Posted in Film Review

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

A war vehicle running low on fuel.

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The words “Christopher Nolan” and “disappointment” are not words I would naturally associate… but for me, they apply where “Dunkirk” is concerned. 

It promised so much from the trailer:  a historical event of epic proportions; Kenneth Branagh; Tom Hardy; Mark Rylance; Hans Zimmer on the keys; the director of such classics as “The Dark Knight”; “Inception” and “Interstellar” : what could go wrong? 

But it just doesn’t work and I’ve spent the last 24 hours trying to unpick why.

A key problem for me was the depiction of the beach itself. The film eschews CGI effects – a move that I would normally approve of – in favour of the use of “practical effects” and the involvement of “thousands of extras” (as the rather glutinously positive Wiki entry declares).  Unfortunately for the movie, there were some 400,000 troops marooned in this last patch of civilisation ahead of the Nazi hoard, and all of the shots refuse to acknowledge this scale of potential human tragedy.  Yes, there are individual scenes of horror, such as the soldier walking into the sea against the impassive stares of the young heroes.  But nothing of scale.  At times I thought I’d seen more people on the beach on a winter’s day in Bournemouth!  In the absence of a co-production with China, and the provision of the volume of extras as in “The Great Wall“, CGI becomes a necessary evil to make the whole exercise believable.

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What it was really like…. one of the famous paintings by Charles Cundall (Crown copyright).
My disquiet at this deepened when we got to the sharp end of the rescue by the “small boats”. In my mind (and I’m NOT quite old enough to remember this!) I imagine a sea full of them.  A sight to truly merit Branagh’s awed gaze.  But no.  They might have been “original” vessels…. but there was only about half a dozen of them.   A mental vision dashed.  

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Did I feel a spot of rain? Looking to unfriendly skies on the River Mole.
The film attempts to tell the story from three perspectives:  from the land; from the sea and from the air.  The sea though gets the lion’s share of the film, and there is much drowning that occurs that (I am aware) was distressing for some in the audience. 

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Styles going in One Direction…. down.
Nolan also pushes his quirky “timeline” manipulation too far for an audience that largely expects a linear telling of a classic tale.  It’s day; it’s night; the minesweeper’s sailing; then sunk; then sailing again; a Spitfire crashes, then crashes again from a different perspective.  I know many in the audience just didn’t ‘get’ that:  leaving them presumably very confused! 

That being said, the film is not a write off, and has its moments of brilliance.  Kenneth Branagh (“Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit“, “Valkyrie”) – although having a range of Nolan’s clipped and cheesy lines to say – is impressive as the commanding officer. Mark Rylance (“Bridge of Spies“, “The BFG“) also shines as the captain of the “Moonstone”:  one of the small boats out of Weymouth (although here there is a grievous lack of backstory for the civilian efforts).  And Tom Hardy (“The Revenant“, “Legend“), although having limited opportunity to act with anything other than his eyes, is impressive as RAF pilot Farrier. His final scene of stoic heroism is memorable.  

Fionn Whitehead is also impressive in his movie debut, and even Harry Styles (“This is Us“) equips himself well. 

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A surfeit of horror leads to a lack of compassion. Harry Styles, Aneurin Barnard and Fionn Whitehead look on as the death toll mounts.
The cinematography by Hoyte Van Hoytema (“Interstellar“) is stunning with some memorable shots:  a burning plane on a beach being a highspot for me.

And Hans Zimmer’s score is Oscar-worthy, generating enormous tension with a reverberating score, albeit sometimes let down by unsuitable cutaways (for example, to scenes of boat loading).  Elsewhere in the sound department though I had major issues, with a decent percentage of the dialogue being completely inaudible in the sound mix.

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Kenneth Branagh, impressive as Commander Bolton RN.
I really wanted this to be a “Battle of Britain”.  Or a “Bridge Too Far”.  Or even a “Saving Private Ryan”.  Unfortunately, for me it was none of these, and this goes down as one of my movie disappointments of the year so far.

Fad Rating:  FFf.

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One Mann’s Movies: news

I’m happy to be collaborating with @veboli_en as one of their personal movie advisors.  A site that intelligently matches your film preferences to other films that you might like.  Check out this interesting new service here: veboli.com/reviews/307/film.

Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: Spider-Man – Homecoming (2017)

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When I heard the news last year that Spider-Man was going to be rebooted yet again, I was like “are you freaking serious”?  After the successful Toby Maguire trilogy (though the less said about “Spider-Man 3” the better) and the mildly successful “Amazing Spider-Man” duo with Andrew Garfield only finishing in 2014, did we REALLY need another reboot? More dramatic spider biting?  More Uncle Ben spouting then dying? The same old – same old, rewarmed in a pan with a bit of red wine added just to stop it feeling so dry and tasteless.

And I still feel the same way. I understand that its more to do with rights ownership between Sony, Marvel and Disney that this got made so quickly…. but in the words of Ian Malcolm “they didn’t stop to think if they should”. 

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He’s cross… Stark (Downey-Jnr) dressing down Spider-Man (literally).

But actually, although I still don’t really approve of it, they’ve done a pretty good job in rebooting in a different manner. I commented in my review for “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” that that first reboot was “much less earnest and quirkier than the original Tobey Maguire series, and reveling more in the fun to be had around a superhero’s schooldays.” This latest reboot moves even further along that scale, being very much more of a high-school comedy that a pure superhero flick. 

Wearing the suit this time is a far more age-appropriate Tom Holland, winner of last year’s BAFTA Rising Star award. And very personable he is too. The suit in question has been jizzed up by Iron Man (Robert Downey Jnr) – perhaps I could have rephrased that better!  Because here the Spider-Man story carries on from the brief cameo in “Captain America: Civil War” that crossed Spidey into the mainstream Marvel timeline. 

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Where it all started for this re-boot: Tom Holland as Spider-Man in “Captain America: Civil War”.

Within the high-school setting, Peter Parker’s geeky, and almost too deliberately multi-racial, gang includes his pal Ned (Jacob Batalon), very funny with a “chair guy” sequence, the unattainable Liz (Laura Harrier) as the love-interest, Betty (the excellent Angourie Rice who made such a great impression in “The Nice Guys” but didn’t really move the meter for me here I’m afraid), Flash (Tony Revolori) and best of all for me the almost horizontally laconic Michelle (Zendaya, of Shoshone heritage) – uber-cool but harbouring a secret crush on Peter.

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The young cast – from left to right, Angourie Rice, Tony Revolori, Laura Harrier, Zendaya and Tom Holland.

Chris Evans pops up for comic relief as Captain America doing motivational high-school videos.  And older viewers might want to have fun watching out for Tyne Daly:  Lacey in the old cop show “Cagney and Lacey”.

But stealing the show in the acting stakes is Michael Keaton as Adrian Toomes (aka “The Vulture”) who could for all the world be auditioning for “Birdman 2”. The well-judged thing about this villain is that he is no hyper-galactic being with superpowers, or a typical “rule the world” Bond villain, but just an ordinary Joe in search of financial profit to keep his family in the manner to which they are accustomed. I really liked that. The script (an army of people, but led by Jonathan Goldstein  and John Francis Daley, who also wrote the story) also nicely counterpoints the thin-line between the “good arms dealer” (Tony Stark) and the “bad arms dealer” (Toomes).

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Stealing weapons (and every scene): Michael Keaton as Toombes/The Vulture.

The script also very wisely leaps several months into where the reboot could have started. None of the tedious spider biting. No Uncle Ben – just a sly reference to “what Aunt May’s been through”. Now this might confuse anyone not familiar with the Spider-Man story, but the percentage of people in the Western world in that segment must be less than 2%.

There are however also significant character changes that may annoy Spider-Man devotees. Aunt May herself is no longer the frail old lady of previous depictions, but a hot and attractive middle-aged woman (AILF?) played by Marisa Tomei (who does indeed look ‘Mila Kunis‘).

Many of the action scenes are well done, with a scene at the Washington Monument being particularly exciting. It all gets rather overblown though with a later scene aboard the Avenger’s plane. And this scene sums up my problem with many of these films: the superhero characters are pretty well indestructible. You know they are. So the scenes of peril, that might thrill in an Indiana Jones, an M.I. or a Bond film, lack any sort of tension. Even when the protagonist does have a superhero on the ropes, they don’t carry on kicking the proverbial c**p out of them until they are “dead”…. they lay off so the superhero can recover and kick their ass in a few minutes time!

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Going up the Washington Monument without the aid of a lift.

The director is Jon Watts in only his third directorial outing (with only the much praised “Cop Car” to pretty up his CV).  With such a lot on his shoulders he does a good job.  

At 133 minutes its a tad over-long (I watched this in a double bill with “War for the Planet of the Apes” so my eyes afterwards were 16:9!).  But it’s a fun summer flick that both amuses and entertains.  If you have the choice between this and Planet of the Apes though for your Saturday night at the movies, I would personally choose the latter.

By the way, in terms of “monkeys” – yep, it’s a Marvel film, of course there are monkeys! One early on in the credits and another one at the end… which is actually very funny indeed.

Fad Rating:  FFFf.

Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)

Putting the “ape” in “The Great Esc-ape”.

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2011’s “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” was the one of the big movie surprises for me of that year. With staggeringly good mo-cap for the apes and a touching and memorable story it was (or would have been) a 5-Fad classic.  2014’s “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” whilst also good took a slight backward step. With “War”, the form is back almost to top notch, and this is a summer release at last deserving of the suffix “blockbuster”.

We have moved a number of years forwards from the events of “Dawn” and society as we know it has crumbled away still further: even the “Holidays are Coming” Coke lorry is no longer in service, so things MUST be bad!  We begin the film with the apes having a nice ‘Centre Parcs’ break when their reverie and cappuccinos are rudely interrupted by the attacking forces of “The Colonel” (Woody Harrelson, “Triple 9“, “Zombieland”). For The Colonel is intent on tracking down and killing ape-leader Caesar (Andy Serkis, “LOTR”).

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Brass monkey weather.

After things get decidedly personal, Caesar leaves his young son Cornelius (in a nice nod to the Roddy McDowell role in the original films) to find and kill The Colonel. So follows a “True Grit” style pursuit/revenge chase, made more similar to this analogy by the picking up of a waif-like mute girl (the excellent Amiah Miller). I found this to be a really emotional plot line, with Caesar torn between the animal drive of his revenge and his role as a leader to his whole community.

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Maurice and “friend” (Amiah Miller): I won’t name her character as this is a nice moment. in the script.

The film analogies continue as we take in a “Shining”-style winter hotel; a gritty Prisoner-of-War camp escape drama (“The Great Esc-ape”?); a barricades battle in the style of Helm’s Deep in “LOTR: The Two Towers”; and a full-on Coppola-style helicopter-based war sequence (“Ape-ocalypse now”, as graffiti in the film declares).

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Red Donkey (Ty Olsson), The Colonel (Woody Harrelson) and Preacher (an impressive Gabriel Chavarria) have Caesar where they want him. “Cooler!”

Once again, the mo-cap ability to express true emotions on the faces of the apes is mind-blowing, with Serkis again being outstanding as is Steve Zahn (“Dallas Buyer’s Club“) adding some (very funny) comic relief as “Bad Ape”.  

While Woody Harrelson is not everyone’s cup of tea (including mine), here I found him to be actually very good (“SO EMOTIONAL”!) as the half crazed dictator forcing beings he sees as less worthy than his kind to build a wall.  (That’s just SO familiar… think dammit… think….!). There’s a really cool plot twist in The Colonel’s character arc that I really didn’t see coming.  Just so cool.   

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An impressive promotional photo (with “Bad Ape” in blue on the right): but not a scene featured in the film.

Another star of the film for me was Michael Giacchino’s music which is simply awesome. Starting with a superbly retro rendition of the 20th Century Fox theme (not top of my list:  “The Simpson’s Movie” still holds that spot for me!) Giacchino decorates every scene with great themes and like all great film music some of it you barely notice. A dramatic telling by the Colonel of his back-story is accompanied by sonorous music that is similar in its power to James Horner’s classic “Electronic Battlefield” in “Patriot Games”: only when the scene finishes and the music stops do you appreciate how central it was to the emotion of the scene.  (As I sat through all of the end-titles for the music I can also confirm that – despite all the odds – there is no “monkey” at the end!) 

The script by “Dawn” collaborators Mark Bomback and (director) Matt Reeves is eventful and packs a dramatic punch particularly in the last half of the film. The talented Mr Reeves (who also directed “Cloverfield” and “Let Me In” and is in assigned to the next Ben Affleck outing as “The Batman”) directs with panache, never letting the foot come off the tension pedal.  

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Matt Reeves and Andy Serkis during filming: outstanding mocap.

On the downside, that “last half of the film” is still 70 minutes away, and whilst I appreciate a leisurely pace for properly setting characters and motivations in place, getting to those simply brilliant scenes set at “the border” is a bit of a slog that might have been tightened up and moved along a bit quicker.  Also, while talking about editing, I would have personally ended the film about 90 seconds before they did.

I saw this in 3D, but the effects are subtle at best (although there is a nice binocular rangefinder view).  In my opinion it’s not worth going out of your way to experience in 3D.  

But overall I loved this movie. The film is chock full of visual delights for film lovers (one of my favourites being “Bedtime for Bonzo” – a nice historical film reference – written on the back of a soldier’s helmet).  It’s an epic action film with a strong emotional core to the story that genuinely moved me. There may be other spin-off Planet of the Apes films to follow. But if they left this here, as a near-perfect trilogy, that would be absolutely fine by me.  

Fad Rating:  FFFFf.

Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: Alone in Berlin (2017)

Small Rebellions.

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Once again, World War II turns up another true story of quiet valour to turn into a motion picture. At a time when Trump is pontificating about so called “fake news”, here is a timely tale from history which centres on the battle against genuinely fake news: the Nazi propaganda machine. 

After losing their only son in the French campaign, Berliners Otto (Brendan Gleeson,”Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”) and Anna (Emma Thompson, “Saving Mr Banks“) turn against the regime and in repeated acts of rebellion Otto laboriously hand writes subversive postcards to leave in office blocks around Berlin.

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Resistance is futile. Otto (Brendan Gleeson) and Anna (Emma Thompson) out on a new mission.
Out to catch him is local police investigator Escherich (Daniel Brühl) but in an age before CCTV that’s no easy task and with increasing SS pressure the stakes for Escherich steadily increase. For Otto and Anna, the stress is there but both are resigned to their fate:  with their son stolen from them for an unjust cause they are an island of indifference in an unholy land. Both are ‘alone in Berlin’.

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Daniel Brühl as police detective Escherich getting more than he bargained for from the SS.
After 70 years it still chills the blood to see German locations decked out in Nazi regalia, but one of the joys of this film is this rendering of life in wartime Berlin: starting with jubilation at German progress prior to D-Day and turning to despair and genuine danger as the tide turns towards 1945. In a pretty bleak film there are touches of black comedy now and then: Otto’s carpentry company is being encouraged “by the Fuhrer” to double and triple their output… of coffins. 

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A (very clean) Berlin, decked out with Nazi regalia.
More joy comes from the star turns of Gleeson and Thompson, both of who deliver on their emotionally challenging roles. Gleeson in particular makes a very believable German with a sour demeanor and a steely determination. But the star acting turn for me goes to the wonderful Daniel Brühl (“Rush“) as the tormented police detective, bullied into an ethical corner by the SS. The finale of the film – whilst not seeming quite believable – makes for a nicely unexpected twist.

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The Nazi Womens’ League out on another fund-raising sweep, providing Thompson with one of her best scenes in the film with an Oberführer’s wife.
Based on a novel by Hans Fallada, the lead writing credits for the piece are shared between Achim von Borries and the director Vincent Perez – in a rare directorial outing for the Swiss actor. The script exudes a melancholic gloom and at times expresses beautifully both the grief and love shared by this older couple. But some of the dialogue needs more work and we don’t see enough of Thompson in the early part of the film where her motivations should be being developed. This rather comes down to a lack of focus by the director. While the primary story of the card distribution is slight, it is compelling and a detour into a sub-story about an old Jewish lodger living upstairs is unnecessary and detracts from the overall story arc. I would have far preferred if the running time had been a tight 90 minutes just focused on Otto’s mission. One final comment on the script:  did I mishear that Anna claimed to have a 6 year old child during an air raid scene? I know Emma Thompson looks great for her age, but…. 

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Otto and Elise Hampel – the real life characters on which the film’s Otto and Anna Quangel were based.
I can’t finish this without commending the beautiful piano score of Alexandre Desplat. From the first note I knew it was him – he has such a characteristic style – and his clever use of the score complements the film exquisitely. “Small” films like this tend to rather disappear into the woodwork for Oscar consideration, but here’s a soundtrack that I think should be considered: (but what do I know… when “Nocturnal Animals” wasn’t even nominated in one of the Oscar crimes of the century!).

In summary, I found this a thoughtful and thought-provoking film, that – despite some of the mean reviews I’ve seen – I thought was well crafted and with excellent production design by Jean-Vincent Puzos (“Amour”).  It will be particularly appreciated by older audiences looking for an untold story from the war, and by all lovers of fine acting performances by the three leads.  

Fad Rating:  FFFf.

Trailer Spoiler warning:  I thought this was a really nicely made and spoiler-free trailer that gets the sense of the film over really well.  Then with a few poorly chosen shots in the last 20 seconds it shows too much of its hand.  I haven’t made a “One Mann’s Movies” special trailer of this… but you know where the stop button is!