Posted in Film Review

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

IT… didn’t really float my boat.

IT is based on the Stephen King novel, and tells the disturbing recurring events that happen within the town of Derry in Maine. Kids keep disappearing and sightings of a spooky clown, other visitations and red balloons occur. A group of bullied high school kids – one directly impacted by the disappearances – work to get to the bottom of the supernatural goings on. (Fortunately they don’t have a dog called Scooby).

I had in mind that with the disturbing and dangerous “clowning around” that happened in the summer of 2016 that this film had been shot a while ago and the release delayed until now for fear of adding ‘clown-flavoured fuel’ to the fire. But it appears that filming only completed in September of last year, so that appears not to be the case.

Pennywise having a ‘drains up’ with young Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott).

The film starts memorably and brutally with the “drain scene” from the trailer. And very effective it is too. “Great!” you think… this is a spookfest that has legs! Unfortunately, for me at least, it all went downhill from there. The film really doesn’t seem to know WHAT it’s trying to be. There are elements of “Stand By Me”; elements of “Alien”; elements of “The Conjuring”, all thrown into a cinematic blender and pulsed well.

The most endearing aspects of the movie are the interactions of the small-town kids, with this aspect of the film bearing the closest comparison with J.J. Abrams’ “Super 8”. This is carried by the great performances of the young actors involved, with Jaeden Lieberher (so memorable in “Midnight Special”) as Bill; Jeremy Ray Taylor (“Ant Man”) as Ben (‘the chubby one’); and Finn Wolfhard, in his big-screen premiere and sporting an absurd set of glasses, as the wise-cracking Ritchie.

Movie night, about to turn scary. The young and talented acting team, with Jaeden Lieberher as the projectionist.

Standout for my though was the then 14-year old Sophia Lillis as Beverly (the nearest equivalent to the Elle Fanning role in “Super 8”). This young lady has SUCH screen presence, reminiscent of Emma Watson in the Harry Potter films. I think she is a name to watch!

Sophia Lillis mesmeric as Beverly.

While commenting on the acting I do need to acknowledge Bill Skarsgård (“Atomic Blonde” and son of Stellan Skarsgård) who is creepily effective as Pennywise the clown.

Having a film that just centred on the pubescent interplay between the youngsters and their battles against the near-psychopathic school bully Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton, “Captain Fantastic”) would have kept me well-entertained for two hours. However, in the same way that the hugely over-inflated Sci-Fi ending of “Super 8” rather detracted from that film, so the clown-related story popping up all the time just irritated me to distraction. (“WILL YOU JUST FECK OFF AND LEAVE US TO FIND OUT WHO BEVERLY GETS OFF WITH???!!”)

Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton) gets the point via the US Mail.

While the film has a number of good jump-scares, a lot of them – especially those with excessive use of CGI – just don’t really work. There are normally no “outcomes” from the scares. It’s all a bit like a ghost train where the carriage rounds a corner, something jumps out, and then the carriage moves on round the corner again! What makes a great horror film is where the “science” of the horror is well thought through. “Alien” was an exceptional example of that, where the science wasn’t just “physics” but also “biology”. Here (and I’m not sure whether this is true to the book… this is one of Stephen King’s I haven’t read) there seems to be no rules involved at all. Things happen fairly randomly: shape-shifting and effects on physical objects happen with no rational explanation; the kids can see things adults can’t see. (Why?). In fact the “adults” – the usual mix of Stephen King dysfunctional small-town crazies – seem to have no significant part in the story at all. It’s all like some lame teenage fantasy where actions (a number of individuals in the story meet their demise) seem to carry no legal consequences whatsoever. I half expected Bill to wake up – Dallas style – at the end and realise it had all been an “awful dream”!

Beverly in her audition for “Titanic 2: The Sequel”

In particular, the denouement is highly dissatisfying. An opportunity for a (very black) twist in the plot is discarded.  Pennywise the clown’s departure is both lame and unconvincing. And there are numerous loose ends that are never properly tied down (what was that “floaters descending” dialogue about?…. it was just never followed through!).

It’s not all bad though. The location shoots in Bangor, Maine and the Ontario countryside are all beautifully rendered by cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung  (“Stoker”) and where the film clicks with the young cast it clicks well and enjoyably. I just wish that the overall film wasn’t just such a jumbled-up mess. Blame for that must lie with the screenwriting team and director Andy Muschietti (“Mama”). I’m going to give it a kicking in my rating, since with all the marketing build-up it was certainly a disappointment. I see though that at the time of writing that this film sports an unfathomably high imdb rating of 8.0/10 so I’ll acknowledge that somebody must have seen something more in this than I did!!

Fad Rating:  FF.

Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: Victoria and Abdul (2017).

“And the Oscar goes to…. Dame Judi Dench”


As we crawl out of the (largely disappointing) summer movie season, the first of the serious award-contenders hoves into view. Victoria and Abdul tells the untold story of a hushed-up relationship between an aged Queen Victoria (Judi Dench, “Philomina“, “Spectre“) and her Indian servant, Abdul Kareem (Ali Fazal).

Kareem is shipped to England from Agra to deliver a ceremonial coin to the Queen on the occasion of her Diamond Jubilee, together with a grumbling ‘stand-in tall guy’ Mohammed (Adeel Akhtar, “The Big Sick“, “Four Lions”). Kareem finds the Queen as sour, depressed and acidic as her post-Albert reputation would have you imagine. But something clicks between the two, and pretty soon the perked-up queen is learning Urdu and all about the Koran, much to the horror of her successor Teddy, the Prince of Wales (a splendid Eddie Izzard, “Oceans 13”) and the rest of the royal household, who try desperate measures to derail the relationship.

Eddie Izzard, excellent as the Prince of Wales.

This film is a complete delight. I went along without great expectations…. a ‘worthy film’ I thought I should go and see to write a ‘worthy review’ about. But I was entranced from beginning to end. It’s probably best described as a comedy drama… always a difficult trick for a movie-maker to pull off. But here in the competent hands of director Stephen Frears (“Florence Foster Jenkins“) the comedy is both very, VERY funny, with the drama also being extremely moving. And crucially the transition between the two never feels forced.

I’ve seen a few critical comments that the film’s underlying topic – the subjugation of the Indian state and the queen’s role in that – is a “serious topic” and not a suitable topic for a comedy like this. And of course, “the Empire” is a terrible legacy that the British people have around their necks in the same manner as Germans have their Nazi past and the American South have their history of slavery. But the film never really gets into these issues in any depth: Abdul’s background, whilst sketchily drawn and feeling rather sanitised for the late 1800’s, is one of a middle-class Indian with a decent colonial job: someone shown respect by his British managers.

The real deal: an 1885 photo showing the real Abdul and Victoria processing “the boxes”.
While the “uprising” of Muslims is mentioned – indeed it’s a key part of the story – Victoria’s lack of knowledge of such things, or indeed of all things to do with the country she is ‘Empress’ of, is made clear. The focus of the film is quite rightly on the understandable scandal (for the day) of the queen of England (and hence head of the Church of England) having a spiritual teacher (or “Munshi”) who is neither white nor Christian. If there is a criticism to be made of the splendid script by Lee Hall (“War Horse”) it is that the racial references, and there are a few, feel rather over-sanitised given the tensions that erupt as the story unfolds.
Putting Scotland cinematically on the map. Even with the storm clouds in the background and a lack of midges, it looks gloriously inviting.

Above all, this is an acting tour de force for Dame Judi, reprising her role as the elderly queen from “Mrs Brown” which (shockingly!) is now 20 years old. I know its early in the season to be placing bets, before having seen any of the other major contenders, but Dench’s “insanity” speech screams “Oscar reel” to me. Her performance is masterly from beginning to end.

Rather overshadowed by Dench is the relative newcomer to western cinema Ali Fazal (he had a role in the “Furious 7” film). But his performance is almost as impressive, bringing the warmth and compassion to the supporting role that is so sorely needed if the overall balance of the film is to be maintained.

Also driving tourist business to Osborne House on the Isle of Wight: Dench and Fazal talk curries.

The supporting cast is equally stellar with Olivia Williams (“An Education”, “The Sixth Sense”) acidic as Baroness Churchill; Simon Callow (“Four Weddings and a Funeral”) as Puccini; Michael Gambon (“Harry Potter”) as Lord Salisbury and Tim Pigott-Smith as Henry Ponsonby, head of the royal household. This was Pigott-Smith’s final live-action performance before his untimely death at the age of only 70 in April of this year: and it’s sad to say that he really doesn’t look well in this film.

The late Pigott-Smith, in his last movie Highland fling.

Also of note is Fenella Woolgar as lady’s maid Miss Phipps, comical as a the quivering wreck holding the shortest straw in having to face up to her ferocious mistress.

Another star of the show is the Scottish countryside, ravishingly photographed by Danny Cohen (“Florence Foster Jenkins“, “Room“) with this film probably doing more for the Scottish Tourist Board than any paid for advertising could ever do!

As the film comments it’s “Based on a True Story… Mostly”, and this tease of a caption both infuriates and intrigues in equal measure.  I may feel obliged to delve into the original source material by Shrabani Basu to learn more.  

Overall this is a breathtakingly delightful film, perfectly balanced, brilliantly acted I would say this is a “must see” for any older viewers over the age of 50 in need of a cinema outing that doesn’t disappoint. This is everything that (for me) “Viceroy’s House” should have been but wasn’t. Highly recommended.

Fad Rating: FFFFF