Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: Bridge of Spies (2015)

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There are combinations of film makers that make you confident, as you pay your ticket price, that you are not going to be terribly disappointed:  Steven Spielberg directing; Tom Hanks taking the lead; Janusz Kaminski behind the camera; Michael Kahn editing and a Coen brothers script (with Matt Charmon (Suite Française)).  And Bridge of Spies doesn’t disappoint, particularly for someone of my more advanced years (I was born the year following the film’s climatic events) who remembers well the terror of potential nuclear catastrophe that hung over the world through the 60’s and 70’s.  

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It was only 30 minutes into the film, but she couldn’t believe how bad “Pitch Perfect 2” really was.

In a story based on true events, Hanks plays James Donovan (diverging somewhat from reality here) as an insurance lawyer dragged by his firm into defending Rudolf Abel, the accused Soviet spy played exquisitely by British stage acting legend Mark Rylance.  Against this backdrop, the international blue touch paper is about to be lit by the shooting down over Russia of Gary Powers (Austin Stowell from “Whiplash”) in his U-2 spy plane (sorry – “article”). Donovan becomes instrumental in unofficially negotiating on behalf of the US government the release of Powers in East Berlin. The deal is jeopardised by his boy-scout tendencies to also want to help another US captive Frederic Pryor (Will Rogers).  

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The Russians take parking ticket fines VERY seriously.

I’ve read some negative reviews of this film in the papers that made me quite cross, describing it as “yawnsome” and “sanctimoniously dull”.  For me, nothing could be further from the truth and the packed Saturday night audience I saw this with seemed equally gripped from beginning to end, silent save for the odd laugh where some appropriate humour is weaved into the story.   

Tom Hanks is solid and believable as the fish-out-of-water lawyer, albeit that the role is played with a large spoonful of patriotic American sugar as Donovan trumpets about the importance of the constitution over the lynch-mob mentality of the general public. Alan Alda – great to see again on the big screen – channels his best Hawkeye-style exasperation as Donovan’s boss, looking for a clean and quick conviction. 

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When Spielberg shouted “Cut” what do you want to bet that at least one of these guys did a Gene Kelly impression?

But it is Mark Rylance – an irregular player in movies, and due to appear again in next year’s “BFG” – who shines out as the acting star of the film.  His salubrious and calm turn as the cornered spy just reeks of class and if he isn’t nominated for a Best Supporting Actor nomination for this then there is no justice.

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The Central Line could make anybody miserable on a Monday morning. Mark Rylance acting everyone else off screen.

(A special ‘casting recognition award’ to my wife Sue for spotting that the actress playing Judge Byer’s wife – Le Clanché du Rand – was Meg Ryan’s mother in Sleepless in Seattle 22 years ago!)

The cinematography is superb with some gorgeous tracking shots and framed scenes.  Most outstanding of all is the scene depicting the traumatic construction of the Berlin wall – long tracking shots in greys and blues delivering a truly breathtaking piece of cinema.  In general I’d give a big shout-out to both the art department and the special effects team in making the desolation of East Berlin feel so real.  It makes the similar scenes, that I commented positively on in the recent “Man from U.N.C.L.E.” seem like an amateur school production. 

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Desperation in East Berlin. (By the way, spot the naughty extra staring straight into the camera on the right!)

The special effects team also contribute in making the shooting down of the U-2 a thrilling piece of cinema.  

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They’d all bought tickets for the U-2 concert months in advance: can you imagine the disappointment?

Music is sparingly and effectively used by Thomas Newman, and it can be no greater complement to the composer than that I was wondering until the end titles as to whether it was another Spielberg/ John Williams collaboration or not.

A great film, one of my favourites this year.  Highly recommended, especially if you are over 50.  You should also get out to a cinema to see this one – it will be far more effective on the big screen than the small one.

Fad Rating:  FFFFf.    

But What Did You Think?  Do You Agree With My Rating And Comments?  Please Let Me Know By Commenting Below! 

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Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: Steve Jobs (2015)

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As someone who has worked in computing for 30 years, I was greatly looking forward to Danny Boyle’s new ‘biopic’ (using the term fairly loosely) about Apple founder Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender). Whilst I can’t claim it was a bad film, I was ultimately slightly disappointed by the result.

The film zeroes in on some specific snapshots of Jobs’s career, all centred around his famously theatrical product launches.  During the course of three acts we see the preparations leading up to his launch of the original Mackintosh, his Next educational ‘cube’ and the gloriously different iMac.

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Jobs shows off his saviour: (I was in an office this week that had an iMac as a museum item – and it is still an impressive piece of design).

As these acts span 14 years, we see the ongoing battle between Jobs and the flaky mother of his daughter (Katherine Waterston).  We also see the often despicable way in which he treats his staff, including disparaging his closest colleague and co-founder Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen). In fact the only person he shows much respect for – at least for a while – is his boss and CEO  John Sculley (Jeff Daniels). 

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“Woz, your fish might have been that big but mine….”

During these exchanges, it is difficult to find Jobs remotely likeable.  He is portrayed – probably very accurately – as a man with fixated views, unable and unwilling to bend at all. In this capacity Fassbender turns in a predictably classy performance.  

Trying to pour oil on continually troubled waters is Jobs’s PA Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet), looking less like Kate Winslet than she has for a while.  Winslet is the best thing in the film.

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A rare moment in the film between Fassbender and Winslet: rare because they both have their mouths closed!

The script is by “West Wing” writer Aaron Sorkin, and it is extremely dense:  I pity the poor couriers who had to deliver the screenplay to Fassbender and Winslet, and can only imagine the look on their faces when they realised they had to learn it all!  And it is the script that is frustrating.  I found the historical aspects of the roller-coaster ride of Jobs’s career, supported by some great inserts of historical snippets by Arthur C Clarke and Bill Gates, fascinating.  But the continual refocusing on the relationship with the daughter (Lisa) I found less compelling.  And some of the right-angles taken by the dialogue strain credibility:  when Sculley suddenly branches off into deep psychological counselling with Jobs on his childhood, minutes before a major presentation, it just doesn’t ring true.

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Between a rock and another rock: Perla Haney-Jardine as the 19 year old Lisa, inheriting the same argumentative streak.

Above all, it was extremely frustrating that the story took you to the point in each act of an announcer saying “And now let’s welcome to the stage STEVE JOBS…” and then the action cut away to the next scene.  You never got to see Fassbender let rip at channelling the famous Jobs charisma to his assembly of baying geek disciples. 

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The shot that makes me realise its only a matter of time before Fassbender gets the call to be a Bond villain.

While there are occasional snatches of Danny Boyle’s usual flair, it views as a fairly atypical Boyle film:  just getting all the dialogue in leaves little time for much stylised delivery. 

So in summary its a workmanlike film but, for me, unfortunately one of the disappointments of the film year to date.

Fad Rating:  FFF.

But What Did You Think?  Do You Agree With My Rating And Comments?  Please Let Me Know By Commenting Below! 

 

Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: The Lady in the Van (2015)

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When you see vagrants sleeping rough in doorways it is grimly fascinating to wonder how they got there. Was it a gradual descent due to drink or drugs?  Or was it an ‘explosive decompression’ – an event so dramatic it capsized an otherwise stable existence?  In a gripping pre-title sequence, it is the latter that sets up the backstory for Miss Shepherd – the titular “Lady in the Van” played by the marvellous Dame Maggie Smith.

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The Paralympics training for Rio was coming on a treat.

Based on a “mostly true” story, Miss Shepherd lives in an old Bedford van progressing from unwelcome parking space to unwelcome parking space in the well-to-do Gloucester Crescent in Camden (a street that strangely the Google Streetview car has never ventured down!).

This introduces us to a selection of the local residents, including – bizarrely – the wife of composer Ralph Vaughan-Williams (Frances de la Tour). The wily Miss Shepherd can however spot a soft touch from miles away and latches onto the newest resident, famous playwright Alan Bennett played (in multiple concurrent forms) by Alex Jennings (doing a fine impersonation). When yellow-lines necessitate action, Miss Shepherd wheedles her van onto his driveway for “three months”:  three months that turns into 15 years.

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Alan Bennett in thoughtful mood, letting his tea get cold.

I was in two minds from the trailer as to whether I wanted to see this film or not, and I’m so pleased that I did. What stands out, and what makes it so enjoyable, is the whip-smart and intelligent script by Bennett, based on his memoirs. The use of two Bennetts – one ‘doing the writing’ and one ‘doing the living’ – could be considered contrived, but allows the frustrations and inner demons (concerning his ailing mother ‘up north’) to be given a witty and articulate voice.

Despite getting progressively typecast as a vaguely batty old woman, Dame Maggie excels as the troubled Miss Shepherd – it is difficult to imagine many other actresses being able to pull off this larger than life role any better.  When pathos is required (e.g. “Why did you choose to live like this?”;  “I didn’t choose… I was chosen”) she delivers it in heart breaking fashion.  But her more comic pronouncements, such as the one about the number of “young men” visiting Bennett’s house at “every hour of the day and night” obviously being “communists”, were hilarious. What appears on the surface to be a mildly humourous movie turned out to have some serious belly-laughs.

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A bit of a smell downwind from the sea. Miss Shepherd takes a stroll at Broadstairs.

Less successful in the film is the normally excellent Jim Broadbent, playing a retired copper with an unhealthy interest in the old lady. While this may have been a true part of the story, it really didn’t come across very satisfactorily, and the scenes seem brash and out of kilter with the mood of the rest of the film.  

A selection of cameos in the film include Dominic Cooper (“Captain America”, “Mamma Mia”) and (proving how long this film has been in the can) the now US celebrity presenter James Corden.

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I’d never noticed the Christmas decorations she’d hung up on the door. Nice touch.

The slightly surreal ending of the film, set in a graveyard, might not be to everyone’s taste, but I personally enjoyed it and it added to the kookiness of what turned out to be a pretty kooky film. 

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The neighbours learning that sometimes recorder practice does have its benefits!

The film is directed by Nicholas Hytner. Although having a few notable movies to his credit (“The Madness of King George”, “The History Boys”), he is better known as a regular director for National Theatre productions in London, and the film does have something of a ‘stagy’ feel about it.  But as an example of a quintessential British film, based on a ‘true’ subject that seems barely credible, it makes for a heart-warming and highly entertaining trip to the movies.  And in this week of the dreadful events in Paris, we could all do with that. Recommended.   

Fad Rating:  FFFF

But What Did You Think?  Do You Agree With My Rating And Comments?  Please Let Me Know By Commenting Below! 

Posted in Film Review

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

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Brooklyn tells the riches to riches story of a pampered child growing up in the care of his famous Premier League footballing father (Joe Pasquale) and his undernourished pop-star mother (Keira Knightley)……..   (No, I’m only kidding.  But the biopic of Beckham Jnr at would make a cracking screenplay wouldn’t it?)

More seriously, when the older generation talk about them “not making films like that anymore”, this should be the film they go and see. This is a film that will appeal greatly to the “Marigold Hotel” set, and from the audience mix in the well-attended Tuesday night screening I attended, that message is getting out there. 

Another suitcase by another wall.
Another suitcase by another wall.

Saoirse Ronan plays Eilis, a teenage girl growing up in Ireland’s County Wexford with her older sister and widowed mother in the early 1950’s. Short on opportunities for a decent life, she is sponsored into a new city and a new job by Father Flood (Jim Broadbent), a friend in the New York clergy. Desperately homesick, we follow her trials and tribulations as she eventually settles into her new life through the love of a good (albeit sometimes un-favourably smelling) young man (an impressive Emory Cohen). Torn between her family duty at home in Ireland, where lurks another beau in the form of Domhnall Gleeson (“Ex Machina”, “About Time”), Eilis is caught in a love triangle with a 5,000 km hypotenuse.

In a love triangle it can only end in tears - but for who? (no spoilers here)
In a love triangle it can only end in tears – but for who? (no spoilers here)

Ronan is mesmeric in the role of Eilis. Most famous for her dramatic role in the much-underrated adventure film “Hanna”, and more recently in last year’s superb “Grand Budapest Hotel”, here she has to carry a demanding starring role and she does so with great skill. 

The supporting cast are also excellent, with Jane Brennan in particular turning in a heartbreaking performance as Eilis’s mother (albeit, I felt, in one of the more two-dimensionally scripted roles in the film). Also of particular note is national treasure Julie Walters, hilarious as the landlady Mrs Kehoe coming out with some cracking dialogue, and Jenn Murray (set to appear in Potter spin-off “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”) as the kookie and man-hungry new guest-house arrival who is a sheer comic delight to watch. 

Did you remember to floss? The lovers hit Coney Beach.
Did you remember to floss? The lovers hit Coney Beach.

The script is by Nick Hornby (“About a Boy”), based on the novel by Colm Tóibín, and zips along pleasantly with only the occasional missed step (there was one line in particular that reeked of cheese).

"Don't judge me - the sea is REALLY cold"
“Don’t judge me – the sea is REALLY cold”

The director is John Crowley, but credit should also go to the technical team that makes the US scenes just glow with nostalgia. The cinematography of Yves Bélanger (“Wild”, “Dallas Buyers Club”) is exquisite, especially in the more romantic scenes with Ronan wearing rich red costumes (by Odile Dicks-Mireaux). And the set decoration and special effects make scenes such as the ones at Coney Island very effective without having to break a (presumably) limited budget. All in all, this is a film that, if there is any justice in the world, I would love to see feature prominently in the Oscar art categories.

Are you being served? Eilis learns to use her Irish charms.
Are you being served? Eilis learns to use her Irish charms.

With some bittersweet twists and beautifully shot, this is a fill-em (to use the Irish vernacular) that should appeal to a broad audience looking for a romantic story well told on the big screen.

Fad Rating:  FFFF.

But what did you think?  Do you agree with my rating and comments?  Please let me know by commenting below! 

(Trailer below:  note, imho, the trailer gives too much of the plot away so I would recommend avoiding)

Posted in Film Review

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

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I can see this film dividing opinion, since bike fanatics (of which the UK has a high number) will seek to pick holes in the reality of the story and staging in the same way that a locomotive fan will point out that the 4472, “Flying Scotsman” shouldn’t have been in a film set in 1926!  I’m not a keen cyclist, (unless you count pottering around the New Forest occasionally as ‘cycling’), so I approached Stephen Frears’ new biopic on disgraced superstar Lance Armstrong with some reservations. But I really enjoyed it.

The local gym had found attendance rising after they had started offering the gin injections.
The local gym had found attendance rising after they had started offering the gin injections.

Armstrong is portrayed as a massively competitive individual that won’t lose at cycling or table football, and won’t die (from cancer) either. The film deftly portrays how this drive for success dragged him, like quicksand, into the world of illicit doping. In fact, for much of the film, given that he mixes all of this up with fervent support for cancer charities, I ended up feeling quite sorry for the guy: someone who knows he is cheating and fooling the world but sees it as a viable means to an end. However as his lying, both about the doping and his personal past achievements, becomes more and more cringe-worthy, he becomes a pathetic figure: this is not a great PR exercise for Armstrong.

Chris O'Dowd - the penny finally drops.
Chris O’Dowd – the penny finally drops.

Above all, the film is a warning shot against having too much belief in overly self-confident people. There are some people who can claim wrong is right and be believed because they state the case with such vehemence and, as portrayed, Armstrong was certainly one of those. In a year of (alleged) similar sporting performances at FIFA, it’s a lesson worth learning. 

Armstrong is brought brilliantly to life by lookalike Ben Foster, an actor who I must admit to date has rather passed me by. This performance to me deserves a shot at an Oscar nomination. There are parts of the film where he goes all Eddie “Hawking” Redmayne, but aside from these more physical moments, check out the scene where he comes third: just jaw-droppingly effective acting, mixing incredulity and rage all on the same face at the same time. Very impressed.

Lookalikees. Armstrong and Foster.
Lookalikees. Armstrong and Foster.

Foster is backed up by a strong supporting cast: Chris O’Dowd (“Bridesmaids”, “Calvary”) plays the Irish journalist David Walsh, doggedly pursuing the doping story. It’s a believable performance. Jesse Plemons is also great in the complex role of Floyd Landis, a fellow rider on the team who has to struggle with not only lying to the public but (more painfully) to his Pennsylvanian Amish community. Denis Ménochet (“Inglorious Basterds”) is also striking as Johan Bruyneel, Armstrong’s coach. While getting strong billing, Dustin Hoffman is great, as always, but has little more than a cameo in the film over a couple of scenes. (And talking of random cameos (though I can’t see him credited) did I spot Bond producer Michael G Wilson as Armstrong’s doctor?).

Amish in a bigger pond: Jesse Plemons as Floyd Landis.
A-mish in a bigger pond: Jesse Plemons as Floyd Landis.

The sweeping camera shots of cinematographer Danny Cohen (“Les Miserables”, “The King’s Speech”) brings the cycling scenes to life, and is nicely melded with actual footage of the races.  (Though some of the Paris green screen award-giving work is rather less convincing).

Director Stephen Frears (“The Queen”, “Philomena”) directs, and wisely chooses to keep the film to a compact and entertaining 103 minutes. 

Heading for that Italian Job moment. (In fact, there is a scene with a coach parked on an alpine bend that could almost be a tribute).
Heading for that Italian Job moment. (In fact, there is a scene with a coach parked on an alpine bend that could almost be a tribute).

This has been a good year for biopics, and following the excellent “Love and Mercy” about Brian Wilson, “The Program” makes it onto my list as one of the top 10 of the year so far. Recommended.

Fad Rating:  FFFF.

But what did you think?  Do you agree with my rating and comments?  Please let me know by commenting below!