Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: Focus

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In “Focus” Will Smith plays Nicky, a con artist from a long lineage of con artists, who takes under his wing the beautiful and talented pickpocket Jess (Margot Robbie): a great example of the sort of apprentice system that the UK Government is looking to encourage! Margot learns the more advanced tricks of the trade including the importance of distraction (hence the Focus of the title). Nicky and Jess feel an immediate attraction, with Nicky constantly fighting against his feelings to maintain his professional focus. The action moves from New York to more picturesque locations in New Orleans and Buenos Aires, building to the ultimate con in the febrile gasoline-fuelled environment of the Formula 1 circuit.

The key requirements of a first class con/heist movie like “Ocean’s Eleven” or “The Sting” is a charismatic lead, a clever and intriguing story and getting the audience to really care that the characters succeed in their quest against their (typically well deserving) mark.   Focus differs in just three respects.

Will Smith has to be one of the more charasmatic stars in the A-list today: on talk shows (like the recent edition of the Graham Norton show) he just shimmers with fun and good humour. Unfortunately in this film, he just seems to leave it all in the dressing room. For 80% of the film he is sullen and dour – – I think he was going for ‘cool and aloof’, but it just comes off as ‘bored’. I’m a fan of Smith, and after “After Earth” he could do with a hit vehicle – unfortunately this is not it.

Nicky was just going to sit there looking grumpy until he could remember which side the fuel cap was on.
Nicky was just going to sit there looking grumpy until he could remember which side the fuel cap was on.

The surly performance unfortunately destroys any chemistry between his character and Jess, which is a great shame since Margot Robbie is otherwise the best thing in the movie: aside from looking absolutely stunning (both in and out of an F1-babe bikini), she also knows how to act:  following on from “The Wolf of Wall Street” she is building a great name for herself. 

Beauty: natural;  Make-up: Tania McComas;  Hair stylist: Cameron Diaz!
Beauty: natural; Make-up: Tania McComas; Hair stylist: Cameron Diaz!

Elsewhere Adrian Martinez is effective as Nicky’s foul-mouthed side-kick Farhad and for female fans of “Love Actually”, the Brazilian ‘hunk’ Rodrigo Santoro appears as Garriga, the owner of an F1 team (shirt on though this time).

Rodrigo Santoro:  one for the ladies!
Rodrigo Santoro: one for the ladies!

The script aims for “Ocean’s” levels of cleverness, with some good comedy lines, but falls short. The story lurches from the ‘training’ section in New Orleans to the Buenos Aires section (“three years later”) like a needle skipping on an LP (kids, ask your parents about that simile!).

Above all, the film’s lack of moral compass makes you wish that the perpetrators get caught rather than get away with it. There is no evil mobster that they are ripping off: the marks, in the first half of the film at least, are regular wage earners like you and me that abhor theft and card fraud. How then is the audience supposed to warm and get onside with characters that cause personal misery? (“Oh look, she’s stolen his wedding ring – how clever!”). The story builds to an unsatisfactory Hollywood finale, where a cliffhanging “Italian Job” approach might have worked much better.

If she leaves her bag on the back of the chair like that, she's asking for it....
If she leaves her bag on the back of the chair like that, she’s asking for it….

The film showed in the UK with a ‘15’ certificate for “strong language, violence, sex, sex references”, although it is difficult to see why it really merited this rating, at least from the sex angle – – the scenes between Smith and Robbie are very tame indeed.

Directors – plural, never a good sign – are Glen Ficarra and John Requa (“Bad Santa”, “I Love You Philip Morris”) who also wrote the screenplay.  The one flash of brilliance for me was in a long build up sequence as one of Garriga’s henchmen prepares for an act of violence (note: though spoiled by the trailer).

In summary, whilst I’m a fan of the genre, this is one to miss.

Fad Rating:  FF.

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Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2015)

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The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel was a surprise hit in 2012, leveraging the “oldies” out of their armchairs and into the cinemas in droves: the film returned around 15 times its modest $10M budget. Now three years later comes the sequel – the amusingly titled “Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”, and its much of the same again. After all, why break a winning formula?

Set eight months after the original, and with an enviable occupancy record, expansion is on the cards for the Marigold Hotel. Sonny (Dev Patel) and Muriel (Maggie Smith) head to San Diego in search of investment funding from the US company Evergreen Inc, with the view to expand the franchise into a second property and beyond. There is interest from the owner Ty Burley (David Strathairn, probably best known as the head of Treadstone in the Bourne films) but that interest also brings the threat of a hotel inspector making Sonny (now back in India) suspicious of every new face. Richard Gere’s appearance as a wannabe novelist sparks a particularly frantic burst of sucking-up, the farce surrounding these scenes being very reminiscent of the famous Fawlty Towers episode.

Night fever, night fever - they know how to do it.
Night fever, night fever – they know how to do it.

Sonny and Sunaina (Tina Desai) are to be married, and the storyline compounds the stresses associated with the business expansion with the stresses associated with the rituals and relationships surrounding the nuptials. Adding fuel to the fire is the unwelcome intervention – in both love and business – of a rich and good-looking family friend and rival (Shazad Latif), bringing the couple’s relationship to breaking point. In a slew of secondary storylines, the rest of the ensemble cast comprising Bill Nighy, Judi Dench, Ronald Pickup, Celia Imrie, Diana Hardcastle (sidenote: wife of Tom Wilkinson) and Penelope Wilton pursue love and happiness against the romantic backdrop of Jaipur.

From left, Imrie, Pickup, Hardcastle, Dench, Smith and Nighy.
From left, Imrie, Pickup, Hardcastle, Dench, Smith and Nighy.

It is hard to actively dislike this film. Like the first film, and like similar recent films such as The Hundred Foot Journey, the esteemed cast demands your attention from the off and the lush colours of India (strikingly enhanced by the job of Evelyn – Judi Dench – in fabric procurement) wrap around you and warm you like a favourite cardigan. The script entertains, with good humour throughout and a smattering of laugh-out-loud lines. In terms of the acting, there is nothing like a Dame and both Dench and Smith are once again excellent, displaying nuanced and – particularly in Smith’s case – very moving performances. Bill Nighy (after the strikingly different performance in “Pride”) is back into reliable Bill Nighy acting territory again! New to the cast in this outing is one of my favourite comedy actresses Tamsin Greig (“Episodes”) and Richard Gere, looking more silver-fox than ever.

Who will be the foxcatcher?
Who will be the foxcatcher?

But a particular joy for me was Ronald Pickup, celebrating 50 years in the business (after a debut in Dr Who!) who turns in a stellar performance as the besotted but slightly neurotic Norman Cousins.

Another star of the film is India itself. Having had the opportunity to travel extensively, I have never been particularly drawn to India: but this film does more for the Indian Tourist Board than a host of travel brochures ever could. Jaipur looks breath-taking – who knew they had a “Great Wall of China”? – and I may need to reconsider my future travel itinerary.

Drab and monotonous Indian colours.
Drab and monotonous Indian colours.

John Madden (“Mrs Brown”, “Shakespeare in Love”) directs again, with Thomas Newman scoring.

Any sequel will naturally be compared against its original and, whilst good, this is no “Empire Strikes Back”. The film tries to partition itself into the different stages of the wedding preparations, but this becomes rather forced and irritating, particularly since the whole wedding storyline, and the mining of Sonny’s jealous streak, gets a bit tiresome. I yearned to be left alone with more time for the quieter and more subtle love storylines permeating the rest of the film.

The script also tends to overly labour the ‘you’re old so you’re about to die’ angle in a manner that seems at times to be rather patronising. 

But in summary, if you enjoyed the original then you won’t find the sequel to be much of a disappointment.

Fad Rating:  FFFf.