Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: The Snowman

snowman-poster

“We’re trudging through the slush”.

Unlike its animated namesake, “The Snowman” is not a good film. Frustratingly it has all the right ingredients:

snowman2
That sinking feeling when you realise you’ve been drinking all night and its too late for bed before work.

And while these elements congeal in the snow together quite well as vignettes, the whole film jerks from vignette to vignette in a most unsatisfactory way. I haven’t read the book (which might be much better) but the inclusion in the (terrible!) trailers of key scenes that never made the final cut (where was the fire for example?, the fish? the man trap?) implied to me that the director (Tomas Alfredson, “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”) and screenwriting team – Peter Straughan (also “Tinker, Tailor”), Hossein Amini (“The Two Faces of January“) and Søren Sveistrup (TV’s “The Killing”) – either didn’t have (or didn’t agree on) the direction they wanted the film to go in.

Film Title: The Snowman
Arve Stop (J.K. Simmons) and Katrine (Rebecca Ferguson) having a “Weinstein moment” at the hotel.

Nesbø (and indeed most crime writers these days) litter their work with damaged cops….  you have to question whether the detective application form has a mandatory check-box with “alcoholic and borderline psycho” on it!. This film is no exception. Fassbender plays Nesbø’s master sleuth Harry Hole: an alcoholic insomniac well off the rails between homicide cases. “If only Oslo had a higher murder rate” bemoans his boss (Ronan Vibert). He joins forces with newby officer Katrine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson), who has her fair share of mental demons to fight, in investigating a series of missing person/murder cases. The duo unearth a link between the cases – all happen when the snow starts to fall and to particular types of women, with the protagonist leaving a snowman at the scene.

snowman5
One of the cuter snowmen… they get worse… much worse.

The plot is highly formulaic – I guessed who the killer was within about 20 minutes. But what makes this movie stand out, for all the wrong reasons, is that it has one of the most stupid, vacuous, flaccid, inane, ridiculous … (add 50 other thesaurus entries)… endings imaginable. My mouth actually gaped in astonishment!

There are also a surprisingly large number of loose ends you ponder after the film ends:  why the “Snowman”‘s fixation with Harry?; what was with the “Vetlesen cleaner” subplot? How is Star Trek transportation possible in Norway? (But wait… “Telemark”… “Teleport”…. coincidence????? 🙂 )

snowman4
Val Kilmer was being employed by Oslo airport to keep the birds off the runway.

On the plus side, there is some lovely Norwegian drone cinematography – (by Australian Dion Beebe (“Edge of Tomorrow“) – that immediately made me put “travel by winter train from Oslo to Bergen” on my life-map. The music by Marco Beltrami (“Logan“) is also effective and suitably Hitchcockian.

If you like your films gory, this one is definitely for you, with some pretty graphic content that (for those who like to cover their eyes) is cut to so quickly by editors Thelma Schoonmaker (“The Wolf of Wall Street“) and Claire Simpson (“Far From The Madding Crowd“) that your hands won’t have time to leave your lap! I remember this being a feature of a previous Nesbø adaptation (the much better “Headhunters” from 2011) but here it goes into overdrive.

snowman1
One of my favourite actresses – Rebecca Ferguson, curiously playing much “younger” in this film than she appears in her previous hits.

Overall this was a rather disappointing effort that was heading for a FFf rating. But just because of that ending I’m knocking a whole extra Fad off!

Fad Rating: Ff.

(I described the trailers above as “terrible” so I’d advise you not watch it if possible before seeing the film. I’ve chosen the better (US) one below, but it still gives too many spoilers, ploughing on like a buffalo in a china shop. As I’ve ranted before, the art of ‘teaser trailers’ is becoming a lost one… sigh.)

Advertisements
Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: The Death of Stalin (2017).

Death…. Torture…. Child Abuse….  LOL??

DoS-poster

Armando Iannucci is most familiar to TV audiences on both sides of the pond for his cutting political satire of the likes of “Veep” and “The Thick of It”, with his only previous foray into directing movies being “In the Loop”:  a spin-off of the latter series.  Lovers of his work will know that he sails very close to the wind on many occasions, such that  watching can be more of a squirm-fest than enjoyment.

DoS4
Rupert Friend (centre) tries to deliver a eulogy to his father against winged opposition. With (from left to right) Michael Palin, Jeffrey Tambor, Steve Buscemi and Simon Russell Beale.

It should come as no surprise then that his new film – “The Death of Stalin” – follows that same pattern, but transposed into the anarchic and violent world of 1950’s Russia. Based on a French comic strip, the film tells the farcical goings on surrounding the last days of the great dictator in 1953. Stalin keeps distributing his “lists” of undesirables, most of who will meet unpleasant ends before the end of the night. But as Stalin suddenly shuffles off his mortal coil, the race is on among his fellow commissariat members as to who will ultimately succeed him.

DoS1
Stalin…. Going… but not forgotten.

The constitution dictates that Georgy Malenkov (an excellently vacillating Jeffrey Tambor) secedes but, as a weak man, the job is clearly soon going to become vacant again and spy-chief Lavrentiy Beria (Simon Russell Beale) and Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi) are jostling for position.  (No spoilers, but you’ll never guess who wins!).  Colleagues including Molotov (Michael Palin) and Mikoyan (Paul Whitehouse) need to decide who to side with as the machinations around Stalin’s funeral become more and more desperate.

The film starts extremely strongly with the ever-excellent Paddy Considine (“Pride”) playing a Radio Russia producer tasked with recording a classical concert, featuring piano virtuoso Maria Yudina (Olga Kurylenko, “Quantum of Solace”). A definition of paranoia in action!

DoS5
Great fingering. Olga Kurylenko as Yudina, with more than a hand in the way the evening’s events will unfold.

We then descend into the chaos of Stalin’s Russia, with mass torture and execution colouring the comedy from dark-grey to charcoal-black in turns. There is definitely comedy gold in there:  Khrushchev’s translation of his drunken scribblings from the night before (of things that Stalin found funny and – more importantly – things he didn’t) being a high point for me. Stalin’s children Svetlana (Andrea Riseborough, “Nocturnal Animals”) and Vasily (Rupert Friend, “Homeland”) add knockabout humour to offset the darker elements, and army chief Georgy Zhukov (Jason Isaacs, “Harry Potter”) is a riot with a no-nonsense North-of-England accent. 

DoS2
Brass Eye: Jason Isaacs as the army chief from somewhere just north of Wigan.

Production values are universally excellent, with great locations, great sets and a screen populated with enough extras to make the crowd scenes all appear realistic.

DoS3
Another broad Yorkshire accent: (the almost unknown) Adrian McLoughlin delivers an hysterical speaking voice as Stalin.

The film absolutely held my interest and was thorougly entertaining, but the comedy is just so dark in places it leaves you on edge throughout. The writing is also patchy at times, with some of the lines falling to the ground as heavily as the dispatched Gulag residents.

It’s not going to be for everyone, with significant violence and gruesome scenes, but go along with the black comic theme and this is a film that delivers rewards.

Fad Rating: FFFF.

 

Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017).

Vaughn and Golding cross the pond to deliver more of the same.

GC-poster

You would probably need to be living under a rock not to know that “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” is the follow-up film to Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman’s highly successful 2015 offering “Kingsman: The Secret Service”: a raucous, violent and rude entry into the spy-caper genre. And the sequel is more of the same: why mess with a crowd-pleasing formula?

GC2
Into Cambodia, and Eggsy is on another case: or rather another case is on Eggsy.

The fledgling agent Eggsy (Taron Egerton (“Eddie the Eagle“), curiously called “Eggy” at various points in the film for reasons I didn’t understand) is now the new “Galahad” following the demise in the first film of the original, played by Colin Firth (“Magic in the Moonlight“, “Bridget Jones’ Baby“). But just as he’s getting into his stride the whole Kingsman organisation, now headed by Michael Gambon (“Harry Potter”) as Arthur , is ripped apart by an evil drugs cartel called “The Golden Circle” headed by smiling but deadly Poppy (Juliane Moore, “Still Alice”).

GC4
Charlie (Edward Holcroft) getting rearmed by Poppy (Julianne Moore).

Eggsy and Lancelot (Mark Strong, “Miss Sloane“) in desperation turn to Statesman – the US equivalent organisation – and together with some surprising allies set out to defeat the evil plot to poison all casual drug users.

Subtle this film certainly is not, featuring brash and absurdly unrealistic action scenes that are 90% CGI but – for me at least – enormous fun to watch. As with the first film (and I’m thinking of the grotesquely violent church scene here) the action moves however from ‘edgy’ to “over-the-top/offensive” at times. The ‘burger scene’ and (particularly) the ‘Glastonbury incident’ are the standout moments for all the wrong reasons. I have a theory about how these *might* have come about…


One Mann’s Movies Showcase Theatre

The scene: Matthew Vaughn and Jane Golding are working “The Golden Circle” script at Goldman’s English home.

Vaughn: “OK, so Eggsy is in the tent with Clara and needs to plant the tracking device on her.”

Goldman’s husband Jonathan Ross sticks his head round the door.

Ross: “Hey Guys, I’ve an idea about that. I was on the phone to Wussell Bwand and we came up with a GWEAT idea.”

Vaughn: (rolling his eyes, mutters to himself): “Oh God, not again…”

Ross: “We thought that Eggsy could use his finger to stick the tracker right up her – ahem – ‘lady canal’ and… and… here’s the really great bit… the camera’s gonna be his finger. A camera up the muff! It’ll be weally weally funny!”

Vaughn: “But Jonathan…”.

Goldman nudges him hard.

Goldman (whispering): “Just let it go Matthew… you know what he’s like if he doesn’t get at least a couple of his ideas into the film”.


You can only hope a stunt vagina was used for this scene, else Poppy Delavigne (older sister of Cara) is going to find it very hard to find credible future work. One can only guess what tasteful interlude is being planned for Kingsman 3 – – a prostate-based tracker perhaps?

GC5
Poppy Delavigne, striking a “forward” pose in a Glastonbury tent.

The film works best when the core team of Taron Egerton, Mark Strong and Colin Firth (yes, Colin Firth!) are together. Jeff Bridges (“Hell or High Water“), Channing Tatum (“Foxcatcher“) and Halle Berry (“Monster’s Ball”) all turn up as key members of ‘Statesman’ – adding star power but not a lot else – together with Pedro Pascal (“The Great Wall“) as ‘Whiskey’…. who I expected to be someone equally famous behind the moustache but wasn’t!

There’s also a very entertaining cameo from a star (no spoilers from me) whose foul-mouthed tirades I found very funny, and who also has the funniest line in the film (playing off one of the most controversial elements of the first film). It’s fair to say though that others I’ve spoken to didn’t think this appearance fitted the film at all. 

GC4
Charlie (Edward Holcroft) getting rearmed by Poppy (Julianne Moore).

Julianne Moore makes for an entertaining – if less than credible – villain, as does Bruce Greenwood (“Star Trek: Into Darkness”) as a barely disguised Trump. None of the motivations of the bad ‘uns however support any scrutiny whatsoever: this is very much a “park your brain at the door” film.

GC1
Hanna Alström stars again as the Swedish princess Tilde: helping Eggsy to keep the British end up.

I really shouldn’t enjoy this crass, brash, brainless movie fast-food… and I know many have hated it! But my guilty secret is that I really did like it – one of the best nights of unadulterated escapist fun I’ve had since “Baby Driver”. Classy it’s certainly NOT, but I enjoyed this just as much as the original.

Fad Rating: FFFf.

Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: Blade Runner 2049

A stunning visual triumph.

Bladerunner-poster

I was a sufficient nerd to buy a “Back to the Future” T-shirt to celebrate “future day” from “Back to the Future 2” two-years ago, and I will probably be a sufficient nerd to buy a “Blade Runner” T-shirt in two-years time to celebrate the setting-date for the original film. One thing’s for sure… 2049 is never going to be long enough away to see the world of the new Blade Runner movie come to fruition:  so I look forward to ironically buying that T-shirt too (assuming I make it to 88!). But I digress.

I lived in fear of this film since it was announced… having loved the original, a sequel was always going to be a risky prospect. But my fears were slightly quelled when I learned that Denis Villeneuve (“Arrival“) was at the helm. And having now seen it I am pleasantly relieved: this is a memorable film. 

BladeRunner1
Vivid Las Vegas.
In 2049 the first-generation Nexus replicants of the original film are still causing problems, and Ryan Gosling is ‘K’ – a blade runner employed by LAPD lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright, “Wonder Woman“, “House of Cards”) to track them down and liquidate them. On one of these missions, K uncovers a buried secret that brings the LAPD into a desperate race for a pivotal prize, against replicant-builder Niander Wallace (Jared Leto, “Dallas Buyer’s Club“) and his henchwoman Luv (Sylvia Hoeks). The mission leads to K searching out his illustrious predecessor Deckard (Harrison Ford), who is not keen to be found.

BladeRunner4
Older but wiser: K finally meets up with Deckard.
Firstly (and most impressively) this is a spectacle to watch…. “I’ve seen things…”! The visuals are just gorgeous, from the junk-yards of Greater Los Angeles to the radioactive ruins of Las Vegas, vividly glowing amber to glorious effect. Hardly a surprise with Roger Deakins (“Hail Caesar“, “Sicario“) behind the camera, but Adam Heinis (“Rogue One“) and the rest of his special effects team deserve kudos for the effects never feeling overly “CGI-like”.

The music (by Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer, via a replaced Johann Johannsson) pays suitable tribute to the spirit of the original Vangelis soundtrack. (It’s curious though that “Tears in the Rain” from the soundtrack is a reworking of the Vangelis original, but Vangelis doesn’t seem to be credited anywhere! Vangelis and Ridley Scott clearly had a SERIOUS falling out!). 

BladeRunner5
Even in 2049, good looking people still get tempted by nose jobs.
On the acting front, Ryan Gosling is his dynamic self as usual!  (But here, somewhat justified). Harrison Ford is given very little screen time, but what he does do he does exceptionally well – his best performance in years.  It’s some of the supporting parts though that really appeal: Dave Bautista (“Spectre“) is just superb in the opening scenes of the film, and I particularly enjoyed Ana de Armas’s portrayal of K’s holographic girlfriend Joi. I’ve seen comment in other reviews that described this relationship as “laughable” and a downward step for “woman’s rights” compared to Villeneuve’s previous strong female characters (of Louise from “Arrival” and Kate from “Sicario“). But I disagree! I found the relationship truly touching, with Joi’s procurement of a prostitute (Mackenzie Davis) to act as a surrogate body being both loving and giving. And as regards ‘woman’s rights’, come on! Get serious! This is a holographic commercial male companion…. the “Alexa” of the future…. I’m quite sure the male version looks like Ryan Reynolds! Sex still sells, even in 2049!! 

BladeRunner3
K (Ryan Gosling) and Joi (Ana de Armas) take a car load down to the local tip.
My favourite character though was a cameo by Barkhad Abdi (“Captain Phillips“) luxoriating under the name of Doctor Badger!

I was less comfortable with Jared Leto’s dialogue which – for me at least – was barely audible. In general this film is both a challenge for those aurally challenged (with some fuzzy dialogue/effects/music mixes) and those visually challenged (with 8 point font for the on-screen text that was almost impossible to see on the cinema screen, so good luck with the DVD!).

BladeRunner2
A Joi to behold. Sometimes you just want to go large.
I really wanted to give this film 5-Fads. But I can’t quite get there.  The story – while interesting and having emotional depth – is lightweight for a film of this length (a butt-numbing 163 minutes!) and it moves at such a glacial pace that I’m ashamed to say that my mind wandered at times. (Specifically to how many different ways I could imagine harm being done to the American guy in front of me, who was constantly turning on his Apple watch and at one point (to whisperings of very British outrage!) his full-brightness iPhone!) The screenplay was by  Hampton Fancher (one of the original Blade Runner writers) and Michael Green (“Logan“, “Alien: Covenant“) but even with this track record, it’s the film’s Achilles heel. 

It’s a relief that Blade Runner revisited is not a complete disaster: quite the opposite in fact. It doesn’t quite match C-beams glittering in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate (what could)… but its a damned good attempt.

Fad Rating:  FFFFf.

 

       

 

 

Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: mother! (2017).

Welcome to the Crystal Maze.

mother-poster

Darren Aronosfsky’s mother! is like no other film you’ll see this year: guaranteed. As a film lover, an Aronosfsky film is a bit like root canal at the dentist:  you know you really need to go ahead and do it, but you know you’re not going to be very comfortable in the process.  

Jennifer Lawrence (“Passengers“, “Joy“) plays “mother!” doing up a dilapidated old house in the middle of nowhere with her much older husband “Him” (Javier Bardem, “Skyfall”).  he (sorry…. He) is a world-famous poet struggling to overcome a massive writing block. The situation is making things tense between the couple, and things get worse when He inexplicably invites a homeless couple “man” (Ed Harris, “Westworld”, “The Truman Show”) and “woman” (Michelle Pfeiffer, “Stardust”) to stay at the house. As things go progressively downhill, is mother losing her mind or is all the crazy stuff going on actually happening?

mother4
A right rib tickler… Michelle Pfeiffer turns up unexpectedly as “woman”.

Jennifer Lawrence can do no wrong at the moment, and her complexion in the film is flawless:  it needs to be, since she has the camera constantly about 3 inches from her face for large chunks of the movie:  I sat in the very back row, and I still wasn’t far enough away!  Her portrayal of a house-proud woman getting progressively more and more irritated by her guests’ inconsiderate acts  – a glass?  without a table mat??! –  is a joy to watch. As her DIY ‘paradise’ is progressively sullied my ‘man’ and ‘woman’, so her distress grows exponentially. 

mother2
Feeling a little plastered. mother! getting in touch with her inner being.

Some of the supporting acting is also superb, with Ed Harris and particularly Michelle Pfeiffer enjoying themselves immensely. Also worthy of note are the brothers played by real-life brothers Brian Gleeson and Domhnall Gleeson: the latter must never sleep since he must be *constantly* on set at the moment.  One of these guys in particular is very abel! (sic).  

mother5
Javier Bardem (ironically) restrains the omni-present Domhnall Gleeson.

Whereas the trailer depicts this as a kind of normal haunted house spookfest, it is actually nothing of the sort:  much of the action (although far-fetched) has a reasonably rational explanation (a continuation of my theme of the “physics of horror” from my last two reviews). The film is largely seen through mother!’s eyes, and the skillful cinematographer Matthew Libatique – an Aronosfsky-regular – oppressively and relentlessly delivers a uniquely tense cinematic experience.  For me, for the first two thirds of the film at least, it succeeds brilliantly.

mother3
A new kind of Eden… the house has hidden depths.

Aronosfsky is no shirker of film controversy:  having Natalie Portman perform oral sex on Natalie Portman in “Black Swan” was enough to teach you that. But in the final reels of this film, Aronosfsky doesn’t just wind the dial past 10 to the Spinal Tap 11…. he keeps going right on up to 20.  There are a few scenes in movies over the years that I wish I could go back and “unsee”, and this film has one of those: a truly upsetting slice of horror, playing to your worst nightmares of loss and despair. While the religious allegory in these scenes is splatted on as heavily as the splodges of mother!’s decorative plaster, they are nonetheless extremely disturbing and bound to massively divide the cinema audience. I think it’s fair to say that this DVD is not going to have “The Perfect Gift for Mother’s Day” as its marketing strapline.

mother1
Everyone having a wonderful time… apart from mother!

Which all leaves me… where exactly?  For the first time in a long time I actually have no idea! This is a film that I was willing to give an “FF” to while I was watching it, but as time has passed and I have thought more on the environmental and religious allegories, and the portrayal of the cult worship prevalent in popular X-factor celebrity, I am warming to it despite my best instincts not to. I’m not religious, but I would love to compare notes on this one with someone with strongly Christian views.

So, I’m actually going to break all the rules (a snake told me to) and not provide any rating below at this time. I might revisit it again at Christmas to see if I can resolve it in my mind as either a movie masterpiece or over-indulgent codswallop. 

Fad Rating:  tbc.   

Posted in Film Review

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

The undiscovered country… which they shouldn’t have returned to.

flatliners-poster

The movies have depicted the hereafter in varied ways over the years.  From the bleached white warehouses of Powell and Pressburger’s “A Matter of Life and Death” in 1946 and Warren Beatty’s  “Heaven Can Wait” in 1978 to – for me – the peak of the game: Vincent Ward’s mawkish but gorgeously rendered oil-paint version of heaven in 1998’s “What Dreams May Come”.  Joel Schmacher’s 1990’s “Flatliners” saw a set of “brat pack” movie names of the day (including  Kevin Bacon, Julia Roberts, William Baldwin and Kiefer Sutherland) as experimenting trainee doctors, cheating death to experience the afterlife and getting more than they bargained for. The depictions of the afterlife were unmemorable:  in that I don’t remember them much!  (I think there was some sort of spooky tree involved, but that’s about it!)

Flatliners3
A question answered: the afterlife is just a great big lava lamp.
But the concept was sufficiently enticing – who isn’t a little bit intrigued by the question of “what’s beyond”? – that Cross Creek Pictures thought it worthy of dusting off and giving it another outing in pursuit of dirty lucre. But unfortunately this offering adds little to the property’s reputation. 

Flatliners4
Courtney just wishing she’d gone to a private dentist instead.
In this version, the lead role is headed up by Ellen Page (“Inception”) who is a great actress… too good for this stuff.  Also in that category is Diego Luna, who really made an impact in “Rogue One” but here has little to work with in terms of backstory. The remaining three doctors – Nina Dobrev as “the sexy one”;  James Norton (“War and Peace”) as “the posh boy” and Kiersey Clemons as the “cute but repressed one”,  all have even less backstory and struggle to make a great impact. 

Still struggling to get the high score on Angry Birds: from left to right Ray (Diego Luna), Sophia (Kiersey Clemons), Marlo (Nina Dobrev), Courtney (Ellen Page) and Jamie (James Norton).
Also putting in an appearance, as the one link from the original film, is Kiefer Sutherland as a senior member of the teaching staff.  But he’s not playing the same character (that WOULD have been a bloody miracle!) and although Sutherland adds gravitas he really is given criminally little to do.  What was director Niels Arden Oplev (“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”) thinking?

flatliners5
Shock news: Kiefer Sutherland walks around a room a few times. #wIckedlyunderused.
In terms of the story, it’s pretty much a re-hash of Peter Filardi’s original, with Ben Ripley (“Source Code”) adding a few minor tweaks to the screenplay to update it for the current generation. But I will levy the same criticism of this film as I levied at the recent Stephen King adaptation of “It”:  for horror to work well it need to obey some decent ‘rules of physics’ and although most of the scenes work (since a lot of the “action” is sensibly based inside the character’s heads) there are the occasional linkages to the ‘real world’ that generate a “WTF???” response.  A seemingly indestructible Mini car (which is also clearly untraceable by the police!) and a knife incident at the dockside are two cases in point. 

Flatliners1
Marlo (Nina Dobrev) is just dying to get that thing off here head.
Is there anything good to say about this film?  Well, there are certainly a few tense moments that make the hairs on your neck at least start to stand to attention. But these are few and far between, amongst a sea of movie ‘meh’.  It’s certainly not going to be the worst film I see this year, since at least I wasn’t completely bored for the two hours. But I won’t remember this one in a few weeks. As a summary in the form of a “Black Adder” quote, it’s all a bit like a broken pencil….. pointless.

Fad Rating:  FFf.  

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.

IT2
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.

IT4
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!

IT1
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???!!”)

IT3
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”!

IT5
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”

V&A-poster

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.

V&A4
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.
V&A2
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.

V&A1
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.

V&A6
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

 

Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: American Made (2017).

Cruise Flying High Again.

AM1

If you ask anyone to list the top 10 film actors, chance is that “Tom Cruise” would make many people’s lists. He’s in everything isn’t he?  Well, actually, no. Looking at his imdb history, he’s only averaged just over a movie per year for several years. I guess he’s just traditionally made a big impact with the films he’s done. This all rather changed in the last year with his offerings of the rather lacklustre “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back” (FFF) and the pretty dreadful “The Mummy” (Ff) as one of this summer’s big blockbuster disappointments. So Thomas Cruise Mapother IV was sorely in need of a upward turn and fortunately “American Made” delivers in spades.

AM4
A quick stop in Nicaragua to pick up some paperwork from Noriega.

“Based on a True Story” this is a biopic on the life of Barry Seal, a hot shot ‘maverick’ (pun intended) TWA pilot who gets drawn into a bizarre but highly lucrative spiral of gun- and drug-running to and from Central America at the behest of a CIA operative Monty Schafer (Domhnall Gleeson). All this is completely mystifying to Barry’s wife Lucy (Sarah Wright) who is, at least not initially, allowed to be ‘in’ on the covert activities.

AM7
Flying high over Latin America.

The film is a roller-coaster ride of unbelievable action from beginning to end. In the same manner as you might have thought “that SURELY can’t be true” when watching Spielberg’s “Catch Me If You Can”, this thought constantly flits through your mind. At each turn Seal can’t believe his luck, and Cruise brilliantly portrays the wide-eyed astonishment required. This is a role made for him. 

Also delivering his best performance in years is Domhnall Gleeson (“Ex Machina“, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens“) as the CIA man with the (whacky) plan. Large chunks of the film are powered by his manic grin.

AM6
Domhnall Gleeson as the CIA man with a sense of Contra-rhythm.

As an actress, Sarah Wright is new to me but as well as being just stunningly photogenic she works with Cruise really well (despite being 20 years his junior – not wanting to be ageist, but this is the second Cruise film in a row I’ve pointed that out!)). Wright also gets my honourary award for the best airplane sex scene this decade!

AM5
“Time to pack honey”. Seal (Cruise) delivering a midnight surprise to wife Lucy (Sarah Wright) – and not in a good way.

Written by Gary Spinelli (this being only his second feature) the script is full of wit and panache and – while almost certainly (judging from wiki) stretches the truth as far as Seal’s cash-storage facilities – never completely over-eggs the pudding. 

Doug Liman (“Jason Bourne“, “Edge of Tomorrow“) directs brilliantly, giving space among the action for enough character development to make you invest in what happens to the players. The 80’s setting is lovingly crafted with a garish colour-palette with well-chosen documentary video inserts of Carter, Reagan, Oliver Stone, George Bush and others. It also takes really chutzpah to direct a film that (unless I missed it) had neither a title nor any credits until the end. 

AM2
The real Barry Seal.

The only vaguely negative view I had about this film is that it quietly glosses over the huge pain, death and suffering that the smuggled drugs will be causing to thousands of Americans under the covers. And this mildly guilty thought lingers with you after the lights come up to slightly – just slightly – take the edge off the fun.  

Stylish, thrilling, moving and enormously funny in places, this is action cinema at its best. A must see film. 

Fad Rating: FFFFf.

Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: The Hitman’s Bodyguard (2017).

A plethora of clichés.

HB-poster

2017’s summer blockbusters fizzle to a halt with this formulaic action comedy. Ryan Reynolds (“Deadpool“) plays Michael Bryce: a cocksure “Triple A rated” bodyguard, always planning three steps ahead so that he can protect his clients without killing anyone in the process. With such arrogance, a fall is inevitable. On the other side of the legal scales is Darius Kincaid (Samuel L Jackson,  “The Hateful Eight“), a contract killer who always gets his man. But the incarcerated Kincaid is offered a deal to release his equally incarcerated wife Sonia (Selma Hayek) in return for testifying against the fearsome Belarus president Vladislav Dukhovich (Gary Oldman, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”), on trial for war crimes at The Hague. An Interpol team led by Bryce’s’s ex-squeeze Amelia Roussel (the striking Elodie Yung) now have to get Kincaid to Belgium unscathed with Dukhovich’s well-trained and well-armed thugs stopping at nothing to ensure he won’t be there to testify. Fate transpires that Bryce and Kincaid become an unlikely team in trying to bring Dukhovich to justice. 

HB1
After losing your no claims bonus, hysterical laughter is the only way forwards. Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L Jackson.

This is a movie whose script seems to have been glued together from a patchwork of other movie scenes:

– the bad guy / bad guy partner relationship of “The Nice Guys“. Check.

– the street ambush of “Clear and Present Danger”. Check.

– the Amsterdam boat chase of “Puppet on a Chain”. Check.

– the comedic bar-room brawl from “Airplane”. Check.

Many of the action scenes are done with panache and some great stunt work. But it’s all stuff we’ve seen countless times before, so what is needed for differentiation is the relationships between Bryce and Kincaid: this needs to be the cornerstone of the film. But it just doesn’t quite work. Jackson’s contribution is never in doubt, even though we’ve seen this motherf-ing shtick  countless times before: he’s still magnetic, charismatic and a joy to watch. But unfortunately Reynolds just doesn’t deliver the acting goods to make the banter believable: there is a reason “Deadpool” is his best film – he wears a mask for most of it! His ‘puppy-dog look’ gets rolled out multiple times, but it’s unconvincing in the extreme. Together they are no match for Gosling/Crowe in “The Nice Guys“.

HB2
Nun but the brave. Jackson (if not Reynolds) get happy clappy.

On firmer ground is the quirky relationship between Mr and Mrs Kincaid.  Although sharing limited screen time together, Hayek and Jackson spark off each other wonderfully. Seeing Selma Hayek in uncharacteristically sweary and belligerent mode was highly entertaining (although it’s worth commenting that my wife took great offence to the ‘comic’ bullying of an overweight cellmate).

HB4
“I had to ask the guy next to me to pinch me to make sure I wasn’t dreaming” – the future Mr and Mrs Kincaid meet in a rough place… the seediest dive on the wharf.

Elsewhere in the acting roll call, Elodie Yung delivers just the right measure of cuteness, toughness and passion as Roussel, but Oldman delivers a full-on retread of his Ivan “Get off my plane” Korshunov from “Air Force One”. There is also a change to Oldman’s character’s face at the end of the film in the form of a rampant skin complaint which is ‘explained’ by a clumsily inserted news item about an “attempted poisoning”: it’s such a clunky and bizarre addition to the script that it made me wonder whether the actor has some unexpected ailment (like shingles) during filming…. but I can see nothing related to this online.  

HB3
The striking Elodie Yung as the Interpol agent Roussel.

The screenplay by relative newcomer Tom O’Connor bumps along from implausible action scene to implausible action scene, with more that its fair share of ‘WTF’ moments. For example, after a random chase through multiple Amsterdam alleys and shops, Jackson pulls up outside the very DIY shop Reynolds ends up in to pick him up! The script is also tonally uneven throughout: given this is supposed to be an “action comedy” the action is often brutal and unpleasant and the comedy – in the main – just not funny enough. (About the funniest thing in the film are the most ineffective sub machine guns known to man, most notably in the mildly ludicrous, if well staged, boat chase scene!) 

HB5
An entertaining cameo from Richard E Grant as a businessman in danger.

The film also manages to offend, in more ways than the 15-rated violence and language used: I’m not sure WHEN this movie was actually filmed, but the use of an articulated lorry as a terrorist weapon towards the end of the film is certainly in very poor taste after the events of Nice, London and Barcelona. Not appreciated.

Directed by Patrick Hughes (“The Expendables 3″…. say no more) this hodge-podge of a flick is sporadically entertaining, but is one I will struggle to remember in a couple of months time. 

Fad Rating:  FFF.

(Note: this is the red band trailer).