Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: Spider-Man – Homecoming (2017)

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When I heard the news last year that Spider-Man was going to be rebooted yet again, I was like “are you freaking serious”?  After the successful Toby Maguire trilogy (though the less said about “Spider-Man 3” the better) and the mildly successful “Amazing Spider-Man” duo with Andrew Garfield only finishing in 2014, did we REALLY need another reboot? More dramatic spider biting?  More Uncle Ben spouting then dying? The same old – same old, rewarmed in a pan with a bit of red wine added just to stop it feeling so dry and tasteless.

And I still feel the same way. I understand that its more to do with rights ownership between Sony, Marvel and Disney that this got made so quickly…. but in the words of Ian Malcolm “they didn’t stop to think if they should”. 

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He’s cross… Stark (Downey-Jnr) dressing down Spider-Man (literally).

But actually, although I still don’t really approve of it, they’ve done a pretty good job in rebooting in a different manner. I commented in my review for “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” that that first reboot was “much less earnest and quirkier than the original Tobey Maguire series, and reveling more in the fun to be had around a superhero’s schooldays.” This latest reboot moves even further along that scale, being very much more of a high-school comedy that a pure superhero flick. 

Wearing the suit this time is a far more age-appropriate Tom Holland, winner of last year’s BAFTA Rising Star award. And very personable he is too. The suit in question has been jizzed up by Iron Man (Robert Downey Jnr) – perhaps I could have rephrased that better!  Because here the Spider-Man story carries on from the brief cameo in “Captain America: Civil War” that crossed Spidey into the mainstream Marvel timeline. 

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Where it all started for this re-boot: Tom Holland as Spider-Man in “Captain America: Civil War”.

Within the high-school setting, Peter Parker’s geeky, and almost too deliberately multi-racial, gang includes his pal Ned (Jacob Batalon), very funny with a “chair guy” sequence, the unattainable Liz (Laura Harrier) as the love-interest, Betty (the excellent Angourie Rice who made such a great impression in “The Nice Guys” but didn’t really move the meter for me here I’m afraid), Flash (Tony Revolori) and best of all for me the almost horizontally laconic Michelle (Zendaya, of Shoshone heritage) – uber-cool but harbouring a secret crush on Peter.

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The young cast – from left to right, Angourie Rice, Tony Revolori, Laura Harrier, Zendaya and Tom Holland.

Chris Evans pops up for comic relief as Captain America doing motivational high-school videos.  And older viewers might want to have fun watching out for Tyne Daly:  Lacey in the old cop show “Cagney and Lacey”.

But stealing the show in the acting stakes is Michael Keaton as Adrian Toomes (aka “The Vulture”) who could for all the world be auditioning for “Birdman 2”. The well-judged thing about this villain is that he is no hyper-galactic being with superpowers, or a typical “rule the world” Bond villain, but just an ordinary Joe in search of financial profit to keep his family in the manner to which they are accustomed. I really liked that. The script (an army of people, but led by Jonathan Goldstein  and John Francis Daley, who also wrote the story) also nicely counterpoints the thin-line between the “good arms dealer” (Tony Stark) and the “bad arms dealer” (Toomes).

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Stealing weapons (and every scene): Michael Keaton as Toombes/The Vulture.

The script also very wisely leaps several months into where the reboot could have started. None of the tedious spider biting. No Uncle Ben – just a sly reference to “what Aunt May’s been through”. Now this might confuse anyone not familiar with the Spider-Man story, but the percentage of people in the Western world in that segment must be less than 2%.

There are however also significant character changes that may annoy Spider-Man devotees. Aunt May herself is no longer the frail old lady of previous depictions, but a hot and attractive middle-aged woman (AILF?) played by Marisa Tomei (who does indeed look ‘Mila Kunis‘).

Many of the action scenes are well done, with a scene at the Washington Monument being particularly exciting. It all gets rather overblown though with a later scene aboard the Avenger’s plane. And this scene sums up my problem with many of these films: the superhero characters are pretty well indestructible. You know they are. So the scenes of peril, that might thrill in an Indiana Jones, an M.I. or a Bond film, lack any sort of tension. Even when the protagonist does have a superhero on the ropes, they don’t carry on kicking the proverbial c**p out of them until they are “dead”…. they lay off so the superhero can recover and kick their ass in a few minutes time!

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Going up the Washington Monument without the aid of a lift.

The director is Jon Watts in only his third directorial outing (with only the much praised “Cop Car” to pretty up his CV).  With such a lot on his shoulders he does a good job.  

At 133 minutes its a tad over-long (I watched this in a double bill with “War for the Planet of the Apes” so my eyes afterwards were 16:9!).  But it’s a fun summer flick that both amuses and entertains.  If you have the choice between this and Planet of the Apes though for your Saturday night at the movies, I would personally choose the latter.

By the way, in terms of “monkeys” – yep, it’s a Marvel film, of course there are monkeys! One early on in the credits and another one at the end… which is actually very funny indeed.

Fad Rating:  FFFf.

Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)

Putting the “ape” in “The Great Esc-ape”.

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2011’s “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” was the one of the big movie surprises for me of that year. With staggeringly good mo-cap for the apes and a touching and memorable story it was (or would have been) a 5-Fad classic.  2014’s “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” whilst also good took a slight backward step. With “War”, the form is back almost to top notch, and this is a summer release at last deserving of the suffix “blockbuster”.

We have moved a number of years forwards from the events of “Dawn” and society as we know it has crumbled away still further: even the “Holidays are Coming” Coke lorry is no longer in service, so things MUST be bad!  We begin the film with the apes having a nice ‘Centre Parcs’ break when their reverie and cappuccinos are rudely interrupted by the attacking forces of “The Colonel” (Woody Harrelson, “Triple 9“, “Zombieland”). For The Colonel is intent on tracking down and killing ape-leader Caesar (Andy Serkis, “LOTR”).

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Brass monkey weather.

After things get decidedly personal, Caesar leaves his young son Cornelius (in a nice nod to the Roddy McDowell role in the original films) to find and kill The Colonel. So follows a “True Grit” style pursuit/revenge chase, made more similar to this analogy by the picking up of a waif-like mute girl (the excellent Amiah Miller). I found this to be a really emotional plot line, with Caesar torn between the animal drive of his revenge and his role as a leader to his whole community.

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Maurice and “friend” (Amiah Miller): I won’t name her character as this is a nice moment. in the script.

The film analogies continue as we take in a “Shining”-style winter hotel; a gritty Prisoner-of-War camp escape drama (“The Great Esc-ape”?); a barricades battle in the style of Helm’s Deep in “LOTR: The Two Towers”; and a full-on Coppola-style helicopter-based war sequence (“Ape-ocalypse now”, as graffiti in the film declares).

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Red Donkey (Ty Olsson), The Colonel (Woody Harrelson) and Preacher (an impressive Gabriel Chavarria) have Caesar where they want him. “Cooler!”

Once again, the mo-cap ability to express true emotions on the faces of the apes is mind-blowing, with Serkis again being outstanding as is Steve Zahn (“Dallas Buyer’s Club“) adding some (very funny) comic relief as “Bad Ape”.  

While Woody Harrelson is not everyone’s cup of tea (including mine), here I found him to be actually very good (“SO EMOTIONAL”!) as the half crazed dictator forcing beings he sees as less worthy than his kind to build a wall.  (That’s just SO familiar… think dammit… think….!). There’s a really cool plot twist in The Colonel’s character arc that I really didn’t see coming.  Just so cool.   

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An impressive promotional photo (with “Bad Ape” in blue on the right): but not a scene featured in the film.

Another star of the film for me was Michael Giacchino’s music which is simply awesome. Starting with a superbly retro rendition of the 20th Century Fox theme (not top of my list:  “The Simpson’s Movie” still holds that spot for me!) Giacchino decorates every scene with great themes and like all great film music some of it you barely notice. A dramatic telling by the Colonel of his back-story is accompanied by sonorous music that is similar in its power to James Horner’s classic “Electronic Battlefield” in “Patriot Games”: only when the scene finishes and the music stops do you appreciate how central it was to the emotion of the scene.  (As I sat through all of the end-titles for the music I can also confirm that – despite all the odds – there is no “monkey” at the end!) 

The script by “Dawn” collaborators Mark Bomback and (director) Matt Reeves is eventful and packs a dramatic punch particularly in the last half of the film. The talented Mr Reeves (who also directed “Cloverfield” and “Let Me In” and is in assigned to the next Ben Affleck outing as “The Batman”) directs with panache, never letting the foot come off the tension pedal.  

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Matt Reeves and Andy Serkis during filming: outstanding mocap.

On the downside, that “last half of the film” is still 70 minutes away, and whilst I appreciate a leisurely pace for properly setting characters and motivations in place, getting to those simply brilliant scenes set at “the border” is a bit of a slog that might have been tightened up and moved along a bit quicker.  Also, while talking about editing, I would have personally ended the film about 90 seconds before they did.

I saw this in 3D, but the effects are subtle at best (although there is a nice binocular rangefinder view).  In my opinion it’s not worth going out of your way to experience in 3D.  

But overall I loved this movie. The film is chock full of visual delights for film lovers (one of my favourites being “Bedtime for Bonzo” – a nice historical film reference – written on the back of a soldier’s helmet).  It’s an epic action film with a strong emotional core to the story that genuinely moved me. There may be other spin-off Planet of the Apes films to follow. But if they left this here, as a near-perfect trilogy, that would be absolutely fine by me.  

Fad Rating:  FFFFf.

Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: Alone in Berlin

Small Rebellions.

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Once again, World War II turns up another true story of quiet valour to turn into a motion picture. At a time when Trump is pontificating about so called “fake news”, here is a timely tale from history which centres on the battle against genuinely fake news: the Nazi propaganda machine. 

After losing their only son in the French campaign, Berliners Otto (Brendan Gleeson,”Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”) and Anna (Emma Thompson, “Saving Mr Banks“) turn against the regime and in repeated acts of rebellion Otto laboriously hand writes subversive postcards to leave in office blocks around Berlin.

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Resistance is futile. Otto (Brendan Gleeson) and Anna (Emma Thompson) out on a new mission.

Out to catch him is local police investigator Escherich (Daniel Brühl) but in an age before CCTV that’s no easy task and with increasing SS pressure the stakes for Escherich steadily increase. For Otto and Anna, the stress is there but both are resigned to their fate:  with their son stolen from them for an unjust cause they are an island of indifference in an unholy land. Both are ‘alone in Berlin’.

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Daniel Brühl as police detective Escherich getting more than he bargained for from the SS.

After 70 years it still chills the blood to see German locations decked out in Nazi regalia, but one of the joys of this film is this rendering of life in wartime Berlin: starting with jubilation at German progress prior to D-Day and turning to despair and genuine danger as the tide turns towards 1945. In a pretty bleak film there are touches of black comedy now and then: Otto’s carpentry company is being encouraged “by the Fuhrer” to double and triple their output… of coffins. 

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A (very clean) Berlin, decked out with Nazi regalia.

More joy comes from the star turns of Gleeson and Thompson, both of who deliver on their emotionally challenging roles. Gleeson in particular makes a very believable German with a sour demeanor and a steely determination. But the star acting turn for me goes to the wonderful Daniel Brühl (“Rush“) as the tormented police detective, bullied into an ethical corner by the SS. The finale of the film – whilst not seeming quite believable – makes for a nicely unexpected twist.

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The Nazi Womens’ League out on another fund-raising sweep, providing Thompson with one of her best scenes in the film with an Oberführer’s wife.

Based on a novel by Hans Fallada, the lead writing credits for the piece are shared between Achim von Borries and the director Vincent Perez – in a rare directorial outing for the Swiss actor. The script exudes a melancholic gloom and at times expresses beautifully both the grief and love shared by this older couple. But some of the dialogue needs more work and we don’t see enough of Thompson in the early part of the film where her motivations should be being developed. This rather comes down to a lack of focus by the director. While the primary story of the card distribution is slight, it is compelling and a detour into a sub-story about an old Jewish lodger living upstairs is unnecessary and detracts from the overall story arc. I would have far preferred if the running time had been a tight 90 minutes just focused on Otto’s mission. One final comment on the script:  did I mishear that Anna claimed to have a 6 year old child during an air raid scene? I know Emma Thompson looks great for her age, but…. 

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Otto and Elise Hampel – the real life characters on which the film’s Otto and Anna Quangel were based.

I can’t finish this without commending the beautiful piano score of Alexandre Desplat. From the first note I knew it was him – he has such a characteristic style – and his clever use of the score complements the film exquisitely. “Small” films like this tend to rather disappear into the woodwork for Oscar consideration, but here’s a soundtrack that I think should be considered: (but what do I know… when “Nocturnal Animals” wasn’t even nominated in one of the Oscar crimes of the century!).

In summary, I found this a thoughtful and thought-provoking film, that – despite some of the mean reviews I’ve seen – I thought was well crafted and with excellent production design by Jean-Vincent Puzos (“Amour”).  It will be particularly appreciated by older audiences looking for an untold story from the war, and by all lovers of fine acting performances by the three leads.  

Fad Rating:  FFFf.

Trailer Spoiler warning:  I thought this was a really nicely made and spoiler-free trailer that gets the sense of the film over really well.  Then with a few poorly chosen shots in the last 20 seconds it shows too much of its hand.  I haven’t made a “One Mann’s Movies” special trailer of this… but you know where the stop button is! 

Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Review: The Mummy (2017)

Crushingly Mediocre

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I’d read the bad reviews, but thought “Hey, it’s Tom Cruise – how bad could it be?”   The answer is, “Pretty bad”.

It’s an ominous sign when a film starts with a voice-over (even if done by the sonorous tones of Russell Crowe). Regular readers of this blog will know I generally abhor voice-overs: it invariably belies a belief by the scriptwriters that they think the audience are too damn stupid to join up the plot-dots themselves. Here we portentously walk through the ancient Egyptian backstory of princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella, “Kingsman: The Secret Service“; “Star Trek Beyond“) cursed to become the titular Mummy. We then skip forward to the present day and the film settles down, promisingly enough, with scavenging adventurer Nick Morton (Cruise, in Indiana Jones mode), discovering a lost Egyptian temple in war-torn modern-day Mesopotamia that for the sake of the world should have stayed lost.

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The invigilators said that she couldn’t take any written materials into the exam, but “Algebra Girl” found a way around that.

But after an impressive plane crash (with zero G scenes filmed for real in a “Vomit Comet”) the plot dissolves into a completely incoherent mush. With B-movie lines forcing B-movie acting performances,  the film lurches from plot crisis to plot crisis in a similar manner to the comically lurching undead Zombie-like creatures that Ahmanet has sucked the life out of.  (After 110 minutes of this, I know how they feel!)

What were actors of this calibre doing in this mess? When I first saw the trailer for this, and saw that Cruise was in it, I thought this felt like an unusual career misstep for the megastar. After seeing the film, I’m even more mystified. Nick Morton is supposed to be an immoral bad guy. Immoral bad guy?? Tom Cruise?? Nope, you lost the audience on that one in the first ten minutes. Cruise, who is STILL only a year younger than I am (damn him, for real!) is still in great shape and must spend ALL his time in the gym. There must be a time soon coming though where he gets to a “Roger Moore in View to a Kill” moment where these action hero roles just no longer become credible anymore.

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The Indian head massage for Mr Cruise didn’t quite go as intended.

And what was Russell Crowe, as a famous / infamous (yes, both!) doctor from literature doing in this? His character’s involvement in the plot was almost completely inconsequential. In fact his ‘affliction’ only serves as a coincidental diversion (how convenient!) for bad Mummy-related action to happen. His character has no backstory and seems to serve only as a backbone for Universal’s “Dark Universe” franchise that this movie is supposed to launch. (Good luck with that Universal after this stinker!)  Surely it would have made more sense to have the first film in the series to be the origins story for Crowe’s character and the organisation he sets up. This would have made far more sense.

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Russell Crowe as the good (and bad) doctor. Another chance to extent his practice with accents.

Annabelle Wallis, who is sweet and “only” 22 years his junior, plays Cruise’s love interest in the film and equips herself well, given the material she has to play with. However (after “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword“) she must be kicking herself for not picking the ‘right’ summer blockbusters for her CV.  

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Annabelle Wallis and Tom Cruise – a bit of a “cradle snatcher”… but Cruise looks so good for his years its still not into “ewww” territory.

The main culprit here is the plot, which again is mystifying given that the writing team includes David Koepp (“Jurassic Park”; “Mission Impossible”); Christopher McQuarrie (“The Usual Suspects”, “Edge of Tomorrow“) and Jon Spaihts (“Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation“, “Doctor Strange“).  A poor script can sometimes be salvaged by a good director, but here we have Alex Kurtzman, who has only one other directing credit to his name. And I’m afraid it shows. All round, not a good day at the office.

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A girl definitely into a bit of bondage. Sofia Boutella as the cursed princess.

Brian Tyler did the music (aside from the Danny Elfman opening “Dark Universe” fanfare) but it comprises what I would term “running and jumping music”, with few discernible leitmotifs for the characters breaking through.

“Was that supposed to be funny?” My wife’s reaction after the film sums up that this really is a bit of a stinker. Best avoided.

Fad Rating:  Ff.

 

Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: Baby Driver (2017)

A summer film so cool that air-con is optional.  

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Sorry for the lack of posts folks…. with a holiday in sunny Portugal, I’ve not been to the pics for weeks! 

There’s something inherently appealing about the concept of a getaway driver.  A skillful ‘bad-boy’, but not normally bad enough to actually DO the nasty crime stuff…. merely be an active accomplice to it.  As a result, it’s a subject that the movies have returned to time after time.  I’m old and crusty enough to remember being wowed at seeing Ryan O’Neal in Walter Hill’s “Driver” on the big screen in 1978. And well before that, as a kid, my poor departed mother used to be driven crazy by me begging her to take me to see “The Italian Job” (the original 1969 version) YET again… probably the greatest getaway chase in movie history: I must have seen that film at least 20 times in the cinema. Of course more recently we’ve also had Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan in “Drive” on the same theme. Any I’ve forgotten?

But with Edgar Wright at the helm, a big name cast and an enticing trailer, I had high expectations for “Baby Driver” – and boy was I happy! This is such a seriously cool film on so many levels.

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Heist Baby; heist heist Baby.

Opening with a bank heist followed by a kick-ass car chase, we follow ‘Baby’ (Ansel Elgort, “Allegiant”, “The Fault in our Stars”) as a tinnitus-suffering, music-infused getaway driver under the thumb of the criminal overlord Doc (Kevin Spacey, in icy Frank Underwood mode). Doc recruits an ever-changing mix-tape of villains for each job, including the psychopathic and appropriately named ‘Bats’ (Jamie Foxx, “Sleepless”), the chillingly dangerous Buddy (Jon Hamm, “Mad Men”, “Keeping Up With The Joneses”) and his “Bonnie-style” wife ‘Darling’ (Eiza González) and the moderately incompetent JD (Lanny Joon) (who changed his neck tattoo of “HATE” to “HAT” since it improved his job prospects… LOL…. “everybody loves a hat”!).

Baby’s life gets more complicated when the hoods become aware of his fledgling relationship with fellow-orphan Debora (Lily James) a waitress in a diner and another lever to keep Baby locked into the job that he is just so, so good at.

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A rum bunch: Ansel Elgort, Jamie Foxx, Eiza González and Jon Hamm.

On the surface this might be perceived as being just another good excuse for a lot of CGI-driven car stunts in the style of “The Fate of the Furious”. But no. Firstly, as Edgar Wright declared before the special screening I saw, all of the car stunts were actually performed for real on the mean streets of Atlanta (and hats off to the film’s stunt coordinator Robert Nagle and his team for these).  And secondly, the car scenes are almost secondary to the fabulous story and character development in the film. The script (also by Edgar Wright) is just brilliant. There are genuinely laugh-out loud moments in the movie, with one of the highlights for me being JD tasked with procuring Michael Myers “Halloween” masks for a heist. If you don’t find this scene hilarious, you are not human – official.

The only misstep for me in the script was an unbelievable event (both in terms of likelihood and – particularly – timing) during a closing car park fight***.

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“But Greedo shot first – honest” – Elgort channelling his best young Solo.

Elgort is really strong in the lead role, and suggested to me that if the role of the young Han Solo in the upcoming Star Wars spin-off hadn’t already gone to Alden Ehrenreich, then here was a very strong contender.  All of the supporting roles are strong (as you would expect from such a stellar cast) with Jon Hamm being a standout, appearing truly demonic in the closing scenes.  The one role I was less sure about in the film was that of Lily James, whose performance as the ‘sweet as apple pie’ waitress seemed a little too “animated” for the big screen in the early scenes – I remember an acting class by Michael Caine where he advised that given the size of movie screens it’s often the case that “stillness is good”. What works well on the small screen (I am a big fan of her roles in historical TV dramas like “Downton Abbey” and the impeccable “War and Peace”) perhaps sometimes needs modifying for the wide-screen experience. I greatly warmed to her portrayal in the action sequences later on though: she’s a great actress and one that this film can hopefully now propel into the higher echelons in Hollywood.

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Diner romance. Lily James and Ansel Elgort forming a bond over a coffee.

Another star of the film is the fabulous soundtrack coordinated by Oscar-winner Steven Price (“Gravity“) featuring (amongst many other classics) Queen’s “Brighton Rock”, Golden Earring’s “Radar Love”, the Simon and Garfunkel classic (obviously) and Bob & Earl’s “Harlem Shuffle”, all used to brilliant effect.  This latter track leads me on to some early Oscar predictions:  if this film doesn’t get nominated this year for Oscars for Best Editing (Jonathan Amos and Paul Machliss, “Scott Pilgrim vs the World”) and Best Sound Editing (Julian Slater), then there is no God! The “Harlem Shuffle” coffee run sequence is a masterclass in editing and direction.  Starting off with what I thought might turn into a tribute to “Saturday Night Fever”, the scene neatly takes on a style all of its own. It’s use of – erm – “subtitles” is just brilliant.

The often subtle, and occasionally not so subtle, edits between scenes are also truly masterful, making this moviegoer laugh-out-loud with delight periodically at the movie-making skill on display.

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The spider at the centre of the web: Kevin Spacey as Doc.

All of this is orchestrated by Edgar Wright as director who – for me – has been a little inconsistent over the years (loved, loved, loved “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz”;  “The World’s End” – not so much). Here, he delivers in spades and this film rockets immediately into my Films of the Year list for 2017.  Awe inspiring.  

Beg, steal, borrow, rob a bank – – do what you have to, but make sure you catch this film on the big screen.

Fad Rating:  FFFFF.

*** I take this comment back… having watched the film a second time, there is a subliminal couple of frames (I must have blinked) that explain what happened here. 

Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: Wonder Woman (2017)

“What first attracted you Dr Mann to the movie with the scantily-clad Amazonians?”

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Amazonians deliver! And how. The much anticipated new Wonder Woman movie is with us, and for once the film lives up to the wall-to-wall marketing hype.

With a heavy dose of mythology, Diana is growing up as the cossetted daughter of Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen, “Gladiator”), the Queen of the Amazons, on the hidden paradise island of Themyscira. Trained up as a warrior by Hippolyta’s sister, General Antiope (Robin Wright of “House of Cards”), Diana is clearly something special. Her ego is reinforced by the knowledge that she was made of clay with life breathed into her by the God Zeus.  It’s enough to turn a girl’s head!

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Grabbing a firm hold of the shaft. Gal Gadot getting to grips with Themyscira’s ‘God killer’.

It’s 1917 and the man-free paradise is shaken up when an American spy by the name of Steve Trevor (Chris Pine, “Star Trek: Beyond“) crash-lands in the waters off Themyscira.  (And yes… you didn’t mishear me… this film genuinely features a hero with both the names “Steve” and ‘Trevor”). Prince Eric – no, sorry, wrong film – is saved and awakened on the beach by Diana as the others arrive.  “Thank God!”, say the Amazonians. “At last, someone to process the 200 year backlog of washing and ironing”!  

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“Ariel, Ariel – is that you?”

But Steve (an “above average specimen”, LOL) is not long for paradise as he needs to return to the war with the results of his spy-work: a chemistry book stolen from the gorgeously deformed Dr Maru (Elena Anaya), gas-developer for the evil General Ludendorff (Danny Huston). Seeing Ludendorff to be her God-like nemesis Ares, Diana returns with Steve to the WW1 battlefields with the intent of killing the God of War and so ending the ‘war to end all wars’.

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Doctor Maru, never one to crack a smile.

Much ‘fish out of water’ fun is had with Diana meeting civilised London society, although perhaps this section of the film doesn’t quite live up to its full potential:  having ice cream for the first time, without any sign of surprise, all she can come up with is an amusing but rather lame “You must be very proud”.

But where the film really accelerates into awesomeness is when Diana reaches ‘The Front’. She emerges from the trenches like some shimmering vision of hotness, to set male and lesbian hearts a flutter. Its the most memorable trench-exit since the finale of “Black Adder 4”, and the subsequent scenes of Diana single-handedly facing the German guns is for me one of the most compelling and enjoyable scenes in any recent DC or Marvel movie.

Holding all this together is the ex-Israeli army-trainer Gal Gadot in the title role. And man oh man, what a Gal! Statuesque, athletic but also sweet, charming and emotionally fragile she completely owns this role from beginning to end.  Gadot made a memorable entry in the otherwise poor “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” (#marthagate #neverforget #neverforgive) but nothing prepares you for just how great she is in this outing. In fact, I’ll go as far as saying that this film, although having a UK 12 certificate, is a film of immense danger to heterosexual teenagers of any age (#humor):

  • All boys will be cast into a lifetime of misery, never able to find a woman that can possibly live up to the impossibly perfect vision of Diana Prince, tearing up the German army with fists and whip!;
  • All girls WILL BECOME LESBIANS AFTER WATCHING THIS FILM!

Parents: you have been warned! 🙂

Chris Pine – the thinking women’s Chris Pratt – once again proves himself as a talented actor who manages to successfully morph to inhabit the role he plays. Much as he did in the excellent “Hell or High Water“, not once did I equate him to be James Tiberius Kirk after the first 5 minutes. 

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A magnificent man and his flying machine. Chris Pine as spy Steve Trevor.

Effective in supporting roles are David Thewlis (“Harry Potter”) as a ‘helpful’ army bod and an almost unrecognisable Lucy Davis (“The Office”) as Etta, Steve’s comedic secretary.  Steve’s rather unlikely sidekicks of Sameer (Said Taghmaoui, “American Hustle“), Charlie (Ewen Bremner, “Trainspotting”) and ‘The Chief’ (Eugene Brave Rock “The Revenant“) all rather fade into the woodwork by comparison. 

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Any other day at the Office… Lucy Davis as comic relief Etta.

I saw the film in 3D (“careful now… you could take an eye out with those things”) and very good it was too. Aside from some rather unnecessary Amazonian arrows, its never feels overdone, and elements of it were extremely effective.

Another star of the show is the superb Wonder Woman theme by Hans Zimmer, here rolled out by the film’s composer Rupert Gregson-Williams (“Hacksaw Ridge“). Unfortunately, the rest of the soundtrack is not particularly memorable.

The film shifts into more traditional yawn-worthy ‘superhero finale’ mode in the last twenty minutes, which is a bit of a shame. It’s also really curious that for such a sexually charged film there is an almost complete absence of ‘lurrve’ on show. The one love scene coquettishly fades to a view of the outside window. Was this to protect the film’s family friendly rating (probably) or that the director didn’t want to show her heroine in a remotely submissive position (possibly)? More frustratingly, the morning after there is no mention of it at all! (“Move along, nothing to see here”). I at least wanted some sort of recognition that a human/God liaison had taken place: Steve grimacing a bit when he sits down; or Diana on the blower to Themyscira saying “Yes, you were right Mum. 5 minutes in, and it just snapped clean off!”

I know my friend David Moody (of markanddave vblog fame, and a big DC/Marvel fan) was generally disappointed with the film.  Conversely, Amy Andrews from the ever-excellent Oh That Film Blog loved it. I’m with Amy on this one, and greatly enjoyed it as a well-constructed action rollercoaster. The nearly two and a half hours sped by. By the way (and I took one for the team here) there is no “monkey” at the end of the film’s credit to hang on for.

Patty Jenkins (“Monster”) directs and knows the audience she is aiming to please. One can only imagine the empowering impact this film will have on young girls, crossing their wrists to ‘THAT’ music and, in their imagination, casting terrorists into the hell that they should be consigned to. In this week of yet more Isis atrocity in London, Wonder Woman is a role-model we could all stand and salute: “I believe in love” too.

Fad Rating: FFFF.    

 

Posted in Film Review

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

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A Marvel-ous Indie Movie

Well!!  I’ve been really surprised (in a good way) by two films this year, and both have involved monsters (the first being “A Monster Calls” back in January).

It’s really difficult to categorise “Colossal” – imdb classes it as a “Comedy, Action, Drama”. Comedy? Yes, but it’s a very dark comedy indeed. Action?  Hmm, not really…  if you go to this expecting ‘Godzilla 2’ or some polished Marvel-style film (not that I was!) you will be sorely disappointed. Drama? This is probably the nearest match, since at its heart this is a clever study on the people and relationships at the heart of a bizarre Sci-Fi event.

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The morning after the night before. Hathaway awaking with a monster hangover.

Anne Hathaway (“Les Miserables”) stars as Gloria, a borderline alcoholic-waster sponging off the good-natured but controlling Tim (Dan Stevens, “Beauty and the Beast”) in his New York apartment. When Tim’s patience finally runs out, Gloria returns to her hometown to an empty house and the attentions of a former school friend, bar owner Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), who clearly holds an unhealthy fascination with her. Borrowing an idea from “A Monster Calls”, at a specific time in the US morning a huge monster appears from thin air in Seoul, South Korea, killing people and smashing buildings in a seemingly uncoordinated and random way. Bizarrely, this only happens when Gloria is standing at a particular spot in a particular kid’s playground. Could the two events possibly be related?

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Beastly behaviour. Tim (nice but dim) (Dan Stevens) getting to the end of his tether with the wayward Gloria (Anne Hathaway).

I always like to categorize films in my head as being “like” others, but this one’s really difficult to pin down. It borrows its main premise from a famous scene in “E.T.” (indeed one also involving alcohol) but the film’s fantasy elements and dark undertones have more similarities in style to “Jumanji”. Then again, there are elements of the Kaufman about it in that it is as weird in some places as “Being John Malkovich”.

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Oww! Sometimes headaches feel like there’s a chopper in your head.

 The film stays on ‘Whimsical Street’ for the first half of the film, but then takes a sharp left turn into ‘Dark Avenue’ (and for “dark” read “extremely black and sinister”). It then becomes a far more uncomfortable watch for the viewer. The metaphor of the monster for Gloria’s growing addiction is clear, but emerging themes of control, jealousy, violent bullying and small-town social entrapment also emerge.

Here the acting talents of Hathaway and Sudeikis really come to the fore: heavyweight Hollywood talent adding some significant ‘oomph’ to what is a fairly modest indie project. Hathaway is in kooky mode here, gurning to great comic effect, and this adds warmth to a not particularly likeable character. And Sudeikis (more commonly seen in lighter and frothier comedies like “We’re the Millers” and “Horrible Bosses”) is a surprise in the role delivering some real acting grit.

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Abba fan? Sudeikis and Hathaway re-enacting the album cover from Abba’s Greatest Hits Volume 2!

The writer and director is Spaniard Nacho Vigalondo. No, me neither. But he seems to have come from nowhere to deliver this high profile cinema release, and it would not be a surprise for me to see this nominated as an original screenplay come the awards season. His quirky style is refreshing. (Hell, delivering ANY novel new summer movie that is not part of a franchise or TV re-boot is refreshing!)   

The film’s not perfect, and its disjointed style can be unsettling. While the lead characters are quite well defined, others are less so. Joel in particular, played by Austin Stowell (“Whiplash“, “Bridge of Spies“), is such an irritating doormat of a character that you just want to thump him yelling “Do Something you wimp” to his face!

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Tim Blake Nelson (“Oh Brother Where Art Thou?”), Austin Stowell and Jason Sudeikis getting into the monster edition of Pokemon Go.

I am normally the first to pick scientific holes in a story, but here the story is so “out there” that the details become irrelevant, and – like “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2” – the film revels in its absurdity. (There is however a jumbo jet sized hole in the plot if you think about it!) But some of the moments of revelation (particularly one set in a wood) are brilliantly done and you are never quite sure where the film is going to go next. I was concerned that the ending would not live up to the promise of the film, but I was not disappointed. 

Like “A Monster Calls” the film will probably suffer at the box office by its marketing confusing the audience. People will assume it’s possibly a “monster movie” or maybe a piece of comedy fluff (particularly with Sudeikis in the cast), but in reality it’s neither of these. It won’t be to everyone’s tastes for sure, but in the bland desert of mainstream movie releases, here is an oasis of something interesting and novel and in my book definitely worthy of your movie dollar. Recommended.

Fad Rating: FFFF.

Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: Miss Sloane (2017)

“I never know where the line is”.

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In a roller-coaster year for political intrigue on both sides of the Atlantic, and with all hell breaking loose again between Trump and ‘The Hill’, here comes “Miss Sloane”. 

Jessica Chastain ( “The Martian“, “Interstellar“) plays the titular heroine (I use the term loosely): a pill-popping insomniac who is working herself into an early grave as a top-Washington lobbyist. The game of lobbying is, as she describes, staying one step of the competition and “playing your trump card just after your opponent has played theirs”.  But all is not going well for Elizabeth Sloane. For the film opens with her being on trial for corruption in front of a congressional hearing, chaired by Senator Sperling (John Lithgow, “The Accountant“).

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A man with an agenda. John Lithgow as Senator Sperling heading up the Sloane inquisition.

Through flashback we see how she got to that point, moving from one firm headed by George Dupont (Sam Waterston, “The Killing Fields”) to another headed by Rodolfo Schmidt (Mark Strong, “Kick Ass”, “Kingsman: The Secret Service“) against the backdrop of the high-stakes lobbying around a new gun-control bill. Her fanatical drive to ‘win at all costs’, and the trail of destruction, through her cutthroat work ethic, that she leaves behind her, digs her an ever-deeper hole as the political and legal net closes in around her.

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Washington behind car doors. Jessica Chastain preparing for a grilling.

Jessica Chastain has played strong and decisive women before, most notably in “Zero Dark Thirty”, but probably never to this extreme degree. Here she is like Miranda Priestly from “The Devil Wears Prada”, but not played for laughs. Miss Sloane is an emotionally and physically damaged woman, but a formidable one who takes charge both in the boardroom and in the bedroom, through the unashamed use of male escorts (in the well-muscled form of Jake Lacy, “Their Finest“). As such her character is not remotely likable, but one the I could certainly relate to from past business dealings I’ve had. (And no, I don’t mean as a male prostitute!)  

I found Sloane to be one of the more fascinating characters in this year’s releases:  I was never being sure whether her actions are being powered from a background of strong moral conviction (fuelled by a devastating childhood incident perhaps?) or through pure greed and lust for power. I thought Chastain excelled in the role, but for balance the illustrious Mrs Mann thought she rather overplayed her hand at times.

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Mark Strong as Miss Sloane’s despairing boss.

Outside of Chastain’s central performance though, this is a very strong ensemble cast.  Mark Strong – not with an English accent for once and not playing a heavy – is great as the frustrated boss, as is the seldom-seen Sam Waterston (who, by the way, is the father of Katherine Waterston of current “Alien: Covenant” fame).  Christine Baranski (so good in “The Good Wife” and now “The Good Fight”) pops up in a cameo as a flinty Senator. But the outstanding turn for me was Oxford-born Gugu Mbatha-Raw (“Belle”, “Beauty and the Beast” – and yes, I’m aware of the irony in this pairing!).  Playing Sloane’s colleague Esme Manucharian – both a lady with a secret in her past as well as possessing a great name – Mbatha-Raw is just riveting and deserving of a Supporting Actress nomination in my book.

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Betrayed by the boss. Gugu Mbatha-Raw just so good.

What binds the whole two hours together is an extraordinarily skillful script by debut writer Jonathan Perera, which has both a gripping and ever-twisting story as well as a host of quotable lines. Ladies and gentlemen, we may have a new Aaron Sorkin on the block! It’s a brave script, dealing as it does with 2nd amendment issues, since there seems to be nothing that stirs up American comment like gun-control. For those living in the UK (where gun deaths are over 50 times less per capita than in the US) the whole topic is both fascinating and perplexing and there were a lot of nodding heads during Sloane’s TV rant about it being an archaic ‘Wild West’ throwback that should no longer be set in stone. (But it’s not our country any more, so you Americans can do what you like!)  

The marvelous Cinematography is by Sebastian Blenkov – the second time this gentleman has come to my attention within a month (the first time being “Their Finest“).

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A gathering of enemies. The pro-gun lobbyists headed up by Dupont (Sam Waterston).

The director is Portsmouth-born Brit John Madden (“Shakespeare in Love”, “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”) and he does a great job in sustaining the tension and energy throughout the running time.  This all makes it a great shame that the film has not done well at the US box office, perhaps because ( the film was released in December 2016) the public had more than their fill of politics after a bruising and divisive election.  (I’m not sure the UK release date now – just before our own General Election – is wise either).   

But for me, this was a memorable film, and come the end of the year it might well be up there in my top 10 for the year. I’m a sucker for a good political thriller with “All the President’s Men” and “Primary Colors” in my personal list as some of my favourite ever films. If you like those films, “House of Cards” or remember fondly TV series like “The West Wing” or (for those with even longer memories) “Washington Behind Closed Doors” then I would strongly recommend you get out and watch this.

Fad Rating:  FFFFf

Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review – Alien: Covenant (2017).

Horrific Beasts and How to Avoid Them.

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I seem to be in a bit of a minority in quite liking Ridley Scott’s last Alien outing – 2012’s “Prometheus”: a heady, if at times ponderous, theory to the origins of man. The first hour of that film is really good. But for me, what made the original 1979 film so enthralling was the life cycle of the ‘traditional’ Xenomorph aliens through egg to evil hatchling to vicious killing machine. This somewhat got lost with “Prometheus” with a range of alien-like-things ranging from wiggly black goo to something more familiar… and frankly I was confused. Some – repeat, some – of the explanation for that diversity of forms in “Prometheus” is made clearer in the sequel “Alien: Covenant”.  

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The crew of the good ship Covenant. Soon to be someone less in number.

“Covenant” (named again after the spaceship at its heart) is a follow-on sequel to “Prometheus”, so it is worth re-watching it if you can before a cinema trip. At the end of that film we saw Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”) and a reconstructed android David (Michael Fassbender, “Steve Jobs“) flying off in an alien craft still loaded with its cargo of nasty alien black goo. Shaw had a mission to seek out The Engineer’s home world – named “Paradise” – to find out why after creating man they were intent on going back to finish them off with a WMD. A neat prologue has been released which documents this… here: 

We pick up the action 10 years later in a totally improbable 2104. (Give us a break writing team! [Story by Jack Paglen and Michael Green;  screenplay by John Logan and Dante Harper]. We know they won’t have got through planning permission on the third Heathrow runway by then, let alone invented interplanetary travel…! 2504, maybe!)

Daniels (Katherine Waterston, “Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them“) has just suffered a sudden bereavement (an uncredited James Franco – – blink and you’ll miss him). She has also been rudely awakened from hypersleep due to a sudden system mishap:  no, not to find Chris Pratt there like “Passengers“, but by the ship’s android Walter (also Michael Fassbender) who’s also revived the rest of the crew. While effecting repairs they receive a garbled John Denver track mysteriously beamed to them from an earth-like planet not too far away. As this might be a suitable homestead, and as spending weeks more in hypersleep is unattractive, Captain Oram (Billy Crudup, “Spotlight“) votes to check it out, against Daniels’ strong objections.  Needless to say, this proves to be a BIG MISTAKE as the new film neatly links hands with the first film.

Kick-ass… Katherine Waterston being careful not to slip in the shower.

There’s a limit to what more I can say about the film without delivering spoilers (so I have added a few more comments in the spoiler section BELOW the trailer). It’s a far more action-oriented film than “Prometheus” and has enough jump scares and gore to please most Alien fans. (In fact, it’s a surprise to me that it got a UK “15” certificate rather than an “18”:  how much more violence do you need to show in the film?)  A shower scene towards the end of the film is particularly effective and will likely put an end to relaxing shower sex for many people for good! 

It also looks visually stunning (cinematography is by Dariusz Wolski (“The Martian“, “Pirates of the Caribbean”) with location shooting in Milford Sound in New Zealand.  The special effects are also a cut-above the normal CGI with a devastated Pompeii-like city, a picture of blacks and greys, being particularly effective.

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Walter knew to only travel on United Airlines flights with a well-armed guard.

In the acting stakes it is really all down to Waterston and Fassbinder. I wasn’t a great fan of Waterston in “Fantastic Beasts” – a bit insipid I thought – but here she adopts Ripley’s kick-ass mantle with ease but blends it beautifully with doe-eyed vulnerability. Some of her scenes reminded me strongly of Demi Moore in “Ghost”. Fassbinder is fascinating to watch with his dual roles of Walter and David, both slightly different versions of the same being. And the special effects around the Fassbinder-on-Fassbinder action, tending somewhat towards the homoerotic in places, are well done.

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“Doctor, I’ve had a bit of a backache for a few weeks… could you take a look please?”

Unfortunately the rest of the crew get little in the way of background development, which limits the impact of the inevitable demises. They are also about as clinically stupid as the spaceship crew in “Life” in some of their actions; I guess you could put some of this down to the effects of panic, but in other cases you might see it as a simple cleansing of the gene pool in Darwinian fashion.

Also making uncredited guest appearances are Guy Pearce as Weyland (in a flashback scene) and Noomi Rapace.  

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Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) has a room with a view but a minimalist view furnishings.

Music is “by” Jed Kurzel, but to be honest he does little than wrap around re-versions of the original Jerry Goldsmith classics:  not that this is a bad thing, since those themes are iconic and a joy to hear again on the big screen. 

My expectations for this movie were sky-high, as it was hinted as a return to form for the franchise. And in many ways it was, with a “man, Gods and androids” theme adding depth to the traditional anatomical-bursting gore. But to be honest, some of the storytelling was highly predictable, and I left slightly disappointed with the overall effort. If my expectations were an 11/10, my reality was more like a 7/10. It’s still a good film, and I look forward to watching it again. But perhaps this is a franchise that has really run its course now for Mr Scott and he should look to his next “Martian”-type movie for a more novel foundation to build his next movie “log cabin on the lake” on.

Fad Rating:  FFFf

Note: Red Band trailer:

Spoiler Section:  You have been warned!

There are a whole heap of holes in this story you can pick at if you try. Much of the chronology seems out of whack with earlier films (or rather, later films, chronologically).  For example, the gestation of Oram’s “baby” from conception to “birth” is a matter of minutes compared to John Hurt’s experiences. 

Although the final denouement (“Night night.  Don’t let the bed bugs bite”!) is satisfyingly chilling, the whole David/Walter twist is so obvious as to take any surprise out of it.  

As a study of David’s natural Darwinian progression (Man creates machine; machine kills creator; machine become God) it’s a good story, and his ruthless destruction of the welcoming hosts on the planet (an horrific scene of biblical proportions) is chillingly done. An Oscar nomination for Fassbinder for this role would be well deserved (though unlikely).

Finally, and as the biggest spoiler of all (did you like my cheeky comment above that Noomi Rapace is “in the film”?), am I the only one to feel particularly cheated that Elizabeth Shaw didn’t re-appear (properly) in this film? In “Prometheus” we were on the edge of our seats hoping Shaw would survive:  Would she get through the self imposed “auto-caesarian” on herself?  Would the stapling machine run out of staples like it always does for me at a crucial time in the office?  Would the big crashing alien spacecraft that she is running away from (note: at 0 degrees rather than 90 degrees – Derrr!) fall on her?  Then, one film later, “Oh, she died”!!!  Having a long haired and bedraggled Elizabeth Shaw emerging from the forest would have added a different perspective and more continuity to the film which (other than Fassbender) was rather lacking. But above all it’s a betrayal of trust by the film-makers of the past emotional investment that you as the viewer has made in the character.  This is the second time the Alien franchise has done this of course, most grievously in the first five minutes of “Alien 3” where they bumped off “Newt” – the little girl you had been willing to survive all the way through “Aliens”!  Not cool Ridley, not cool. 

Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017)

The Arthurian legend:  but with Cockneys.

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So, bit difficult to describe this one… so I asked my bloke Alfie from Londinium to explain what’s it all about…

“‘Ere, OK bruv.  So this is dun by that geezer Guy Ritchie – yer know, the one that dun that Sherlock Holmes with the Iron Man geezer Robert Junior Downey, that one.  His new film is a rip-roarin’ acshun movie what retells da Arfurian legend in a novel new way.  

That Hulk bloke Eric Bana is Arfur’s farfer an’ ‘e’s ‘avin’ a few problems wiv ‘is bruvver Vortigern (Jude Law, who’s a bi’ ov a cockney ‘imself, but ‘ere speaks like a posh bloke. Know what I mean?) So ‘e (Vortigern dat is) gets some magical ‘elp from some slippery watery bints in a puddle and so ‘is dad puts ‘is God Forbid in a boat an’ sends ‘im down da river ter The Smoke ter live wiv some prozzies.  

But ‘e grows up big an’ strong an’ ‘andy wiv a sword. His friends tell ‘im ter get aaaht ov town as da King’s blokes are lookin’ fer da young geezer who would be king. An’ e says like “Scapa Flow sowf ov da river at dis time ov night. Are yew mad?”.  So e gets caught like an’ gets tested by some famous football bloke ter pull a big sword aaaht ov just a random bi’ ov stone (nod, nod, wink wink, nice twist – ssshhh!).

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David Beckham in his movie debut. A lot of people seem to have been very cruel about it online already, but given it’s a cameo and he’s not a professional actor I didn’t think it was too bad at all.

The Vortigern bloke is very cross an’ tries to kill ‘im but ‘e gets rescued by some bird who can make birds, lol, an’ other fings do what she wants. So can Arfur beat ‘is uncle?  Gawdon Bennet, I’m not gon’a tell yew da whole darn fing! Yer’ll ‘ave ter go an’ watch i’ ter find out.”

 Thanks Alfie.  Couldn’t have said it better myself!  

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The Liberal Democrats were hoping for a good turnout at the election rally, but this was better than Tim Farron could ever have hoped for.

The quirky style of Guy Ritchie isn’t one that you would think would translate well to the Arthurian setting, and as the film starts you tend to think you were right!  But if you give it a chance it wears you down into acceptance and then – ultimately – a lot of enjoyment.

Jude Law is deliciously evil mixed with a heavy dose of mad, and delivers the goods.

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Oozing malevolence. Jude Law, far from his role as Pope.

Charlie Hunnam who plays Arthur (no, I hadn’t heard of him either but he was in the “Lost City of Z”) does a decent job  as the medieval hunk, although he seems at time to have taken voice coaching in ‘Olde-English’ from Russell Crowe, since the lad’s Geordie accent seems to wander from Cockney through central southern England to Liverpudlian at one point (definitely channelling a young John Lennon)! Relative newcomer, the Spanish actress  Astrid Bergès-Frisbey is effectively weird as the mage.

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Astrid Bergès-Frisbey as The Mage. Noone ever crossed the line with her at night. (Cat’s Eyes, get it? Oh, never mind).

Particularly noteworthy (no pun intended) is the superb action soundtrack by Daniel Pemberton (“Steve Jobs“, “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.“) which propels the action really well and contains some standout moments.

Also a standout in the technical categories is the editing by James Herbert, who did both of Downey Junior’s “Sherlock Holmes” films (in a similar style) and also “Edge of Tomorrow“. The style is typified with Arthur’s growth to manhood in the streets of London which is stylishly done. 

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The HUGE Sunday roast needed a real man to carve it, and Arthur stepped up to the plate.

I saw the film in 3D – not a particularly favourite format – but quite well done, although falls into the “trying too hard” category at times with lots of drifting embers… you know the sort.

It’s not bloody Shakespeare.  It’s not even the bloody Arthurian legend as you know it. But it is bloody good fun if you let it in. 

Fad Rating:  FFFf