Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: American Sniper (2015)

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Clint Eastwood has become a highly respected figure in the film industry.  His iconic acting would have got him there, but add on his prolific film score composing and the fact that American Sniper is his 37th (THIRTY-SEVENTH!) directorial credit and the much over-used epithet “legend” is surely applicable.  Given that I was less than complimentary about his last film (2014’s Jersey Boys), and particularly since he still doesn’t look – at 85 – as someone you want to get into a fight with,  I’d better be nicer about his latest!  And that’s not hard, as it is a very good film.

The telescope on Southend pier was eating all of his 10p's and the girl on the beach still hadn't taken her top off
The telescope on Southend pier was eating all of his 10p’s and the girl on the beach still hadn’t taken her top off

Bradley Cooper hunks-up to play real-life Navy-SEAL Chris Kyle, a sharp-shooter as a deer-hunting kid who, patriotically driven on by the 1998 US Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, ‘signs up’ and just gets better and better as a SEAL sniper. 

This was the warm-up... then the SEAL's got selected via competitive Burpees.
This was the warm-up… then the SEAL’s got selected via competitive Burpees.

On his wedding day he gets his call-up to his first tour of duty in the dusty and dangerous hell of the Iraq war.  The film effectively charts both his stressful and dramatic tours of duty (where he quickly acquires the moniker of “Legend” and a price on his head) as well as the devastating effect that the build-up of post-traumatic stress has on his married life.
 
“Silver Linings Playbook” aside I’ve not always been a great fan of Bradley Cooper’s acting, but in American Sniper he really delivers a brilliant performance, switching from the outside world’s view of a macho hero to a haunted and tormented soul when given calm to reflect.  Although (in my book) he probably won’t win, it’s good to see he was Oscar-nominated for this. 

Isn't that one hell of a rock in that ring for the wife of an army grunt?
Isn’t that one hell of a rock in that ring for the wife of an army grunt?

Donning the dark hair dye, Sienna Miller is also extremely good as his long-suffering wife Taya.

Putting the cat on the barbecue was just the last straw...
Putting the cat on the barbecue was just the last straw…

In the same way as “The Hurt Locker” got to the unvarnished reality of the Iraq war(s), so this film also lays on the tension by the bucket-load.  The action sequences are extremely well done, with the story-arc over the four tours of duty being Kyle’s zealous pursuit of his equivalent on the other side:  a Syrian Olympic sharpshooter who has been taking a toll on American troops.

He was dead already, but the kid had voted for Bush and just wanted to make damn sure...
He was dead already, but the kid had voted for Bush and just wanted to make damn sure…

Whilst I was moderately engaged by the film, it is rather too energetically painted in red white and blue for British tastes, and dispatches “bad guys” at such an incredible rate compared to the US troops that by my reckoning the war should have been over in under 2 weeks.  My wife found the war sequences rather repetitious and I can see her point:  the film’s 132 minute running time could have usefully been trimmed by 15 minutes or so.  A lot of the dialogue in the film is also difficult to hear:  somewhat ironic in that it has been nominated for Oscars for Sound Mixing and Sound Editing… (so what do I know?!). 
 
With other Oscar nominations for Best Film, Best editing (well deserved) and best adapted screenplay, and with its fervently Patriotic feel, this is bound to do quite well on February 22nd.  It’s only a shame that there wasn’t a category for “Most plastic looking baby”, else this film would have been a shoe-in for that.
 
Fad Rating:  FFFf.

Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: Ex Machina (2015)

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Ex Machina has a simple story dealing with a deeply complex and philosophical topic:  namely what makes humans human.

The increasingly omnipresent Oscar Isaac plays billionaire Nathan Bates, genius creator of ‘Google’ – my mistake – ‘BlueBook’, the world’s “leading search engine”.  Living in the middle of the American wilderness (in reality, a very picturesque Norway) in a luxury villa that actually exists as a hotel, Bates is leading a one-man research project into the development of a truly self-aware Artificial Intelligence.  Leading neatly on from the recent Cumbur-busting “The Imitation Game” the eccentric and erratic Nathan needs to share his work with someone external in order to perform ’The Turing Test’ – the test to determine if a machine can genuinely pass itself off as human to another human.

Given the price of a Centre Parcs luxury villa, Caleb wonders what this costs to rent
Given the price of a Centre Parcs luxury villa, Caleb wonders what this costs to rent

Domhnall Gleeson’ character (Caleb) works for BlueBook and wins the Wonka Golden Ticket to spend a week with Nathan, becoming the human side of the test.  Ava (Alicia Vikander) is the beautiful and seductive android subject, and the film clinically walks through the sessions between Caleb and Ava, watched over by Nathan via the villa’s comprehensive CCTV system. 

Caleb has an eye for the ladies
Caleb has an eye for the ladies

The only other significant character in the film is Nathan’s house maid Kyoko (Sonoya Mizuno), who neither understands nor speaks English so drifts silently around offering various ’services’.   

We have been here before:  Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner” and Spielberg’s “AI” both covered similar ground, but in perhaps a less claustrophobic manner than Ex Machina.  This serves the story well, ramping up the tension as an age old Sci-fi plot-point emerges: how will a sentient machine feel about having its plug pulled. (No rain or doves are included in this one though).

The acting is all up to snuff, with Isaac – this time hiding behind a Brian Blessed-style bushy beard – looking and acting for all the world like George Clooney. 

Nathan's talking Pollocks
Nathan’s talking Pollocks

Domhnall Gleeson (“About Time”, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”, and getting all the roles that Paul Bettany is now too old for) makes the journey well from nice but naive employee to a much more world-wise freedom-fighter.  Swedish-born Alicia Vikander, currently also leading in “Testament of Youth”, is deliciously sensual as Ava (albeit – and trust me to notice this – that her significant assets seem to vary in size during the movie). She is also an excellent actress, having to reflect a wide range of emotions through little else than her eyes.

After she'd put a thousand cars together, she got the rest of the day off
After she’d put a thousand cars together, she got the rest of the day off

The writer and director is Alex Garland, and this is actually his impressive directorial debut – he is best known as a writer, having penned the novel of “The Beach” and the screenplays for films including “28 Days Later”, “Sunshine” and “Never Let Me Go”. Also hats off to the special effects crew (led by Richard Conway) since Ava is a miracle of visual effects.   

The glow stick diet was really starting to produce results for Ava.
The glow stick diet was really starting to produce results for Ava.

The effective keyboard score is by Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury.

I really enjoyed this film.  However, that is on the basis that Science Fiction is one of my favourite genres:  I can see some audiences finding the philosophical plotting too slow and wordy to hold their interest. But if you like your films deep and thought-provoking, as well as deliciously tense in places, then this might be for you.  The film also doesn’t outstay its welcome, leaving some loose ends to ponder on after the lights come on and the screeching song over the end credits (sorry… it’s just AWFUL!) drives you from the auditorium.  Also be aware that for those offended by full frontal female nudity, or indeed those that enjoy it, there is a good deal of it in this film. (Lads,  practise the excuse now:  “But it’s fine dear – – she’s not a naked women… she’s a robot!”).

Fad Rating: FFFF.

Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: Foxcatcher (2015)

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Every comedian clearly has a burning desire to be seen as a “serious actor” at least once in their career:  Jim Carrey had his “Truman Show”;  Steve Coogan wrote himself into “Philomena”; and (whilst he has denied that he is desperate for this sort of attention) Foxcatcher is Steve Carrell’s turn…. and boy does he do a good job.
 
Foxcatcher is not a feel-good sort of movie. It is what my wife would call a “Father Ted” film (i.e. one that you need to go home straight afterwardsand watch a DVD episode of the comedy series before bedtime).  It is made all the more harrowing when you realise that it is based on a true story.

Paranoid lip-reading for beginners, lesson 1
Paranoid lip-reading for beginners, lesson 1

Carrell stars as John DuPont, heir of the enormously wealthy DuPont family, who made their fortune in chemicals and CFCs.  Growing up in a cossetted environment on the family’s Foxcatcher ranch, under the guidance of his manipulative and controlling mother (Vanessa Redgrave), DuPont strives to find ways to impress the elderly matriarch.  

Vanessa Redgrave in fine form as the DuPont matriarch
Vanessa Redgrave in fine form as the DuPont matriarch

His latest attempt is to act as Olympic coach to the US wrestling team for the 1988 Seoul Olympics.  To this end he throws money at the problem ‘recruiting’ the gold-medal winning Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) and trying to recruit his family-man brother and fellow gold-winner David (Mark Ruffalo). But the road to Olympic glory in this case is not easy, and the relationship between the driven but self-doubting Mark and the erratic and eccentric DuPont becomes progressively more strained.   

Who's most likely to get the girl? (answers on a postcard)
Who’s most likely to get the girl? (answers on a postcard)

We have seen two films in recent months that portrayed bullying justified by the goal of achieving excellence in performance:  JK Thompson’s portrayal in “Whiplash” did it through old-fashioned shouting, demeaning comments and violence;  Carell’s DuPont delivers it in a much darker and more odious way, eroding the souls of his victims through the vicious application of his power and position.  In this sense, you could effectively position the character of John DuPont as one of cinema’s greatest villains.
 
Carrell’s performance is excellent and his Oscar-nomination (albeit as a bit of an outsider behind Keaton and Redmayne) is well-deserved. It is a startling deviation from his previous screen persona, and (looking at archive video footage of Dupont) it is also a remarkably good impersonation of his mannerisms and delivery.  

The quality of the lead though shouldn’t take away from the supporting acting of both Tatum, who gives a career-best performance as the brooding and increasingly disillusioned protégé, and of Ruffalo in the quieter and more nuanced role of his brother.  Only Ruffalo has been nominated in the Best Supporting Actor category, which seems something of a shame.  However, the latter’s performance in a video “tribute” to Dupont is toe-curlingly embarrassing.   In fact, a number of the scenes in this film fall into that category reaching its zenith in a seat-squirming demonstration of Dupont’s coaching skills in front of the unimpressed Redgrave.

These Schultz's don't play for Peanuts!
These Schultz’s don’t play for Peanuts!

Oscar-nominated direction is by Bennett Miller, best known for another well regarded ‘sports’ film “Moneyball” and the earlier “Capote” which was also Oscar nominated for direction.  The tight and effective writing is by E. Max Fry and “Capote” writer Dan Futerman, and one of the impressive things about this screenplay is that it never completely fills in all of the blanks in the relationship between Mark Schulz and DuPont:  some of the scenes are left deliberately vague (notably in the night-time ‘training session’ scene).
 
Whilst not being much into ‘sports films’ of the baseball/boxing variety, the film positions the wrestling as something of a side-line to the emotional drama.  You should certainly not be put off from seeing this film because of that.  It comes with my recommendation.
 
Fad Rating:  FFFF.


Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: Birdman (2015)

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At one point in Birdman “or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)“, Michael Keaton as ‘celebrity turned serious actor’ Riggan Thomson rants at a vicious New York Times critic Tabitha (the excellent Lindsay Duncan – – “About Time”; “Dr Who: Waters of Mars”) about how all critics lamely fall on “labels” and “comparisons” to describe their subjects, never getting to the guts of how the art made them actually FEEL. And it made me FEEL like he was talking directly to me!  

So how did Birdman make me feel? What would be the snappy tag lines I would put on the poster?  

“Astonished”;

“Deeply impressed”

“Full of wonder”

“Slightly irritating” (that one probably wouldn’t make the poster).

Birdman is definitely not a mainstream film, and it is likely to baffle and frustrate audiences almost as much as last year’s almost impenetrable “Under the Skin”. Riggan Thomson is part long-in-the-tooth actor and part superhero, at least in his fevered mind if not in reality. Surfing the C-list celebrity ocean following past glories in ‘Birdman’, ‘Birdman 2’ and ‘Birdman 3 (The Quest for Peace)’, Thomson needs to prove to himself, his inner daemons and the world in general that he is a “real actor” by staging a play on Broadway. (In this regard, following Tim Burton’s 1989 “Batman”, this is almost art imitating life for Keaton). For this heroic effort he chooses a short play by Raymond Carver called “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” adapting it to allow himself to shine in the spotlight.

Your (alter-)ego's behind you
Your (alter-)ego’s behind you

Thomson provides Broadway debuts for friend Lesley (Naomi Watts; “King Kong”; “The Impossible”) and crazy girlfriend Laura (Andrea Riseborough; “Oblivion”; “Brighton Rock”), but is less than impressed with his male co-star. ‘Birdman’ exits the guy with an “accident”, but unfortunately that introduces a cuckoo into the acting nest in the form of  famous actor Mike (Edward Norton), who risks completely upstaging Thomson with his theatrical brilliance.

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This introduction leads to one of the best laugh-out-loud lines of dialogue so far in 2015: “How do you know Mike Shiner?” asks Keaton; “We share a vagina” replies Watts.

Again with this introduction, we see art imitating life, since Norton’s performance (particularly in the first reel of the film) genuinely does risk outshining Keaton, despite all of his Oscar hype. I thought after “Whiplash” my choice for Best Supporting Actor was fairly safe with J.K Thompson…. but after seeing Norton’s performance I could see the race as much closer.

Overall though this remains Keaton’s film, and his performance is remarkable in an extremely varied and challenging role. 

Also remarkable is the gorgeously kooky Emma Stone as his sexually-louche and druggie daughter-cum-assistant Sam. This is particularly true in one astonishingly good rant to camera, where Stone delivers what could be termed an “Anne Hathaway Les Miserable” moment in its Oscar-worthyness. In each film, Stone is just getting better and better.  I have said it before and will say it again, Stone is a future Streep in the making.

We've run out of Marmite - - AGAIN???
We’ve run out of Marmite – – AGAIN???

As the previews of the play progress towards a dramatic opening night, Thomson’s grip on reality continues to unravel, as pressures get forced on him from all sides: artistic via Shiner; financial via his managerial colleague Jake (a dramatically better Zach Galifianakis than in the “Hangover” series); and via parental guilt over the relationship with his daughter. His outbursts both as Thomson and (down two octaves) Birdman become more and more extreme and paranoid – “I’m a f****** trivial pursuit question” he rants at one point while destroying his dressing room in rock group style.

There was only one cubicle, and you know how long women take.
There was only one cubicle, and you know how long women take.

The startlingly daring drum soundtrack by Antonio Sanchez actually counterpoints the action extremely well. Breaking down the fourth wall, the drummer keeps randomly appearing in a most surprising manner.

So what of the “Slightly irritating” poster quote? Director Alejandro González Iñárritu undoubtedly delivers a tour de force of a film; an instant classic that will be poured over by film students for years to come. However, he delivers the whole film in the style of one continuous take (give or take the odd time lapse sequence).  And whilst this was entertaining to start with, I personally started to find it tiresome and irritating by the end of the film. Like Hitchcock’s “Rope”, also filmed in this way, you are constantly distracted by looking for where the edits actually fall, sometimes seeing what looks to be an inconsistent couple of frames where perhaps no cut existed in the first place! 

This is NOT the tone of the film:  do NOT go expecting an "Avengers" film!
This is NOT the tone of the film: do NOT go expecting an “Avengers” film!

Worthy of note though was Emmanuel Lubezki (“Gravity”) who’s cinematography also bore many similarities to Hitchcock classic effects, including long drifting panning shots that appear to seamlessly melt through metal railings etc.  Very impressive.

In summary, this is a must see for lovers of the art of filmmaking, and Birdman should feature very strongly at the Oscars in a month’s time.

Fad Rating:  FFFFf.

Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: Taken 3 (2015)

Taken3-1

This review could get me into trouble – a lot of trouble:  my wife LOVED “Taken”, LOVED the slightly dodgier “Taken 2″ and even LOVED “Taken 2.5:  he flies!” (a.k.a. last year’s “Non-Stop” vehicle for Neeson).  It was a given (if not a taken – LOL) that she was going to LOVE “Taken 3”.  

Liam Neeson returns to the role of Bryan Mills, a government operative with a “particular set of skills”, who gets framed for the murder of one of his nearest and dearest – – I don’t do spoilers, but the trailer neatly does:  thanks a bunch trailer! 

The Mills' family lawn was being bloody ruined by moles
The Mills’ family lawn was being bloody ruined by moles

Knowing his innocence, and not taking any s**t from anyone, Mills goes on the run to get to the bottom of who framed him and make them pay.  Hindering Mills more than helping him is police chief Franck Dotzler (Forest Whitaker) who is not only dogged in his pursuit of Mills as the key suspect but also extremely smart, trying to piece together the complex three-way relationship between Mills, his ex-wife Lenore (Bond-girl Famke Jansson) and her current husband Stuart (MI-2’s Dougray Scott).  Staying just one step ahead of the pursuing cops, Bryan’s focus rapidly turns to his daughter Kim Bauer – oh, sorry, wrong franchise – Kim Mills (Maggie Grace) and keeping her safe from the bad guys.  

Dougray Scott and Forest Whitaker
Dougray Scott and Forest Whitaker

Taken 2 was an energetic roller-coaster of a thriller also directed by Olivier Megaton (note: not his name at birth!) and to give Taken 3 a bit of credit parts of this film – following a painfully slow start with a lot of wordy exposition – live up to popcorn-munching past glories.  Some of the lines – especially those of the whip-smart Dotzler – are entertaining. And, in particular, Neeson does a very amusing variant of his famous ‘telephone answering message’ at the denouement of the film.  Apart from a damp squib of a final scene (probably hastily written as they were in the pub) the script by the same Taken team of Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen is passable.

I will hunt it, I will find it and I will wash the damned contact lens
I will hunt it, I will find it and I will wash the damned contact lens

In general though, this film is all over the place.  

Editing is of the frenetic Bourne variety but not to the same standard:  a specific and horrible example is an early car chase which is almost incoherent in the way it is staged and cut together.  And whilst a lot of the staged violence in the first two films was over-the-top escapism, some of the action in this film makes no logical sense whatsoever:  I could perhaps believe that body used as a shield might stop a handgun bullet – but a high powered sub-machine gun?  Please! 

To top this off, two separate incidents with Mills in exploding cars simply defy any possible suspension of disbelief:  this was more like Neeson in a film remake of the “indestructible” Captain Scarlett TV series than a supposedly realistic film.

To Mills, there is no such thing as a closed flight
To Mills, there is no such thing as a closed flight

This may be a personal view, but in particular I have a long-standing loathing of the movie trait of bumping off a key character at the start of a sequel after you, as the viewer, have invested the emotional energy in the previous film rooting for them to survive.  (Alien 3 is probably the most heinous example of this crime, with the first-reel death of the little girl ‘Newt’).  Adding a final-reel tragic twist (as in Skyfall, or The Amazing Spiderman 2) is fine in my book.  But this particular type of cheap storytelling trick just leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

So go and see Taken 3 if you are happy to park your brain at the door and buy a bumper box of popcorn, but this is far from a classic and is a particularly stark coming down to movie-earth for me two days after watching the brilliant “Whiplash”.

This leaves me with just one important decision:  flowers, chocolates or a spa treatment to appease the wife?

Fad Rating:  FFf.  

 

Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: Whiplash (2015)

Whiplash poster

Whiplash is simply astonishing.  

Miles Teller plays Andrew, a gifted and highly ambitious drummer in his first year at an elite New York music academy.  There his talents are spotted by Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), an equally ambitious coach and mentor who is always looking for the “next big thing” but has never found it.  However, there is a very thin line between being an “ambitious coach” and a terrifying bully, and Fletcher constantly crosses that line sometimes inflicting a terrible impact on his young students.  

Timing is everything
Timing is everything

In an almost uniformly male environment, love interest is served from the cinema concessionary stand by Nicole (the charming Melissa Benoist) who the shy and uncertain Andrew finally plucks up the courage to ask out on a high-point in his emotional roller-coaster.

Spot the female, featuring Melissa Benoist
Spot the female, featuring Melissa Benoist

The ‘school for protégés’ theme has perhaps been trodden before by movies like Alan Parker’s “Fame”, and some of the emotional and creative jostling of elite musicians has appeared in films such as 2012’s “A Late Quartet”.  But none of these deliver the degree of passion and intensity metered out in Damien Chazelle’s movie.  

Miles Teller (“Divergent”) is superbly credible as the aspiring jazz drummer Andrew, and it is almost unbelievable that he was not a professional drummer-turned-actor for this film.  In fact, the more accomplished jazz drummer (very different to rock drumming apparently) is Nate Lang who plays Carl, his key competitor for the “percussion 1” role (see here). The two were apparently locked away in a drumming ‘boot camp’ for 2 months prior to the movie being filmed.  

Miles Teller and Nate Lang
Miles Teller and Nate Lang

But the starring role in the film goes to J.K. Simmons, probably best known in the supporting role of J. Jonah Jameson, the cranky editor of the Daily Bugle in the Spiderman films (and a number of other Marvel spin-offs).  Simmons is quite simply astonishing, channelling the sort of Oscar-winning performance of Louis Gossett Jnr (“An Officer and a Gentleman”) into his vicious drill-sergeant-style performance.  He has been nominated in the Best Supporting Actor role for both Golden Globe and BAFTA awards, and I would fully expect him to feature in the Oscar shortlist when they are announced on January 15th.  Personally speaking, he will be the one I will be cheering for in the awards themselves.  

Andrew left the toilet seat up again
Andrew left the toilet seat up again

Cinematography by Sharone Meir is outstanding, with every drop of blood, sweat and tears glistening on forehead and cymbal.  The editing by Tom Cross is also extremely tight, winding up the tension during key encounters.  The combination of the two together with Chazelle’s tight script effectively spears the audience in the gut.

The feature is based on Chazelle’s short film of the same name, and on this basis he is a name to watch for the future.

Gut-wrenching and enthralling, this film will spit you out the other end feeling emotionally drained.  This is simply a film you MUST see.  Let me drum it into you again.  GO SEE THIS FILM!    

Fad Rating:  FFFFF.

Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: The Hobbit : The Battle of the Five Armies (2015)

BOTFA1

The Battle of the Armies ends Peter Jackson’s six-film and almost 15-year love affair with the works of Tolkein (ends, that is, unless he starts dredging up some of the dodgier parts of “The Silmarrilion”).   

Having woken Smaug, the fire-breathing dragon, deliciously voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch, the beast proceeds to fry the poor residents of the community of Laketown in a flash-bang-wallop pre-title sequence. 

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This concludes with the Lonely Mountain, and its vast fortune in gold and treasured heirlooms, becoming a vacant property that the company of dwarves, headed by Thorin (Richard Armitage) and Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) move into.  This is no ordinary squat however, and the strategic importance of the mountain leads to hoards of elves and orcs, together with the refugees of Laketown, converging on the stronghold in an epic struggle for power. Throw into the mix a forbidden inter-racial love story between the dwarf Kili (Aiden Turner) and the elf princess Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) and the struggles of Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) against the emerging darkness of Sauron and you end up with an eventful and entertaining ending to the saga.

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The film is, as you would expect, a tour de force of special effects from beginning to end, although Jackson sometimes over-eggs the pudding:  a slow-motion bridge collapse under a leaping Legolas (a strangely CGI’d Orlando Bloom) being a particular case in point – the sequence feels like having been sponsored by the spin-off video game company! 

The movie is also extremely ‘battle-heavy’ (or “a bit fighty” as my wife succinctly puts it) – the last two thirds of the film is pretty much an ongoing pitched battle with very little let up.   If unrelenting sword-play and decapitations are not your bag, then this is probably not a film you will enjoy that much.
BOTFA4
It has to be said though that all of the performances are top notch, with Richard Armitage being particularly effective as Thorin, alternately fighting and then succumbing to the gold-induced ‘Dragon-fever’.  Billy Connolly also adds some much needed humour to the story in his role as a dwarf warlord, and the nation’s beloved Stephen Fry entertains as the greedy and superior Master of Laketown, destined (obviously) to get his comeuppance.

THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG

If this film was a one-off, I would be reviewing it as a “Wow, that was amazing!” film.  As it is the LOTR equivalent of “Police Academy 6”, my opinion is rather tarnished and whilst the film is workmanlike and entertaining, there is a feeling of ’same old, same old’ about it.  Another problem I found with this being a prequel to the original series is that the addition of ’new’ creatures and tactics often doesn’t ring true.  For example, the orc armies take full advantage of some very useful giant worms and their mounted rides include enormous and very effective troll creatures.  This unfortunately begs the question as to why these significant battle assets were not deployed in the “The Return of the King” – surely they were better than those lumbering elephant things?  (I realise, of course, the unreasonableness of in turns criticising a film for being samey and then criticising it for adding new stuff:  hey, I’m a film critic – bite me!)

So, in summary, Jackson pulls the finale off with aplomb, and the final title song “The Last Goodbye” (sung by Billy Boyd, Pippin in the LOTR series) probably neatly expressed the sorrow felt by the director in coming to the end of his saga.  

Fad Rating: FFFf.

 

Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: The Woman in Black 2 – The Angel of Death (2015)

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The clumsily titled “The Woman in Black 2: The Angel of Death” is a Hammer horror sequel to the very effective 2012 horror vehicle for Daniel Radcliffe, which itself was based on the jump-fest of a London stage show.

Set 40 years after the original, the spooky Eel Marsh House is the destination for a headmistress (Helen McCrory – Malfoy from Harry Potter), her spoonful-of-sugar-style teacher Eve (Phoebe Fox) and a class of WW2 evacuees from the London blitz.  

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One child in particular (Tom, played well by young Jude Wright) has been struck mute by being recently orphaned and becomes the focal point for the supernatural activity. Eve strikes up a relationship with a handsome and square-jawed young airman (Jeremy Irvine from “War Horse”) on the train, who proves to be a useful asset when the going starts to get tough.

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Let’s start with the good. One of the most important people on a movie like this is not the lead actor or the director or the make-up artist, but the editor – and Mark Eckersley deserves a call out for effectively delivering some very good jump scares.  And Phoebe Fox and Helen McCrory are both very good in their roles: Phoebe Fox, in a feature lead debut, is a personable and very attractive actress that should be given something better to work on.

There are also some high production values in terms of the atmospheric sets, locations and the cinematography, no less then you would expect from the UK film industry.

 wib2-2

Unfortunately, these positives are poorly served by a whole heap of negatives. The story is a jumbled mess, linking back to elements of the first story that I (at least) can’t remember the details of and only referencing in passing the spooky core of the Woman in Black premise (that when someone sees her a child dies). The effective jump scares are added rather at random, which perhaps is what makes them even jumpier. However, apart from one scene where Eve returns to the house alone, there is little in terms of a build-up of tension that made the Radcliffe version so effective.

WOMAN IN BLACK 2 

All in all, rather a damp squib, and the trailer is actually a lot better than the film. It’s not that bad that if you see the Woman in Black a part of your soul dies…. but there are better films to occupy you at the moment.

Fad Rating:  FFf.

Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: The Theory of Everything (2015)

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The Theory of Everything is an extremely moving love story concerning the brilliant British scientist Stephen Hawking and his first marriage. Whilst you may need a PhD in Physics to understand the intricacies of Hawking’s theories (which by coincidence I have and – no – it’s not enough) the lack of a GCSE in Physics is not a barrier to enjoying this movie.

Starting in 1963 when Hawking is starting his PhD studies in Cambridge University, the story picks up with the geeky and socially inadequate Hawking as he sparks a (rather unlikely) relationship with the extremely attractive Jane (Felicity Jones from “The Invisible Woman”). If this segment of the film had a hashtag it would be #punchingabovehisweight.  Greatly encouraged by his mentor Dennis Sciama – generally seen as the father of modern cosmology and played by the ever reliable David Thewlis – Hawking develops his extraordinary theories (and counter-theories) in the hot-house of a 1960’s Cambridge. Fate cruelly steps in though with Hawking developing the Motor Neuron Disease with which he is now famously associated.  Given he was given just 2 years to live, he clearly has a private black hole somewhere to have warped time for the last 60+ years!

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As biopics go, this is an exceptionally good one. Eddie Redmayne’s Hawking is just mesmeric. Hawking himself, on being given the opportunity to see the film before its world premiere, commented that at times he thought he was watching himself. The depths of physical and emotional acting Redmayne displays with this performance has to be seen to be believed, and I will personally eat my hat if Redmayne does not get at least an Oscar nomination for this part. (And who wouldn’t want to see Hawking himself roll out to announce an award at the Kodak theatre!).

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Felicity Jones is also outstanding in the role of Jane. The film is based on Jane Hawking’s own book although screenwriter Anthony McCarten has taken a few liberties with the life story for dramatic effect (there is a very interesting dissection of the film’s factual accuracy here). As referenced above, Hawking has seen the film and he was reportedly so moved that he shed a tear and then offered the use of the actual audio from his speech synthesizer for the film. So in this sense, Hawking narrates his own dialogue in the latter half of the film, which is quite a coup.

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Supporting actor parts are also great from an ensemble cast with Simon McBurney (“Magic in the Moonlight”, TV’s “Rev”) as Hawking’s father, Harry Lloyd as Hawking’s university friend Brian and Charlie Cox as the ‘family friend’ Jonathan being particularly effective.

The director is James Marsh, best known for his gripping documentaries “Man on Wire” and “Project Nim”, and the cinematographer Benoît Delhomme (“The Boy in the Striped Pajamas”) realising a wonderfully nostalgic vision of 60’s Cambridge.  Also notable is the beautifully fitting music by Islandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson – I fully expected this in the credits to be the omni-present Alexandre Desplat, but for once I was wrong!

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So a ‘must see’ in the run up to the Oscar season, but one to take lots of tissues to if you are affected by emotional films: this one seemed to be particularly impactful on the females in the audience – perhaps because it tells the love story from the perspective of Jane – with my wife virtually in tears throughout! (Or maybe that’s just because the realisation has finally struck that she’s been married to a PhD physicist for 30 years??!).

Fad Rating: FFFFf.