Posted in Film Review

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

spectre1

Spectre is premium Bond. But it’s not quite the perfect film that the hype of the 5* reviews might suggest. We learn a few new things: some more of the back history of Bond; that switches in Bond cars don’t always work the way you expect; and that Ralph Fiennes really can’t run very elegantly!

The plot is – as Dr Evil might say – quite inconsequential. An heirloom and a cryptic message from the past sends Bond (Daniel Craig) on a rogue mission to Mexico City to do what he does best – kill someone. This is rather problematic to the new ‘M’ (Ralph Fiennes) who needs a double-O PR disaster like a hole in the head as he tries to fight internal organisational proposals (oh my, doesn’t that sound dull?!). Rather than have his passport confiscated, Bond hops around several exotic locations pursuing the enigmatic Franz Oberhauser (Christophe Waltz) building to a dramatic – albeit rather atypical – Bond finale.

Typical - always on the lookout for someone to mate with.
Typical – always on the lookout for someone to mate with.

As you would expect, the film has a number of stunning set pieces. The opening Mexico City scenes – during the ‘Day of the Dead’ festival – are spectacular with a glorious five minute tracking shot that gives “Birdman” a run for its money in the style stakes. And there are some very scenic locations visited, superbly photographed by Hoyte Van Hoytema (“Interstellar”). In particular the glorious (or perhaps I should say Piz Glorious – bit of a joke there for Bond trivia geeks) ICE Q Restaurant at the Sölden ski resort in Austria and a dramatic desert location (which I’m unclear whether is ‘real’ or created).

A spectacular location: the ICE Q Restaurant at the Sölden ski resort.
A spectacular location: the ICE Q Restaurant at the Sölden ski resort.

Craig is magnificent as Bond. He moves like a cat and has the steely edge of instability and danger that Bond needs. (I quickly forgot his rather petulant and unwise “slit my wrists” comments of recent weeks.) Fiennes also bites a great chunk out of the role of ‘M’ – a fine choice to follow the acting chops of Dame Judy. And Naomie Harris as Moneypenny and Ben Whishaw (like a cinema rash this month) as ‘Q’ gel brilliantly with the rest of the cast. Together with Bond long-timer Rory Kinnear as Tanner, the ensemble acts as a double-O support family you can genuinely believe in.

Christophe Waltz as the bad guy is as good as you would expect, oozing psychopathic juices from every pore, and Dave Bautista (“Guardians of the Galaxy”) plays the heavyweight henchman Mr Hinx, delivering the best train-fight since “From Russia With Love”.

"Come in number 007 - your time is up"
“Come in number 007 – your time is up”

Where I had bigger issues was in the casting of Andrew Scott as the new character Denbigh. While Scott (“Sherlock”, “Pride”) is one of my favourite character actors, he just doesn’t have the gravitas to be convincing in the job role he’s portraying.

Andrew Scott:  rather miscast as the head of a new intelligence force.
Andrew Scott: rather miscast as the head of a new intelligence force.

The “Bond girls” (reverting to the sexist terminology of the genre) are Léa Seydoux (looking tidier than her role in “The Lobster”) and Monica Bellucci, making Bond history – albeit briefly – as the oldest Bond conquest (that he will let on to). Also decorous in the earlier scenes is Mexican beauty Stephanie Sigman.

Making Bond history and giving hope the 50+ year old women everywhere.  Monica Bellucci as Lucia Sciarra.
Making Bond history and giving hope the 50+ year old women everywhere. Monica Bellucci as Lucia Sciarra.

The plot, by John Logan, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, is rather patchy and vaguely preposterous in places. It doesn’t bear close scrutiny. Aside from the broader leaps of improbable survivability, ‘Q’s analysis of a Spectre ring seems to be a magic plot ‘McGuffin’ that doesn’t bear the same level of scientific analysis. The screenplay though (adding Jez Butterworth) is whip-crack smart in places, with some excellent laugh-out-loud moments.  Note, for the squeamish, that as well as the lighter moments there are a few instances of extreme violence in the film that are in ‘peek through the hands’ territory.

The music by composer Thomas Newman is novel and striking, blending in his “Skyfall” themes nicely to a new and urgent electronic drum beat. And whilst I’m not a great fan of the rather whiny Sam Smith vocal (can we have a Muse or a Manic Street Preachers title song next time please?) it does work well over the impressive opening titles.

In summary, for me this was on a par with the excellent “Skyfall” and is a great swan song for Sam Mendes in his directorial stint at Bond. 

Fad Rating: FFFF.

(By the way, I’m attaching the trailer below but if you’ve been lucky enough to avoid it to date I suggest you keep avoiding it before seeing the film.  As always – one of my most common whinges – they give away too many of the money shots).

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Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: The Lobster (2015)

I can only hope that the creators of “The Lobster” – Greek writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos and his co-writer Efthymis Filippou – find treatment at a good drug-rehabilitation clinic. A black and disturbing comedy, it can only be the creation of medically warped minds.

David (Colin Farrell) checks into a remote Irish hotel with his brother Bob. Bob is a collie. Bob unfortunately had a previous failed trip to said hotel, having been single and unable to find love within the 45 days required of the hotel management. So they turned him into a dog. Such is the fate of every ‘guest’ at the hotel, ‘checked in’ by security staff when individuals fail to produce the necessary ‘couple’ certificate and have to face the consequences. This is a highly dystopian future: think “Never Let Me Go” without the benefit of viable organs. The good news is that you can choose what animal you want to be transformed into. Dave’s choice is a lobster because they have blue blood (curiously, my favourite trivia question), they live for 100 years and maintain their fertility throughout their life.

John C Reilly, Ben Wishaw and Colin Farrell:  the best (of a bad bunch) of friends
John C Reilly, Ben Wishaw and Colin Farrell: the best (of a bad bunch) of friends

It becomes clear that all of the hotel guests are basically a set of dysfunctional folks, many of which would be left sitting at the back in the local disco. ‘Love’ is perceived as finding something – anything – in common with the other person. Find love, and you get a double room, an assigned child, and a yacht to stay on.  Fail and pet food awaits.

There is a choice though. You can run away to the woods and be a singleton. But no sex; no heavy petting; or indeed any flirting of any sort is allowed. Else the ‘red kiss’ or – worse – the ‘red intercourse’ fate awaits.

Risking a red kind of punishment:  Farrell and Weisz get it on.
Risking a red kind of punishment: Farrell and Weisz get it on.

This is a film that rather defies conventional definition. It is like the bastard child of “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “Under the Skin”. Yet it is portrayed, via extensive media advertising, as a mainstream film. It is far from it, and I fear that a lot of audiences will be bemused, shocked and disturbed in equal measure by this film.

Colin Farrell:  punching well above his weight with the gorgeous Jessica Barden
Colin Farrell: punching well above his weight with the gorgeous Jessica Barden

But is it any good? The first half is a delight. A warped “Fawlty Towers-esque” vision of farcical proportions, with hotel manager Olivia Coleman (brilliant as always) viciously applying toaster-based punishment to lisping but masturbating resident John C Reilly (“Star Trek TNG”, “Chicago”). And desperate biscuit-lover Ashley Jensen (“Extras”) throws herself with comic effect at our hero, offering every sexual option possible as bait. Outstanding is Ben Whishaw (AGAIN… is October a Ben Whishaw season?) as a guy with a bit of a limp, falling for nosebleed girl (a delightful Jessica Barden from “Far from the Madding Crowd”). At last, with Ben Whishaw and John C Reilly we have a mano-a-mano fight to equal Grant vs Firth in “Bridget Jones”!

Best fight since Bridget 2.
Best fight since Bridget 2.

There are some laugh out loud moments in this segment: John C Reilly wants to be a parrot and Whishaw berates him – “With that lisp, you want to be one of the only animals that can speak??”.

Unfortunately, this comedy rather goes off the rails in a gratuitously over-long final section. In the same way as you never wanted to see tents again in “Three go mad camping” (aka “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part 1”) we spend what seems like forever locked in the woods with the singletons led by Léa Seydoux (soon to be seen with Whishaw in “Spectre”) and David’s new love interest the ’Short sighted woman” (Rachel Weisz, married to Daniel Craig soon to be seen in “Spectre”).

Léa Seydoux:  mixing with two mysogynist pigs in the same month... quelle coincidence?
Léa Seydoux: mixing with two mysogynist pigs in the same month… quelle coincidence?

While this segment is enlivened by the occasional appearance of ‘ex-humans’, it is generally dull and dark enough to drive all of the comic momentum out of the film. The story eventually stutters to – for me – a rather unsatisfactory ending which is not for the squeamish. (No spoilers, but a similar ending to a 1963 Ray Milland film left me permanently scarred as a youngster).

There must be easy ways to get a roll in the hay.
There must be easy ways to get a roll in the hay.

In summary this is quite a random art house film with a clever premise that that was firmly in the FFFF category for the first half, but out-stays its welcome by about 30 minutes. I predict that – like “Under the Skin” – it will attract lovers and haters in almost equal measure. A clear winner is likely to be the Parknasilla Hotel in Sneem, County Kerry which looks a delightful place to spend a romantic weekend away. Animal lovers, particularly dog lovers, need to be warned that there are a few truly upsetting scenes in this film – one in particular that made members of the cinema audience audibly cry out in disgust. You have been warned.

Fad Rating:  FFF.      

Posted in Film Review

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

Whilst most men would agree that giving women the vote was a dreadful mistake (put that stone down ladies…. it’s just a joke), the astonishing story behind the UK social upheaval that was the Suffragette movement is well overdue a serious cinematic treatment.  And a serious treatment Sarah Gavron’s new film most certainly is: you exit the cinema feeling about as wrung out as the linen in the heroine Maud’s workhouse-style laundry.

Everyone remembered their words except Bonham-Carter...
Everyone remembered their words except Bonham-Carter… “Cut!”

Carey Mulligan plays Maud Watts, an ordinary and anonymous working woman who progressively gets sucked into the anarchic rabble-rousing of an East-end branch of the Pankhurst’s Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). With operations run out of a chemist’s shop by Edith Ellyn (Helena Bonham Carter) and her sympathetic husband, Maud risks a criminal record and the shame associated with that to pursue her ideals. Police pressure is applied by special forces copper Arthur Steed (Harry Potter’s Brendan Gleeson) and personal pressure is put on her by her husband (played by Ben Whishaw, soon to be seen again as ‘Q’) and her alleged fitness to be a mother to their young son George (Adam Michael Dodd). As politicians continue to ignore the issue, the actions build to one of the most historic events of the period.  

She just knew she shouldn't have nicked that
She just knew she shouldn’t have nicked that “Far from the Madding Crowd” DVD, but…

The struggle is seen very much through the limited prism of this select group of women. But where I really liked this film is in the slow awakening of Maud’s character. In many ways it is like the germination of a seed that we are seeing on the screen. She starts without any interest in the movement and even mid-way through the film she is adamant that she is “not a suffragette”, despite evidence to the contrary. Mulligan is, as always, completely brilliant in the role.

Gleeson dreaming of when Sat Navs will be invented.
Gleeson dreaming of when Sat Navs will be invented.

The supporting cast are all strong with Gleeson being particularly watchable as the lawman with a grudging respect for Maud and her cause. Meryl Streep makes a powerful cameo as Emily Pankhurst: but it is a short and sweet performance. Maud’s friend Violet (Anne-Marie Duff) is also outstanding, her gaunt face delivering a haunting performance.

Streep hoping for that Judi Dench "Shakespeare in Love" Oscar touch!
Streep hoping for that Judi Dench “Shakespeare in Love” Oscar touch!

Whilst there are some highly emotionally charged scenes in the film, in a political sense the film has a curious lack of passion at times. A keynote speech to Lloyd George for example should have been electric – yet the Abi Morgan’s script doesn’t quite do the scene justice and if I was the MP I wouldn’t have been impressed (which perhaps was the point).  

I also had issues with some of the cinematography. Carey Mulligan has such an expressive and photogenic face that extreme close ups should work brilliantly.  And yet filming it with a hand-held camera produces a constantly shifting image which was extremely distracting. Elsewhere in the art department though 1912 London is beautifully recreated, through both special effects, costume and make-up.

Carey Mulligan:  Damp but close to Georgie.
Carey Mulligan: Damp but close to Georgie.

Alexandre Desplat delivers a touching score with a clever underlying drumbeat of change.

Suffragette is a solid historical drama, that tells an important social tale… a tale that graphically illustrates how much the world has really changed, and changed for the better, in a mere hundred years. Above all, the film concludes with the astounding fact that Switzerland only gave women the vote in 1971 (and in fact with one canton holding out on local issues until 1991). Shameful!

Fad Rating:  FFFf.

Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: The Martian (2015)

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When I was a 10-year old kid my favourite TV programme was Gerry Anderson’s U.F.O. and my favourite EVER episode of that was one called “Survival”. In it, Colonel Paul Foster (the late Michael ‘nearly Bond’ Billington) was stranded believed dead on the moon a hundred miles from Moonbase with diminishing oxygen supplies and with the deadly threat of a similarly stranded alien to also deal with. To say it fired my youthful imagination would be an understatement. With Ridley Scott’s new film “The Martian” we have an almost identical plot, albeit without the alien involvement.  

After 2 days Watney had decided it was time to ditch Green Flag and try a different recovery organisation.
After 2 days Watney had decided it was time to ditch Green Flag and try a different recovery organisation.

Matt Damon plays astronaut Mark Watney who after a freak Martian storm is left for dead by his colleagues in the NASA crew of the “Hermes” (led by the excellent Jessica Chastain). By “sciencing the shit out of this” he struggles to survive in the airless and inhospitable landscape. By chance, his presence is detected by NASA and the action switches to the NASA team – principally NASA Director Jeff Daniels, Mars mission director Chiwetel Ejiofor, PR lady Kirsten Wiig, JPL specialist Benedict Wong and “Hermes” flight director Sean Bean – and their struggle to save him given the logistical impossibilities involved.

Jeff Daniels:  "I guess I picked the wrong week to quit chain smoking"
Jeff Daniels: “I guess I picked the wrong week to quit chain smoking”

I loved this film. In fact, I’ll go as far as to say this is my film of the year so far. Matt Damon – never ‘Mr Charisma’ in most films – is spectacular here, delivering his video logs (which – particularly in 3D – works better than Tom Hanks talking to footballs in “Castaway”) with a wit and charm that is quite endearing. The supporting cast all bring home the bacon with strong performances, with Ejiofor positively twinkling in the role. The rest of the “Hermes” crew, especially Michael Peña and the cute Kate Mara, are also excellent.

Chiwetel Ejiofor, looked on by Kirsten Wiig, playing it straight for once.
Chiwetel Ejiofor, looked on by Kirsten Wiig, playing it straight for once.

The screenplay by Drew Goddard (“Lost”, “World War Z”) and based on the bestselling book by Andy Weir generally works well. A few of the lines, my wife noted, smelled a bit of cheese (some of those from Sean Bean in particular), and there is a largely underdeveloped Chinese side-story (presumably to woo a Chinese audience), but overall the mood of the film carries the script triumphantly forward. (There’s a nice nod and a wink to Bean’s involvement in Lord of the Rings as well, which made me chuckle).

The film also looks marvelous, with the Mars sets and special effects being spectacular, the Mars spacecraft being beautifully realized, and some very impressive long-duration zero-gravity scenes aboard the “Hermes” that boggle the mind. 

The "Hermes" - another impressively rendered Ridley Scott vehicle.
The “Hermes” – another impressively rendered Ridley Scott vehicle.

In retrospect, the film’s success might be deemed to be assured given it is an amalgam of some notable film classics of recent times:  the spectacle of “Interstellar”; the intrigue of “Moon”; the vacuum-based-perils of “Gravity”; the hopelessness of “Castaway” and the ‘world holds its breath’ tension of “Apollo 13”. But after the blockbuster food-mixer stops whirring, the whole thing gels beautifully and despite its fairly long running time (141 minutes) boredom is never close and you leave the theatre buzzing. A key factor in maintaining the tension for the running time is that this is a Ridley Scott film: whilst other directors might insist on a ‘Hollywood’ ending, with Scott at the helm you can never be sure which way the story might twist in the final reel. And you won’t find any spoilers for that here.   

Chastain:  morphing from Interstellar's Murph.
Chastain: morphing from Interstellar’s Murph.

Unlike last year’s “Gravity”, and the no-doubt accurate but mind-boggling “Interstellar”, the science all holds up pretty well (although I did have serious reservations about the robustness of polythene sheeting and duct-tape replacing a door at one point).

Harry Gregson-Willams’ score apes Jerry Goldsmith’s “Alien” a bit in places, but works well and is massively and joyfully supported by a wide range of disco classics, neatly incorporated into the plot. 

Damon kept coming down to the video store in his dressing gown and they were getting fed up of it.
Damon kept coming down to the video store in his dressing gown and they were getting fed up of it.

Go see this film, ideally at the cinema and in 3D:  I doubt you will be disappointed.  Heaven knows, I don’t give away 5 Fads very often, but in this case….

Fad Rating:  FFFFF.

Posted in Film Review

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

Having just this week returned from climbing all 19,341 feet of Kilimanjaro, I find myself intimately capable of reviewing “Everest”, the new thriller from Icelandic director Baltamar Kormákur.

From here to paternity: Rob Hall's uphill struggle
From here to paternity: Rob Hall’s uphill struggle

Based on a true story from 1996, Jason Clarke and Jake Gyllenhaal play Rob Hall and Scott Fischer respectively, rival organisers of commercial climbing ventures whose businesses involve training well-paying clients at Everest Base Camp and then taking them to the summit to experience the ‘ultimate high’.  When the climbing season of 1996 becomes hugely crowded, including a rather obnoxious team from South Africa, the two rivals decide it is in the interests of their clients to combine forces and attack the mountain together. 

Noone told him that window cleaning in Scotland in June could be this cold...
Noone told him that window cleaning in Scotland in June could be this cold…

We are introduced to some of the clients including Texan Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin), second-attempt postman Doug Hanson (John Hawkes) and Japanese mountaineer Yasuko Namba (Naoko Mori) chasing her seventh and final major mountain summit. Supporting the teams is hen-mother from base camp Helen Wilton (Emily Watson), medical helper Caroline Mackenzie (Elizabeth Debicki from “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”) and hard-man Anatoni Boukreev (Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson) who eschews the use of such luxuries as oxygen. To add dramatic tension to the situation, Rob Hall’s wife (Keira Knightley) is heavily pregnant with their first daughter.

It was a loud burp, but Keira hoped noone had noticed.
It was a loud burp, but Keira hoped noone had noticed.

In an extremely hostile environment, as a storm passes through, the film neatly characterises how a single impetuous decision can have devastating consequences.  

The action scenes in the film are well-executed with a number of vertiguous shots and heart-in-the-mouth moments, neatly escalated by Dario Marianelli’s effective score. At its heart this is (without remembering the details of the original news story) a “will they, won’t they” survival story of the ilk of “The Towering Inferno” and other classic disaster movies.  

The tippy tip top.
The tippy tip top.

However, despite the long running-time and relatively leisurely built-up, I found there to be a curious lack of connection between the viewer and most of the key players. Perhaps this stems from the fact that you know they were all fully aware of the potential dangers?  Or perhaps that the mountain seems a bigger character that any of the humans involved?  Whatever the reason, it’s only the future parental responsibilities of Hall that really resonate and make you root for him as opposed to any of the other characters.

The student jape of locking Jake in the freezer overnight had seemed so fun at the time...
The student jape of locking Jake in the freezer overnight had seemed so fun at the time…

Some of the hardest special effects to pull off are those that depict the natural world (as opposed to Krypton, Asgard etc), and in this regard the team led by Jonathan Bullock (from the Harry Potter series) does a great job. Whilst the “top of Everest” was in reality a set in the Pinewood 007 stage, you’ll well believe a man can freeze there.

The unseasonable snowstorm brought havoc to the Romsey summer carnival.
The unseasonable snowstorm brought havoc to the Romsey summer carnival.

As such, this is a decent and entertaining telling of a true-life tragedy that will definitely work better on the big screen than the small.

Fad Rating:  FFFf.