Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: It (2017)

IT… didn’t really float my boat.

IT is based on the Stephen King novel, and tells the disturbing recurring events that happen within the town of Derry in Maine. Kids keep disappearing and sightings of a spooky clown, other visitations and red balloons occur. A group of bullied high school kids – one directly impacted by the disappearances – work to get to the bottom of the supernatural goings on. (Fortunately they don’t have a dog called Scooby).

I had in mind that with the disturbing and dangerous “clowning around” that happened in the summer of 2016 that this film had been shot a while ago and the release delayed until now for fear of adding ‘clown-flavoured fuel’ to the fire. But it appears that filming only completed in September of last year, so that appears not to be the case.

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Pennywise having a ‘drains up’ with young Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott).

The film starts memorably and brutally with the “drain scene” from the trailer. And very effective it is too. “Great!” you think… this is a spookfest that has legs! Unfortunately, for me at least, it all went downhill from there. The film really doesn’t seem to know WHAT it’s trying to be. There are elements of “Stand By Me”; elements of “Alien”; elements of “The Conjuring”, all thrown into a cinematic blender and pulsed well.

The most endearing aspects of the movie are the interactions of the small-town kids, with this aspect of the film bearing the closest comparison with J.J. Abrams’ “Super 8”. This is carried by the great performances of the young actors involved, with Jaeden Lieberher (so memorable in “Midnight Special”) as Bill; Jeremy Ray Taylor (“Ant Man”) as Ben (‘the chubby one’); and Finn Wolfhard, in his big-screen premiere and sporting an absurd set of glasses, as the wise-cracking Ritchie.

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Movie night, about to turn scary. The young and talented acting team, with Jaeden Lieberher as the projectionist.

Standout for my though was the then 14-year old Sophia Lillis as Beverly (the nearest equivalent to the Elle Fanning role in “Super 8”). This young lady has SUCH screen presence, reminiscent of Emma Watson in the Harry Potter films. I think she is a name to watch!

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Sophia Lillis mesmeric as Beverly.

While commenting on the acting I do need to acknowledge Bill Skarsgård (“Atomic Blonde” and son of Stellan Skarsgård) who is creepily effective as Pennywise the clown.

Having a film that just centred on the pubescent interplay between the youngsters and their battles against the near-psychopathic school bully Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton, “Captain Fantastic”) would have kept me well-entertained for two hours. However, in the same way that the hugely over-inflated Sci-Fi ending of “Super 8” rather detracted from that film, so the clown-related story popping up all the time just irritated me to distraction. (“WILL YOU JUST FECK OFF AND LEAVE US TO FIND OUT WHO BEVERLY GETS OFF WITH???!!”)

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Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton) gets the point via the US Mail.

While the film has a number of good jump-scares, a lot of them – especially those with excessive use of CGI – just don’t really work. There are normally no “outcomes” from the scares. It’s all a bit like a ghost train where the carriage rounds a corner, something jumps out, and then the carriage moves on round the corner again! What makes a great horror film is where the “science” of the horror is well thought through. “Alien” was an exceptional example of that, where the science wasn’t just “physics” but also “biology”. Here (and I’m not sure whether this is true to the book… this is one of Stephen King’s I haven’t read) there seems to be no rules involved at all. Things happen fairly randomly: shape-shifting and effects on physical objects happen with no rational explanation; the kids can see things adults can’t see. (Why?). In fact the “adults” – the usual mix of Stephen King dysfunctional small-town crazies – seem to have no significant part in the story at all. It’s all like some lame teenage fantasy where actions (a number of individuals in the story meet their demise) seem to carry no legal consequences whatsoever. I half expected Bill to wake up – Dallas style – at the end and realise it had all been an “awful dream”!

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Beverly in her audition for “Titanic 2: The Sequel”

In particular, the denouement is highly dissatisfying. An opportunity for a (very black) twist in the plot is discarded.  Pennywise the clown’s departure is both lame and unconvincing. And there are numerous loose ends that are never properly tied down (what was that “floaters descending” dialogue about?…. it was just never followed through!).

It’s not all bad though. The location shoots in Bangor, Maine and the Ontario countryside are all beautifully rendered by cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung  (“Stoker”) and where the film clicks with the young cast it clicks well and enjoyably. I just wish that the overall film wasn’t just such a jumbled-up mess. Blame for that must lie with the screenwriting team and director Andy Muschietti (“Mama”). I’m going to give it a kicking in my rating, since with all the marketing build-up it was certainly a disappointment. I see though that at the time of writing that this film sports an unfathomably high imdb rating of 8.0/10 so I’ll acknowledge that somebody must have seen something more in this than I did!!

Fad Rating:  FF.

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Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: Victoria and Abdul (2017).

“And the Oscar goes to…. Dame Judi Dench”

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As we crawl out of the (largely disappointing) summer movie season, the first of the serious award-contenders hoves into view. Victoria and Abdul tells the untold story of a hushed-up relationship between an aged Queen Victoria (Judi Dench, “Philomina“, “Spectre“) and her Indian servant, Abdul Kareem (Ali Fazal).

Kareem is shipped to England from Agra to deliver a ceremonial coin to the Queen on the occasion of her Diamond Jubilee, together with a grumbling ‘stand-in tall guy’ Mohammed (Adeel Akhtar, “The Big Sick“, “Four Lions”). Kareem finds the Queen as sour, depressed and acidic as her post-Albert reputation would have you imagine. But something clicks between the two, and pretty soon the perked-up queen is learning Urdu and all about the Koran, much to the horror of her successor Teddy, the Prince of Wales (a splendid Eddie Izzard, “Oceans 13”) and the rest of the royal household, who try desperate measures to derail the relationship.

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Eddie Izzard, excellent as the Prince of Wales.

This film is a complete delight. I went along without great expectations…. a ‘worthy film’ I thought I should go and see to write a ‘worthy review’ about. But I was entranced from beginning to end. It’s probably best described as a comedy drama… always a difficult trick for a movie-maker to pull off. But here in the competent hands of director Stephen Frears (“Florence Foster Jenkins“) the comedy is both very, VERY funny, with the drama also being extremely moving. And crucially the transition between the two never feels forced.

I’ve seen a few critical comments that the film’s underlying topic – the subjugation of the Indian state and the queen’s role in that – is a “serious topic” and not a suitable topic for a comedy like this. And of course, “the Empire” is a terrible legacy that the British people have around their necks in the same manner as Germans have their Nazi past and the American South have their history of slavery. But the film never really gets into these issues in any depth: Abdul’s background, whilst sketchily drawn and feeling rather sanitised for the late 1800’s, is one of a middle-class Indian with a decent colonial job: someone shown respect by his British managers.

The real deal: an 1885 photo showing the real Abdul and Victoria processing “the boxes”.
While the “uprising” of Muslims is mentioned – indeed it’s a key part of the story – Victoria’s lack of knowledge of such things, or indeed of all things to do with the country she is ‘Empress’ of, is made clear. The focus of the film is quite rightly on the understandable scandal (for the day) of the queen of England (and hence head of the Church of England) having a spiritual teacher (or “Munshi”) who is neither white nor Christian. If there is a criticism to be made of the splendid script by Lee Hall (“War Horse”) it is that the racial references, and there are a few, feel rather over-sanitised given the tensions that erupt as the story unfolds.
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Putting Scotland cinematically on the map. Even with the storm clouds in the background and a lack of midges, it looks gloriously inviting.

Above all, this is an acting tour de force for Dame Judi, reprising her role as the elderly queen from “Mrs Brown” which (shockingly!) is now 20 years old. I know its early in the season to be placing bets, before having seen any of the other major contenders, but Dench’s “insanity” speech screams “Oscar reel” to me. Her performance is masterly from beginning to end.

Rather overshadowed by Dench is the relative newcomer to western cinema Ali Fazal (he had a role in the “Furious 7” film). But his performance is almost as impressive, bringing the warmth and compassion to the supporting role that is so sorely needed if the overall balance of the film is to be maintained.

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Also driving tourist business to Osborne House on the Isle of Wight: Dench and Fazal talk curries.

The supporting cast is equally stellar with Olivia Williams (“An Education”, “The Sixth Sense”) acidic as Baroness Churchill; Simon Callow (“Four Weddings and a Funeral”) as Puccini; Michael Gambon (“Harry Potter”) as Lord Salisbury and Tim Pigott-Smith as Henry Ponsonby, head of the royal household. This was Pigott-Smith’s final live-action performance before his untimely death at the age of only 70 in April of this year: and it’s sad to say that he really doesn’t look well in this film.

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The late Pigott-Smith, in his last movie Highland fling.

Also of note is Fenella Woolgar as lady’s maid Miss Phipps, comical as a the quivering wreck holding the shortest straw in having to face up to her ferocious mistress.

Another star of the show is the Scottish countryside, ravishingly photographed by Danny Cohen (“Florence Foster Jenkins“, “Room“) with this film probably doing more for the Scottish Tourist Board than any paid for advertising could ever do!

As the film comments it’s “Based on a True Story… Mostly”, and this tease of a caption both infuriates and intrigues in equal measure.  I may feel obliged to delve into the original source material by Shrabani Basu to learn more.  

Overall this is a breathtakingly delightful film, perfectly balanced, brilliantly acted I would say this is a “must see” for any older viewers over the age of 50 in need of a cinema outing that doesn’t disappoint. This is everything that (for me) “Viceroy’s House” should have been but wasn’t. Highly recommended.

Fad Rating: FFFFF

 

Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: American Made (2017).

Cruise Flying High Again.

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If you ask anyone to list the top 10 film actors, chance is that “Tom Cruise” would make many people’s lists. He’s in everything isn’t he?  Well, actually, no. Looking at his imdb history, he’s only averaged just over a movie per year for several years. I guess he’s just traditionally made a big impact with the films he’s done. This all rather changed in the last year with his offerings of the rather lacklustre “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back” (FFF) and the pretty dreadful “The Mummy” (Ff) as one of this summer’s big blockbuster disappointments. So Thomas Cruise Mapother IV was sorely in need of a upward turn and fortunately “American Made” delivers in spades.

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A quick stop in Nicaragua to pick up some paperwork from Noriega.

“Based on a True Story” this is a biopic on the life of Barry Seal, a hot shot ‘maverick’ (pun intended) TWA pilot who gets drawn into a bizarre but highly lucrative spiral of gun- and drug-running to and from Central America at the behest of a CIA operative Monty Schafer (Domhnall Gleeson). All this is completely mystifying to Barry’s wife Lucy (Sarah Wright) who is, at least not initially, allowed to be ‘in’ on the covert activities.

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Flying high over Latin America.

The film is a roller-coaster ride of unbelievable action from beginning to end. In the same manner as you might have thought “that SURELY can’t be true” when watching Spielberg’s “Catch Me If You Can”, this thought constantly flits through your mind. At each turn Seal can’t believe his luck, and Cruise brilliantly portrays the wide-eyed astonishment required. This is a role made for him. 

Also delivering his best performance in years is Domhnall Gleeson (“Ex Machina“, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens“) as the CIA man with the (whacky) plan. Large chunks of the film are powered by his manic grin.

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Domhnall Gleeson as the CIA man with a sense of Contra-rhythm.

As an actress, Sarah Wright is new to me but as well as being just stunningly photogenic she works with Cruise really well (despite being 20 years his junior – not wanting to be ageist, but this is the second Cruise film in a row I’ve pointed that out!)). Wright also gets my honourary award for the best airplane sex scene this decade!

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“Time to pack honey”. Seal (Cruise) delivering a midnight surprise to wife Lucy (Sarah Wright) – and not in a good way.

Written by Gary Spinelli (this being only his second feature) the script is full of wit and panache and – while almost certainly (judging from wiki) stretches the truth as far as Seal’s cash-storage facilities – never completely over-eggs the pudding. 

Doug Liman (“Jason Bourne“, “Edge of Tomorrow“) directs brilliantly, giving space among the action for enough character development to make you invest in what happens to the players. The 80’s setting is lovingly crafted with a garish colour-palette with well-chosen documentary video inserts of Carter, Reagan, Oliver Stone, George Bush and others. It also takes really chutzpah to direct a film that (unless I missed it) had neither a title nor any credits until the end. 

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The real Barry Seal.

The only vaguely negative view I had about this film is that it quietly glosses over the huge pain, death and suffering that the smuggled drugs will be causing to thousands of Americans under the covers. And this mildly guilty thought lingers with you after the lights come up to slightly – just slightly – take the edge off the fun.  

Stylish, thrilling, moving and enormously funny in places, this is action cinema at its best. A must see film. 

Fad Rating: FFFFf.

Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: The Hitman’s Bodyguard (2017).

A plethora of clichés.

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2017’s summer blockbusters fizzle to a halt with this formulaic action comedy. Ryan Reynolds (“Deadpool“) plays Michael Bryce: a cocksure “Triple A rated” bodyguard, always planning three steps ahead so that he can protect his clients without killing anyone in the process. With such arrogance, a fall is inevitable. On the other side of the legal scales is Darius Kincaid (Samuel L Jackson,  “The Hateful Eight“), a contract killer who always gets his man. But the incarcerated Kincaid is offered a deal to release his equally incarcerated wife Sonia (Selma Hayek) in return for testifying against the fearsome Belarus president Vladislav Dukhovich (Gary Oldman, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”), on trial for war crimes at The Hague. An Interpol team led by Bryce’s’s ex-squeeze Amelia Roussel (the striking Elodie Yung) now have to get Kincaid to Belgium unscathed with Dukhovich’s well-trained and well-armed thugs stopping at nothing to ensure he won’t be there to testify. Fate transpires that Bryce and Kincaid become an unlikely team in trying to bring Dukhovich to justice. 

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After losing your no claims bonus, hysterical laughter is the only way forwards. Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L Jackson.

This is a movie whose script seems to have been glued together from a patchwork of other movie scenes:

– the bad guy / bad guy partner relationship of “The Nice Guys“. Check.

– the street ambush of “Clear and Present Danger”. Check.

– the Amsterdam boat chase of “Puppet on a Chain”. Check.

– the comedic bar-room brawl from “Airplane”. Check.

Many of the action scenes are done with panache and some great stunt work. But it’s all stuff we’ve seen countless times before, so what is needed for differentiation is the relationships between Bryce and Kincaid: this needs to be the cornerstone of the film. But it just doesn’t quite work. Jackson’s contribution is never in doubt, even though we’ve seen this motherf-ing shtick  countless times before: he’s still magnetic, charismatic and a joy to watch. But unfortunately Reynolds just doesn’t deliver the acting goods to make the banter believable: there is a reason “Deadpool” is his best film – he wears a mask for most of it! His ‘puppy-dog look’ gets rolled out multiple times, but it’s unconvincing in the extreme. Together they are no match for Gosling/Crowe in “The Nice Guys“.

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Nun but the brave. Jackson (if not Reynolds) get happy clappy.

On firmer ground is the quirky relationship between Mr and Mrs Kincaid.  Although sharing limited screen time together, Hayek and Jackson spark off each other wonderfully. Seeing Selma Hayek in uncharacteristically sweary and belligerent mode was highly entertaining (although it’s worth commenting that my wife took great offence to the ‘comic’ bullying of an overweight cellmate).

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“I had to ask the guy next to me to pinch me to make sure I wasn’t dreaming” – the future Mr and Mrs Kincaid meet in a rough place… the seediest dive on the wharf.

Elsewhere in the acting roll call, Elodie Yung delivers just the right measure of cuteness, toughness and passion as Roussel, but Oldman delivers a full-on retread of his Ivan “Get off my plane” Korshunov from “Air Force One”. There is also a change to Oldman’s character’s face at the end of the film in the form of a rampant skin complaint which is ‘explained’ by a clumsily inserted news item about an “attempted poisoning”: it’s such a clunky and bizarre addition to the script that it made me wonder whether the actor has some unexpected ailment (like shingles) during filming…. but I can see nothing related to this online.  

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The striking Elodie Yung as the Interpol agent Roussel.

The screenplay by relative newcomer Tom O’Connor bumps along from implausible action scene to implausible action scene, with more that its fair share of ‘WTF’ moments. For example, after a random chase through multiple Amsterdam alleys and shops, Jackson pulls up outside the very DIY shop Reynolds ends up in to pick him up! The script is also tonally uneven throughout: given this is supposed to be an “action comedy” the action is often brutal and unpleasant and the comedy – in the main – just not funny enough. (About the funniest thing in the film are the most ineffective sub machine guns known to man, most notably in the mildly ludicrous, if well staged, boat chase scene!) 

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An entertaining cameo from Richard E Grant as a businessman in danger.

The film also manages to offend, in more ways than the 15-rated violence and language used: I’m not sure WHEN this movie was actually filmed, but the use of an articulated lorry as a terrorist weapon towards the end of the film is certainly in very poor taste after the events of Nice, London and Barcelona. Not appreciated.

Directed by Patrick Hughes (“The Expendables 3″…. say no more) this hodge-podge of a flick is sporadically entertaining, but is one I will struggle to remember in a couple of months time. 

Fad Rating:  FFF.

(Note: this is the red band trailer).
Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: Atomic Blonde (2017)

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A Nuclear Blast of a Movie.

Ever wanted to know how many punches and kicks a Russian thug can take and still get up again?

Ever wanted to find a place to store your keys so you won’t ever lose them?

Ever wanted a perfect chat-up line at a bar?

Ever wanted to see Charlize Theron naked in an ice bath? (This is – ahem – a rhetorical question!). 

This film provides the answers! 

Atomic Blonde lives up to its name by being a blast of violent action from beginning to end. What rather let the air out of the James Bond franchise’s sails in the late 80’s was Glasnost, the fall of the Iron Curtain and with that all of the cold-war related plots. Atomic Blonde sensibly avoids all such problems by pitching the action into Berlin in late 1989, with uprising and wall-falling being an integral part of the plot.

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Just don’t call her a ho…. when the girl comes equipped with a hose and knows how to use it.

Ms Theron (“Mad Max: Fury Road“; “The Fate of the Furious“) plays Lorraine Broughton who sounds like she should be a librarian in Milton Keynes, but is actually a top super-spy for British Intelligence. A renegade Stasi officer, codename Spyglass (Eddie Marsan, “Their Finest“), has got a hold of a comprehensive list of the West’s operatives (like the ‘NOC list’ in “Mission Impossible”) and wants to use it to get his family out of East Berlin. Anyone and everyone is after the list including the Russians (the sadistic Aleksander Bremovych, Roland Møller), the French (sultry Delphine Lasalle, Sofia Boutella (“Kingsman: The Secret Service“)), the British (MI6’s po-faced Eric Gray, Toby Jones (“Hitchcock“)) and the CIA (a well-bearded Emmett Kurzfeld, John Goodman (“Patriot’s Day“)).  All will stop at nothing to get it.  In addition, with such a valuable asset in play, individuals are also not necessarily batting for their country’s best interests and cross and double-cross is rife. As James Faulkner (“Bridget Jones Baby“) playing the the British MI6 chief “C” (and “we know what that stands for”) comments – – “Trust nobody”.

Central to the intrigue is “our man in Berlin” David Percival (James McAvoy, “Split“, “X-Men: Apocalypse“, having great fun) who has rather “gone native” in burying himself in the Berlin underworld to get things done by unorthodox means.

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Berlin, November 1989. Lorraine (Theron) and Percival (McAvoy) out to catch the graffiti artist… there’s just so much wall to patrol though!

In true Bond or Bourne style, a lot of the action is ludicrously unbelievable. If I stub my toe I am hopping around for five minutes:  there is no way a body can take the sort of abuse metered out in this film!  But it’s all good dirty fun, and Charlize Theron is a force of nature in the movie, becoming (no doubt) a lesbian icon for the ages. 

Also excellent in his normal quiet sort of way is Eddie Marsan: an actor who nearly always plays supporting, rather than leading, roles, but always delivers with excellence. Here as “Spyglass” he continues to impress as a man caught in the middle. 

Sofia Boutella is also far better here than she was in the woeful “The Mummy“, restoring some acting credibility. 

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“I’ve been wanting to ask you a question”. Sofia Boutella, great as the sultry French mademoiselle.

The nuclear reactor at the heart of the film is the screenplay by Kurt Johnstad (“300”), based on a graphic novel by Antony Johnston called “The Coldest City”, which rockets along almost without pause and includes twists and turns almost to the final frame. As suggested above, the only fault with the complex script is that some of the action scenes stretch credibility to breaking point.  This sometimes threatens to turn tension to inappropriate laughter at the absurdity of it all. What’s clear though is that Theron must have trained for many months though to be able to execute some of the moves she does, in some of the most impressively choreographed fight scenes since the Bourne movies. It might all be movie play acting, but I would suggest all the same that this is not a lady anyone should consider trying to mug in a dark alley!

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Note just a pretty face. Charlize Theron knowing that she gave as good as she got with the bad guys.

The direction is by ex-stuntman David Leitch, and this is his feature film debut (although he did direct some second unit stuff on “John Wick”). He must have been delighted to have such an impressive team of A-listers to work with.  He does a good job too, with many of the shots and graphics having a panache that drags the film out of its potential B-movie status.  At times though, some of the stylization rather smacks of ‘trying to hard to be cool’.

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Trustworthy eyes? The ever-excellent John Goodman as the CIA chief Kurzfeld.

Another key contributor to the film is music coordinator Tyler Bates who pulls off the same trick as he did with “Guardians of the Galaxy” by stuffing the film full of late ’80s classic tracks.  Bowie, Queen, Depeche Mode, George Michael, Nena – all make an appearance. It’s also the second film this year to feature the Flock of Seagull’s song “I Ran” (for ten points, for the first to comment, what was the first???).  

For those who revel in high octane violent action of the “Taken” variety, with much bad language throughout, it all adds up to a great escapist night at the movies.  The ladies I went with were trying to edge UP my rating below…. so boys,  it turns out that this is possibly a chick flick after all… fill your knee-length boots!

Fad Rating:  FFFF.  

 

 

Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: Detroit (2017).

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The Detroit Sinners.

Katheryn Bigelow’s new film should make you angry. It made me angry. As this year’s Selma (on steroids) the film is an ode to how incidents can get out of hand: at a macro level we see how a stubbornly chained-up door triggers a series of riots 50 years ago that reduced the ‘Motor Town’ to a war zone; at a micro level we see how a childish prank turns into a terrifying ordeal for the guests of the Algiers Motel.

While I was aware of the historical context of the Detroit riots, the Motel incident was new to me. How accurate is the film? Not very, from the many comments made online and from diversions in the story to what’s reported on the ‘official’ wiki page. But what’s clear is that the facts of what occurred have been refracted through the multiple lenses of the police, the victims, the state police, the troopers and the legal teams arguing those facts. So no one can be sure anymore. 

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Things getting out of hand. Detroit lights the blue touch paper.

Bigelow – particularly as a white women – is brave to make this film. You would like to think that, after 50 years, American society has ‘grown up’ somewhat but, after the recent police-on-black incidents in places including Ferguson, Baltimore and Charlotte, that is clearly not the case. So this is a rather incendiary picture:  as a white liberal, I was angry; as a black person I would be furious. This hardly pours ‘oil on troubled waters’. 

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Under pressure from ‘the force’: John Boyega.

But enough of the political context: what’s the film like? The answer is tense: very tense!

The riots are wonderfully staged with masterful cinematography (by Barry Ackroyd, “The Hurt Locker”, “Captain Phillips“) that blends filmed footage with documentary footage (cleverly upscaled for the big screen) such that you often can’t see the seams. Once in the annex of the motel the film becomes grippingly claustrophobic as the racist cop Krauss (Will Poulter) becomes the king – no, the dictator – of all he surveys. Here the film editing and sound design is superb, and it would be astonishing if these disciplines are not up for Oscars for this work. 

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Did he just slip in the shower? Nope… Acting talent in the form of Krauss (Will Poulter) and Larry (Algee Smith).

It is difficult to single out specific acting performances, since this is a fine ensemble performance (a One Mann’s Movies award prediction:  the The Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture). But I will reference a few: unknown Algee Smith owns the role of Larry Reed – lead singer of Motown group ‘The Dramatics’ – showing how the events of the night sapped his enthusiasm for life; Jack Reynor extends his impressive CV (after “Sing Street” and “Free Fire“) as the most hapless of Krauss’s cronies; and John Boyega (“Star Wars: The Force Awakens“) delivers a Poitier-level of screen presence as fish-out-of-water security guard Dismukes. A mid-film twist in the film concerning his character (at least as written and portrayed) delivers a powerful kick to the gut that Boyega acts beautifully.

But the starring role goes to Poulter as the malignant police officer Krauss. With a resume as diverse as “Son of Rambo”, “We’re the Millers” and “The Revenant“, Poulter is making it into the top tier of young movie actors. As Krauss he is 100% believable.

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Thuggish hencehmen – Flynn (Ben O’Toole) and Demens (Jack Reynor).

I loved the first two thirds of the film: gripping, thought-provoking and scary, but with entertaining elements of the Motown scene, through the eyes of ‘The Dramatics”, thrown in to add humanity and context. If it had finished then, I would have been happy:  FFFFF, no problem. Unfortunately Bigelow and her standard screenwriter Mark Boal (“The Hurt Locker”, “Zero Dark Thirty”) rather over-egg the pudding in the final reels, making the film over-long and undoing some of the previous good work. The film sprawls into multiple different areas including courtroom scenes, mourning  families (introducing brand new characters), a Larry Reed story and related Dramatics fall-out, with only the latter storyline being really welcome.

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The Dramatics in action.

This is an important film, and will no doubt feature strongly in the Awards season.  It is also, notwithstanding its flaws, a very good film that was a hard watch but impressive. Recommended.

Fad Rating:  FFFF.

Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Special for “The Alfred Hitchcock Blogathon”: Rear Window (1954)

“Hmm… must have splattered a lot”.

Maddy at Maddy Loves Her Classic Films is hosting The Alfred Hitchcockblogathon. A fine idea, celebrating the life and works of the “Master of Suspense”. My contribution comes from his 1954 masterpiece “Rear Window” starring James Stewart and Grace Kelly.  

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In one pan around his small apartment, and without a word of dialogue required, Hitchcock deftly fills in all the back-story you need: Stewart plays ace photo-journalist L.B. Jefferies, laid up from jetting the world to worn-torn regions by a broken leg in a full-cast with only his courtyard view to entertain him. In sweltering summer temperatures all the apartments are open to the elements, so he can be well entertained by the menagerie before him: “Miss Torso”, the scantily-clad and frequently showering ballerina; a sculptress with an eye towards Henry Moore; a struggling composer (who has his clock wound by someone very familiar!); a newly-wedded bride threatening to wear out the groom; a salesman and his bed-ridden wife; a dog-loving and balcony-sleeping couple; and “Miss Lonelyhearts” – a hard-drinking spinster forced to create imaginary male dinner-guests.

Stewart plays his usual ‘Mr Ordinary’ watching perfectly ordinary goings on in a perfectly ordinary apartment block.  

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Voyeurism with the right equipment. James Stewart looking out of the rear window.

Or not.  Jefferies is drawn to some odd-events in the apartment of the salesman (Raymond Burr, still 13 years before his career-defining role in TV’s “Ironside”). His rampant suspicions infect not only his cranky middle-aged physiotherapist Stella (Thelma Ritter) but also his perfect (“too perfect”) girlfriend, the fashion expert Lisa (Grace Kelly). Of course his police friend Doyle (Wendell Corey) is having none of it… there is no evidence of any crime being committed. And the “murdered” wife has been seen being put on a train by her husband, and is sending him letters from the countryside.

Is Jefferies just going stir-crazy? Or is there really something to it?     

The set for this film is masterly. Although depicting a genuine location in New York’s Greenwich village the huge set was constructed on the Paramount lot in Hollywood, and you can just imagine the army of carpenters and artists building the multi-layered structure. 

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One of the stars of the show. The amazing Paramount set.

It’s one of the stars of the film, allowing for a wealth of detail to be populated: in the apartments; in the street behind; even in the cafe over the other side of the street. And it’s this detail that really makes what could be a highly static film come alive. There are a half dozen films-within-the-film going on at once, with Stewart’s character – and you as the fellow-voyeur – having a multi-pass to watch them all simultaneously.

And watch he does. As what could be perceived as a seriously pervy character – something he is called out on by Stella – Jeffries gets to see an eyeful in particular of the shapely and scantily-clad ballerina (Georgine Darcy, agent-less and only paid $350 for the role!).  These scenes must have been deemed quite risque for the year of release.  

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Risque for the time. Georgine Darcy more than earning her fee.

Where the film rather falters is in the bickering romance between Stewart and Kelly. As a hot-blooded man, I will declare that even today Kelly’s first dream-like appearance (with Vaseline lightly coating the lens) is breathtaking. She’s just the ‘girl-next-door’: if you live next to a palace that is! And yet (with Kelly 21 years Stewart’s junior) she’s just “too perfect” for L.B. , who feels (against her protestations) that she’s ‘too girly’ to hack the life of a war photographer on the road. The mysogeny, common for the day, is gasp-making:  “If a girl’s pretty enough, she just has to ‘be'” intones Stewart, to no howls of protest or throwing of saucepans!  In fact Kelly is greatly encouraged:  “Preview of coming attractions” purrs Kelly, flaunting what she has around the apartment in a negligee.  

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A vision of loveliness… Ice Queen Grace Kelly feeling underappreciated.

These scenes though are rather overlong and somewhat get in the way of the murder mystery plot-line. Things really start to warm up when a death occurs, to piercing screams in the night:  “Which one of you did it?” shouts a woman to the neighbourhood, as everything – momentarily – stops. “WHICH ONE OF YOU DID IT?”.  Given your emotional involvement in the ongoing voyeurism, it’s hard as a viewer not to feel discomforted…. (“well, it wasn’t me”…. shifts uneasily in the seat).

From then on, Hitchcock proceeds to pile on suspenseful jolt after jolt, with first Lisa and then L.B. placed in harms way. While the perpetrator may seem clueless and incompetent, as most murderers of passion probably are, the denouement is satisfying, with a great trial use of green-screen ‘falling’ that would be perfected by Hitchcock for “Vertigo” four years later.  

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Raymond Burr as the menacing Lars Thorwald.

What’s curious for such as classic is that there are a number of fluffed lines in the piece: with two notable ones by Stewart and Kelly. Hitchcock was the master of long and uninterrupted takes, but did he not believe in re-shooting scenes when such errors occurred?  Most odd.

Although tighter and more claustrophobic that some of his better known films, this is a firm favourite of mine. If you’ve never seen it, its well worth you checking out.  

Fad Rating:  FFFFf.  

Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: 47 Metres Down (2017)

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Down Down, Deeper and Down.

It’s summer again;  it’s a shark movie.  Lisa and Kate are two sisters on holiday in Mexico with one grieving a lost relationship and the other looking for fun.  Against their better judgement they go shark cage diving 5 metres below a vessel that looks like it should have been in the salvage yard 20 years ago.  After a mechanical failure the cage plummets down to the sea bed….. (Go on, how deep? Have a guess.  Go on, go on, go on …)

With sharks circling and air running low, will the girls survive their ordeal?  

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Safer on the beach. What a holiday should be about.
Last year, one of the surprise movies of the year for me was “The Shallows“, which I really enjoyed.  A tense, well made yarn held together by a solid performance by Blake Lively and with a genuine escalation of tension (albeit let down by a poor ending). 

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“OK”? Erm, there’s still time to think again.
“47 Metres Down” differs from that film in three major respects:  B-movie acting, from Mandy Moore and Claire Holt (with Holt being significantly better than Moore); a screenplay by Johannes Roberts and Ernest Riera that is both ponderous and unbelievable; and dialogue that is at times truly execrable.  

The film really takes its time to get to the ‘sharp end’ (as it were).  Once there, the actions of the girls are so clinically stupid that they are deserving of Darwin Award nominations. Fortunately, the IQs of the sharks (well realised as CGI by Outpost VFX) are only marginally greater:  the sharks will appear and then go away for ten minutes at a time, just so that the implausible plot can progress unmolested.

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One good thing about the film is the photo-realistic shark CGI. Spielberg would have given his right arm (bad metaphor) for this 40 years ago.
These films always need an escalator for the tension:  in “The Shallows” it was the rising tide; in this film it is the air supply.  This element works well and adds an additional element of claustrophobia to the film that is already at 11 on the scale (you surely don’t need me to tell you that claustrophobics need to avoid this film!). 

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Cage fighting for their lives.
Much of the dialogue is expository regarding what is going on in the darkness and is so repetitive (“We ARE going to get out of here Kate!”) that it would make a good drinking game.  The worst dialogue award though goes to Matthew Modine (“Memphis Belle”) who’s repeated medical descriptions of “the bends” becomes mildly comical – I literally got a fit of the giggles at one point.

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#panic. Lisa goes a bit deeper than originally intended.
I’m not going to completely savage the film though, since there IS a nice twist to the ending, albeit one that’s heavily signposted.  And instead of reaching constantly for the classic “Ben’s head in the boat” jump scare, the film occasionally teases the audience with set-ups that ultimately just feature murky water and nothing more. 

My recommendation:  if you’ve not yet seen “The Shallows”, check that out on DVD and give this one a miss.

Fad Rating:  FFf.

Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: The Big Sick (2017).

Just what the doctor ordered: a charming and thoughtful summer comedy.

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Romance and comedy work together beautifully on film:  love is innately ridiculous after all!  But mix in a dramatic element – particularly a serious medical emergency – to a Rom Com and you walk a dangerous line between on the one hand letting the drama overwhelm the comedy ( “Well!  I don’t feel like laughing now!”) and on the other hand diverging into shockingly mawkish finger-down-the-throat sentimentality. Fortunately the new comedy – “The Big Sick” – walks that line to perfection.

Kumail Nanjiani plays (who’d have thought it?) Kumail, a Pakistani-born comic-cum-Uber-driver struggling to get recognised on the Chicago comedy circuit. His performances mix traditional stand-up at a club with a rather po-faced one-man show where he explains at length the culture of Pakistan (Naan-splaining?), including intricate detail on the fielding positions and strategies of cricket. Kumail is heckled during a show by the young and perky Emily (Zoe Kazan, the middle daughter from “It’s Complicated”).  Lust blossoms (mental note: stand up comedy seems a fabulous strategy for picking up women) and lust turns to romance as the pair grow closer to each other.

A surging romance. Uber gets love from A to B.

Unfortunately Kumail is aware of something Emily isn’t: his strictly Muslim parents Sharmeen and Azmat (Anupam Kher and Zenobia Schroff) believe in arranged marriages to ‘nice Pakistani girls’ and a relationship with – let alone a marriage to – Emily risks disgrace and familial exile.  A medical crisis brings Kumail further into dispute, this time with Emily’s parents Beth and Terry (Holly Hunter and Ray Romano).

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Emily’s parents, played by Ray Romano and Holly Hunter.

Stand-up is, I assert, a very nationalistic thing. It is a medium hugely dependant on context and while I’m sure great British comics like Peter Kay and Eddie Izzard might rate as only a 4 or a 5 out of 10 for most Americans, so most American stand-up comics tend to leave me cold.  And perhaps it’s also a movie-thing, that stand-up on the big screen just doesn’t work well?  Either way, the initial comedy-club scenes rather left me cold. (And I don’t think most of them were SUPPOSED to be particularly bad – since they seemed to fill the seats each night).  As a result I thought this was a “comedy” that wasn’t going to be for me.

Stand up and be counted. Kumail Nanjiani doing the circuit.

But once Nanjiani and Kazan got together the chemistry was immediate and palpable and the duo completely won me round. Kazan in particular is a vibrant and joyous actress who I would love to see a lot more of: this should be a breakout movie for her.

Broader, but none less welcome, comedy is to be found in Kumail’s family home as his mother introduces serial Pakistani girls to the dinner table. 

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Zenobia Schroff and Anupam Kher, while still smiling

Holly Hunter (“Broadcast News” – one of my favourite films) and Ray Romano are also superb, delivering really thoughtful and nuanced performances that slowly unpeel the stresses inherent in many long-term marriages. The relationship that develops between Kumail and Beth is both poignant and truly touching.

Where the script succeeds is in never quite making the viewer comfortable about where the movie is going and whether the film will end with joy or heartbreak.  And you will find no spoilers here!

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Kumail with comic friends: CJ (Bo Burnham), Mary (Aidy Bryant) and the hapless Chris (Kurt Braunohler).

So is it a comedy classic?  Well, no, not quite. What’s a bit disappointing is that for a film as culturally topical as this, the whole question of Islamophobia in Trump’s America is juggled like a hot potato. Aside from one memorable scene in the club, with a redneck heckler, and an excruciating exchange about 9/11 between Kumail and Terry, the subject is completely ignored. This is a shame.  The script (by Nanjiani and Emily Gordon) would have benefited enormously from some rather braver “Thick of It” style input from the likes of Armando Iannucci.

I also have to despair at the movie’s marketing executives who came up with this title. FFS!  I know “East is East” has already gone, but could you have possibly come up with a less appealing title?  I guess the title does serve one useful purpose in flagging up potential upset for those with bad historical experiences of intensive care.  (Like “The Descendants” this is what we would term in our family #notaShawFamilyfilm).

Overall though this film, directed by Michael Showalter (no, me neither!) and produced by Judd Apatow (whose name gets the biggest billing), is a fun and engaging movie experience that comes highly recommended. A delightful antidote to the summer blockbuster season. The end titles also bring a delightful surprise (that I’ve seen spoiled since by some reviews) that was moving and brought added depth to the drama that had gone before.

More Hollywood please, more.

Fad Rating:  FFFF.

Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: Dunkirk (2017)

A war vehicle running low on fuel.

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The words “Christopher Nolan” and “disappointment” are not words I would naturally associate… but for me, they apply where “Dunkirk” is concerned. 

It promised so much from the trailer:  a historical event of epic proportions; Kenneth Branagh; Tom Hardy; Mark Rylance; Hans Zimmer on the keys; the director of such classics as “The Dark Knight”; “Inception” and “Interstellar” : what could go wrong? 

But it just doesn’t work and I’ve spent the last 24 hours trying to unpick why.

A key problem for me was the depiction of the beach itself. The film eschews CGI effects – a move that I would normally approve of – in favour of the use of “practical effects” and the involvement of “thousands of extras” (as the rather glutinously positive Wiki entry declares).  Unfortunately for the movie, there were some 400,000 troops marooned in this last patch of civilisation ahead of the Nazi hoard, and all of the shots refuse to acknowledge this scale of potential human tragedy.  Yes, there are individual scenes of horror, such as the soldier walking into the sea against the impassive stares of the young heroes.  But nothing of scale.  At times I thought I’d seen more people on the beach on a winter’s day in Bournemouth!  In the absence of a co-production with China, and the provision of the volume of extras as in “The Great Wall“, CGI becomes a necessary evil to make the whole exercise believable.

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What it was really like…. one of the famous paintings by Charles Cundall (Crown copyright).
My disquiet at this deepened when we got to the sharp end of the rescue by the “small boats”. In my mind (and I’m NOT quite old enough to remember this!) I imagine a sea full of them.  A sight to truly merit Branagh’s awed gaze.  But no.  They might have been “original” vessels…. but there was only about half a dozen of them.   A mental vision dashed.  

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Did I feel a spot of rain? Looking to unfriendly skies on the River Mole.
The film attempts to tell the story from three perspectives:  from the land; from the sea and from the air.  The sea though gets the lion’s share of the film, and there is much drowning that occurs that (I am aware) was distressing for some in the audience. 

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Styles going in One Direction…. down.
Nolan also pushes his quirky “timeline” manipulation too far for an audience that largely expects a linear telling of a classic tale.  It’s day; it’s night; the minesweeper’s sailing; then sunk; then sailing again; a Spitfire crashes, then crashes again from a different perspective.  I know many in the audience just didn’t ‘get’ that:  leaving them presumably very confused! 

That being said, the film is not a write off, and has its moments of brilliance.  Kenneth Branagh (“Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit“, “Valkyrie”) – although having a range of Nolan’s clipped and cheesy lines to say – is impressive as the commanding officer. Mark Rylance (“Bridge of Spies“, “The BFG“) also shines as the captain of the “Moonstone”:  one of the small boats out of Weymouth (although here there is a grievous lack of backstory for the civilian efforts).  And Tom Hardy (“The Revenant“, “Legend“), although having limited opportunity to act with anything other than his eyes, is impressive as RAF pilot Farrier. His final scene of stoic heroism is memorable.  

Fionn Whitehead is also impressive in his movie debut, and even Harry Styles (“This is Us“) equips himself well. 

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A surfeit of horror leads to a lack of compassion. Harry Styles, Aneurin Barnard and Fionn Whitehead look on as the death toll mounts.
The cinematography by Hoyte Van Hoytema (“Interstellar“) is stunning with some memorable shots:  a burning plane on a beach being a highspot for me.

And Hans Zimmer’s score is Oscar-worthy, generating enormous tension with a reverberating score, albeit sometimes let down by unsuitable cutaways (for example, to scenes of boat loading).  Elsewhere in the sound department though I had major issues, with a decent percentage of the dialogue being completely inaudible in the sound mix.

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Kenneth Branagh, impressive as Commander Bolton RN.
I really wanted this to be a “Battle of Britain”.  Or a “Bridge Too Far”.  Or even a “Saving Private Ryan”.  Unfortunately, for me it was none of these, and this goes down as one of my movie disappointments of the year so far.

Fad Rating:  FFf.