Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: Ghost in the Shell (2017)

A robot you could take home to meet mother.


I was intrigued to watch the other day (purely for the interest in the technology employed of course!) a short Guardian video on the development of the world’s first fully functioning sex robot: a disturbing watch, requiring a fairly broad mind. Watching it on the same day as going to see Scarlett Johansson’s new film “Ghost in the Shell” though was a mistake, since the similarities between Johansson’s character (‘Major’) and the animatronic sex doll (‘Harmony’) were… erm… distracting.

Johansson is a stunning actress, with unquestionably a stunning figure that she loves to show off, but you would have to start questioning her film choices: since there is hardly a hair’s breadth between the emotionally reserved superhero depiction here and her recent roles in Lucy” and “Under the Skin“. With her other ongoing “Avengers” superhero work as Natasha Romanoff, and nothing much else beyond that other than brief cameos (“Hail Caesar“, “Hitchcock“) and voice work, its all getting a bit ‘samey’: I’d like to see her get back to her more dramatic roles like “Lost in Translation” that really launched her career.

Making business for the glaziers of Niihama: the profession just LOVE superheroes!

Anyhoo, back to this flick. Set in the dazzling fictional Japanese city of Niihama, Johansson plays a terrorist victim saved only by having her brain transplanted into an android by the Hanka corporation. In this time (40 years in the future) human ‘upgrades’ with cybernetic technology are commonplace, but Major is a ‘first of a kind’ experiment. Hanka are not pure humanitarians though, since they have turned Major into a lethal fighting weapon with powers of invisibility and lightning reactions.  She works for a shadowy anti-terrorism unit called Section 9, led by the Japanese speaking Aramaki (Takeshi Kitano, “Battle Royale”).

A geisha who needs regular oiling. Creepy and effective robotics in action.

The upside of having no human form is that if you get burned or blown up, the team of cyber-surgeons back at Hanka, led by Dr. Ouelet (Juliette Binoche), can rebuild her – – they “have the technology” to quote another bionic hero.

But all is not necessarily well in the idyll of anti-terrorist slashing and burning. Major suffers from recurring ‘glitches’ of memories from her past life:  a life that she has no clear memories of. Her latest mission against a deformed and vindictive terrorist called Kuze (Michael Pitt) progressively resurfaces more of these memories, since Kuze clearly knows more about Major than she does.

Kuze (Michael Pitt)glad every morning that his face is not a 1,000 piece jigsaw.

“Ghost in the Shell” looks glorious, with the Hong Kong-like city being in the style of Blade Runner but with more holograms. (What exactly the holograms are supposed to be doing or advertising is rather unclear!). The cinematography and special effects deserve an Oscar nomination. 

Given the film is based on an original Manga series, written and illustrated by Masamune Shirow and well known for its complexity, this Hollywood version has a surprisingly simple and linear story. As such it may disappoint the hoard of fans who adore the original materials.

With accusations of Hollywood ‘whitewashing’ of the character, if there as one white actress to match the Manga image, it was probably Johansson.

Treating it as a standalone film, it should have an emotional depth beyond the superficial action, dealing as it does with loyalty and family ties. However, the scripting and editing is rather pedestrian making the whole thing a bit dull. Johansson and Pilou Asbæk, as her co-worker Batou, breathe what life they can into the material; but Binoche is less convincing as the Dr Frankenstein-style doctor. The best act in the piece though is Takeshi Kitano as the kick-ass OAP with attitude. 

Adding just a little Japanese content into an ostensibly Japanese film, Takeshi Katano excellent as the kick-ass boss Aramaki.

Where I had particular issues was in some of the detail of the action. ‘Invisibility’ is an attribute that needs to be metered out very carefully in the movies: Harry Potter just about got away with it; in “Die Another Day” it nearly killed the Bond franchise for good. Here, exactly how the androids can achieve invisibility is never explained and I disliked that intently. Similarly, the androids can clearly be physically damaged, yet Major seems to start each mission by throwing herself headfirst off the tallest skyscraper. Again, never explained.  

Even though the premise, and the opening titles, brought back bad memories of that truly terrible Star Trek episode “Spock’s Brain”, this is a dark and thoughtful adaptation with great CGI effects but unfortunately its pedestrian pace means it is one that never truly breaks through into the upper echelons of Sci Fi greatness. Worth a watch though.

Fad Rating: FFF.

Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: Fast and Furious 8 (2017)


Blood is thicker than Diesel.

All work and no play makes bob-the-movie-man a tardy reviewer. Still, what better way to break the fast than with “Fast and Furious 8” (aka “The Fate of the Furious”)?

Well, quite a lot of things actually!

Now, I have a confession to make (and I know for some this will be the equivalent of an appalling statement like “I’ve never seen Star Wars”). I have actually never ever seen Fast and Furious 1 through 7!  (If it’s any mitigation to this cinematic crime, I did see the F-and-F wannabe “Need for Speed“).

So I was going to be completely lost with the “plot” right?  Well actually, no. It was pretty easy to jump in and follow as a piece of popcorn nonsense.

The M25 water main burst was a real bitch for the Monday morning rush-hour.

For nonsense it is (hence the “rabbit ears” round the word “plot” above). The story isn’t just a bit far-fetched. It’s bat-shit crazy where the bat in question has downed a questionable vindaloo two hours earlier!

Dom (Vin Diesel) has turned on his “family”, including his squeeze, the lovely Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), and Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson, “San Andreas), to team with the above-the-law (and above the clouds) cyber-super-terrorist Cipher (Charlize Theron, “Mad Max: Fury Road“). They have teamed up, apparently, for no other reason than to allow Cipher to ‘kick some global ass’ with a nuclear threat. But given his caring and sharing side, why the sudden betrayal of his nearest and dearest by Dom?

Ice Queen Metallica fan Theron, showing off her hardware.

 Where do you begin with the nonsensical story? Jumping from Cuba (with some admittedly fun scenes, but shamelessly objectifying scantily-clad women) via Berlin and New York to the icy wastes of Siberia, it’s just an excuse to show fast cars doing ludicrously unlikely things. There is zero logic within any of the script. Here are just a handful of examples:  

  • the team know (through enormous jumps of speculation) to be present at a particular location in the world and at exactly the time that Dom is there (arrive, look through binoculars, “Oh, there he is”!);
  • all cars can be automatically hijacked and remotely driven (who knew), but NOT those of the team (obviously);
  • fast cars/tanks/etc can be magicked from New York to Siberia (wot, no Hertz Siberia available?);
  • Russian nuclear codes are stolen, so obviously they can’t be changed?
  • a nuclear submarine is out of the water on wooden blocks, but spin the propeller really REALLY fast and it can suddenly be sailing away.   
Statham and Johnson: muscle for muscle it never looked like being a fair fight.

I appreciate I am being enormously po-faced about this, and this is designed as pure escapism. But is there REALLY any need for this to be such mindless escapism?  The director (Gary Gray, “The Italian Job”) and writer (Chris Morgan, responsible for parts 6 and 7) should credit their audience with rather more in the way of intelligence.

Diesel and Johnson are never going to set the acting ablaze, but Rodriquez (“Lost”) is as watchable as ever. Theron has fun with her villainy and the supporting turns by Tyrese Gibson and Ludacris are enjoyable. Nathalie Emmanuel though as Ramsey seems as uncomfortable with her “sexy English” stereotype as she should be.  

A long way from Brookside. Nathalie Emmanuel uncomfortable as “the sexy one”.

Luke Evans (“The Hobbit“), Kurt Russell (“Deepwater Horizon“) and Helen Mirren (“Eye in the Sky“) turn up in entertaining but underused cameos, but it is Jason Statham as Deckard that has the most fun in the whole film, and his scenes – done largely for comic effect – are the best part of the movie.   (But “math” Jason?  “MATH”??  I hope your old maths teacher back in London doesn’t get to see this film).

Parking enforcement by the City Council was getting more and more stringent.

If you’re willing to park your brain at the door for two hours then it has some fun moments.  But I felt the damage to my IQ might not have been worth the risk, and this really didn’t fill my cinematic tank. 

Fad Rating: FF.




Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: Free Fire (2017)

A movie with more than a whiff of cordite about it.


As I write this, I’m really struggling to evaluate whether the latest film of Ben Wheatley (“High Rise”) is a masterpiece or just pulp trash. It’s certainly a brave and highly distinctive venture, with that you can’t argue.

Set in Boston in 1978, an arms deal is going down in a deserted warehouse. Brokered by Justine (Brie Larson, “Room”) an IRA team headed by Frank (Michael Smiley, “The World’s End“) with his business guy Chris (Cillian Murphy, “Inception”, “Batman Begins”) are on the buying side. As ‘roadies’ they’ve brought with them a couple of crack-head friends Stevo (Sam Riley, “Brighton Rock”, “Maleficent“) and Bernie (Enzo Cilenti, “The Martian) who are far from stable.

Ord (Armie Hammer), Chris (Cillian Murphy) and Frank (Michael Smiley) head up the motley IRA crew.

On the selling side is South African dealer and “international asshole” Vern (Sharlto Copley, “Elysium“), his suave and wisecracking protector Ord (Armie Hammer, “The Man From Uncle”)  and Vern’s right hand man Martin (Babou Ceesay, “Eye in the Sky“). What connects all of these individuals is that no-one likes or trusts anyone else.

When wing-collars were king: Vern wearing the latest in 70’s fashions.

Unfortunately, one of Vern’s van drivers is John Denver-lover Harry (the excellent Jack Treynor, “Sing Street”) who has very recent personal history with Stevo. The fuse is lit, and when the two meet chaos ensues:  in the words of Anchorman’s Ron Burgundy, “That escalated quickly”!

And, for a 90 minute film, that’s basically it. If you think after viewing the trailer “there must be more to the film than this”…. you’re wrong!

Stevo (Sam Riley) – a crackhead psycho bringing baggage to a party with far too many guns.

However, what there is of it is enormously entertaining. Played ostensibly for laughs, with very very black humour and an F-word and a gunshot in every other sentence, some of the characters – notably those played by Sharlto Copley, Arnie Hammer and Brie Larson – have some hilarious dialogue. The star turn for me though was Jack Treynor who was just so impressive as the ‘lost at sea’ brother in the delightful “Sing Street” and here delivers a stand-out performance as another brother on a mission… this time a mission of vengeance. You are waiting throughout the film for the inevitable showdown between Harry and Stevo – – and when it comes it is both bloody and memorable.

Nobody puts baby in the corner. Brie Larson trying to make good on her date.

 A cracking 70’ soundtrack, put together by the Portishead duo of Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury, involves 70’s classics by Credence Clearwater Revival, John Denver and The Real Kids and it’s hammered out at top volume over the action. The downside of this effect is that – for my old ears at least – it sometimes make some of the dialogue hard to follow.

As a policing exercise, the film clearly has merit. In the same manner as Schwarzenegger’s “Running Man” put criminals in an arena to cull them, so this must have reduced the crime rates in both Boston and Belfast no end! While some may not approve of the levels of violence on show, it is all done in a highly cartoonish way: like a “Tom and Jerry” cartoon, or “Home Alone”, everyone seems to get shot multiple times and yet (in the main) is still active and mobile. All of this makes criticism of the performances something of a waste of time, but I would comment that some of the acting is of the “over the top” variety: surprisingly, I found some of Oscar winner Brie Larson’s scenes falling into this category and snapping me out of the narrative at times.

Chris and Frank enjoying a quieter spot within the best little warehouse in Boston.

But overall, my evaluation is now done and I am rooting on the side of it being a brash and exhilarating minor masterpiece. Yes, it’s one-dimensional. Yes, it is virtually impossible to feel any empathy with any of the characters, as they are all universally loathsome. But it’s a movie whose flaws are forgivable based on the characterisation and the cracking good script by long-term collaborators Ben Wheatley and Amy Jump.

Tight as it is within its 90 minute running time, I very much doubt you will be bored.

Fad Rating: FFFF. 

(Note – content advisory: this is the red band trailer).


Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies DVD Review: Loving (2017)

Hidden Vigour: Negga excels in another glimpse into America’s racist past.


A few weeks ago when I reviewed “Hidden Figures” I pointed out the how absurd the racist behaviour at NASA in the 60’s must have appeared to a young boy in the audience at my screening.  In many ways, “Loving” – a film that has had a lot less publicity and is a less obvious ‘crowd-pleaser’ – makes a useful companion piece to that film. 

They’ve got that Loving feeling.

It tells the true story (yes, yet ANOTHER ‘true story’!) of Richard and Mildred Loving who travelled from their home town of Central Point Virginia to Washington DC where – as a mixed race couple – they could legally get married. 

Loving 6
About to make a bad mistake: Loving puts a ring on it.

However, on returning to their home state and living together as man and wife, they fell foul of the State’s repulsive antimiscegenation statute which banned inter-racial marriages. The Lovings were found guilty and sentenced to a year in jail, which was suspended on the requirement that – unbelievable but true – the couple leave Virginia and not return (together) for 25 years. The film documents the fight of the couple – largely led by the feisty Mildred (Ruth Negga) – to fight the injustice, taking the case ultimately to the US Supreme Court for an historic ruling.

The epitome of disapproval from the Virginia rednecks.

This was an Oscar-nominated performance by Ruth Negga and, man, is it deserved. It’s a performance of such quiet understated power that it is a joy to watch. But also strong is that of Joel Egerton (“Midnight Special“, “The Great Gatsby“) as Richard who here adopts a largely sulky and subservient manner that contrasts beautifully with Negga’s perky optimism.

Martin Csokas as the bigot with the badge.

I also loved the performance of Marton Csokas (Celeborn from “The Lord of the Rings”), chillingly unreasonable as the bigoted Sheriff Brooks and Michael Shannon (“Nocturnal Animals“, “Midnight Special“) as the Time photographer Grey Villet, capturing a classic picture that is shown (in standard ‘true story’ fashion) at the end of the film (and below).

Michael Shannon’s Life photographer about to capture…
…a classic picture.

Written and directed by Jeff Nichols, whose “Midnight Special” last year made my top 10 of the year, this is a thoughtful and educational piece that should particularly appeal to older viewers keen to see a drama of historical importance beautifully told.

Fad Rating: FFFF.

Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies DVD Review: Christine (2016)


If it bleeds, it leads.

Life is precious. Bad times always get good again eventually. Winter turns to spring and you feel the warmth of the sun on your face again. So what drives someone – anyone – to the point of despair sufficient for them to ignore all of the potential upturns and to take their own life?

Christine tells the tragic tale of Florida TV news reporter Christine Chubbuck who committed suicide live on air in 1974. Yes, this is a spoiler, but since most people have some sense of what a film is about before they go to see it, it’s not really a big one. And I think in this case, knowing the outcome is pretty essential since otherwise you will likely spend 2 hours getting increasingly irritated by the erratic behaviour of the lead   character and may possibly turn it off. With this movie, the telling is in the journey – not the destination.

A spiky and disturbing perfectionist, Christine obsesses over the detail.

London-born Rebecca Hall (“The Town”) plays the 30 year old virgin Christine; a damaged article with past mental issues, she has been moved by her mother Peg (J Smith-Cameron) from Boston to Florida to make a fresh start. But the station is struggling and Christine’s insistence on pursuing dull but worthy stories, such as zoning disputes, isn’t helping: she is driving her boss (Tracy Letts) to distraction. Despite her spiky demeanour and unapproachable nature, her colleagues including Jean (Maria Dizzia), the show’s anchor (and potential deflowerer) George (Michael C Hall) and weatherman Steve (Timothy Simons from “Veep”) all do their best to support her. It is part of the true tragedy of the piece that her downward spiral continues despite their best efforts.

Anchor George, about to get a nasty shock.

Hall is outstanding in the role. She portrays the crazily compulsive behaviour of Chubbuck extremely well: perfectionism gone wild as she attempts to edit out 3 seconds off a clip while the film is already in the machine. At times the other-worldliness and creepiness of her character become extremely unsettling; an excruciating scene with a married couple in a bar being a case in point. Overall it’s an extremely thoughtful portrayal that is as quiet and unassuming as Ruth Negga’s in “Loving” (but without the smiles or the charm). I would like to think that after the Oscars team picked the ‘obvious contenders’ of Portman, Stone and Huppert, and with a place ‘reserved’ for Streep, they were left with Negga and Hall and had a “dammit, we can only pick 1 out of 2 here” moment.

Christine looks like she is about to “do a Carrie” on her boss Michael in this scene.

Letts as the crotchety station chief also delivers a fine performance, and it’s a shame that the script never gave us the chance to see his post-shooting reactions, since the ‘if only’ ramifications for him in particular must have been huge.

In retrospect, Chubbuck’s actions were bizarre: taking her life in such a public way (and insisting the show be recorded for her “reels”) strikes of narcissism and a bitter revenge. While the film is no doubt based on the true recollections of the real-life participants, the screenplay by Craig Shilowich, in an impressive writing debut, for me never quite closed that loop: why this way rather that a car and a hosepipe?

A tragedy in slow motion: the real Christine Lubbuck

Directed by Antonio Campos, this is never an easy watch. It’s a bit like watching a car crash in ultra-slow motion, and pretty much mandates that you watch an episode of “Father Ted” afterwards to cheer yourself up! But it’s a fascinating study in mental decline, and it’s a useful reminder that it behoves all of us to pay more attention to others around us and reach out with real help if needed before the worst can happen.

Fad Rating: FFFf.