Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: Colossal (2017)

col-poster

A Marvel-ous Indie Movie

Well!!  I’ve been really surprised (in a good way) by two films this year, and both have involved monsters (the first being “A Monster Calls” back in January).

It’s really difficult to categorise “Colossal” – imdb classes it as a “Comedy, Action, Drama”. Comedy? Yes, but it’s a very dark comedy indeed. Action?  Hmm, not really…  if you go to this expecting ‘Godzilla 2’ or some polished Marvel-style film (not that I was!) you will be sorely disappointed. Drama? This is probably the nearest match, since at its heart this is a clever study on the people and relationships at the heart of a bizarre Sci-Fi event.

col1
The morning after the night before. Hathaway awaking with a monster hangover.

Anne Hathaway (“Les Miserables”) stars as Gloria, a borderline alcoholic-waster sponging off the good-natured but controlling Tim (Dan Stevens, “Beauty and the Beast”) in his New York apartment. When Tim’s patience finally runs out, Gloria returns to her hometown to an empty house and the attentions of a former school friend, bar owner Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), who clearly holds an unhealthy fascination with her. Borrowing an idea from “A Monster Calls”, at a specific time in the US morning a huge monster appears from thin air in Seoul, South Korea, killing people and smashing buildings in a seemingly uncoordinated and random way. Bizarrely, this only happens when Gloria is standing at a particular spot in a particular kid’s playground. Could the two events possibly be related?

col5
Beastly behaviour. Tim (nice but dim) (Dan Stevens) getting to the end of his tether with the wayward Gloria (Anne Hathaway).

I always like to categorize films in my head as being “like” others, but this one’s really difficult to pin down. It borrows its main premise from a famous scene in “E.T.” (indeed one also involving alcohol) but the film’s fantasy elements and dark undertones have more similarities in style to “Jumanji”. Then again, there are elements of the Kaufman about it in that it is as weird in some places as “Being John Malkovich”.

col2
Oww! Sometimes headaches feel like there’s a chopper in your head.

 The film stays on ‘Whimsical Street’ for the first half of the film, but then takes a sharp left turn into ‘Dark Avenue’ (and for “dark” read “extremely black and sinister”). It then becomes a far more uncomfortable watch for the viewer. The metaphor of the monster for Gloria’s growing addiction is clear, but emerging themes of control, jealousy, violent bullying and small-town social entrapment also emerge.

Here the acting talents of Hathaway and Sudeikis really come to the fore: heavyweight Hollywood talent adding some significant ‘oomph’ to what is a fairly modest indie project. Hathaway is in kooky mode here, gurning to great comic effect, and this adds warmth to a not particularly likeable character. And Sudeikis (more commonly seen in lighter and frothier comedies like “We’re the Millers” and “Horrible Bosses”) is a surprise in the role delivering some real acting grit.

col3
Abba fan? Sudeikis and Hathaway re-enacting the album cover from Abba’s Greatest Hits Volume 2!

The writer and director is Spaniard Nacho Vigalondo. No, me neither. But he seems to have come from nowhere to deliver this high profile cinema release, and it would not be a surprise for me to see this nominated as an original screenplay come the awards season. His quirky style is refreshing. (Hell, delivering ANY novel new summer movie that is not part of a franchise or TV re-boot is refreshing!)   

The film’s not perfect, and its disjointed style can be unsettling. While the lead characters are quite well defined, others are less so. Joel in particular, played by Austin Stowell (“Whiplash“, “Bridge of Spies“), is such an irritating doormat of a character that you just want to thump him yelling “Do Something you wimp” to his face!

Col4
Tim Blake Nelson (“Oh Brother Where Art Thou?”), Austin Stowell and Jason Sudeikis getting into the monster edition of Pokemon Go.

I am normally the first to pick scientific holes in a story, but here the story is so “out there” that the details become irrelevant, and – like “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2” – the film revels in its absurdity. (There is however a jumbo jet sized hole in the plot if you think about it!) But some of the moments of revelation (particularly one set in a wood) are brilliantly done and you are never quite sure where the film is going to go next. I was concerned that the ending would not live up to the promise of the film, but I was not disappointed. 

Like “A Monster Calls” the film will probably suffer at the box office by its marketing confusing the audience. People will assume it’s possibly a “monster movie” or maybe a piece of comedy fluff (particularly with Sudeikis in the cast), but in reality it’s neither of these. It won’t be to everyone’s tastes for sure, but in the bland desert of mainstream movie releases, here is an oasis of something interesting and novel and in my book definitely worthy of your movie dollar. Recommended.

Fad Rating: FFFF.

Advertisements
Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: Miss Sloane (2017)

“I never know where the line is”.

MS-poster

In a roller-coaster year for political intrigue on both sides of the Atlantic, and with all hell breaking loose again between Trump and ‘The Hill’, here comes “Miss Sloane”. 

Jessica Chastain ( “The Martian“, “Interstellar“) plays the titular heroine (I use the term loosely): a pill-popping insomniac who is working herself into an early grave as a top-Washington lobbyist. The game of lobbying is, as she describes, staying one step of the competition and “playing your trump card just after your opponent has played theirs”.  But all is not going well for Elizabeth Sloane. For the film opens with her being on trial for corruption in front of a congressional hearing, chaired by Senator Sperling (John Lithgow, “The Accountant“).

MS2
A man with an agenda. John Lithgow as Senator Sperling heading up the Sloane inquisition.

Through flashback we see how she got to that point, moving from one firm headed by George Dupont (Sam Waterston, “The Killing Fields”) to another headed by Rodolfo Schmidt (Mark Strong, “Kick Ass”, “Kingsman: The Secret Service“) against the backdrop of the high-stakes lobbying around a new gun-control bill. Her fanatical drive to ‘win at all costs’, and the trail of destruction, through her cutthroat work ethic, that she leaves behind her, digs her an ever-deeper hole as the political and legal net closes in around her.

MS1
Washington behind car doors. Jessica Chastain preparing for a grilling.

Jessica Chastain has played strong and decisive women before, most notably in “Zero Dark Thirty”, but probably never to this extreme degree. Here she is like Miranda Priestly from “The Devil Wears Prada”, but not played for laughs. Miss Sloane is an emotionally and physically damaged woman, but a formidable one who takes charge both in the boardroom and in the bedroom, through the unashamed use of male escorts (in the well-muscled form of Jake Lacy, “Their Finest“). As such her character is not remotely likable, but one the I could certainly relate to from past business dealings I’ve had. (And no, I don’t mean as a male prostitute!)  

I found Sloane to be one of the more fascinating characters in this year’s releases:  I was never being sure whether her actions are being powered from a background of strong moral conviction (fuelled by a devastating childhood incident perhaps?) or through pure greed and lust for power. I thought Chastain excelled in the role, but for balance the illustrious Mrs Mann thought she rather overplayed her hand at times.

MS3
Mark Strong as Miss Sloane’s despairing boss.

Outside of Chastain’s central performance though, this is a very strong ensemble cast.  Mark Strong – not with an English accent for once and not playing a heavy – is great as the frustrated boss, as is the seldom-seen Sam Waterston (who, by the way, is the father of Katherine Waterston of current “Alien: Covenant” fame).  Christine Baranski (so good in “The Good Wife” and now “The Good Fight”) pops up in a cameo as a flinty Senator. But the outstanding turn for me was Oxford-born Gugu Mbatha-Raw (“Belle”, “Beauty and the Beast” – and yes, I’m aware of the irony in this pairing!).  Playing Sloane’s colleague Esme Manucharian – both a lady with a secret in her past as well as possessing a great name – Mbatha-Raw is just riveting and deserving of a Supporting Actress nomination in my book.

MS4
Betrayed by the boss. Gugu Mbatha-Raw just so good.

What binds the whole two hours together is an extraordinarily skillful script by debut writer Jonathan Perera, which has both a gripping and ever-twisting story as well as a host of quotable lines. Ladies and gentlemen, we may have a new Aaron Sorkin on the block! It’s a brave script, dealing as it does with 2nd amendment issues, since there seems to be nothing that stirs up American comment like gun-control. For those living in the UK (where gun deaths are over 50 times less per capita than in the US) the whole topic is both fascinating and perplexing and there were a lot of nodding heads during Sloane’s TV rant about it being an archaic ‘Wild West’ throwback that should no longer be set in stone. (But it’s not our country any more, so you Americans can do what you like!)  

The marvelous Cinematography is by Sebastian Blenkov – the second time this gentleman has come to my attention within a month (the first time being “Their Finest“).

MS5
A gathering of enemies. The pro-gun lobbyists headed up by Dupont (Sam Waterston).

The director is Portsmouth-born Brit John Madden (“Shakespeare in Love”, “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”) and he does a great job in sustaining the tension and energy throughout the running time.  This all makes it a great shame that the film has not done well at the US box office, perhaps because ( the film was released in December 2016) the public had more than their fill of politics after a bruising and divisive election.  (I’m not sure the UK release date now – just before our own General Election – is wise either).   

But for me, this was a memorable film, and come the end of the year it might well be up there in my top 10 for the year. I’m a sucker for a good political thriller with “All the President’s Men” and “Primary Colors” in my personal list as some of my favourite ever films. If you like those films, “House of Cards” or remember fondly TV series like “The West Wing” or (for those with even longer memories) “Washington Behind Closed Doors” then I would strongly recommend you get out and watch this.

Fad Rating:  FFFFf

Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review – Alien: Covenant (2017).

Horrific Beasts and How to Avoid Them.

AC-poster

I seem to be in a bit of a minority in quite liking Ridley Scott’s last Alien outing – 2012’s “Prometheus”: a heady, if at times ponderous, theory to the origins of man. The first hour of that film is really good. But for me, what made the original 1979 film so enthralling was the life cycle of the ‘traditional’ Xenomorph aliens through egg to evil hatchling to vicious killing machine. This somewhat got lost with “Prometheus” with a range of alien-like-things ranging from wiggly black goo to something more familiar… and frankly I was confused. Some – repeat, some – of the explanation for that diversity of forms in “Prometheus” is made clearer in the sequel “Alien: Covenant”.  

AC3
The crew of the good ship Covenant. Soon to be someone less in number.

“Covenant” (named again after the spaceship at its heart) is a follow-on sequel to “Prometheus”, so it is worth re-watching it if you can before a cinema trip. At the end of that film we saw Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”) and a reconstructed android David (Michael Fassbender, “Steve Jobs“) flying off in an alien craft still loaded with its cargo of nasty alien black goo. Shaw had a mission to seek out The Engineer’s home world – named “Paradise” – to find out why after creating man they were intent on going back to finish them off with a WMD. A neat prologue has been released which documents this… here: 

We pick up the action 10 years later in a totally improbable 2104. (Give us a break writing team! [Story by Jack Paglen and Michael Green;  screenplay by John Logan and Dante Harper]. We know they won’t have got through planning permission on the third Heathrow runway by then, let alone invented interplanetary travel…! 2504, maybe!)

Daniels (Katherine Waterston, “Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them“) has just suffered a sudden bereavement (an uncredited James Franco – – blink and you’ll miss him). She has also been rudely awakened from hypersleep due to a sudden system mishap:  no, not to find Chris Pratt there like “Passengers“, but by the ship’s android Walter (also Michael Fassbender) who’s also revived the rest of the crew. While effecting repairs they receive a garbled John Denver track mysteriously beamed to them from an earth-like planet not too far away. As this might be a suitable homestead, and as spending weeks more in hypersleep is unattractive, Captain Oram (Billy Crudup, “Spotlight“) votes to check it out, against Daniels’ strong objections.  Needless to say, this proves to be a BIG MISTAKE as the new film neatly links hands with the first film.

Kick-ass… Katherine Waterston being careful not to slip in the shower.

There’s a limit to what more I can say about the film without delivering spoilers (so I have added a few more comments in the spoiler section BELOW the trailer). It’s a far more action-oriented film than “Prometheus” and has enough jump scares and gore to please most Alien fans. (In fact, it’s a surprise to me that it got a UK “15” certificate rather than an “18”:  how much more violence do you need to show in the film?)  A shower scene towards the end of the film is particularly effective and will likely put an end to relaxing shower sex for many people for good! 

It also looks visually stunning (cinematography is by Dariusz Wolski (“The Martian“, “Pirates of the Caribbean”) with location shooting in Milford Sound in New Zealand.  The special effects are also a cut-above the normal CGI with a devastated Pompeii-like city, a picture of blacks and greys, being particularly effective.

AC2
Walter knew to only travel on United Airlines flights with a well-armed guard.

In the acting stakes it is really all down to Waterston and Fassbinder. I wasn’t a great fan of Waterston in “Fantastic Beasts” – a bit insipid I thought – but here she adopts Ripley’s kick-ass mantle with ease but blends it beautifully with doe-eyed vulnerability. Some of her scenes reminded me strongly of Demi Moore in “Ghost”. Fassbinder is fascinating to watch with his dual roles of Walter and David, both slightly different versions of the same being. And the special effects around the Fassbinder-on-Fassbinder action, tending somewhat towards the homoerotic in places, are well done.

AC1
“Doctor, I’ve had a bit of a backache for a few weeks… could you take a look please?”

Unfortunately the rest of the crew get little in the way of background development, which limits the impact of the inevitable demises. They are also about as clinically stupid as the spaceship crew in “Life” in some of their actions; I guess you could put some of this down to the effects of panic, but in other cases you might see it as a simple cleansing of the gene pool in Darwinian fashion.

Also making uncredited guest appearances are Guy Pearce as Weyland (in a flashback scene) and Noomi Rapace.  

AC4
Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) has a room with a view but a minimalist view furnishings.

Music is “by” Jed Kurzel, but to be honest he does little than wrap around re-versions of the original Jerry Goldsmith classics:  not that this is a bad thing, since those themes are iconic and a joy to hear again on the big screen. 

My expectations for this movie were sky-high, as it was hinted as a return to form for the franchise. And in many ways it was, with a “man, Gods and androids” theme adding depth to the traditional anatomical-bursting gore. But to be honest, some of the storytelling was highly predictable, and I left slightly disappointed with the overall effort. If my expectations were an 11/10, my reality was more like a 7/10. It’s still a good film, and I look forward to watching it again. But perhaps this is a franchise that has really run its course now for Mr Scott and he should look to his next “Martian”-type movie for a more novel foundation to build his next movie “log cabin on the lake” on.

Fad Rating:  FFFf

Note: Red Band trailer:

Spoiler Section:  You have been warned!

There are a whole heap of holes in this story you can pick at if you try. Much of the chronology seems out of whack with earlier films (or rather, later films, chronologically).  For example, the gestation of Oram’s “baby” from conception to “birth” is a matter of minutes compared to John Hurt’s experiences. 

Although the final denouement (“Night night.  Don’t let the bed bugs bite”!) is satisfyingly chilling, the whole David/Walter twist is so obvious as to take any surprise out of it.  

As a study of David’s natural Darwinian progression (Man creates machine; machine kills creator; machine become God) it’s a good story, and his ruthless destruction of the welcoming hosts on the planet (an horrific scene of biblical proportions) is chillingly done. An Oscar nomination for Fassbinder for this role would be well deserved (though unlikely).

Finally, and as the biggest spoiler of all (did you like my cheeky comment above that Noomi Rapace is “in the film”?), am I the only one to feel particularly cheated that Elizabeth Shaw didn’t re-appear (properly) in this film? In “Prometheus” we were on the edge of our seats hoping Shaw would survive:  Would she get through the self imposed “auto-caesarian” on herself?  Would the stapling machine run out of staples like it always does for me at a crucial time in the office?  Would the big crashing alien spacecraft that she is running away from (note: at 0 degrees rather than 90 degrees – Derrr!) fall on her?  Then, one film later, “Oh, she died”!!!  Having a long haired and bedraggled Elizabeth Shaw emerging from the forest would have added a different perspective and more continuity to the film which (other than Fassbender) was rather lacking. But above all it’s a betrayal of trust by the film-makers of the past emotional investment that you as the viewer has made in the character.  This is the second time the Alien franchise has done this of course, most grievously in the first five minutes of “Alien 3” where they bumped off “Newt” – the little girl you had been willing to survive all the way through “Aliens”!  Not cool Ridley, not cool. 

Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017)

The Arthurian legend:  but with Cockneys.

ALotS - poster

So, bit difficult to describe this one… so I asked my bloke Alfie from Londinium to explain what’s it all about…

“‘Ere, OK bruv.  So this is dun by that geezer Guy Ritchie – yer know, the one that dun that Sherlock Holmes with the Iron Man geezer Robert Junior Downey, that one.  His new film is a rip-roarin’ acshun movie what retells da Arfurian legend in a novel new way.  

That Hulk bloke Eric Bana is Arfur’s farfer an’ ‘e’s ‘avin’ a few problems wiv ‘is bruvver Vortigern (Jude Law, who’s a bi’ ov a cockney ‘imself, but ‘ere speaks like a posh bloke. Know what I mean?) So ‘e (Vortigern dat is) gets some magical ‘elp from some slippery watery bints in a puddle and so ‘is dad puts ‘is God Forbid in a boat an’ sends ‘im down da river ter The Smoke ter live wiv some prozzies.  

But ‘e grows up big an’ strong an’ ‘andy wiv a sword. His friends tell ‘im ter get aaaht ov town as da King’s blokes are lookin’ fer da young geezer who would be king. An’ e says like “Scapa Flow sowf ov da river at dis time ov night. Are yew mad?”.  So e gets caught like an’ gets tested by some famous football bloke ter pull a big sword aaaht ov just a random bi’ ov stone (nod, nod, wink wink, nice twist – ssshhh!).

ALotS3
David Beckham in his movie debut. A lot of people seem to have been very cruel about it online already, but given it’s a cameo and he’s not a professional actor I didn’t think it was too bad at all.

The Vortigern bloke is very cross an’ tries to kill ‘im but ‘e gets rescued by some bird who can make birds, lol, an’ other fings do what she wants. So can Arfur beat ‘is uncle?  Gawdon Bennet, I’m not gon’a tell yew da whole darn fing! Yer’ll ‘ave ter go an’ watch i’ ter find out.”

 Thanks Alfie.  Couldn’t have said it better myself!  

ALotS5
The Liberal Democrats were hoping for a good turnout at the election rally, but this was better than Tim Farron could ever have hoped for.

The quirky style of Guy Ritchie isn’t one that you would think would translate well to the Arthurian setting, and as the film starts you tend to think you were right!  But if you give it a chance it wears you down into acceptance and then – ultimately – a lot of enjoyment.

Jude Law is deliciously evil mixed with a heavy dose of mad, and delivers the goods.

ALotS2
Oozing malevolence. Jude Law, far from his role as Pope.

Charlie Hunnam who plays Arthur (no, I hadn’t heard of him either but he was in the “Lost City of Z”) does a decent job  as the medieval hunk, although he seems at time to have taken voice coaching in ‘Olde-English’ from Russell Crowe, since the lad’s Geordie accent seems to wander from Cockney through central southern England to Liverpudlian at one point (definitely channelling a young John Lennon)! Relative newcomer, the Spanish actress  Astrid Bergès-Frisbey is effectively weird as the mage.

ALotS4
Astrid Bergès-Frisbey as The Mage. Noone ever crossed the line with her at night. (Cat’s Eyes, get it? Oh, never mind).

Particularly noteworthy (no pun intended) is the superb action soundtrack by Daniel Pemberton (“Steve Jobs“, “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.“) which propels the action really well and contains some standout moments.

Also a standout in the technical categories is the editing by James Herbert, who did both of Downey Junior’s “Sherlock Holmes” films (in a similar style) and also “Edge of Tomorrow“. The style is typified with Arthur’s growth to manhood in the streets of London which is stylishly done. 

ALotS1
The HUGE Sunday roast needed a real man to carve it, and Arthur stepped up to the plate.

I saw the film in 3D – not a particularly favourite format – but quite well done, although falls into the “trying too hard” category at times with lots of drifting embers… you know the sort.

It’s not bloody Shakespeare.  It’s not even the bloody Arthurian legend as you know it. But it is bloody good fun if you let it in. 

Fad Rating:  FFFf

Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 (2017)

Groot Expectations. 

GG2-poster

James Gunn is back writing and directing the sequel to his surprise 2014 summer hit. And it might be a fresh mix tape slammed into the Walkman, but it’s much of the same again. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing.

In terms of the story, it’s almost a remake of the worst Star Trek film ever made! However, this time its all done for ‘laffs’ and so works much, much better. We join Quill (Chris Pratt, “Jurassic World“), Gamora (Zoe Saldana, “Star Trek Beyond“), Drax (Dave Bautista, “Spectre“) and Rocket (the voice of Bradley Cooper) ‘ever ready’ (LOL) to save the priceless Anulax batteries of their current employees, the Sovereigns, from the ravages of some multi-dimensional being. ‘Helping’ them is Baby Groot, a twig off the old branch from the first film, again voiced (in what must be the easiest money in Hollywood) by Vin Diesel (“Fast and Furious 8“).

GG2-1b
Button button, who’s got the button. Baby Groot with a do or die decision.

The Sovereign’s High Priestess (Elizabeth Debicki, “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.“)  provides payment to Gamora in the form of her chained-up evil sister Nebula (a deliciously sulky Karen Gillen, “Dr Who”, “Oculus”) but is then less than impressed when the mercenary Rocket pockets a knapsack full of the batteries. So starts a chase  across the galaxy leading Quill to meet Ego (Kurt Russell, “The Hateful 8“) on the planet Ego (LOL) at the very base of his family tree.

GG2-3
Karen Gillan’s vengeful Nebula has a screw or two loose.

The great thing about these films is that they don’t even TRY to be realistic. Characters get towed behind crashing spaceships and – literally- dragged through a wood backwards; others fall hundreds of feet to certain death… no, sorry, a “superhero landing”; and planets and characters are painted with a garishness never ever to be found in nature. You’ll even believe Kurt Russell is 18 again – oh that these effects were available on the NHS! 

GG2-5b
The “incredibly ugly” Mantis (Pom Klementieff) really entertaining as the alien empath.

But the other saving grace for this film is the soundtrack, put together by Tyler Bates as an ode to the 80’s, with wonderful tracks by ELO, Fleetwood Mac, Cat Stevens and a host of others. The film matches the music with the action superbly. 

I won’t bother commenting on the acting… who cares with this sort of film!  But everyone seems to have fun with Michael Rooker (“Cliffhanger”) being particularly good in reprising his role of Yondu. There are also a wealth of memorable cameos, some of them being laugh out loud moments. While some of the pop culture references might go over a younger audience’s heads, there are still enough great one-liners and comic moments to provide general appeal. Bad guys silhouetted against the moon, ET style, was particularly memorable. 

GG2-2
A walk in the black forest. Quill, Gamora and Drax.

One criticism I would have though is that it’s just too darn long for an “action comedy”. The original film just about scraped into my good books by coming in under the two hour curfew. The sequel however adds another 15 minutes, which should have found its way either onto the cutting room floor or onto the “Blu Ray collector’s edition”. In particular, the final never-ending showdown of CGI manicness went on too long for my liking.  

GG2-4b
Yondu (Michael Rooker) facing off against Rocket (Bradley Cooper, never looking lovelier).

Looking back at the original 2014 review, I gave it a rather stingy FFF rating, which in retrospect I think was a bit mean given its novelty. This time the novelty has worn off, but if anything this is an even more enjoyable romp that the first outing. 

James Gunn be warned though:  I am unlikely to be so generous with “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3” (as threatened) which in my view might be a trip too far for this franchise. My advice would be to take a leaf out of Peter Kay’s “Car Share” book and quit while you’re ahead.

By the way, for those who are interested, the film had a reported budget of $200 million (an impressive “BvS quotient” of 80%!) and the end titles have four “monkeys“, with a humorous reprise of Stan Lee’s astronaut.

Fad Rating: FFFf.

 

Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: Their Finest (2017).

TF-poster

Keep Calm and Carry on Writing.

In a well-mined category, “Their Finest” is a World War 2 comedy/drama telling a tale I haven’t seen told before: the story behind the British Ministry of Information and their drive to produce propaganda films that support morale and promote positive messages in a time of national crisis. For it is 1940 and London is under nightly attack by the Luftwaffe during the time known as “The Blitz”. Unfortunately the Ministry is run by a bunch of toffs, and their output is laughably misaligned with the working class population, and especially the female population:  with their husbands fighting overseas, these two groups are fast becoming one and the same. For women are finding and enjoying new empowerment and freedom in being socially unshackled from the kitchen sink. 

The brave crew of the Nancy Starling. Bill Nighy as Uncle Frank, with twins Lily and Francesca Knight as the Starling sisters.

Enter Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton, “The Girl with all the Gifts“) who is one such woman arriving to a dangerous London from South Wales to live with struggling disabled artist Ellis (Jack Huston, grandson of John Huston). Catrin, stretching the truth a little, brings a stirring ‘true’ tale of derring-do about the Dunkirk evacuation to the Ministry’s attention. She is then employed to “write the slop” (the woman’s dialogue) in the writing team headed by spiky Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin, “Me Before You“).

One of the stars of the film within the film is ‘Uncle Frank’ played by the aging but charismatic actor Ambrose Hilliard (Bill Nighy, “Dad’s Army“, “Love Actually”). Catrin proves her worth by pouring oil on troubled waters as the army insist on the introduction of an American airman (Jake Lacy, “Carol“) to the stressful mix. An attraction builds between Catrin and Tom, but how will the love triangle resolve itself? (For a significant clue see the “Spoiler Section” below the trailer, but be warned that this is a major spoiler!). 

As you might expect if you’ve seen the trailer the film is, in the main, warm and funny with Gemma Arterton just gorgeously huggable as the determined young lady trying to make it in a misogynistic 40’s world of work. Arterton is just the perfect “girl next door”:  (sigh… if I was only 20 years younger and unattached!) But mixed in with the humour and the romantic storyline is a harsh sprinkling of the trials of war and not a little heartbreak occurs.  This is at least a 5 tissue movie. 

TF1
Going underground. Gemma Arterton delightful as the novice screenwriter.

Claflin, who is having a strong year with appearances in a wide range of films, is also eminently watchable. One of his best scenes is a speech with Arterton about “why people love the movies”, a theory that the film merrily and memorably drives a stake through the heart of!  

TF3
Claflin and Arterton in “Devon” (actually the picturesque Porthgain Harbour in Pembrokeshire)

Elsewhere Lacy is hilarious as the hapless airman with zero acting ability; Helen McCrory (“Harry Potter”) as Sophie Smith vamps it up wonderfully as the potential Polish love interest for Hilliard; Richard E Grant (“Logan“) and Jeremy Irons (“The Lion King”, “Die Hard: with a Vengeance”) pop up in useful cameos and Eddie Marsan (“Sherlock Holmes”) is also touching as Hilliard’s long-suffering agent. 

But it is Bill Nighy’s Hilliard who carries most of the wit and humour of the film with his pompous thespian persona, basking in the dwindling glory of a much loved series of “Inspector Lynley” films. With his pomposity progressively warming under the thawing effect of Sophie and Catrin, you have to love him!  Bill Nighy is, well, Bill Nighy. Hugh Grant gets it (unfairly) in the neck for “being Hugh Grant” in every film, but this pales in comparison with Nighy’s performances!  But who cares: his kooky delivery is just delightful and he is a national treasure!

TF5
Adding a gloss to the matte. Ambrose Hilliard getting more into Dunkirk than the director would like.

Slightly less convincing for me was Rachael Stirling’s role as a butch ministry busybody with more than a hint of the lesbian about her.  Stirling’s performance in the role is fine, but would this really have been so blatant in 1940’s Britain?  This didn’t really ring true for me. 

While the film gamely tries to pull off London in the Blitz the film’s limited budget (around £25m) makes everything feel a little underpowered and ’empty’:  a few hundred more extras in the Underground/Blitz scenes for example would have helped no end. However, the special effects crew do their best and the cinematography by Sebastian Blenkov (“The Riot Club”) suitably conveys the mood:  a scene where Catrin gets caught in a bomb blast outside a clothes shop is particularly moving.

TF4
Moving. Arterton caught in a blast.

As with all comedy dramas, sometimes the bedfellows lie uncomfortably with each other, and a couple of plot twists: one highly predictable; one shockingly unpredictable make this a non-linear watch. This rollercoaster of a script by Gaby Chiappe, in an excellent feature film debut (she actually also has a cameo in the propaganda “carrot film”!), undeniably adds interest and makes the film more memorable. However (I know from personal experience) that the twist did not please everyone in the audience! 

Despite its occasionally uneven tone, this is a really enjoyable watch (particularly for more mature audiences) and Danish director Lone Scherfig finally has a vehicle that matches the quality of her much praised Carey Mulligan vehicle “An Education”.

Fad Rating:  FFFF.

Spoiler Section – You have been warned!

The twist in this film (with Buckley’s sudden demise) is to be commended for its audacity, but perhaps hardly surprising after the ‘bike scene’ in Lone Scherfig’s previous “One Day”.  The scriptwriter Gaby Chiappe neatly sticks the knife into Buckley’s earlier speech about “why people love the movies” (to summarise – movies, unlike ‘real life’ have a story arc and if something bad happens then you know it is all part of the story and the heroes will work their way through it to ride off into the sunset together.  Or, perhaps not!). 

Many movies have had a number of memorable ‘sudden and unexpected deaths’: 

  • Bambi’s mum in “Bambi” (scarring a generation of kids for life);
  • “Ring of Bright Water” (with the trench digger and his otter encounter doing likewise for me!);
  • Brad Pitt in “Burn after Reading”;
  • Travolta in “Pulp Fiction”;
  • and not forgetting the appalling punch to the gut delivered in “Bridge to Terabithia”! 
  • (Please suggest more examples in the comments!). 

But this one adds a memorable addition to the collection, callously delivered with Arterton just standing, frozen to the spot with a look of devastated horror on her face. Unexpected and brilliant!

Unfortunately, this twist did not please my wife, who left the cinema feeling extremely cross with the filmmakers for ruining the romantic ending and making the movie ‘more like life than a movie’! 

 

Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: Sleepless (2017)

Sl-poster

A potentially good ‘B’ movie undone.

Ecclesiastes 1:9 came up with the oft used quote that “there is nothing new under the sun”. “Sleepless” proves that in spades.

  • Bent copper drama?  Check.
  • Dodgy casino owner? Check.
  • Nasty “Black Rain” style hoodlum?  Check.
  • Kidnapped teen (“I WILL find you”)?   Check.
  • Misunderstood family man?  Check.

All of these standard tropes are lobbed into the movie blender and pulsed well.

Sl2
That look you get when you get another PPI sales call.
Holding it all together are solid performances from Jamie Foxx (“Django Unchained”) as Vincent Downs, the cop with a dodgy background, and Michelle Monaghan (“Source Code”, “Patriot’s Day”) as the internal affairs cop doggedly on his trail.

Sl4
Bryant (Michelle Monaghan) with her partner Dennison (David Harbour) trying to root out the dirty cops.
In terms of the storyline it’s best to go into the film (as I did) with limited knowledge of the plot (on which more below). As the film opens, and playing out a strong anti-hero role, Downs with his equally dodgy partner are involved in a shootout at a drug deal in the streets of Las Vegas. This allows them to get their hands on a significant quantity of heroine. Naturally they pocket this, but unbeknownst to them the deal was between casino boss Rubino (Dermot Mulrooney, “The Grey”) and the vicious mafia son of the local Novak family, Rob (Scoot McNairy, “Argo”). For Downs the pressure is on when his teenage son Thomas ( Octavius J. Johnson) is kidnapped as a trade for the drugs.

Sl3
The kitchen themed gay Vegas nightclub was inspiring all the best dance moves.

The film delivers some good fight scenes and action, but nothing we haven’t seen before in countless other movies like Bourne. What drags the film down though is the scripting and direction. There are such a range of implausibilities on show here that it makes you wonder why anyone involved in the film didn’t just stop and say “WAIT A MINUTE HERE GUYS” and demand a rewrite.

For example, Foxx suffers a severe knife wound early in the film, but repeatedly bounces from ‘full action hero fighting machine’ mode to ‘staggering and holding his side’ mode without pause. The wound adds nothing but implausibility to the action, so why include it at all??

And a scene in an underground car park involving copious quantities of tear gas brought tears of embarrassment to my eyes: an affliction that didn’t seem to affect any of the protagonists in the film!  

Sl1
Yes, it’s tear gas… but not the nasty stingy sort.

This is a great shame, and writer Andrea Berloff (“Straight Outta Compton”) and Swiss-born director Baran bo Odar should have more respect for their audience’s intelligence (that’s the third movie in recent weeks I’ve made that comment on… it must be the time of year!).

It’s also extremely irritating that one of the key twists in the movie (although you may guess it) is so blatantly spoiled:  both by an audio line in the trailer (commented on below) and – more appallingly – by one of the two straplines on the posters (I haven’t used that one to head my post). Thankfully I never noticed this before I saw the film.

Fox and Monaghan are too good for the material but have screen chemistry that keeps the film watchable. I also thought Scoot McNairy was great as the cold-eyed crazy hoodlum and it’s also interesting to see Dermot Mulrooney, so memorable as the male lead in 1997’s “My Best Friend’s Wedding”, back in a mainstream role.

Sl5
My Best Friend’s bad guy. Dermot Mulrooney living the high life in the shadows.
By the way, I have no idea why the film is called “Sleepless”, other than it being based on a 2011 French film called “Nuit Blanche” which was perhaps written in a way where it made more sense.  Vincent is no Jack Bauer and he gets more than a small opportunity to catnap during the running time!

In summary, the movie is perfectly watchable for its action moments. In fact, as I *think* my wife, who is a great fan of “Die Hard, “Taken”, et al would like it I’ve added a half-Fad to my initial rating. And it’s done with some style such that it has the *potential* to be a good film – – which is frustrating.  But in my view it’s not worth the ticket price at the cinema:  wait instead for it to arrive on Amazon/Netflix.

The end of the film suggests a set-up for a sequel. I doubt this is a sequel that will ever get made.

Fad rating: FFf.

(Spoiler alert:  This is a really slickly put together trailer with great use of music, but there is a dreadful spoiler on the audio between 1:40 and 1:45 so mute it then!)