I really hated this film. There. BOOM. Got it off my chest.
It all starts so promisingly, with a scene of Anna Kendrick (“The Accountant“, who can be a very good actress) rejecting a wedding invitation; then accepting it; then burning it; then blowing it out; then posting it. I laughed. This was a rarity. There are about five more smile-worthy moments in the movie, most of which are delivered by Stephen Merchant.
Anna plays Eloise who was SUPPOSED to be maid-of-honour at her best friend’s wedding, but then broke up – messily – with her brother (the best man). She stubbornly attends the wedding in a posh hotel and finds herself on “Table 19” – a socially unfavourable location, full of a bunch of misfits that everyone expected to say “no” but didn’t; a molly-coddled and awkward teen (Tony Revolori, “Spider-man: Homecoming“) with the single goal of getting laid; “The Kepps” – a bickering married couple (Lisa Kudrow (“The Girl on the Train“, “Friends”) and Craig Robinson (“Hot Tub Time Machine”)); a convicted fraudster serving his sentence in an open prison ( Stephen Merchant, “Logan“) and a druggie former nanny of the bride (June Squibb, “In and Out”).
The fundamental problem with the movie is that Jeffrey Blitz’s script (he also directs) is not only not very funny, but it is so fundamentally focused on the greedy and needy nature of the table’s American reprobates that at every turn it leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Their motives are all utterly selfish and there’s an “if we get away with it, then that’s fine” attitude that pervades the plot.
The nadir for me happens when – after trashing (albeit accidently) a key part of the wedding they are attending, they cover their selfish backsides by (deliberately) trashing the same key part of another wedding going on in the same hotel.
This is kind of positioned as a “revenge” sort of thing, but (in analysis) no wrong seems to have actually been done: its just another misunderstanding of the self-obsessed Eloise.
The Kepp’s story is also sad and selfish rather than comedic, and the resolution of this (and in fact all of the other sub-stories) for a nicely gift-wrapped ending is just saccharine and vomit-inducing.
This is a wedding present that should have come with a label in big red writing: “DO NOT OPEN“.
I managed to miss this film when it was first shown at the end of 2016. And what a shame as it would have UNDOUBTEDLY made my “Films of the Year” list.
Directed by Amma Asante (“Belle”) this is the true tale of a real-life fairy story, featuring a handsome prince and his love, who can never be his princess thanks to the Machievellian schemings of court-do-gooders and bureaucrats.
The prince in this case is Seretse Kham (David Oyelowo, “Selma“) , heir to the throne of Bechuanaland (now Botswana), who meets and falls in love with a lowly white Lloyd’s of London clerk Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike, “Gone Girl“, “The World’s End“). The plot has many parallels with that of another film from earlier this year: “Loving” with Ruth Negga and Joel Egerton. As an inter-racial couple in 1947 this is taboo enough, but the fact that Kham is soon to be king in a country bordering the apartheid tinderkeg that is South Africa blows the affair up to be a diplomatic crisis.
Defying the officials he marries his true love, driving a wedge between both his own uncle (Vusi Kunene ) and sister (Terry Pheto) and making Ruth an outcast in both countries. As things turn from bad to worse, can true love conquer all their adversities?
Just everything about this film delights. Oyelowo and Pike – always a safe pair of hands – add real emotional depth to their roles. Their relationship feels natural and loving without either of them trying too hard. The estrangement of Ruth from her parents (particularly her father played by Nicholas Lyndhurst) is truly touching.
Another star turn is Harry Potter alumni Tom Felton, playing Rufus Lancaster – a weaselly and very unpleasant local official. I have a prediction…. that in 30 year’s time, the young Potter actor that will be the ‘Ian McKellen of his day’ (that is, a world recognized great actor… not necessarily gay!) will be Felton.
Sam McCurdy (“The Descent”) delivers cinematography of Africa that is vibrant (to be fair, for anyone lucky enough to visit Africa will know, cameras just love the place) and the John Barry-esque music by Patrick Doyle (“Murder on the Orient Express“) is pitch perfect for the mood.
A beautifully crafted film that older viewers will just love.
“Churchill” tells the story of the great leader’s extreme opposition to “Operation Overlord”, the Eisenhower-led invasion of Normandy in 1944 that ultimately led – more by luck that judgement perhaps – to the fall of the Third Reich in the following year.
I’m not a historian but am married to one, so know the importance of “sources” in the pursuit of “truth”: one man’s terrorist is after all another man’s freedom fighter from a different perspective. Some sources on the internet (here for example) certainly suggest the The British (led by Churchill as Prime Minister) might have sensibly promoted the acceleration of the Italian campaign to reach Berlin rather than the far riskier Channel crossing.
This film however paints Churchill as a man demonised by his decision to send young men to their deaths in the fateful Gallipoli beach landings of World War One, with this – rather than a sensible strategic one – being the primary reason for opposing the Normandy landings. To further paint him as a bumbling old fool that is “worked around” by his peers strikes you as borderline libellous.
So the film’s script, by novice Alex von Tunzelmann, immediately set the wrong tone with me, and the undeniably strong performances of Brian Cox (“The Bourne Identity”) as Churchill and the wonderful Miranda Richardson (“Harry Potter” and the soon to be released “Stronger”) as Clemmie can’t fill the gap.
Besides anything else, diretor Jonathan Teplitzky (“The Railway Man”) delivers a piece so dull and lifeless, and with so much brooding, that its not remotely enjoyable. You think the introduction of a bullied secretary – Ms Garrett (Ella Purnell) – with a strong personal connection to ‘Overlord’ will add dramatic colour? But this angle too seems to go nowhere in particular.
There are many tales of the Normandy landings that are fascinating, over and above the dramatic sweep of “The Longest Day” (which is surely well overdue for a remake?) and Spielberg’s fictionalisation of the Niland brothers in “Saving Private Ryan”. How about the 2 out of 29 American amphibious tanks that reached Omaha beach after ignoring British advice to not launch so far from shore in rough seas?
So, as a film, it might be “worthy”. But I didn’t remotely believe the depiction of Churchill and it astonished me that such a rivetingly exciting period of British history could deliver a film that bored me. So, sorry, can’t recommend this one. Perhaps Joe Wright will have a better go with Gary Oldman as Churchill in “Darkest Hour”…
“It really doesn’t matter if you’re ‘Black or White”.
Due to a mixture of holiday, work commitments and sickness (I would not wish to inflict my bronchial cough on ANY cinema audience for a while) I haven’t been to the cinema in over a month… shocking. But it has given me a chance to catch up on some of the films in 2017 (and a few from last year) that I hadn’t got to see. So this will be the first of a series of such “DVD” reviews.
“Get Out” was written and directed by Jordan Peele and was his directorial debut. And a hot item on his resume it is too.
Daniel Kaluuya (“Sicario”) plays African-American Chris Washington who, nervously, takes a trip ‘upstate’ to meet the parents of his cute white girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams). The parents, Dean (Bradley Whitford, best known as Josh Lyman from “The West Wing”) and Missy (Catherine Keener, “ Captain Phillips”), are extremely welcoming.
But the weekend coincides with an “annual gathering” of family and friends, and events quickly take a left turn into “The Twilight Zone”, with anti-smoking hypnosis and a bizarre game of Bingo where the win is so substantial that playing becomes a ‘no brainer’. Can Chris ‘Get Out’, with his mind still intact, before it’s too late?
This is a really clever script by Peele. The film baits you into thinking this is some redneck-inter-racial-revenge flick, but actually the colour of the skin is almost irrelevant. (Or is it? This angle is left deliciously vague). Some of the filming is spectacularly creepy, with the hypnosis scene being reminiscent to me of the excellent “Under The Skin”. And never has a teaspoon in a cup of tea been a more devastating weapon.
I seemed to have talked at length this year in this blog on the subject of the “physics of horror”: the story elements hanging together in a satisfying – albeit sometimes in an unbelievable – way. “Get Out” delivers this to perfection, keeping its powder dry until the closing moments of the film before delivering a series of satisfying “Ah!” relevatory moments.
While the ‘physics’ of the film is good the ‘biology’ is bonkers, featuring a plot point from the terrible first episode of the 3rd season of the original “Star Trek” (if you can be bothered to look that up!). But I’ll forgive this, parking my incredulity, to salute what I think is one of the year’s most novel and impressive low-budget indie horror films.
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.