Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

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Now that 3D is becoming somewhat passé, I know some cinemas have been experimenting with 4D effects: moving seats, smells, effects, etc. Mad Max: Fury Road would be an excellent demo film for this. But they would need to spray so many gallons of gasoline, water, blood, amniotic fluid, etc at the audience it would never be cost effective!

Max Mad: Fury Road is the fourth in the Mad Max series, but you don’t need to have watched any of the others to enjoy this one.

The world is in a state of post-nuclear apocalypse and ex-cop Max Rocktansky (Tom Hardy) is haunted by the faces of his nearest and dearest that he couldn’t save. Captured by baron leader Imortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), Max is dragooned to be an unwilling blood donor to sick young warrior and zealot Nux (Nicholas Hoult, several light years away from Marcus in “About a Boy”). Showing no regard for transfusion hygiene, Max is strapped – still “leaking” – to the bowsprit of Nux’s war vehicle as he pursues a death-wish in honour of his glorious leader. His mission is to help bring back Imortan’s harem of beauties, rescued by Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) and now haring down the titular highway in a fuel tanker in search of the “Green Place”; a location across the Australian desert that has special meaning for her.

The trouble with scantily clad babes is that they NEVER offer to help in the beach tug-of-war contest
The trouble with scantily clad babes is that they NEVER offer to help in the beach tug-of-war contest

Thus is set up a road-chase of epic proportions which will result in much loss of blood (not to say a driving licence ban if any cops caught them!).

The government's congestion charging was not helping on the M25 at rush hour.
The government’s congestion charging was not helping on the M25 at rush hour.

It’s difficult to describe in a review just what an adrenaline-fuelled and maniacal film this is. It starts at a breathless pace and you think “OK – so far – so Michael Bay”. It’s when Max catches up with the bevy of beauties and Furiosa (who seems ‘armless enough, arf) and a thrilling and frantic cat/dog fight ensues for control of the tanker that you realise you have stepped into something of an entirely different class. Another reviewer aptly described it by saying that it “begins at an eleven and finishes at a number not yet reached by mankind”!  As Imortan’s convoy of pursuing maniacs arrive, adding new and literal meaning to the phrase ‘lead guitarist’, all hell then breaks lose. Many of the stunts in the ensuing mayhem look to be very much ‘real world’, much to the film’s credit: whilst there is undoubtedly some CGI in play, it is very understated and subtle.

Total mayhem
Total mayhem

I was pleased to have predicted in my review of last year’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel” just how many of the Oscar’s art categories that film would appear in, and I will similarly pin my early Oscar nomination colours to the mast on this film as follows:

  • Film Editing (Margaret Sixel): for maintaining an outstandingly breathless pace throughout;
  • Best Sound Editing/Mixing (Mark A. Mangini is supervising sound editor): an extraordinary mix of quiet and deafening and with some gloriously subtle effects. For example, when an explosion goes off next to Nux’s head you briefly hear his ringing ears;
  • Cinematography (industry veteran John Seale (“The English Patient”)): at times this film reminded me strongly of “Life of Pi” in its imagery and beauty. There are pictures that stay with you long after the film has ended: an alien marshland with deformed humans on stilts; Furiosa kneeling in the desert and screaming to the skies (below); and gorgeous long shots of the Australian desert and the pursuing vehicles.
Furiosa was halfway down the beach before she realised with horror she'd left the sandwiches at home
Furiosa was halfway down the beach before she realised with horror she’d left the sandwiches at home

Above all this is George Miller’s masterpiece. Here is a director demonstrating real chutzpah. A director with the confidence to deafen and then – like Hitchcock often did – cut to total silence. A director not afraid to fade to black, setting the expectation for an awe-inspiring cinematographic reveal to start the next scene (which he normally delivers on). A director marshalling an army of film professionals to deliver a real treat.

Nux and Furiosa were wondering how much more of Pitch Perfect 2 they could stand at the drive in movie.
Nux and Furiosa were wondering how much more of Pitch Perfect 2 they could stand at the drive in movie.

It’s not perfect: some of the frenetic editing could have been toned back a tad to allow the viewer to work out what is happening; a significant proportion of the dialogue is either gibberish or inaudible or both; and some of the bumps and scrapes (particularly those of Nux) seem unsurvivable – let alone coming out of without as much as a “hurty elbow”.

But whilst this film is perhaps not for the ‘Marigold Hotel crowd’, I’d defy those with a love of cinema and/or “Top Gear” not to revel in the glorious chaos of this film. As Nux would say, it is very “Shiny and Chrome”.

Fad Rating: FFFFf.

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Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: Pitch Perfect 2 (2015)

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Although I’m a “man man man man manly man”… I must confess to really liking the original “Pitch Perfect”. Tuneful, funny, quirky and with a knock-out cup routine (that took me ages to perfect).

On the back of those high expectations, Pitch Perfect 2 is not Aca-awful… but it is a big disappointment.

The college acapella group the “Barden Bellas” are riding high following their national championship win in the first film. They are performing to POTUS and the first lady when tragedy strikes in the form of a wardrobe malfunction of the worst kind by Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson). As a result of “Muffgate”, the Bellas are personae non gratae on the singing circuit, and their only way back is to win the worldwide championships in Copenhagen – something no American group has ever done because “they all hate us” (LOL). Besides anything else, standing in their way is the brilliant but bombastic Das Sound Machine whose militaristic take on Acapella makes them formidable opponents. And priorities for Beca (Anna Kendrick) are elsewhere as she is trying to impress her way into the music business as an intern for a professional recording studio.

Beca had been assured that the toothbrush would be CGI'd in after the ad filming was finished.
Beca had been assured that the toothbrush would be CGI’d in after the ad filming was finished.

Amy is also somewhat distracted by the love interest of Bumper (Adam DeVine) – mysteriously back on campus as a security guard (who said a degree couldn’t land you a great job??).

New to the scene is Emily (Hailee Steinfeld of “True Grit” fame) whose mother used to be a Bella in her day and who is desperate to get into the group. She’s a good singer, which is a good job since as all the other Bellas are graduating she may be singing solo in Pitch Perfect 3! (As this film made nearly three times its budget in its opening weekend that – unfortunately – seems assured).

Steinfeld, Kendrick, Brittany Snow, Alexis Knapp and Rebel Wilson
Steinfeld, Kendrick, Brittany Snow, Alexis Knapp and Rebel Wilson

The film launches with an hilarious opening (featuring Barrack and Michelle Obama in shot: one can only assume their kids are rabid PP fans in order to get that permission) and ends with a triumphant and feel-good performance at the end. It’s the filling of this sandwich that really doesn’t satisfy.  

The ponderous and multi-threaded plot (by Kay Cannon and Mickey Rapkin) is all over the place and relies on randomly engineered recreations of the things that worked well in the first film.  This includes a sing-off competition that tries hard but fails to live up to the ‘playground’ original. (It is hosted by an unnamed “Rip-Off host” who, before the film launched, was falsely reported as being Billy Joel; although similar in appearance he is actually musician/actor David Cross).

Noone was quite sure who had the head lice before that night, but...
Noone was quite sure who had the head lice before that night, but…

A lack-lustre story could be forgiven if the script was tight and hilarious. Unfortunately, many of the jokes fall completely flat; for me there were only a handful of laugh-out loud moments in the film. The love story between Fat Amy and Bumper is wildly unconvincing and the comic potential of the Kraftwerk-styled German group – led by Aryan-like duo of Kommissar (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen) and Krämer (Flula Borg) – is left un-mined.

Having the hernia go in the middle of the performance was both painful and embarrassing for Krämer
Having the hernia go in the middle of the performance was both painful and embarrassing for Krämer

John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks return as competition commentators John and Gail, and whilst some of their shtick is funny, other comments (particularly those from John) step over the line into racism and xenophobia.

John and Gail - all said in the best possible taste.
John and Gail – all said in the best possible taste.

Another gripe is the music used. In the first film, nearly all the acapella songs were staple classics and instantly recognisable. Whilst this theme recurs in the ‘Rip off’ contest, the rest of the songs are (to me anyway) unrecognisable. Much is made of the ‘new song’ (“Flashlight”, now a single by Jessie J) but most of the other songs in the film might as well have been new!

The Bellas were unlikely to get one of the headmaster's sweets from the jar this time.
The Bellas were unlikely to get one of the headmaster’s sweets from the jar this time.

Elizabeth Banks (Gail in the film) directs, and what with this and a segment of “Movie 43” on her resume perhaps she should stick to acting as the day job. By the way, watch out for the most unconvincing backdrop of Copenhagen you have ever seen, before the action swiftly moves back to an anonymous ‘field’ in ‘Denmark’ for the finale!

In summary: a tired re-tread of a much-loved original, which without the feel-good finale would be subject to a much lower rating.

Fad Rating: FFf.

Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: The Age of Adaline (2015)

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(First of all, let me add that there is a minor plot-spoiler in this review, which I have left ‘til the penultimate paragraph: I point that out since I normally try to avoid spoilers in my reviews, but this was a significant (but personal) contributor to the overall enjoyment of the film).

The Age of Adaline tells the bizarre and very much untrue story of Adaline Bowman (“Gossip Girl’s” Blake Lively) who after a freak and catastrophic car crash emerges with a body that never ages (and presumably as a result has immortality). “Great!…” (you might think) “…where do I sign?”. But the obvious blessings of looking in your late 20’s (and being a bit of a looker to start with) has a darker side: being regarded as a freak; being constantly pursued by ‘government men’ in dark suits wanting to prod and probe you; having to shift from place to place under multiple aliases to keep your secret; not being able to maintain a relationship for more than a year or so; and having children that call you “mom” when they look like your granny.

Having dodged the bullet of love nearly all her life, Adaline eventually succumbs to the winsome charms of Ellis Jones (great name) played by Michiel Huisman (“World War Z” and now in “Game of Thrones”).

The knowing smile in the lift said it all - "OK, OK - it was me!"
The knowing smile in the lift said it all – “OK, OK – it was me!”

Things come to a dramatic head when Ellis takes her home to meet his parents William and Flemming (played by Harrison Ford and Ellen Burstyn).

"You know I knew someone with a sweater that looked just like that"
“You know I knew someone with a sweater that looked just like that”

On the plus side, Blake Lively actually does a star turn in the film and is by far the best thing in it. With a string of past “B”-movies to her name, I would like to see her starring in a vehicle that is worthy of her talents.

Blake thought the audition for Red Riding Hood was going swimmingly well
Blake thought the audition for Red Riding Hood was going swimmingly well

It’s also great to see Harrison Ford pre- this year’s Star Wars smash, and also great to see the hard-working Ellen Burnstyn (“Interstellar”; “W”; “Same Time Next Year”) back on the screen. Also, I must call-out the impersonation talents of Anthony Ingruber, who does the best young Harrison Ford impersonation imaginable (see at 1:26 in the trailer below): if they ever wanted to remake “Hanover Street”, the first call should go out to Anthony!

Great Casting!  Anthony Ingruber in "Adeline" vs Harrison Ford in "Hanover Street" (1979)
Great Casting! Anthony Ingruber in “Adeline” vs Harrison Ford in “Hanover Street” (1979)

Whilst the undemanding love story that weaves its way through the film will appeal to a Sunday-afternoon audience that wants to curl up on a sofa and watch a ‘slushy DVD’ on a rainy day, this is fundamentally a very silly story, laced as it is with cod-science and coincidence…. although I guess this is no more so than similar films such as “Forever Young”, “The Time Traveller’s Wife” or “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”. You actually have to admire the cojones of the screenwriters (J. Mills Goodloe and Salvador Paskowitz) for the ‘science’ behind the key event: basically they say “don’t worry about how this happened, because the reason behind it won’t be discovered for another 20 years”! (i.e. “YOUR NOT QUALIFIED DEAR!!”).

Where I have more objection with the film is in its sonorous and self-important narration, of the “Desperate Housewives” variety, which drones on and on at you when pictorial hints and clues would have provided more than enough to allow the intelligent viewer to pin the story together themselves. The narration blissfully disappears through all the middle part of the film, but then pops up again at the end (I audibly groaned in my seat) to destroy the mood.  

The bouncers at the Frisco nightclubs were stepping up their sartorial game.
The bouncers at the Frisco nightclubs were stepping up their sartorial game.

In many places the story is paint-by-numbers stuff, and you just KNOW what’s going to happen way before it actually does. Whilst I have to admit that a key meeting in the film was well done and generated goose-bumps when it happened, elsewhere there is a mass of unnecessary exposition that obstructs and frustrates. (The director (Lee Toland Krieger) really needed to credit his audience with a bit more intelligence). 

Having suspended your belief once with the car crash at the beginning of the film, it is again called on (in spades) for the finale to allow the story to be rounded out. (No spoilers, but I would have preferred to flash forwards 300 years to see Adaline as a crazy-eyed 20-something woman in a mental institution: but then, I am just a heartless brute!). 

"Chewy, am I home?"
“Chewy, am I home?”

And so to that *spoiler*, which might not affect everyone but left my wife distraught for most of the second half of the film. If you had a Cavalier King Charles (as Adaline does) and if it had trouble eating (due to kidney failure) and if you had to then take it on a ‘last trip’ to the vet, then let’s just say that this is perhaps not the film for you!

In summary, an undemanding love story if you can suspend your disbelief sufficiently: personal canine trauma aside, if you liked “The Time Traveller’s Wife” you will probably warm to this. 

Fad Rating:  FFF

Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: Far From The Madding Crowd (2015)

FFTMC poster

X-rated for Sheep.

Based on Thomas Hardy’s classic novel (which I much shamefully admit I have never read), Far From the Madding Crowd tells the tale of Bathsheba Everdene’s rags-to-riches rise to become a farm-owner in rural Dorset in the 1870’s, the title coming from the fact that Dorset is a long way from the hustle and bustle of London- – “200 miles away” as the opening title incorrectly declares (the furthest possible direct driving route I could find was 155 miles!).

Bathsheba is a magnet to men with her feisty and independent behaviour, and the film documents the “love square” between her and three men in her life: Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts), the hunk of a farm manager; William Boldwood (Michael Sheen), the wealthy neighbouring landowner; and Sergeant Troy (Tom Sturridge), a dashing Han-Solo style rogue, flash-as-you-like in his scarlet army uniform.

In reviewing this film I need to declare a couple of loves.

Firstly, Dorset. Of all the English counties, this has to be one of the most glorious. Green rolling hills, dramatic coastline such as that at Golden Cap (featured in the film), quaint villages and – most importantly in this context – gorgeously photogenic. Hopefully, this might tempt more visitors to stop there rather than ‘driving on through’ to Devon and Cornwall for their holidays.

Secondly, and with apologies to the wife, Carey Mulligan. To be clear, this is not a sordid sexually-motivated affair (although there was THAT shower-scene in “Shame”) but a deep love of her acting talents and screen presence. This is a love affair long in the making, beginning ten years ago with her startling presence in Bleak House at the age of 20 (looking much, much younger); her stunning minx-like Dr Who performance as Sally Sparrow in “Blink”; and continuing on through her breakout movie performance in “An Education” in 2009.  

Independant woman (but still 50 years before she can vote).
Independant woman (but still 50 years before she can vote).

Where Mulligan excels is in roles where she can play a strong, confident and independent woman, so the role of Bathsheba is perfect for her. She is utterly believable as the 1870’s landowner holding her own against the men-folk, and even pulling off the somewhat out-of-character plot twist half-way through the film.

In the words of the Pointer Sisters - "When it comes to love I need a farm hand"
In the words of the Pointer Sisters – “When it comes to love I need a farm hand”

The supporting cast is also excellent: the ever-reliable Sheen (“The Queen”; “Frost/Nixon”) delivers a heart-breaking performance as the love-lorn Boldwood; Schoenaerts (recently in “Suite Française”) is manly enough with a scythe to no doubt set female hearts a flutter; and Sturridge is deliciously unpleasant in his powerful role.

Michael Sheen's impression of Tony Blair doing David Frost doing William Boldwood.
Michael Sheen’s impression of Tony Blair doing David Frost doing William Boldwood.

Above all, this is just a crackingly good story, through David (“One Day”) Nicholls’ tight screenplay. If you decide you are going to avoid this film because it is “old stuff”, think again. The rollercoaster ride of the plot gives “Eastenders” and “Coronation Street” a good run for their money in the drama stakes, and the denouement is both surprising and satisfying.

Direction is by the relatively unknown (to me at least) Thomas Vinterberg (“The Hunt”), but big kudos needs to go to Vinterburg’s collaborator Charlotte Bruus Christensen for the stunning Cinematography: some of the scenes (notably the harvesting scene towards the end of the movie) are bucolically gorgeous.

The woman folk were mightily unhappy when Bernard gave up in the middle of the Macarena.
The woman folk were mightily unhappy when Bernard gave up in the middle of the Macarena.

Also worth noting is the soundtrack by the brilliant but sparingly used Craig Armstrong (“Love Actually”, “The Great Gatsby”) which is luscious and suits the film to a tee. The woodland rendezvous scene (as featured in the poster) makes your hair stand on end and this is largely down to the music combined with Claire Simpson’s excellent editing.

I struggle to find aspects to criticise. I was gripped, and suitably shocked at the right moments, which is just what you want for a good night out at the movies. Having already praised the cinematography, one gripe I would have is with the lens flare at the end of the film (natural this time, rather than of the JJ Abrams variety), which was annoyingly distracting to me in the closing scene: but I recognise this is a personal and regular complaint of mine (see Magic in the Moonlight) that I might be alone in. Just a word of warning as well for animal lovers: that despite it being a UK 12A certificate, there are some pretty torrid scenes with sheep and a dog that might upset sensitive viewers. (I already got chastised on Facebook for suggesting this should have a “Ewe” certificate!)

Sheep, all about to flock off.
Sheep, all about to flock off.

In summary, this is a treat for more mature audiences, but should be a must see for audiences of all ages as a rollicking good tale, well told and beautifully shot.

Fad Rating: FFFFf.

Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

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Avengers: Age of Ultron is nonsense. But it is glossy, well-packaged and star-studded nonsense.

Following on from the defeat of Thor’s brother in the last film, the story revolves around Loki’s staff, an object of unspeakable power, which in a blitzkrieg of special effects is repatriated by the Avengers from a mountain fortress in a fictitious Sokovia. Instead of doing the sensible thing and crating it up in a warehouse with the Ark of the Covenant, the boffin duo of Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jnr) and David Banner (Mark Ruffalo) try to harness its power through their super-computer Jarvis (voiced by Paul Bettany) to create a peace-keeping AI machine called Skynet, no sorry – wrong film – Ultron. This will allow them to all retire and lie on a beach somewhere, so in a way the whole plot is really about pension planning. Everything naturally turns pear-shaped when Ultron (like V’gur in Star Trek 1) decides that eradication of human life seems the most sensible course of action. It’s now down to The Avengers to put right the damage they’ve done.

Ultron really liked what he'd done with the place.
Ultron really liked what he’d done with the place.

I’m not a ‘fan-boy’ or even a ‘fan-man’, so a lot of the back stories of “SHIELD’ and the villainous Baron von Strucker went completely over my head. But these details really don’t matter: it’s not bloody Shakespeare. More perplexing are some of the diversions the film takes and the questions these raise:

  • What was going on with that South African tanker full of whatever it was (let’s call it McGuffinium)?
  • How did they even get hold of the McGuffium if it has anti-gravitational powers?
  • Why can’t Banner and Romanoff ‘get it on’ (although I can understand that if he got angry during sex that things could get – erm – messy)?
  • What exactly are Black Widow’s super-powers anyway (my wife suggested “a safe shag?”)?

So many questions with no answers in the convoluted screenplay by Joss Whedon (who also directed).

Black Widow, looking hotter that any motorbike chick has a right to look.
Black Widow, looking hotter that any motorbike chick has a right to look.

What kept the film entertaining, to a point, was the incessant banter between the characters, some of which worked and some of which didn’t. So much banter in fact I expected Chandler Bing to be credited as a co-screenwriter.  An Excaliber-style segment with Thor’s hammer is particularly entertaining.

The church congregation had been getting more varied in recent weeks.
The church congregation had been getting more varied in recent weeks.

Special effects are of the frantic ‘what the hell is going on on the screen’ variety. Where these work best is in the impressive slow-mo segments, notably a ‘money-shot’ in the opening of the film with all Avengers on the screen and a later fight scene in a Sokovian tower.

Avengers Assemble:  the money shot.
Avengers Assemble: the money shot.

All the acting is of the quality you would expect from the star-names on show, although many in the cast (e.g. Samuel L Jackson, Don Cheadle, Andy Serkis, Stellan Skarsgård and Idris Elba) have little more than cameo parts. In particular I wanted to see more of Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), the latter being mesmerising (in every sense of the word) in every scene she is in.

They'd been waiting for the number 11 bus for HOURS now.
They’d been waiting for the number 11 bus for HOURS now.

Overlong, at 141 minutes, this is a film squarely aimed at a teenage audience (who will no doubt love it) and old folks who are looking for a quieter and more sedate movie should flee far from this madding crowd. I had low expectations of this film, but as an early summer popcorn blockbuster it is not as bad as I expected it to be. Whatever I comment, however, is completely irrelevant as it is going to make a shed-load of money at the box office. With a budget of $250 million, it needs to, but as the first film grossed $1,500 million – the third highest in movie history – it’s probably a safe enough bet for the producers.

Fad Rating:  FFF.