Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: Atomic Blonde (2017)

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A Nuclear Blast of a Movie.

Ever wanted to know how many punches and kicks a Russian thug can take and still get up again?

Ever wanted to find a place to store your keys so you won’t ever lose them?

Ever wanted a perfect chat-up line at a bar?

Ever wanted to see Charlize Theron naked in an ice bath? (This is – ahem – a rhetorical question!). 

This film provides the answers! 

Atomic Blonde lives up to its name by being a blast of violent action from beginning to end. What rather let the air out of the James Bond franchise’s sails in the late 80’s was Glasnost, the fall of the Iron Curtain and with that all of the cold-war related plots. Atomic Blonde sensibly avoids all such problems by pitching the action into Berlin in late 1989, with uprising and wall-falling being an integral part of the plot.

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Just don’t call her a ho…. when the girl comes equipped with a hose and knows how to use it.

Ms Theron (“Mad Max: Fury Road“; “The Fate of the Furious“) plays Lorraine Broughton who sounds like she should be a librarian in Milton Keynes, but is actually a top super-spy for British Intelligence. A renegade Stasi officer, codename Spyglass (Eddie Marsan, “Their Finest“), has got a hold of a comprehensive list of the West’s operatives (like the ‘NOC list’ in “Mission Impossible”) and wants to use it to get his family out of East Berlin. Anyone and everyone is after the list including the Russians (the sadistic Aleksander Bremovych, Roland Møller), the French (sultry Delphine Lasalle, Sofia Boutella (“Kingsman: The Secret Service“)), the British (MI6’s po-faced Eric Gray, Toby Jones (“Hitchcock“)) and the CIA (a well-bearded Emmett Kurzfeld, John Goodman (“Patriot’s Day“)).  All will stop at nothing to get it.  In addition, with such a valuable asset in play, individuals are also not necessarily batting for their country’s best interests and cross and double-cross is rife. As James Faulkner (“Bridget Jones Baby“) playing the the British MI6 chief “C” (and “we know what that stands for”) comments – – “Trust nobody”.

Central to the intrigue is “our man in Berlin” David Percival (James McAvoy, “Split“, “X-Men: Apocalypse“, having great fun) who has rather “gone native” in burying himself in the Berlin underworld to get things done by unorthodox means.

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Berlin, November 1989. Lorraine (Theron) and Percival (McAvoy) out to catch the graffiti artist… there’s just so much wall to patrol though!

In true Bond or Bourne style, a lot of the action is ludicrously unbelievable. If I stub my toe I am hopping around for five minutes:  there is no way a body can take the sort of abuse metered out in this film!  But it’s all good dirty fun, and Charlize Theron is a force of nature in the movie, becoming (no doubt) a lesbian icon for the ages. 

Also excellent in his normal quiet sort of way is Eddie Marsan: an actor who nearly always plays supporting, rather than leading, roles, but always delivers with excellence. Here as “Spyglass” he continues to impress as a man caught in the middle. 

Sofia Boutella is also far better here than she was in the woeful “The Mummy“, restoring some acting credibility. 

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“I’ve been wanting to ask you a question”. Sofia Boutella, great as the sultry French mademoiselle.

The nuclear reactor at the heart of the film is the screenplay by Kurt Johnstad (“300”), based on a graphic novel by Antony Johnston called “The Coldest City”, which rockets along almost without pause and includes twists and turns almost to the final frame. As suggested above, the only fault with the complex script is that some of the action scenes stretch credibility to breaking point.  This sometimes threatens to turn tension to inappropriate laughter at the absurdity of it all. What’s clear though is that Theron must have trained for many months though to be able to execute some of the moves she does, in some of the most impressively choreographed fight scenes since the Bourne movies. It might all be movie play acting, but I would suggest all the same that this is not a lady anyone should consider trying to mug in a dark alley!

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Note just a pretty face. Charlize Theron knowing that she gave as good as she got with the bad guys.

The direction is by ex-stuntman David Leitch, and this is his feature film debut (although he did direct some second unit stuff on “John Wick”). He must have been delighted to have such an impressive team of A-listers to work with.  He does a good job too, with many of the shots and graphics having a panache that drags the film out of its potential B-movie status.  At times though, some of the stylization rather smacks of ‘trying to hard to be cool’.

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Trustworthy eyes? The ever-excellent John Goodman as the CIA chief Kurzfeld.

Another key contributor to the film is music coordinator Tyler Bates who pulls off the same trick as he did with “Guardians of the Galaxy” by stuffing the film full of late ’80s classic tracks.  Bowie, Queen, Depeche Mode, George Michael, Nena – all make an appearance. It’s also the second film this year to feature the Flock of Seagull’s song “I Ran” (for ten points, for the first to comment, what was the first???).  

For those who revel in high octane violent action of the “Taken” variety, with much bad language throughout, it all adds up to a great escapist night at the movies.  The ladies I went with were trying to edge UP my rating below…. so boys,  it turns out that this is possibly a chick flick after all… fill your knee-length boots!

Fad Rating:  FFFF.  

 

 

Posted in Film Review

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

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The Detroit Sinners.

Katheryn Bigelow’s new film should make you angry. It made me angry. As this year’s Selma (on steroids) the film is an ode to how incidents can get out of hand: at a macro level we see how a stubbornly chained-up door triggers a series of riots 50 years ago that reduced the ‘Motor Town’ to a war zone; at a micro level we see how a childish prank turns into a terrifying ordeal for the guests of the Algiers Motel.

While I was aware of the historical context of the Detroit riots, the Motel incident was new to me. How accurate is the film? Not very, from the many comments made online and from diversions in the story to what’s reported on the ‘official’ wiki page. But what’s clear is that the facts of what occurred have been refracted through the multiple lenses of the police, the victims, the state police, the troopers and the legal teams arguing those facts. So no one can be sure anymore. 

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Things getting out of hand. Detroit lights the blue touch paper.

Bigelow – particularly as a white women – is brave to make this film. You would like to think that, after 50 years, American society has ‘grown up’ somewhat but, after the recent police-on-black incidents in places including Ferguson, Baltimore and Charlotte, that is clearly not the case. So this is a rather incendiary picture:  as a white liberal, I was angry; as a black person I would be furious. This hardly pours ‘oil on troubled waters’. 

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Under pressure from ‘the force’: John Boyega.

But enough of the political context: what’s the film like? The answer is tense: very tense!

The riots are wonderfully staged with masterful cinematography (by Barry Ackroyd, “The Hurt Locker”, “Captain Phillips“) that blends filmed footage with documentary footage (cleverly upscaled for the big screen) such that you often can’t see the seams. Once in the annex of the motel the film becomes grippingly claustrophobic as the racist cop Krauss (Will Poulter) becomes the king – no, the dictator – of all he surveys. Here the film editing and sound design is superb, and it would be astonishing if these disciplines are not up for Oscars for this work. 

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Did he just slip in the shower? Nope… Acting talent in the form of Krauss (Will Poulter) and Larry (Algee Smith).

It is difficult to single out specific acting performances, since this is a fine ensemble performance (a One Mann’s Movies award prediction:  the The Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture). But I will reference a few: unknown Algee Smith owns the role of Larry Reed – lead singer of Motown group ‘The Dramatics’ – showing how the events of the night sapped his enthusiasm for life; Jack Reynor extends his impressive CV (after “Sing Street” and “Free Fire“) as the most hapless of Krauss’s cronies; and John Boyega (“Star Wars: The Force Awakens“) delivers a Poitier-level of screen presence as fish-out-of-water security guard Dismukes. A mid-film twist in the film concerning his character (at least as written and portrayed) delivers a powerful kick to the gut that Boyega acts beautifully.

But the starring role goes to Poulter as the malignant police officer Krauss. With a resume as diverse as “Son of Rambo”, “We’re the Millers” and “The Revenant“, Poulter is making it into the top tier of young movie actors. As Krauss he is 100% believable.

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Thuggish hencehmen – Flynn (Ben O’Toole) and Demens (Jack Reynor).

I loved the first two thirds of the film: gripping, thought-provoking and scary, but with entertaining elements of the Motown scene, through the eyes of ‘The Dramatics”, thrown in to add humanity and context. If it had finished then, I would have been happy:  FFFFF, no problem. Unfortunately Bigelow and her standard screenwriter Mark Boal (“The Hurt Locker”, “Zero Dark Thirty”) rather over-egg the pudding in the final reels, making the film over-long and undoing some of the previous good work. The film sprawls into multiple different areas including courtroom scenes, mourning  families (introducing brand new characters), a Larry Reed story and related Dramatics fall-out, with only the latter storyline being really welcome.

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The Dramatics in action.

This is an important film, and will no doubt feature strongly in the Awards season.  It is also, notwithstanding its flaws, a very good film that was a hard watch but impressive. Recommended.

Fad Rating:  FFFF.

Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Special for “The Alfred Hitchcock Blogathon”: Rear Window (1954)

“Hmm… must have splattered a lot”.

Maddy at Maddy Loves Her Classic Films is hosting The Alfred Hitchcockblogathon. A fine idea, celebrating the life and works of the “Master of Suspense”. My contribution comes from his 1954 masterpiece “Rear Window” starring James Stewart and Grace Kelly.  

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In one pan around his small apartment, and without a word of dialogue required, Hitchcock deftly fills in all the back-story you need: Stewart plays ace photo-journalist L.B. Jefferies, laid up from jetting the world to worn-torn regions by a broken leg in a full-cast with only his courtyard view to entertain him. In sweltering summer temperatures all the apartments are open to the elements, so he can be well entertained by the menagerie before him: “Miss Torso”, the scantily-clad and frequently showering ballerina; a sculptress with an eye towards Henry Moore; a struggling composer (who has his clock wound by someone very familiar!); a newly-wedded bride threatening to wear out the groom; a salesman and his bed-ridden wife; a dog-loving and balcony-sleeping couple; and “Miss Lonelyhearts” – a hard-drinking spinster forced to create imaginary male dinner-guests.

Stewart plays his usual ‘Mr Ordinary’ watching perfectly ordinary goings on in a perfectly ordinary apartment block.  

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Voyeurism with the right equipment. James Stewart looking out of the rear window.

Or not.  Jefferies is drawn to some odd-events in the apartment of the salesman (Raymond Burr, still 13 years before his career-defining role in TV’s “Ironside”). His rampant suspicions infect not only his cranky middle-aged physiotherapist Stella (Thelma Ritter) but also his perfect (“too perfect”) girlfriend, the fashion expert Lisa (Grace Kelly). Of course his police friend Doyle (Wendell Corey) is having none of it… there is no evidence of any crime being committed. And the “murdered” wife has been seen being put on a train by her husband, and is sending him letters from the countryside.

Is Jefferies just going stir-crazy? Or is there really something to it?     

The set for this film is masterly. Although depicting a genuine location in New York’s Greenwich village the huge set was constructed on the Paramount lot in Hollywood, and you can just imagine the army of carpenters and artists building the multi-layered structure. 

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One of the stars of the show. The amazing Paramount set.

It’s one of the stars of the film, allowing for a wealth of detail to be populated: in the apartments; in the street behind; even in the cafe over the other side of the street. And it’s this detail that really makes what could be a highly static film come alive. There are a half dozen films-within-the-film going on at once, with Stewart’s character – and you as the fellow-voyeur – having a multi-pass to watch them all simultaneously.

And watch he does. As what could be perceived as a seriously pervy character – something he is called out on by Stella – Jeffries gets to see an eyeful in particular of the shapely and scantily-clad ballerina (Georgine Darcy, agent-less and only paid $350 for the role!).  These scenes must have been deemed quite risque for the year of release.  

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Risque for the time. Georgine Darcy more than earning her fee.

Where the film rather falters is in the bickering romance between Stewart and Kelly. As a hot-blooded man, I will declare that even today Kelly’s first dream-like appearance (with Vaseline lightly coating the lens) is breathtaking. She’s just the ‘girl-next-door’: if you live next to a palace that is! And yet (with Kelly 21 years Stewart’s junior) she’s just “too perfect” for L.B. , who feels (against her protestations) that she’s ‘too girly’ to hack the life of a war photographer on the road. The mysogeny, common for the day, is gasp-making:  “If a girl’s pretty enough, she just has to ‘be'” intones Stewart, to no howls of protest or throwing of saucepans!  In fact Kelly is greatly encouraged:  “Preview of coming attractions” purrs Kelly, flaunting what she has around the apartment in a negligee.  

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A vision of loveliness… Ice Queen Grace Kelly feeling underappreciated.

These scenes though are rather overlong and somewhat get in the way of the murder mystery plot-line. Things really start to warm up when a death occurs, to piercing screams in the night:  “Which one of you did it?” shouts a woman to the neighbourhood, as everything – momentarily – stops. “WHICH ONE OF YOU DID IT?”.  Given your emotional involvement in the ongoing voyeurism, it’s hard as a viewer not to feel discomforted…. (“well, it wasn’t me”…. shifts uneasily in the seat).

From then on, Hitchcock proceeds to pile on suspenseful jolt after jolt, with first Lisa and then L.B. placed in harms way. While the perpetrator may seem clueless and incompetent, as most murderers of passion probably are, the denouement is satisfying, with a great trial use of green-screen ‘falling’ that would be perfected by Hitchcock for “Vertigo” four years later.  

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Raymond Burr as the menacing Lars Thorwald.

What’s curious for such as classic is that there are a number of fluffed lines in the piece: with two notable ones by Stewart and Kelly. Hitchcock was the master of long and uninterrupted takes, but did he not believe in re-shooting scenes when such errors occurred?  Most odd.

Although tighter and more claustrophobic that some of his better known films, this is a firm favourite of mine. If you’ve never seen it, its well worth you checking out.  

Fad Rating:  FFFFf.  

Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: 47 Metres Down (2017)

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Down Down, Deeper and Down.

It’s summer again;  it’s a shark movie.  Lisa and Kate are two sisters on holiday in Mexico with one grieving a lost relationship and the other looking for fun.  Against their better judgement they go shark cage diving 5 metres below a vessel that looks like it should have been in the salvage yard 20 years ago.  After a mechanical failure the cage plummets down to the sea bed….. (Go on, how deep? Have a guess.  Go on, go on, go on …)

With sharks circling and air running low, will the girls survive their ordeal?  

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Safer on the beach. What a holiday should be about.
Last year, one of the surprise movies of the year for me was “The Shallows“, which I really enjoyed.  A tense, well made yarn held together by a solid performance by Blake Lively and with a genuine escalation of tension (albeit let down by a poor ending). 

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“OK”? Erm, there’s still time to think again.
“47 Metres Down” differs from that film in three major respects:  B-movie acting, from Mandy Moore and Claire Holt (with Holt being significantly better than Moore); a screenplay by Johannes Roberts and Ernest Riera that is both ponderous and unbelievable; and dialogue that is at times truly execrable.  

The film really takes its time to get to the ‘sharp end’ (as it were).  Once there, the actions of the girls are so clinically stupid that they are deserving of Darwin Award nominations. Fortunately, the IQs of the sharks (well realised as CGI by Outpost VFX) are only marginally greater:  the sharks will appear and then go away for ten minutes at a time, just so that the implausible plot can progress unmolested.

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One good thing about the film is the photo-realistic shark CGI. Spielberg would have given his right arm (bad metaphor) for this 40 years ago.
These films always need an escalator for the tension:  in “The Shallows” it was the rising tide; in this film it is the air supply.  This element works well and adds an additional element of claustrophobia to the film that is already at 11 on the scale (you surely don’t need me to tell you that claustrophobics need to avoid this film!). 

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Cage fighting for their lives.
Much of the dialogue is expository regarding what is going on in the darkness and is so repetitive (“We ARE going to get out of here Kate!”) that it would make a good drinking game.  The worst dialogue award though goes to Matthew Modine (“Memphis Belle”) who’s repeated medical descriptions of “the bends” becomes mildly comical – I literally got a fit of the giggles at one point.

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#panic. Lisa goes a bit deeper than originally intended.
I’m not going to completely savage the film though, since there IS a nice twist to the ending, albeit one that’s heavily signposted.  And instead of reaching constantly for the classic “Ben’s head in the boat” jump scare, the film occasionally teases the audience with set-ups that ultimately just feature murky water and nothing more. 

My recommendation:  if you’ve not yet seen “The Shallows”, check that out on DVD and give this one a miss.

Fad Rating:  FFf.

Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: The Big Sick (2017).

Just what the doctor ordered: a charming and thoughtful summer comedy.

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Romance and comedy work together beautifully on film:  love is innately ridiculous after all!  But mix in a dramatic element – particularly a serious medical emergency – to a Rom Com and you walk a dangerous line between on the one hand letting the drama overwhelm the comedy ( “Well!  I don’t feel like laughing now!”) and on the other hand diverging into shockingly mawkish finger-down-the-throat sentimentality. Fortunately the new comedy – “The Big Sick” – walks that line to perfection.

Kumail Nanjiani plays (who’d have thought it?) Kumail, a Pakistani-born comic-cum-Uber-driver struggling to get recognised on the Chicago comedy circuit. His performances mix traditional stand-up at a club with a rather po-faced one-man show where he explains at length the culture of Pakistan (Naan-splaining?), including intricate detail on the fielding positions and strategies of cricket. Kumail is heckled during a show by the young and perky Emily (Zoe Kazan, the middle daughter from “It’s Complicated”).  Lust blossoms (mental note: stand up comedy seems a fabulous strategy for picking up women) and lust turns to romance as the pair grow closer to each other.

A surging romance. Uber gets love from A to B.

Unfortunately Kumail is aware of something Emily isn’t: his strictly Muslim parents Sharmeen and Azmat (Anupam Kher and Zenobia Schroff) believe in arranged marriages to ‘nice Pakistani girls’ and a relationship with – let alone a marriage to – Emily risks disgrace and familial exile.  A medical crisis brings Kumail further into dispute, this time with Emily’s parents Beth and Terry (Holly Hunter and Ray Romano).

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Emily’s parents, played by Ray Romano and Holly Hunter.

Stand-up is, I assert, a very nationalistic thing. It is a medium hugely dependant on context and while I’m sure great British comics like Peter Kay and Eddie Izzard might rate as only a 4 or a 5 out of 10 for most Americans, so most American stand-up comics tend to leave me cold.  And perhaps it’s also a movie-thing, that stand-up on the big screen just doesn’t work well?  Either way, the initial comedy-club scenes rather left me cold. (And I don’t think most of them were SUPPOSED to be particularly bad – since they seemed to fill the seats each night).  As a result I thought this was a “comedy” that wasn’t going to be for me.

Stand up and be counted. Kumail Nanjiani doing the circuit.

But once Nanjiani and Kazan got together the chemistry was immediate and palpable and the duo completely won me round. Kazan in particular is a vibrant and joyous actress who I would love to see a lot more of: this should be a breakout movie for her.

Broader, but none less welcome, comedy is to be found in Kumail’s family home as his mother introduces serial Pakistani girls to the dinner table. 

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Zenobia Schroff and Anupam Kher, while still smiling

Holly Hunter (“Broadcast News” – one of my favourite films) and Ray Romano are also superb, delivering really thoughtful and nuanced performances that slowly unpeel the stresses inherent in many long-term marriages. The relationship that develops between Kumail and Beth is both poignant and truly touching.

Where the script succeeds is in never quite making the viewer comfortable about where the movie is going and whether the film will end with joy or heartbreak.  And you will find no spoilers here!

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Kumail with comic friends: CJ (Bo Burnham), Mary (Aidy Bryant) and the hapless Chris (Kurt Braunohler).

So is it a comedy classic?  Well, no, not quite. What’s a bit disappointing is that for a film as culturally topical as this, the whole question of Islamophobia in Trump’s America is juggled like a hot potato. Aside from one memorable scene in the club, with a redneck heckler, and an excruciating exchange about 9/11 between Kumail and Terry, the subject is completely ignored. This is a shame.  The script (by Nanjiani and Emily Gordon) would have benefited enormously from some rather braver “Thick of It” style input from the likes of Armando Iannucci.

I also have to despair at the movie’s marketing executives who came up with this title. FFS!  I know “East is East” has already gone, but could you have possibly come up with a less appealing title?  I guess the title does serve one useful purpose in flagging up potential upset for those with bad historical experiences of intensive care.  (Like “The Descendants” this is what we would term in our family #notaShawFamilyfilm).

Overall though this film, directed by Michael Showalter (no, me neither!) and produced by Judd Apatow (whose name gets the biggest billing), is a fun and engaging movie experience that comes highly recommended. A delightful antidote to the summer blockbuster season. The end titles also bring a delightful surprise (that I’ve seen spoiled since by some reviews) that was moving and brought added depth to the drama that had gone before.

More Hollywood please, more.

Fad Rating:  FFFF.

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.

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! 

Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Review: The Mummy (2017)

Crushingly Mediocre

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I’d read the bad reviews, but thought “Hey, it’s Tom Cruise – how bad could it be?”   The answer is, “Pretty bad”.

It’s an ominous sign when a film starts with a voice-over (even if done by the sonorous tones of Russell Crowe). Regular readers of this blog will know I generally abhor voice-overs: it invariably belies a belief by the scriptwriters that they think the audience are too damn stupid to join up the plot-dots themselves. Here we portentously walk through the ancient Egyptian backstory of princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella, “Kingsman: The Secret Service“; “Star Trek Beyond“) cursed to become the titular Mummy. We then skip forward to the present day and the film settles down, promisingly enough, with scavenging adventurer Nick Morton (Cruise, in Indiana Jones mode), discovering a lost Egyptian temple in war-torn modern-day Mesopotamia that for the sake of the world should have stayed lost.

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The invigilators said that she couldn’t take any written materials into the exam, but “Algebra Girl” found a way around that.

But after an impressive plane crash (with zero G scenes filmed for real in a “Vomit Comet”) the plot dissolves into a completely incoherent mush. With B-movie lines forcing B-movie acting performances,  the film lurches from plot crisis to plot crisis in a similar manner to the comically lurching undead Zombie-like creatures that Ahmanet has sucked the life out of.  (After 110 minutes of this, I know how they feel!)

What were actors of this calibre doing in this mess? When I first saw the trailer for this, and saw that Cruise was in it, I thought this felt like an unusual career misstep for the megastar. After seeing the film, I’m even more mystified. Nick Morton is supposed to be an immoral bad guy. Immoral bad guy?? Tom Cruise?? Nope, you lost the audience on that one in the first ten minutes. Cruise, who is STILL only a year younger than I am (damn him, for real!) is still in great shape and must spend ALL his time in the gym. There must be a time soon coming though where he gets to a “Roger Moore in View to a Kill” moment where these action hero roles just no longer become credible anymore.

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The Indian head massage for Mr Cruise didn’t quite go as intended.

And what was Russell Crowe, as a famous / infamous (yes, both!) doctor from literature doing in this? His character’s involvement in the plot was almost completely inconsequential. In fact his ‘affliction’ only serves as a coincidental diversion (how convenient!) for bad Mummy-related action to happen. His character has no backstory and seems to serve only as a backbone for Universal’s “Dark Universe” franchise that this movie is supposed to launch. (Good luck with that Universal after this stinker!)  Surely it would have made more sense to have the first film in the series to be the origins story for Crowe’s character and the organisation he sets up. This would have made far more sense.

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Russell Crowe as the good (and bad) doctor. Another chance to extent his practice with accents.

Annabelle Wallis, who is sweet and “only” 22 years his junior, plays Cruise’s love interest in the film and equips herself well, given the material she has to play with. However (after “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword“) she must be kicking herself for not picking the ‘right’ summer blockbusters for her CV.  

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Annabelle Wallis and Tom Cruise – a bit of a “cradle snatcher”… but Cruise looks so good for his years its still not into “ewww” territory.

The main culprit here is the plot, which again is mystifying given that the writing team includes David Koepp (“Jurassic Park”; “Mission Impossible”); Christopher McQuarrie (“The Usual Suspects”, “Edge of Tomorrow“) and Jon Spaihts (“Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation“, “Doctor Strange“).  A poor script can sometimes be salvaged by a good director, but here we have Alex Kurtzman, who has only one other directing credit to his name. And I’m afraid it shows. All round, not a good day at the office.

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A girl definitely into a bit of bondage. Sofia Boutella as the cursed princess.

Brian Tyler did the music (aside from the Danny Elfman opening “Dark Universe” fanfare) but it comprises what I would term “running and jumping music”, with few discernible leitmotifs for the characters breaking through.

“Was that supposed to be funny?” My wife’s reaction after the film sums up that this really is a bit of a stinker. Best avoided.

Fad Rating:  Ff.