Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: Non-Stop (2014)

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There is something rather compelling about action films set on aircraft. The claustrophobic confinement and obvious dangers of guns, de-compressions and – erm – gravity naturally add to the sense of peril. Examples of the genre are Air Force One, Passenger 57, United 93, Airport 77/79/etc. and (at the ridiculous end of the spectrum) Snakes On A Plane. Some films in this category try to mix the action with a mystery plot (Jodie Foster’s Flightpath was a case in point), although after the real-life mystery of the Malaysian Airline Flight 370 jet in recent weeks no film drama could hope to compete. Non-Stop tries to join both of these sub- genres by wrapping a mystery into an action film. It largely fails in the former and partially succeeds in the latter.

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Plot-wise, Non-Stop is arrant nonsense. Liam Neeson – the go-to action hero of the hour – plays Air Marshall Bill Marks: a chain-smoking alcoholic, with a tragic family past, who is the last person you would trust to wave a gun around on a flight. Bill Marks boards a London-bound ‘Aqualantic’ flight (REALLY?  Would you REALLY want to link a transatlantic airline brand with water?).  Mid-Atlantic Marks is sent messages on his secure Air Marshall network (clearly not THAT secure) from someone on the plane threatening to kill someone every 20 minutes until they are paid 150 million dollars into an offshore account. It emerges that Marks is either the terrorist himself (the account is in his name) or is being set up by someone to appear to be the terrorist. A chief suspect would appear to be one of Mark’s fellow passengers in business class, played by Julianne Moore: someone living life to the full with a big scar on her chest and with nothing to lose. As the body count rises, questions arise as to who the terrorist is, why they are they doing it, how they are doing it, who will be murdered next and – most importantly – does any of this make any sense at all?

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Liam Neeson is in “Taken” mode and as personable and effective as always. Michelle Dockery (of “Downton Abbey”) plays air stewardess Nancy, and the film is also notable for featuring Lupita Nyong’o as another of the stewardesses, before her breakout recognition in “12 Years a Slave” (one assumes that the Oscar judges voted before seeing this).

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Whilst the plot was nonsense – leaving more open questions than answers – it was quite enjoyable nonsense, and I should add that my wife absolutely loved it (although it should also be pointed out that Air Force One is her favourite film!). I have to confess that I found the ending uproariously funny. No spoilers, but in a number of scenes the classic lines from “Airplane!” leapt unhindered into my head: specifically “Auntie M – It’s a Twister, It’s a Twister”; “I just want to say Good Luck, we’re all counting on you” and Robert Stack’s post-crash speech to Ted Striker.

Popcorn fun – but not a classic.

Fad Rating: FFF.

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Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: Under the Skin (2014)

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I was intrigued by this film: the Times reviewer gave it 5 stars; the Sunday Times reviewer gave it 1 star. Such diversity of view has to be investigated!

Let’s get one thing straight before we start; Under the Skin is very much an ‘art house’ film, so don’t go and see it if you are looking for a nice, linear ‘popcorn’ movie. It starts very much in ‘2001’ style (or, actually, Close Encounters style) and the poster commentaries about director Jonathan Glazer (‘Sexy Beast’) being ‘the new Kubrick’ are not misplaced. The start is decidedly abstract, as is much of the rest of the film.

Under the Skin tells the strange story of an alien being who – for reasons barely explained – disguises him/her/itself as an attractive woman (Scarlett Johansson) who picks up single men in and around Glasgow. These men will not be readily ‘missed’, and she uses her sexuality to lure them to a – literally – sticky end.

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She is aided and abetted in this goal by another alien in the form of a menacing biker, who ‘cleans up’ evidence after her activities. Her mission really depends on her being inhuman in every sense of the word, and the film shows the journey of Johansson as she starts, almost imperceptibly, to appreciate the comings and goings of the ant-like Glaswegians that she is preying on. Ultimately this desire to understand more and get ‘closer’ is her undoing: hunter becomes prey, with members of both species out to get her.

Scarlett Johansson is excellent as the emotionless alien, treating events like a yob attack with curious puzzlement rather than fear or anger. I’d like to say I can hardly see enough of Johansson: but actually there is substantial (and brave) nudity in this film, and she is a ‘real’ woman in every sense of the word. This really is a starring role, since most of the other characters in the film make very fleeting appearances, with – just to even the balance – significant male nudity involved as well.

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Whilst the story is relatively slight, the film is executed with significant style, with some atmospheric landscapes and a roving camera around the streets of Glasgow observing (presumably) everyday Glaswegians at work and play. One marvellous scene shows Johansson’s face as a transparent layer observing a mosaic of street scenes that build up on the screen: it is so impressive it makes me want to dive for Final Cut X and try to replicate it.

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A shout out should also go to the stunt team, for one particularly dangerous-looking (and very harrowing) scene on a deserted beach. If there is one scene that is likely to stick with you long after the film has finished it is the final shot of that beach and the troubled soul upon it.

Music by newcomer Mika Levi is strangely alien as befits the film, full of atonal sounds and (again) being reminiscent of Ligeti’s equally strange music in 2011: A Space Odyssey.

You might guess already from my comments that I’m not going to give this 1 star. But I’m also not going to give it 5 stars either. My criticisms fall into a couple of areas. Firstly, setting the film in Glasgow is very atmospheric, but some of the dialogue is (I’m sorry) pretty incomprehensible: and my English ear is better tuned than the American or rest of the world market will find it! (One can only hope that a ‘Yes’ vote for independance in September might get films like this classed as ‘Foreign Films’, and subtitles can be provided!) More seriously, the ending of the film irritated me enormously. Woman meets man in lonely woods and immediately becomes the target for a sexual assault. Obviously. “They’re all asking for it”. This is lazy and mysogynist plotting, letting the overall movie down.   I guess the director was trying to compare and contrast the hunter/hunted switch through the film, but in my humble opinion the film could have reached its denouement in a much more elegant and believable way.

For this reason…

Fad Rating:  FFFf.

Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

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The Grand Budapest Hotel is the latest from Wes Anderson, and what great fun it is.  My review of Monuments Men pointed out that putting the likes of George Clooney, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Jean Dujardin, Bill Murray and Hugh Bonneville in the same film was no guarantee of a good film.   Following that logic, what should we make of the following turning up together:  Ralph Fiennes, Bill Murray, F. Murray Abraham, Adrien Brody, Willem Defoe, Jeff Goldblum, Jude Law, Edward Norton, Tom Wilkinson, Saoirse Ronan, Owen Wilson and (a wonderfully made up) Tilda Swinton?  

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The answer is a near masterpiece of cameos that add up to a highly entertaining and memorable film.

In a complex serious of flashbacks, Tom Wilkinson plays an author remembering his younger self (Jude Law) being recounted, a number of years before, the life story of The Grand Budapest’s mysterious elderly guest Zero Moustafa, played by Abraham.  (Are you still with me?) 

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Featuring strongly in this life story, Ralph Fiennes plays hotel concierge and lothario Gustave H., seducer of his elderly and wealthy guests.  He is supported in this role – for everything outside the bedroom that is – by trainee Bellboy, and Gustave’s protege, Zero (in the younger form of Tony Revolori).

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Following the murder of one such guest (Tilda Swinton), Gustave is not surprised to feature strongly in her will, awarded a priceless Renaissance painting – Boy with Apple.   This is much to the displeasure of her son Dimitri (Adrien Brody) and his evil henchman Jopling (Willem Defoe).   What follows is a madcap pursuit across snowy landscapes, various grisly murders, a couple of civil wars, some disconnected fingers, a prison break and a downhill ski chase.  

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All the cast seem to enjoy themselves immensely, but it is the production design and cinematography that really shines through:  every single shot of the film is just a joy to look at, from the bright pastel colours of some scenes (as below) to the oak-panelled finery of the elderly lady’s mansion.  Beautifully crafted, beautifully lit, beautifully filmed.  Bringing a film out so early in the new Oscar-year must be risky:  but one can only hope that the voting members have a long enough memory to recognise this movie.

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There are some interesting crossovers to recent films:  both ‘The Book Thief’ and ‘The Monuments Men’ were filmed – as this was – in Studio Babelsberg in Potsdam.   No coincidence then that the steam train chugging through the East European countryside looked startlingly similar to that in the opening scenes of ‘The Book Thief’;  and if you have Bill Murray and Bob Balaban in town for Monuments Men, then why not stick them together for this film too?  Simples! 

Alexandre Desplat turns up AGAIN with another quirky and fitting score.

All in all, if you like the quirky style of films of the likes of Moulin Rouge then you’ll love this.   Highly recommended.

Fad Rating:  FFFF.

(Note:  below is the 18+ red band trailer (but a better representation of the film’s comedy))

Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: Need for Speed (2014)

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I’m a child of the 60’s, and to me as a young boy the films of the 60’s and 70’s that really spoke to me were those involving cars doing dangerous things:  Steve McQueen in ‘Bullitt’ tearing round the streets of San Francisco; the Love Bug; the Monte Carlo race in ‘Grand Prix’; Bond’s Lotus Esprit tearing up the roads in Sardinia and – best of all – the Mini Coopers of the original ‘Italian Job’, which I must have dragged my poor mother to see dozens of times.  Real cars, real stunt drivers with real danger involved.  These were the days before CGI, where driving scenes involving dodgy green screens were blindingly obvious.  So, whilst I’m all ‘grown up now’ (at least in body!) ‘Need For Speed’ still stirs memories of those original thrills, where the engines roared and the sumps sparked on the tarmac.  

Let’s be clear – this is a loud, bone-headed, popcorn muncher of a film. It is as obvious in terms of plot direction as you could possibly imagine.  Aside from the occasional nice side-step, you just know as you meet the protagonists – the grizzled rivals, the young turk under the hero’s wing, the love rival, etc. – exactly where the film will go, and it doesn’t disappoint.  It is no real surprise to find that director Scott Waugh was previously a stuntman on a plethora of films, including the Italian Job remake.

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The plot, as it is, involves rivals in the dangerous and illegal world of street racing.   A tragedy during one such street race puts our hero Tobey Marshall (Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul) into the clink for a couple of years.  Once released, he promptly breaks parole to cross the country to get to California in time for a head-to-head revenge rematch against his wealthy and successful rival Dino Brewster (Mamma Mia’s Dominic Cooper). 

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This Californian race along the coastline is organised by the ex-racing guru and video blog broadcaster Monarch, played with over-the-top glee by Michael Keaton.  (In fact, he is so extrovert that he could be giving a great impression of Jack Nicholson at his Oscar-ceremony best!)  Winner of the six-car race gets to keep all the cars:  I’m not sure what the second-hand price of scrap carbon fibre is, but that probably isn’t much of an incentive!

Marshall is aided by the very English Jules Maddon (Imogen Poots), adding a bit of girl-power driving to the rather testosterone-heavy atmosphere. 

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Given less to do, Dakota Johnson – shortly to star in ’50 Shades of Grey’ – plays the love rival of Marshall and Brewster.  Scott Mescudi adds comic touches as the eye in the sky for the racers (stay for the end credits to see his amusing ‘Twerkocise’ inmate session) and the strikingly different Rami Malek (memorable in ’The Pacific’) is excellent as one of Marshall’s support crew.

Where are the problems with this film?  Well, a good chunk of the dialogue is inaudible, with many of the leads – notably Aaron Paul – mumbling their lines.  And in terms of glorifying young people driving too fast in their cars, this film is not exactly going to help.  

But none of that really matters:  the cars and stunt drivers are the stars of this film, and there is a nice doff of the cap to ‘Bullitt’ near the start of the film that recognises the rich heritage being renewed here. With the CGI switch turned to “off” and a plethora of real life stunts on show, this is an entertaining roller-coaster of a film, all set to a thumping and catchy soundtrack by Nathan Furst.  

Fad Rating:  FFFf.

Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: The Monuments Men (2014)

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The Monuments Men is allegedly a true story (though I suspect rather embellished) of a mission by allied art lovers to save the wealth of public and private art from being captured by Nazi Germany and/or destroyed on Hitler’s death.  The real life photos over the end-titles indicate that it certainly wasn’t all made up.

Though this premise is a little less than gripping (‘scraping the bottom of the barrel’ in terms of war stories comes to mind), it must have looked good on paper:  George Clooney (both starring and directing), Matt Damon, Jean Dujardin (though without Uggie), John Goodman, Bill Murray, Hugh Bonneville and Cate Blanchett (hot Oscars property for Blue Velvet)…. ALL IN THE SAME FILM.   They’ll all sure look good on the side of a London bus – – and they do.   

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However, unfortunately this is not a good film.  It’s not even a good war film.  

The whole film feels like its been stitched together from 3 minute long vignettes, without any sort of arc of a story and nothing to stop the viewer getting restless.  What IS Matt Damon actually doing in Paris for all that time, other than having a nice holiday? 

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Why does one of the lead characters lamely hide behind a wall while he (sorry, spoiler, it is a he) is being shot – is his acting so dodgy that he can’t be seen on camera?  Why does George Clooney – so brilliant in The Descendants – lapse into this rolling eyed twitchy performance that typified his early roles?  Why is Cate Blanchett given so little to do?   And why is her boss such a terrible shot?  So many questions, so little time.  

The film does manage to muster something more solid in the last 15 minutes or so, but it is too little too late in my book.  

The one redeeming feature of the whole film are some of the performances.  Bill Murray shows just what a good character actor he is away from his comedy roles.  The scene in the shower where he hears his message from home is genuinely touching.  And as a massive fan of Spielberg’s Close Encounters, I have a particular soft spot for Bob (“I’m a mapmaker”) Balaban.  Here he is one of the lesser known ’stars’, but he gives one of the best performances in the film.  

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And there is a jaunty score from Alexander Desplat (“The Kings Speech”) – seemingly omni-present at the moment in the scoring room.  Interestingly, Desplat also acts in the film as “Emile”:  I’m not sure who this was, but it will make me want to watch the film again when it comes on the box!  

But – unless it’s too late to warn you – don’t get drawn in by the hype.  If I were you, I would avoid this movie.   

Fad Rating:  Ff.

Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: The Book Thief (2014)

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When a film is narrated by Death himself, you know it’s not likely to be a laugh-a-minute sort of film. “The Book Thief” – a cinema feature debut by Brian Percival – starts impressively.  Death stalks the skies muttering truisms about life and mortality.  Decending throught the clouds we see a steam train chuffing through a snowy European landscape.  Decending through the train’s smoke trail we enter the carriage and see Death claim his first victim of the film, all to John William’s luscious (and Oscar nominated) score.   Unfortunately, this memorable opening scene doesn’t translate into the rest of the film.

The Book Thief tells the story of Liesel:  a young girl in late 30’s Nazi Germany, abandoned by her communist mother into the safer hands of an older childless couple – Hans and Rosa – played by Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson.  The illiterate Liesel is taught to read by Hans and this fosters a burning love of books – in stark contrast to the love of burning books of the Nazis.  The film centres around her relationship not only with her new adoptive parents, but with her best school friend Rudy Steiner (Nico Liersch) and with Max (Ben Schnetzer) – a jewish friend of the family who brings both a brotherly companionship and great danger into Liesel’s world.

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The German village life is nicely portrayed and the everyday activity counterpointed against the bizzarre and terrifying goings on of historical events around them.  But unfortunately, the story seems to be all over the place.  I don’t know the “beloved” and “critically acclaimed” novel by Markus Zusak to know whether it is the source material or the adapted screenplay (by Michael Petroni) that is at fault.  But in my eyes, the story just doesn’t go in any satisfactory or coherent direction.  I was expecting it to be more of a harrowing Holocaust style picture, but it really wasn’t (this might be attractive to many viewers). Just when you thought the film would go off in an interesting direction it veered off again down a different path. As such, it lacked any real tension or (apart from one scene) sense of danger.  To me, it was just… “Meh”.

The script is not helped by some clunky lines of dialogue of the “Liesel, Liesel – you are growing so big” variety, and uttered by Rush and Watson in a manner reminiscent of Olivier’s execreble Jewish turn in “The Jazz Singer”.  Add to that a brutal ending (prepare yourself) of the “Atonement” variety, and you end up with a rather unsatisfactory and disappointing result.

The two junior leads – Sophie Nélisse and Nico Liersch – acquit themselves well, and their touching scenes together are the best parts of the film.  Ben Schnetzer’s acting role as Max though was less convincing:  not a great performance in my eyes.  

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I also spare a thought for young actor Nozomi Linus Kaisar.  He must have been so thrilled to go and see this flick with his parents on the big screen, only to see his character in the end credits as “Fat Faced Goalie”.  It must have done wonders for his self esteem:  what was the director thinking?  

Overall, I would suggest this is not a film to go out of your way to see at the cinema:  wait for a rainy Sunday afternoon on the box for this one.

Fad Rating:  FFf.