Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

Marvelous Cash Cows and How to Milk Them.

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As just about everyone in the whole muggle world (or nomaj world if you’re reading this in the States) knows, FBaWtFT is the first of a five film spin-off series from the Potter franchise, still under the careful stewardship of David Yates. (And if the other films in the series were ‘amber-lit’ rather than ‘green-lit’, their production now seems assured after the US opening weekend alone has brought in nearly half its $180 million budget).  

Set in New York in the mid-1920’s Eddie Redmayne (“The Danish Girl”; “The Theory of Everything”) plays Newt Scamander, a Brit newly arrived with a case full of trouble. Newt is a bit like an amiable and ditsy David Attenborough, with a strong desire to protect and establish breeding colonies for endangered species. It’s fair to say though that these are creatures that even Sir David hasn’t yet filmed.

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A newt in a bigger pond. Scamander in search of missing beasts.

Within the battered old case (a forerunner of Hermione Grainger’s bag, which was probably borrowed from Mary Poppins), Newt stores a menagerie of strange and wonderful creatures which – after a bump and a mishap – get released by wannabe baker and muggle Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler, “Fanboys”). Newt has the job of rounding up the strays with the help of Tina (Katherine Waterston, “Steve Jobs”), an out of favour member of the Magical Congress of the USA (MACUSA). Unfortunately this couldn’t be happening at a worse time: something else – nothing to do with Newt – is wreaking havoc across New York and MACUSA is on red alert suspecting the involvement of a dark wizard, Gellert Grindelwald, following attacks in Europe. And keeping the secrets of wizardry from the NoMaj population is getting increasingly difficult, especially with the efforts of the “Second Salemers” movement run by Mary Lou (Samantha Morton, “Minority Report”) and her strange adopted family.

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Bringing a case before the court of MACUSA.

This film will obviously be an enormous success given the love of all things Potter, but is it any good? Well, its different for sure, being set many years before Potter and only having glancing references to Hogwarts and related matters. And that gives the opportunity to start afresh with new characters and new relationships which is refreshing. It’s all perfectly amiable, with Redmayne’s slightly embarrassed lack of eye-contact* in delivering his lines being charming. [* Is this perhaps the second leading character in a month that is high on the autistic spectrum?] . Redmayne does have a tendency to mutter though and (particularly with the sound system for the cinema I saw this in) this made a lot of his dialogue inaudible. Waterston makes for a charming if somewhat insipid heroine, not being given an awful lot to do in the action sequences.

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“This is only the first of five” – Tina (Katherine Waterstone) breaks the news to Newt.

Kowalski adds a humorous balance to the mixture, but the star comic turns are some of the creatures, especially the Niffler… a light fingered magpie-like creature with a voluminous pouch and expensive tastes!

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Kowalski (Dan Fogler) sweet-talking Queenie (Alison Sudol).

In the ‘I-almost-know-who-that-is-behind-the-make-up-but-can’t-quite-place-him’ role is Ron “Hellboy” Perlman as the untrustworthy gangster Gnarlack. And in another cameo – and probably paid an enormous fee for his 30 seconds of screen time – is Johnny Depp, which was money well-wasted since, like most of his roles, he was completely unrecognisable (I only knew it was him from checking imdb afterwards).

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Gnarlack (Ron Perlman) has a nose for business.

At the pen is J.K.Rowling herself, and there are a few corking lines in the script. However, in common with many of her novels, there is also a tendency for extrapolation and padding. Some judicial editing could have knocked at least twenty minutes off its child-unfriendly 133 minute running time and made a better film. Undoubtedly the first half of the film is better than the second, with the finale slouching into – as my other half put it – “superhero” territory with much CGI destruction and smashing of glass. What is perhaps most surprising about the story is that there are few obvious set-ups for the next film. 

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A shoe-in for the award for best hairstyle in a supporting role goes to Colin Farrell.

Quirky and original, its a film that will no-doubt please Potter fans and it stands as a decent fantasy film in its own right. It’s difficult though to get the smell of big business and exploitation out of your nostrils: no doubt stockings throughout the world will be full of plush toy nifflers this Christmas.

Fad Rating: FFFf

 

 

 

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Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: Nocturnal Animals (2016)

Putting the crisis into mid-life crisis.

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“Do you think your life has turned into something you never intended?” So asks Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) to her young assistant, who obviously looks baffled. “Of course, not – you’re still young”. Susan is in a mid-life crisis. While successful within the opulent Los Angeles art scene her personal life is crashing to the ground around her: her marriage (to Hutton (Armie Hammer, “The Man From Uncle”) ) appears to be cooling fast amid financial worries.

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Glitz. Glamour. No substance. Any Adams contemplates her existence.

In the midst of this rudderless time a manuscript from her ex-husband, struggling writer Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal), turns up out of the blue. As we see in flashback, Edward is a man let down on multiple levels by Susan in the past. His novel – “Nocturnal Animals”, dedicated to Susan – is a primal scream of twenty years worth of hurt, pain, regret and vengeance; a railing against a loss of love; a railing against a loss of life.

As Susan painfully turns the pages we live the book as a ‘film within a film’ – with characters casually modelled on Edward, Susan and Susan’s daughter, actually played by Gyllenhaal, Amy-Adams-lookalike Isla Fisher (“Grimsby”) and Ellie Bamber (“Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”) respectively. The insomniac Susan is seriously moved. She feels likes someone who’s fallen asleep on the train of life and doesn’t recognise any of the stations when she wakes up. How will Susan’s regrets translate into action?  Should she take up Edwards offer to meet up for dinner?

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Wine break over, it was nearly time for Amy Adams to get back to the massage job.

This Tom Ford film – only his second after the wildly successful “A Single Man” in 2009 – is a challenging film to watch. The opening titles of naked overweight woman ‘twerkers’ is challenging enough (#wobble). After this shocking opening (that morphs into an art gallery installation) the LA scenes have a gloriously Hitchcockian/noir feel to them, being gorgeously filmed by cinematographer Seamus McGarvey (“The Accountant”, “The Avengers”) – an Oscar nomination I would suggest should be in the offing.

And then comes the start of the “book” segment: one of the most uncomfortably tense scenes I’ve seen this year. A Texan family horror film featuring a lonely highway and a trio of “deplorables” (to quote an unfortunate put-down by Hilary Clinton). As stark contrast to the sharp lines and glamour of LA, these scenes are reminiscent of “No Country for Old Men” with a searingly unpleasant performance from Aaron Taylor-Johnson (“Kick-Ass”) and an equally queasy turn by local law enforcer Bobby Andes (Michael Shannon, Zod in “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”). Either or both of these gentlemen could be contenders for a Supporting Actor nomination. The tension is superbly notched up by a mesmerising cello/violin score  by Polish composer Abel Korzeniowski.

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Gyllenhaal and Shannon on the trail of bad ‘uns.

Amy Adams is fantastic in the leading role (what with “Arrival” this month, this is quite a month for the actress) as is Jake Gyllenhaal, channelling so much emotion, angst and guilt at his own impotence. After “Nightcrawler” Gyllenhaal is building up a formidable reputation that must translate into an Oscar some time soon: possibly this is it. Some excellent cameos from Laura Linney (as Susan’s sad-eyed mother) and Michael Sheen (in a superb purple jacket) rounds off an excellent ensemble cast.

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“We all become our mothers”. Laura Linney in a star turn cameo.

The concept of a “film within a film” is not new. The most memorable example (I realise with a shock – #midlifecrisis) was “The French Lieutenant’s Woman” with a young but striking Meryl Streep 35 years ago. Here the LA sequence, the book and the flashback scenes are beautifully merged into a seamless whole where you never seem to get lost or disorientated.

If there is a criticism to be made, the second half of the ‘book’ is not as satisfying as the first with some rather clunky plot points that fall a little too easily. 

However, this is a nuanced film where every step and every scene feels sculpted and filled with meaning. It is a film that deserves repeat viewings, since it raises questions and thoughts that survive long after the lights have come up. Tom Ford’s output may be of a sparsity of Kubrick proportions, but like Kubrick his output is certainly worth waiting for.

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Evil incarnate, but kicking ass. An almost unrecognisable Aaron Taylor-Johnson.

Recommended, but go mentally prepared:  this was a UK 15 certificate, but it felt like it should be more of a UK 18.

Fad Rating:  FFFF.

 

Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies: The Light Between Oceans (2016)

“You only have to forgive once. To resent, you have to do it all day, every day”.

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In my review of “The Two Faces of January” I described it as a film that “will be particularly enjoyed by older viewers who remember when story and location were put far ahead of CGI-based special effects”. In watching this film I was again linking in my mind to that earlier film… and that was before the lead character suddenly brought up the two faces of Janus!

For this is a good old-fashioned weepy melodrama: leisurely, character based and guaranteed to give the tear ducts a good old cleaning out.

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All loved up. Vikander and Fassbender getting it on.

It’s 1918 and Michael Fassbender plays Tom Sherbourne, a damaged man seeking solitude and reflection after four years of hell in the trenches. As a short-term job he takes the post of lighthouse keeper on the isolated slab of rock called Janus – sat between two oceans (presumably as this is Western Australia, the Indian and the Southern Oceans). The isolation of the job previously sent his predecessor off his trolley.

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At least they’ll be able to find their way home if it gets dark.

En route to his workplace he is immediately attracted to headmaster’s daughter Isabel (Alicia Vikander) who practically THROWS herself at Tom (the hussy), given that they only have snatches of a day at a time to be together during shore leave.  Tom falls for her (as a hot blooded man, and with Vikander’s performance, this is entirely believable!) and the two marry to retire to their ‘fortress of solitude’ together to raise a family and live happily ever after…. or not… For the path of true motherhood runs not smoothly for poor Isabel, and a baby in a drifting boat spells both joy and despair for the couple as the story unwinds.

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Playing happy families.

(I’ll stop my synopsis there, since I think the trailer – and other reviews I’ve read – give too much away).

While Fassbender again demonstrates what a mesmerising actor he is, the acting kudos in this one really goes again to Vikander, who pulls out all the stops in a role that demands fragility, naivety, resentment, anger and despair across its course. While I don’t think the film in general will trouble the Oscars, this is a leading actress performance that I could well see nominated. In a supporting role, with less screen-time, is Rachel Weisz who again needs to demonstrate her acting stripes in a demanding role. (Also a shout-out to young Florence Clery who is wonderfully naturalistic as the 4 year old Lucy-Grace.)

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The very cute Florence Clery feline groovy.

So this is a film with a stellar class, but it doesn’t really all gel together satisfyingly into a stellar – or at least particularly memorable – movie. After a slow start, director Derek Cianfrance (“The Place Beyond the Pines”) ladles on the melodrama interminably, and over a two hour running time the word overwrought comes to mind.

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Getting overwrought – Vikander and Fassbender

The script (also by Cianfrance, from the novel by M.L.Stedman) could have been tightened up, particularly in the first reel, and the audience given a bit more time to reflect and absorb in the second half.

The film is also curiously ‘place-less’. I assumed this was somewhere off Ireland until someone suddenly starting singing “Waltzing Matilda” (badly) and random people started talking in Aussie accents: most strange.

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Getting overwroughter – Rachel Weisz

Cinematography by Adam Arkapaw (“Macbeth”) is also frustratingly inconsistent. The landscapes of the island, steam trains, sunsets and the multiple boatings in between is just beautiful (assisted by a delicate score by the great Alexandre Desplat which is well used) but get close up (and the camera does often get VERY close up) and a lack of ‘steadicam’ becomes infuriating, with faces dancing about the screen and – in one particular scene early on – wandering off on either side with the camera apparently unsure which one to follow! 

A memorable cinema experience only for Vikander’s outstanding performance. Now where are those tissues… 

Fad Rating:  FFF.

Agree?  Disagree?  Please comment below!

(Trailer:  as above, I reckon you shouldn’t watch this trailer if you’ve avoided it to date as it gives too much of the plot away).

Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: Doctor Strange (2016)

Well multiversed.

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In the latest Marvel film (notably now available with the snazzy new Marvel production logo at the start) Benedict Cumberbatch (“Sherlock”, “Star Trek Into Darkness”) plays the titular hero:  a neurosurgeon with exceptional skills, an encyclopedic knowledge of discographies and an ego to rival Donald Trump.

After an horrific car crash (topically addressing the dangers of mobile use while driving) Strange loses the ability to practice his craft, and descends into a spiral of self-pity and despair. Finding a similar soul, Jonathan Pangborn (Benjamin Bratt, “24: Live Another Day”) who’s undergone a miracle cure, Strange travels to Katmandu in search of similar salvation where he is trained in spiritual control by “The Ancient One” (Tilda Swinton, “Hail Caesar”, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”) ably supported by her assistant Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor, “12 Years a Slave”) and librarian Wong (Benedict Wong, “The Martian”).  So far so “Batman Begins”. 

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An out of body experience without alcohol. The Ancient One dishes out power in another dimension.

As always in these films though there is also a villain, in this case a rogue former pupil turned to the dark side (have we not been here before Anakin?) called Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelssen, “Quantum of Solace”). The world risks total destruction from spiritual attack (“…the Avengers handle the physical threats…” – LOL) and the team stand together to battle Kaecilius’s attempts to open a portal (“Zuuuul”) and ‘let the right one in’.  

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Mads Mikkelsen has a certain quantum of evil.

Followers of this blog will generally be aware that I am not a great fan of the Marvel and DC universes in general. However, there is a large variation in the style of films dished out by the studios ranging from the pompously full-of-themselves films at the “Batman vs Superman” (bottom) end to the more light-hearted (bordering on “Kick-Ass-style”) films at the “Ant Man” (top) end. Along this continuum I would judge “Doctor Strange” to be about a 7: so it is a lot more fun than I expected it to be.   

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Never one to meet in a spelling bee. Cumberbatch trying to get the TV remote to work.

The film is largely carried by Cumberbatch, effecting a vaguely annoying American accent but generally adding acting credence to some pretty ludicrous material. In particular he milks all the comic lines to maximum effect, leading to some genuinely funny moments:  yes, the comedy gold extends past Ejiofor’s (very funny) wi-fi password line in the trailer.

Cumberbatch also has the range to convincingly play the fall of the egocentric Strange: his extreme unpleasantness towards his beleaguered on/off girlfriend (the ever-reliable Rachel McAdams (“Sherlock Holmes”)) drew audible gasps of shock from a few of the ‘Cumberbitches’ in my screening. (As I’m writing this on November 9th, the day of Trumpagedden, we might have already found a candidate able to play the new President elect!)    

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Strange and Palmer in… er…. ER.

In fact, the whole of the first half of the film is a delight: Strange’s decline; effective Nepalese locations; a highly entertaining “training” sequence; and Cumberbatch and Swinton sparking off each other beautifully.

Where the film pitches downhill is where it gets too “BIG”:  both in a hugely overblown New York morphing sequence (the – remember – human heroes suffer skyscraper-level falls without injury) and where (traditionally) a cosmic being gets involved and our puny heroes have to defend earth against it. Once again we have a “big CGI thing” centre screen with the logic behind the (long-term) defeating of the “big CGI thing” little better than that behind the defeat of the “big CGI thing” in “Batman vs Superman” (but without Gal Gadot’s legs unfortunately to distract the male audience).

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Ejiofor would have found teaching his new pilates class easier if the students were told to face the front.

Music is by Michael Giacchino, and his suitably bombastic Strange theme is given a very nice reworking over the end titles. By the way, for those who are interested in “Monkeys” (see glossary) there is a scene a few minutes into the credits featuring Strange and one of the Avengers (fairly pointless) and a second right at the end of the credits featuring Pangborn and Mordo setting up (not very convincingly I must say) the potential villain for Strange 2.

Not Shakespeare, but still an enjoyable and fun night out at the movies and far better than I was expecting.  

Fad Rating:  FFFf.

Agree?  Disagree?  Please comment below (Thanks).

Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: Arrival (2016)

Wow – what a surprise.

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Sometimes I can get very irritated by a trailer for giving too much away (case in point, “Room” – which I recut – and more recently “Passengers”). Sometimes I can get very excited by a really good teaser trailer (case in point, “10 Cloverfield Lane”). But most of the time a “ho hum” trailer typically drives the expectation of a “ho hum” film:  “Jack Reacher: Never Look Back” being a good recent example. Then there is “Arrival”…

Because the trailer for “Arrival” belies absolutely nothing about the depth and complexity of the film. At face value, it looks like a dubious “Close Encounters” wannabe, with a threat of movement towards the likes of “Independence Day” and “The 5th Wave”.  Actually what you get is a film that approaches the grandeur of “Close Encounters” but interlaces it with the intellectual depth of “Inception”, the mystery of “Intersteller” and a heavy emotional jolt or two of “Up”.

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Amy Adams – probably regretting eating that curry earlier.
Amy Adams (“Batman vs Superman”) plays Dr Louise Banks, a language teacher at a US university facing a bunch of particularly disengaged students one morning. For good reason since world news is afoot. Twelve alien craft have positioned themselves strategically around the world, hanging a few feet from the ground in just the sort of way that bricks don’t. Banks is approached by Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) and offered the job of trying to communicate with the aliens: where did they come from? why are they here? Banks faces the biggest challenge of her academic career in trying to devise a strategy for communication without any foundation of knowledge on what level communication even works at for them. Assisted by Ian Donelly (Jeremy Renner, “Mission Impossible IV/V”, “Avengers”), a theoretical physicist, the pair try to crack the code against a deadline set by the inexorable rise of international tensions – driven by China’s General Chang (Tzi Ma, “Veep”; “24”).

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“I am the egg man”. A twelfth of a full egg carton arrives in the Montana countryside.
Steven Spielberg made a rare error of judgement by adding scenes in his “Special Edition” of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” showing everyman power guy Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) entering the alien spacecraft. Some things are best left to the imagination. Here, a reprise of that mistake seems inevitable, but – perversely – seems to be pulled off with mastery and aplomb. The aliens are well rendered, and the small scale nature of the set (I’m sure I’ve been in similar dingy waiting rooms in UK railway stations!) is cleverly handled by the environmental conditions. 

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“They belong here – Mozambique!” … are they about to “do a Spielberg”?
But where the screenplay really kills it is in the emergence of the real power unleashed by the translation work. To say any more would deliver spoilers, which I won’t do. But this is a masterly piece of science-fiction writing. The screenplay was by Eric Heisserer – someone with a limited scriptwriting CV of horror film reboots/sequels such as “Final Destination 5”, “The Thing” and “A Nightmare on Elm Street” – so the portents were not good, which just adds to the surprise. If I were to be critical, some of the dialogue at times is a little TOO clever for its own good and smacks of Aaron Sorkin over-exposition:  the comment about “They have a word for it in Hungary” for example went right over my head.

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Jeremy Renner… at last a theoretical scientist that ups the sex appeal from Ian Malcolm level.
Denis Villeneuve (“Sicario”) deftly directs, leaving the pace of the story glacially slow in places to let the audience deduce what is going on at their own speed. This will NOT be to the liking of movie fans who like their films in a wham-bam of CGI, but was very much to my liking. The film in fact has very little exposition, giving you lots to think about after the credits roll: there were elements of the story (such as her book) that still generated debate with my better half on the drive home.

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Hands across the universe. Amy Adams gets up close and personal with a heptopod.
Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner are first rate and an effectively moody  score by Jóhann Jóhannsson (“Sicario”; “The Theory of Everything”) round off the other high-point credits for me.

An extraordinary film, this is a must see for sci-fi fans but also for lovers of good cinema and well-crafted stories.

Fad Rating:  FFFFF.