also a surprisingly large number of loose ends you ponder after the film ends: why the “Snowman”‘s fixation with Harry?; what was with the “Vetlesen cleaner” subplot? How is Star Trek transportation possible in Norway? (But wait… “Telemark”… “Teleport”…. coincidence????? 🙂 )
On the plus side, there is some lovely Norwegian drone cinematography – (by Australian Dion Beebe (“Edge of Tomorrow“) – that immediately made me put “travel by winter train from Oslo to Bergen” on my life-map. The music by Marco Beltrami (“Logan“) is also effective and suitably Hitchcockian.
If you like your films gory, this one is definitely for you, with some pretty graphic content that (for those who like to cover their eyes) is cut to so quickly by editors Thelma Schoonmaker (“The Wolf of Wall Street“) and Claire Simpson (“Far From The Madding Crowd“) that your hands won’t have time to leave your lap! I remember this being a feature of a previous Nesbø adaptation (the much better “Headhunters” from 2011) but here it goes into overdrive.
Overall this was a rather disappointing effort that was heading for a FFf rating. But just because of that ending I’m knocking a whole extra Fad off!
(I described the trailers above as “terrible” so I’d advise you not watch it if possible before seeing the film. I’ve chosen the better (US) one below, but it still gives too many spoilers, ploughing on like a buffalo in a china shop. As I’ve ranted before, the art of ‘teaser trailers’ is becoming a lost one… sigh.)
Armando Iannucci is most familiar to TV audiences on both sides of the pond for his cutting political satire of the likes of “Veep” and “The Thick of It”, with his only previous foray into directing movies being “In the Loop”: a spin-off of the latter series. Lovers of his work will know that he sails very close to the wind on many occasions, such that watching can be more of a squirm-fest than enjoyment.
It should come as no surprise then that his new film – “The Death of Stalin” – follows that same pattern, but transposed into the anarchic and violent world of 1950’s Russia. Based on a French comic strip, the film tells the farcical goings on surrounding the last days of the great dictator in 1953. Stalin keeps distributing his “lists” of undesirables, most of who will meet unpleasant ends before the end of the night. But as Stalin suddenly shuffles off his mortal coil, the race is on among his fellow commissariat members as to who will ultimately succeed him.
The constitution dictates that Georgy Malenkov (an excellently vacillating Jeffrey Tambor) secedes but, as a weak man, the job is clearly soon going to become vacant again and spy-chief Lavrentiy Beria (Simon Russell Beale) and Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi) are jostling for position. (No spoilers, but you’ll never guess who wins!). Colleagues including Molotov (Michael Palin) and Mikoyan (Paul Whitehouse) need to decide who to side with as the machinations around Stalin’s funeral become more and more desperate.
The film starts extremely strongly with the ever-excellent Paddy Considine (“Pride”) playing a Radio Russia producer tasked with recording a classical concert, featuring piano virtuoso Maria Yudina (Olga Kurylenko, “Quantum of Solace”). A definition of paranoia in action!
We then descend into the chaos of Stalin’s Russia, with mass torture and execution colouring the comedy from dark-grey to charcoal-black in turns. There is definitely comedy gold in there: Khrushchev’s translation of his drunken scribblings from the night before (of things that Stalin found funny and – more importantly – things he didn’t) being a high point for me. Stalin’s children Svetlana (Andrea Riseborough, “Nocturnal Animals”) and Vasily (Rupert Friend, “Homeland”) add knockabout humour to offset the darker elements, and army chief Georgy Zhukov (Jason Isaacs, “Harry Potter”) is a riot with a no-nonsense North-of-England accent.
Production values are universally excellent, with great locations, great sets and a screen populated with enough extras to make the crowd scenes all appear realistic.
The film absolutely held my interest and was thorougly entertaining, but the comedy is just so dark in places it leaves you on edge throughout. The writing is also patchy at times, with some of the lines falling to the ground as heavily as the dispatched Gulag residents.
It’s not going to be for everyone, with significant violence and gruesome scenes, but go along with the black comic theme and this is a film that delivers rewards.
Vaughn and Golding cross the pond to deliver more of the same.
You would probably need to be living under a rock not to know that “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” is the follow-up film to Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman’s highly successful 2015 offering “Kingsman: The Secret Service”: a raucous, violent and rude entry into the spy-caper genre. And the sequel is more of the same: why mess with a crowd-pleasing formula?
The fledgling agent Eggsy (Taron Egerton (“Eddie the Eagle“), curiously called “Eggy” at various points in the film for reasons I didn’t understand) is now the new “Galahad” following the demise in the first film of the original, played by Colin Firth (“Magic in the Moonlight“, “Bridget Jones’ Baby“). But just as he’s getting into his stride the whole Kingsman organisation, now headed by Michael Gambon (“Harry Potter”) as Arthur , is ripped apart by an evil drugs cartel called “The Golden Circle” headed by smiling but deadly Poppy (Juliane Moore, “Still Alice”).
Eggsy and Lancelot (Mark Strong, “Miss Sloane“) in desperation turn to Statesman – the US equivalent organisation – and together with some surprising allies set out to defeat the evil plot to poison all casual drug users.
Subtle this film certainly is not, featuring brash and absurdly unrealistic action scenes that are 90% CGI but – for me at least – enormous fun to watch. As with the first film (and I’m thinking of the grotesquely violent church scene here) the action moves however from ‘edgy’ to “over-the-top/offensive” at times. The ‘burger scene’ and (particularly) the ‘Glastonbury incident’ are the standout moments for all the wrong reasons. I have a theory about how these *might* have come about…
One Mann’s Movies Showcase Theatre
The scene: Matthew Vaughn and Jane Golding are working “The Golden Circle” script at Goldman’s English home.
Vaughn: “OK, so Eggsy is in the tent with Clara and needs to plant the tracking device on her.”
Goldman’s husband Jonathan Ross sticks his head round the door.
Ross: “Hey Guys, I’ve an idea about that. I was on the phone to Wussell Bwand and we came up with a GWEAT idea.”
Vaughn: (rolling his eyes, mutters to himself): “Oh God, not again…”
Ross: “We thought that Eggsy could use his finger to stick the tracker right up her – ahem – ‘lady canal’ and… and… here’s the really great bit… the camera’s gonna be his finger. A camera up the muff! It’ll be weally weally funny!”
Vaughn: “But Jonathan…”.
Goldman nudges him hard.
Goldman (whispering): “Just let it go Matthew… you know what he’s like if he doesn’t get at least a couple of his ideas into the film”.
You can only hope a stunt vagina was used for this scene, else Poppy Delavigne (older sister of Cara) is going to find it very hard to find credible future work. One can only guess what tasteful interlude is being planned for Kingsman 3 – – a prostate-based tracker perhaps?
The film works best when the core team of Taron Egerton, Mark Strong and Colin Firth (yes, Colin Firth!) are together. Jeff Bridges (“Hell or High Water“), Channing Tatum (“Foxcatcher“) and Halle Berry (“Monster’s Ball”) all turn up as key members of ‘Statesman’ – adding star power but not a lot else – together with Pedro Pascal (“The Great Wall“) as ‘Whiskey’…. who I expected to be someone equally famous behind the moustache but wasn’t!
There’s also a very entertaining cameo from a star (no spoilers from me) whose foul-mouthed tirades I found very funny, and who also has the funniest line in the film (playing off one of the most controversial elements of the first film). It’s fair to say though that others I’ve spoken to didn’t think this appearance fitted the film at all.
Julianne Moore makes for an entertaining – if less than credible – villain, as does Bruce Greenwood (“Star Trek: Into Darkness”) as a barely disguised Trump. None of the motivations of the bad ‘uns however support any scrutiny whatsoever: this is very much a “park your brain at the door” film.
I really shouldn’t enjoy this crass, brash, brainless movie fast-food… and I know many have hated it! But my guilty secret is that I really did like it – one of the best nights of unadulterated escapist fun I’ve had since “Baby Driver”. Classy it’s certainly NOT, but I enjoyed this just as much as the original.
I was a sufficient nerd to buy a “Back to the Future” T-shirt to celebrate “future day” from “Back to the Future 2” two-years ago, and I will probably be a sufficient nerd to buy a “Blade Runner” T-shirt in two-years time to celebrate the setting-date for the original film. One thing’s for sure… 2049 is never going to be long enough away to see the world of the new Blade Runner movie come to fruition: so I look forward to ironically buying that T-shirt too (assuming I make it to 88!). But I digress.
I lived in fear of this film since it was announced… having loved the original, a sequel was always going to be a risky prospect. But my fears were slightly quelled when I learned that Denis Villeneuve (“Arrival“) was at the helm. And having now seen it I am pleasantly relieved: this is a memorable film.
In 2049 the first-generation Nexus replicants of the original film are still causing problems, and Ryan Gosling is ‘K’ – a blade runner employed by LAPD lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright, “Wonder Woman“, “House of Cards”) to track them down and liquidate them. On one of these missions, K uncovers a buried secret that brings the LAPD into a desperate race for a pivotal prize, against replicant-builder Niander Wallace (Jared Leto, “Dallas Buyer’s Club“) and his henchwoman Luv (Sylvia Hoeks). The mission leads to K searching out his illustrious predecessor Deckard (Harrison Ford), who is not keen to be found.
Firstly (and most impressively) this is a spectacle to watch…. “I’ve seen things…”! The visuals are just gorgeous, from the junk-yards of Greater Los Angeles to the radioactive ruins of Las Vegas, vividly glowing amber to glorious effect. Hardly a surprise with Roger Deakins (“Hail Caesar“, “Sicario“) behind the camera, but Adam Heinis (“Rogue One“) and the rest of his special effects team deserve kudos for the effects never feeling overly “CGI-like”.
The music (by Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer, via a replaced Johann Johannsson) pays suitable tribute to the spirit of the original Vangelis soundtrack. (It’s curious though that “Tears in the Rain” from the soundtrack is a reworking of the Vangelis original, but Vangelis doesn’t seem to be credited anywhere! Vangelis and Ridley Scott clearly had a SERIOUS falling out!).
On the acting front, Ryan Gosling is his dynamic self as usual! (But here, somewhat justified). Harrison Ford is given very little screen time, but what he does do he does exceptionally well – his best performance in years. It’s some of the supporting parts though that really appeal: Dave Bautista (“Spectre“) is just superb in the opening scenes of the film, and I particularly enjoyed Ana de Armas’s portrayal of K’s holographic girlfriend Joi. I’ve seen comment in other reviews that described this relationship as “laughable” and a downward step for “woman’s rights” compared to Villeneuve’s previous strong female characters (of Louise from “Arrival” and Kate from “Sicario“). But I disagree! I found the relationship truly touching, with Joi’s procurement of a prostitute (Mackenzie Davis) to act as a surrogate body being both loving and giving. And as regards ‘woman’s rights’, come on! Get serious! This is a holographic commercial male companion…. the “Alexa” of the future…. I’m quite sure the male version looks like Ryan Reynolds! Sex still sells, even in 2049!!
My favourite character though was a cameo by Barkhad Abdi (“Captain Phillips“) luxoriating under the name of Doctor Badger!
I was less comfortable with Jared Leto’s dialogue which – for me at least – was barely audible. In general this film is both a challenge for those aurally challenged (with some fuzzy dialogue/effects/music mixes) and those visually challenged (with 8 point font for the on-screen text that was almost impossible to see on the cinema screen, so good luck with the DVD!).
I really wanted to give this film 5-Fads. But I can’t quite get there. The story – while interesting and having emotional depth – is lightweight for a film of this length (a butt-numbing 163 minutes!) and it moves at such a glacial pace that I’m ashamed to say that my mind wandered at times. (Specifically to how many different ways I could imagine harm being done to the American guy in front of me, who was constantly turning on his Apple watch and at one point (to whisperings of very British outrage!) his full-brightness iPhone!) The screenplay was by Hampton Fancher (one of the original Blade Runner writers) and Michael Green (“Logan“, “Alien: Covenant“) but even with this track record, it’s the film’s Achilles heel.
It’s a relief that Blade Runner revisited is not a complete disaster: quite the opposite in fact. It doesn’t quite match C-beams glittering in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate (what could)… but its a damned good attempt.
Darren Aronosfsky’s mother! is like no other film you’ll see this year: guaranteed. As a film lover, an Aronosfsky film is a bit like root canal at the dentist: you know you really need to go ahead and do it, but you know you’re not going to be very comfortable in the process.
Jennifer Lawrence (“Passengers“, “Joy“) plays “mother!” doing up a dilapidated old house in the middle of nowhere with her much older husband “Him” (Javier Bardem, “Skyfall”). he (sorry…. He) is a world-famous poet struggling to overcome a massive writing block. The situation is making things tense between the couple, and things get worse when He inexplicably invites a homeless couple “man” (Ed Harris, “Westworld”, “The Truman Show”) and “woman” (Michelle Pfeiffer, “Stardust”) to stay at the house. As things go progressively downhill, is mother losing her mind or is all the crazy stuff going on actually happening?
Jennifer Lawrence can do no wrong at the moment, and her complexion in the film is flawless: it needs to be, since she has the camera constantly about 3 inches from her face for large chunks of the movie: I sat in the very back row, and I still wasn’t far enough away! Her portrayal of a house-proud woman getting progressively more and more irritated by her guests’ inconsiderate acts – a glass? without a table mat??! – is a joy to watch. As her DIY ‘paradise’ is progressively sullied my ‘man’ and ‘woman’, so her distress grows exponentially.
Some of the supporting acting is also superb, with Ed Harris and particularly Michelle Pfeiffer enjoying themselves immensely. Also worthy of note are the brothers played by real-life brothers Brian Gleeson and Domhnall Gleeson: the latter must never sleep since he must be *constantly* on set at the moment. One of these guys in particular is very abel! (sic).
Whereas the trailer depicts this as a kind of normal haunted house spookfest, it is actually nothing of the sort: much of the action (although far-fetched) has a reasonably rational explanation (a continuation of my theme of the “physics of horror” from my last two reviews). The film is largely seen through mother!’s eyes, and the skillful cinematographer Matthew Libatique – an Aronosfsky-regular – oppressively and relentlessly delivers a uniquely tense cinematic experience. For me, for the first two thirds of the film at least, it succeeds brilliantly.
Aronosfsky is no shirker of film controversy: having Natalie Portman perform oral sex on Natalie Portman in “Black Swan” was enough to teach you that. But in the final reels of this film, Aronosfsky doesn’t just wind the dial past 10 to the Spinal Tap 11…. he keeps going right on up to 20. There are a few scenes in movies over the years that I wish I could go back and “unsee”, and this film has one of those: a truly upsetting slice of horror, playing to your worst nightmares of loss and despair. While the religious allegory in these scenes is splatted on as heavily as the splodges of mother!’s decorative plaster, they are nonetheless extremely disturbing and bound to massively divide the cinema audience. I think it’s fair to say that this DVD is not going to have “The Perfect Gift for Mother’s Day” as its marketing strapline.
Which all leaves me… where exactly? For the first time in a long time I actually have no idea! This is a film that I was willing to give an “FF” to while I was watching it, but as time has passed and I have thought more on the environmental and religious allegories, and the portrayal of the cult worship prevalent in popular X-factor celebrity, I am warming to it despite my best instincts not to. I’m not religious, but I would love to compare notes on this one with someone with strongly Christian views.
So, I’m actually going to break all the rules (a snake told me to) and not provide any rating below at this time. I might revisit it again at Christmas to see if I can resolve it in my mind as either a movie masterpiece or over-indulgent codswallop.
The undiscovered country… which they shouldn’t have returned to.
The movies have depicted the hereafter in varied ways over the years. From the bleached white warehouses of Powell and Pressburger’s “A Matter of Life and Death” in 1946 and Warren Beatty’s “Heaven Can Wait” in 1978 to – for me – the peak of the game: Vincent Ward’s mawkish but gorgeously rendered oil-paint version of heaven in 1998’s “What Dreams May Come”. Joel Schmacher’s 1990’s “Flatliners” saw a set of “brat pack” movie names of the day (including Kevin Bacon, Julia Roberts, William Baldwin and Kiefer Sutherland) as experimenting trainee doctors, cheating death to experience the afterlife and getting more than they bargained for. The depictions of the afterlife were unmemorable: in that I don’t remember them much! (I think there was some sort of spooky tree involved, but that’s about it!)
But the concept was sufficiently enticing – who isn’t a little bit intrigued by the question of “what’s beyond”? – that Cross Creek Pictures thought it worthy of dusting off and giving it another outing in pursuit of dirty lucre. But unfortunately this offering adds little to the property’s reputation.
In this version, the lead role is headed up by Ellen Page (“Inception”) who is a great actress… too good for this stuff. Also in that category is Diego Luna, who really made an impact in “Rogue One” but here has little to work with in terms of backstory. The remaining three doctors – Nina Dobrev as “the sexy one”; James Norton (“War and Peace”) as “the posh boy” and Kiersey Clemons as the “cute but repressed one”, all have even less backstory and struggle to make a great impact.
Also putting in an appearance, as the one link from the original film, is Kiefer Sutherland as a senior member of the teaching staff. But he’s not playing the same character (that WOULD have been a bloody miracle!) and although Sutherland adds gravitas he really is given criminally little to do. What was director Niels Arden Oplev (“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”) thinking?
In terms of the story, it’s pretty much a re-hash of Peter Filardi’s original, with Ben Ripley (“Source Code”) adding a few minor tweaks to the screenplay to update it for the current generation. But I will levy the same criticism of this film as I levied at the recent Stephen King adaptation of “It”: for horror to work well it need to obey some decent ‘rules of physics’ and although most of the scenes work (since a lot of the “action” is sensibly based inside the character’s heads) there are the occasional linkages to the ‘real world’ that generate a “WTF???” response. A seemingly indestructible Mini car (which is also clearly untraceable by the police!) and a knife incident at the dockside are two cases in point.
Is there anything good to say about this film? Well, there are certainly a few tense moments that make the hairs on your neck at least start to stand to attention. But these are few and far between, amongst a sea of movie ‘meh’. It’s certainly not going to be the worst film I see this year, since at least I wasn’t completely bored for the two hours. But I won’t remember this one in a few weeks. As a summary in the form of a “Black Adder” quote, it’s all a bit like a broken pencil….. pointless.