Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: The Mercy (2018).

“With shroud, and mast, and pennon fair”.

mercy-poster

It’s 1968. Donald Crowhurst (Colin Firth, “Kingsman: The Golden Circle“; “Magic in the Moonlight“), an amateur sailor and entrepreneur based in Teignmouth, Devon, is inspired by listening to single-handed round-the-world yachtsman Sir Francis Chichester and does a a crazy thing. He puts his business, his family’s house and his own life on the line by entering the Sunday Times single-handed round-the-world yacht race. It’s not even as if he has a boat built yet! 

mercy4
Carefree days on the river in glorious Devon. (Source: Blueprint Pictures/BBC Films)

Lending him the money, under onerous terms, are local businessman Mr Best (Ken Stott, “The Hobbit“) and local newspaper editor Rodney Hallworth (David Thewlis, “Wonder Woman“, “The Theory of Everything“). With the race deadline upon him, Crowhurst is pressed into sailing away from his beloved wife Clare (Rachel Weisz, “Denial“, “The Lobster“) and young family in a trimaran that is well below par. 

But what happens next is so ludicrous that it makes a mockery of whoever wrote this ridiculous work of fiction.  Ah… but wait a minute… it’s a true story!

mercy1
Having a close shave or two. Colin Firth as the hapless mariner Donald Crowhurst. (Source: Blueprint Pictures/BBC Films)

It is in fact such an astonishing story that this is a film that is easy to spoil in a review, a fact that seems to have passed many newspaper reviewers by (Arrrggghhh!!).  So I will leave much comment to a “spoiler section” that follows the trailer (which is also best avoided).  This is honestly a film worth seeing cold.

What can I say that is spoiler-free then? 

Firth and Weisz make a well-matched couple, and the rest of the cast is peppered with well-known faces from British film and (particularly) TV:  Andrew Buchan and Jonathan Bailey (from “Broadchurch”); Mark Gatiss (“Sherlock”, “Out Kind of Traitor“);  Adrian Schiller (“Victoria”; “Beauty and the Beast“).

mercy5
A worrying few months. Rachel Weisz as the wife carrying a heavy burden. (Source: Blueprint Pictures/BBC Films)

The first part of the film is well executed and excellent value for older viewers. 60’s Devon is warm, bucolic and nostalgic. In fact, the film beautifully creates the late 60’s of my childhood, from the boxy hardwood furniture of the Crowhurst’s house to the Meccano set opened at Christmas time. 

Once afloat though, the film is less successful at getting its sea-legs. The story is riveting, but quite a number of the scenes raise more questions than they answer. As stress takes hold it is perhaps not surprising that there are a few fantastical flights of movie fancy. But some specific elements in Scott Burns’ script don’t quite gel: a brass clock overboard is a case in point. What? Why?

And it seems to be light on the fallout from the race:  there is a weighty scene in the trailer between Best and Hallworth that (unless I dozed off!) I don’t think appeared in the final cut, and I think was needed. 

All in all, I was left feeling mildly dissatisfied:  a potentially good film by “Theory of Everything” director James Marsh that rather goes off the rails in the final stretch. 

mercy3
Camerawork from Eric Gautier to give the sturdiest stomach pause. (Source: Blueprint Pictures/BBC Films)

This was a time where morality and honour were often rigidly adhered to – British “stiff upper lip” and all that – and seemed to carry a lot more weight than they do today.  So some of the decisions in the film might mystify younger viewers.  But for the packed older audience in my showing (Cineworld:  this needs to be put on in a bigger screen!) then it was a gripping, stressful, but far from flawless watch.  

I’d also like to take this opportunity to pay my respects to the film’s composer Jóhann Jóhannsson, who shockingly died last week at the ridiculously young age of 48.  His strange and atmospheric music for films including “The Theory of Everything“, “Sicario” and (particularly) “Arrival” set him on the path to be a film composing great of the future. Like James Horner, another awful and untimely loss to the film music industry.

Fad Rating:  FFF.

Spoiler Section:  don’t read this unless you have seen the film!

I have a real bone to pick with a number of newspaper film critics, notably Kevin Maher of The Times who waited until word EIGHTEEN of his review of this film before dropping a massive spoiler that I unfortunately read before seeing the film. “…The amateur sailor who died while competing in, and cheating at, the 1968/69 Sunday Times Golden Globe Race“:  could you add a more spoilerish statement to start a review?  Very annoying!  And he’s not alone. It’s as if, just because there was a strong journalistic angle to the story, then all of the newspaper critics *ASSUME* that everyone is familiar with this story that’s now 50 years old!

The film left me with one over-riding emotion…. ANGER!

I can *just about* understand how this man, forced into a financial corner, might swallow his honour and pragmatically decide to execute the falsehood of a quick trip around the Atlantic:  limp back into port in nth place; a “loser”, yes, but a loser with a house and business still.  But HOW any husband and father could leave his lovely family NOT ONLY alone BUT ALSO to face all the financial brouhaha he’s created for them all?  It just made my blood boil.  The closing notice – that Robin Knox-Johnston gave his £5,000 prize fund to the widow – is amazing and very noble:  this was a lot of money in those days.

mercy2
You complete bastard!! Scanning the horizon in vain for his return. Rachel Weisz and young actors Kit Connor, Finn Elliot and Eleanor Stagg. (Source: Blueprint Pictures/BBC Films)

Ultimately, the film implies – through the horses; the seaweed; the solder – that the stress, loneliness or perhaps a range of other factors sent the wretched soul completely round the twist. It is then perhaps at heart not a tale about sailing derring-do at all, but a salutary tale of the dangers of mental illness: something that could affect anyone, anywhere under the right circumstances; an illness that sends all logic and common sense out of the porthole. In a parallel with real life I guess,  Crowhurst could perhaps have been saved if his attempts at a one-to-one conversation with his wife had gone through.  Sometimes it is communication that is the answer.  So sad.

There is a really interesting Guardian article on the true life story, and the ongoing tragedy that continues to befall Clare, that is well worth a read.

It certainly makes for a sombre end to the film, and I know by experience (sorry Sarah!) that taking someone along who has lost their husband is not EXACTLY the Valentines Day treat that perhaps it was intended to be!  This is most definitely a “Father Ted” film!

 

 

 

 

Advertisements
Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: Journey’s End (2018).

A century on: a timely reminder of the futility of trench warfare.

je-poster

“Journey’s End” makes for a claustrophobic and tense movie experience. It’s quite clearly a film adaptation of a stage play, but it’s a surprise (to me at least) that the stage play – penned by R.C. Sherriff – dates back to 1928 and was first performed in London by a young Laurence Olivier.

You might say “A filmed stage play?  Hm… I’m not sure about that”. But actually, it works really well, adding brilliantly to the claustrophobic nature of the piece but – more importantly – largely eschewing “action scenes” to focus in on the dramatic relationships between the officers in their dugout and the men in the trenches above.

je1
Captain Stanhope (Sam Claflin) needing more than Persil Automatic to get those stains out.

The plot is a simple one. Set in the spring of 1918 (arguably, the movie might have been even more powerful had its release been delayed by about 6 weeks), Captain Stanhope (Sam Claflin, “Me Before You“, “Their Finest“) leads a company of men marching into position in a trench near Saint-Quentin, Aisne for a six-day tour of duty. Given they are one of 1,800 such companies on the Western Front, it’s unfortunately their bad luck that the German’s “spring offensive” is forecast to happen imminently.  As Stanhope’s CO (the excellent Robert Glennister, “Live by Night“, TV’s “Hustle”) makes clear, and as the film’s title might also suggest, this is forecast to be a one-way trip.

je3
The man called “Uncle”. Paul Bettany providing strong and stable leadership takes young Raleigh under his wing.

With immaculate timing, squeaky-keen young recruit Lieutenant Raleigh (Asa Butterfield, “Hugo”) uses his brass-connections to join the company, since he knows Stanhope from his schooldays. Indeed, Stanhope is his sister’s beau. But Raleigh soon discovers that Stanhope is no longer the ‘affable chap’ he was…. 

je2
Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Asa Butterfield as the keen Lieutenant Raleigh.

Butterfield is marvelously cast as the perky new recruit, all wide-eyed and eager on arrival but completely ill-equipped for what he is to see and experience in a confined society being stretched beyond breaking point. Claflin as well is superb, and must have spent hours in front of a mirror trying to perfect his haunted expression. The range of emotions he delivers through those eyes is just extraordinary. Finally rounding out the star-turns of the officers are Paul Bettany (“Avengers: Age of Ultron“) as the avuncular Osborne and Tom Sturridge (“Far From The Madding Crowd“) as the shell-shocked and useless Hibbert.

je5
Definitely far from the madding crowd… Tom Sturridge as Hibbert.

Those of you familiar with the splendid “Black Adder Goes Forth” will know the comic role played by Tony Robinson as Baldrick with his strange culinary concoctions. In this film Toby Jones (“Atomic Blonde“, “Dad’s Army“) fills that role and similarly has some comic lines to add – just a touch of – much needed light-relief to the tension.

je4
Cutlets of some description. Toby Jones plays the cook cum psychiatrist Mason.

The film has a necessarily melancholic feel, but (for me) it’s rather over-egged by the sonorous cello score by Natalie Holt and Hildur Gudnadóttir.  (Again, reflecting our different tastes, I’ll point out that my wife found the music fitting and not as annoying and intrusive as I did). 

Director Sean Dibb (Suite Française) has here delivered a tense and very well-executed movie that ably demonstrates the British “stiff upper lip” in public – and the weak whiskey-soaked psychosis in private – of men under the most unbearable stress imaginable. Recommended…  but go expecting something that’s more drama than World War One ‘action’.

Fad Rating: FFFF.  

 

Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: The Shape of Water (2018).

A mystical tale of fish and fingers.

With perfect timing after scooping 13 Oscar nominations, “The Shape of Water” arrives for preview screenings in the UK. Is it worth all the hype?

Well, in a word, yes.  

Not since Spielberg entranced the world in 1982 with a love story between an isolated and lonely child and an alien, stranded a million light-years from home, have we seen a magical fairy-tale so well told. 

TSoW1
Cleaning up at the (box) office. Sally Hawkins and Doug Jones as the creature.

Here Lewisham’s own Sally Hawkins (“Paddington”, “Godzilla“) plays Elisa Esposito, an attractive but mousy mute living above a cinema and next door to her best friend: a struggling artist called Giles (Richard Jenkins). Sexually-frustrated, Elisa works out those tensions in the bath every morning before heading off to work as a cleaner at a government research institute. Together with partner Zelda Fuller (Octavia Spencer, “Hidden Figures“) she is asked to clean a highly secured room where a mysterious aquatic creature is being studied by the cruel and militaristic Strickland (Michael Shannon, “Midnight Special“, “Nocturnal Animals“) and the more compassionate scientist Hoffstetler. (The latter is played by Michael Stuhlbarg (“Miss Sloane“, “Steve Jobs“) in a performance that wasn’t recognised by the Academy, but for me really held the film’s story together). Elisa forms a relationship with the creature, and as the scientific investigations turn darker, she becomes determined to help him. 

When you think about it, the similarities in the screenplay with E.T. are quite striking. But this is most definitely not a kid’s film, containing full frontal nudity, sex and some considerable violence, some of it “hands-over-the-eyes” worthy. Most of this violence comes courtesy of Shannon’s character, who is truly monstrous. He is uncontrollably vicious, single-minded and amoral: a hand over the mouth to silence his wife during vigourous sex cleverly belies where his true lust currently lies. (Shannon is just so convincing in all of his roles that, after “Nocturnal Animals“, it is a bit of a surprise to see that he is still alive and well!)

It’s worth pointing out for balance at this point that my wife thought this portrayal was over-egged for its villany, and she rated the film less highly than I did because of it.

TSoW2
Michael Shannon as evil incarnate.

So its no Oscar nomination this time for Shannon as a supporting actor. But that honour goes to Richard Jenkins, who is spectacularly good as the movie-musical-loving and pie-munching neighbour who is drawn unwillingly into Elisa’s plans. Giles is a richly fashioned character – also the film’s narrator – who struggles to fit in with the cruel and rascist 1962 world that he finds himself in. “Sometimes I think I was born too early or too late for my life” he bemoans to the creature whose loneliness he relates to. A scene in a cafe where he fastidiously wipes all traces of pie-filling from his tongue is masterfully done.  

TSoW3
Richard Hawkins and Sally Hawkins, hatching a plan.

Octavia Spencer is also Oscar nominated for Best Supporting Actress, and it’s a magical partnership she shares with Hawkins, with each bouncing off each other wonderfully.

This leads to a ‘no brainer’ Oscar nomination for Sally Hawkins who delivers a star turn. She has to go through such a huge range of emotions in this film, and she genuinely makes you really care about the outcome like few films this year. It’s a little tricky since I haven’t seen “I Tonya” or “Ladybird” yet, but I would have thought that Ms Hawkins is going to possibly give Frances McDormand the closest run for her money on March 4th. My money would still be on McDormand for “3 Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri“, but the Oscar voters are bound to love “The Shape of Water”. For like “La La Land” last year, the film is (rather surprisingly for me) another love letter to Hollywood’s golden years, with Elisa and Giles living out their lives with classic movie music and dance numbers: a medium that Elisa only ever truly finds here “voice” through.

Eliza and Zelda about to give two fingers to the establishment.

In the technical categories the Oscar nominations were for Cinematography (Dan Laustsen); Film Editing (Sidney Wolinsky); Sound Editing (Nathan Robitaille and Nelson Ferreira); Sound Mixing (Glen Gauthier, Christian Cooke and Brad Zoern); Production Design (Paul D. Austerberry, Jeffrey A. Melvin and Shane Vieau); Original Score (Alexandre Desplat) and Costume Design (Luis Sequeira). And you really wouldn’t want to bet against any of these not to win, for the film is a technical delight. Right from the dreamlike opening titles (arguably, they missed a deserved nomination here for Visual Effects), the film is gorgeous to look at, with such brilliant detail in the production design that there is interesting stuff to look at in every frame. And the film editing is extraordinary: Elisa wobbles on the bucket she’s standing on, but it’s Strickland’s butt, perched on a table, that slips off. This is a film that deserves multiple repeat viewings.

TSoW5
The monster feeding the monster. Nick Searcy as General Hoyt with Strickland (Michael Shannon).

An the helm is the multi-talented Guillermo del Toro (“Pacific Rim”, “Crimson Peak”) who both directed and co-wrote the exceptionally smart screenplay (with Vanessa Taylor, “Divergent”) and is nominated for both. I actually found the story to be rather predictable, as regards Elisa’s story arc, but that in no way reduced my enjoyment of the film. For the “original screenplay” is nothing if not “original”…. it’s witty, intelligent and shocking at different turns.  

The violence and sex won’t be for everyone… but this is a deep and rich movie experience that everyone who loves the movies should at least appreciate… hopefully in a dry cinema! 

Fad Rating: FFFFF.

Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: Downsizing (2018).

Tiny People, Big Mess.

downsize-poster

From the trailer this film looked quirky, funny and interesting and has been on my “looking forward to” list for many months. Oh dear, what a let down.

Matt Damon (“The Martian“, “The Great Wall“, “Jason Bourne“) and Kristen Wiig (“mother!“, “Ghostbusters“) play Paul and Audrey Safranek. Paul is a laid-back and hardworking  occupational therapist; Audrey has materialistic ambitions over and above their available finances. The two decide to “downsize” making use of a revolutionary Norwegian invention that reduces humans, and most other lifeforms, to a fraction of their normal size. This offers huge wealth to the normal American, since the cost of living in downsized form within the mini-estate called LeisureLand is tiny in comparison to “big folks”. But all does not go well in the transition (unlike the trailer, no spoilers here) and Paul needs to find a new purpose in life as bigger problems loom.

downsize1
Downsizing could be bad news for conference venues like the NEC in the future. (Source: Paramount Pictures)

It’s clearly written to be a social satire, and there are some clever angles to be explored here:  everyone publicly positions their downsizing based on ‘environmental issues’ and ‘saving the planet’, but most everyone’s real reason is the lifestyle benefits. Also lightly touched on, but never deeply explored, are the impacts that the downsizing initiative is having on the broader American economy and property markets, with the ‘big people’ questioning why small people should have the same rights and votes as them. 

But the film never really gets into the meat of any of this. Worse than that, the movie never settles on what it is trying to be. I think we can write off “Sci-Fi” pretty early on. But is it a drama? A comedy? A love story? A socialist rant? An environmental cri de coeur? The film jumbles all these aspects together and treats each so halfheartedly that none of them get properly addressed.

downsize2
How many units per day are you allowed now? (Source: Paramount Pictures)

Not only are the audience confused: none of the actors seem to be too sure why they’re there either. Damon – never Mr Personality – should have been able to develop some chemistry with the feisty and dynamic Ms Wiig, but even these early scenes plod along with you thinking “what a dull film”. Things perk up slightly at the LeisureLand sales fair, where Neil Patrick Harris (“Gone Girl“) and a naked Laura Dern (“Star Wars: The Last Jedi“) glibly try to sell a luxury doll’s house to the assembled crowd. American consumerism in miniature.

downsize4
Neil Patrick Harris and a distant bathing Laura Dern selling up the ultimate doll’s house of the future. (Source: Paramount Pictures)

But post-downsizing the film crashes back to ‘Dullesville Arizona’ again, but with added depression, requiring Christophe Waltz (“Django Unchanined”, “Spectre“), as a dodgy Serbian entrepreneur Dusan Mirkovic, to over-act manically to try to add any sort of energy into the film (which he is only mildly successful at doing). There’s a rather bizarre supporting role from Udo Kier – looking for all the world like Terence Stamp – as Mirkovic’s ship-owning pal, and an almost cameo performance from Jason Sudeikis (“Colossal“). 

Enter stage-left Thai-born Hong Chau as Ngoc Lan Tran, a Vietnamese cleaner. There’s a clever angle here: where “average American Joes” like Safranek can live like kings, but the poor still have to scrape by, living in ‘skyscraper Portacabins’, as the menial classes: there’s no escaping class structures, even when 5 inches tall. Chau sums up the uneven nature of the film, as she mostly plays her lines for laughs but then (in a spectacularly good bit of acting in the midst of, I have to say, some pretty poor hamming) bursts into uncontrollable tears.

downsize3
Nonplussed by a reaction…. Matt Damon, Christophe Waltz and Terence Stamp… no, sorry, Udo Kier. (Source: Paramount Pictures)

Just when you think things are going to limp to a unmemorable close, the film ups and leaves LeisureLand to add a completely bizarre final act. (It’s pretty unusual in the UK for people to walk out of a cinema mid-film, but a couple did so at this point). This segment bears no relationship to the downsizing theme whatsoever, since all the players at this point could be full-sized. Aside from an amusing “50 shades of f**k” speech from Ngoc Lan Tran and a “massive explosion”, this story goes nowhere, says nothing (at least not to me) and merely irritates. Throw in a completely anti-climatic non-ending and I genuinely shared a “WTF look” with the stranger sat next to me!

This is all very strange, since this comes from Alexander Payne, who also directed and co-wrote “The Descendants”, one of the most impressive films of the decade. Jim Taylor co-writes (as he has co-written numerous other films with Payne). 

downsize5
A little crush. Hong Chau and Matt Damon. (Source: Paramount Pictures).

I note that in this morning’s London Times that their film critic, Kevin Maher – someone who’s views I am generally pretty well aligned with – gave it 4 *’s out of 5. I can only assume that he either saw a completely different cut of the film, or he is a lot cleverer than I am and understood amazing sub-texts that completely passed me by! Maybe… but I have a sneaking suspicion that the general viewing public will more share my opinion on this than his.

I was tempted to give this just one Fad as it was such a disappointment to me, but the underlying concept is a good one: it is just one that has, in my humble opinion, been implemented in a bizarrely slipshod manner.  

Definitely not recommended. Go and see “Coco” instead! 

Fad Rating: FF.

(There are some pretty hefty spoilers in some of the full trailers, so this is the relatively benign teaser).
Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: Coco (2018).

An animated masterpiece?  I should Coco! 

coco-poster

I had no great expectations of this film. In fact, I honestly went to see it solely because – with the lazy multiplex habit of milking films like Jedi, Jumanji and (God help us) Pitch Perfect 3 – this was the only film at my local cinemas that I hadn’t seen. But wow… just wow! 

For this is a masterpiece, and with the Oscar nominations released yesterday, it almost seems a crime that it wasn’t included in the Best Picture list (it must surely follow its Golden Globes win and snatch the Best Animated film category… although I admit that “Loving Vincent” clearly looks like it took a lot more work!).

Coco5
Glorious artwork. Miguel pays homage to his musical hero, Ernesto de la Cruz. (Source: Pixar).

Miguel (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez) lives in the quaint Mexican village of Santa Cecilia with his extended shoe-making family, including his grandmother Abuelita (Renée Victor) and his wizened old great-grandmother Coco (Ana Ofelia Murguía, via a brilliant piece of animation). Coco was a child from a broken home, with music being the cause of all the trouble, and this has led to a multi-generational ban that Abuelita polices with fierce passion. Unfortunately, Miguel “has the music in him”, idolising the – now deceased – singing sensation and matinee idol Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt, “Doctor Strange“). Desperate to perform in the Piazza talent contest, held during the evening of the “Day of the Dead” festival, Miguel takes destiny into his own hands…. which might prove fatal as he is dragged, alive and kicking, into the ‘land of the dead’. 

Coco3
Miguel with his brilliantly animated great-grandmother Coco. (Source: Pixar).

The film is a thing of beauty. Some of the scenes: notably the candlelit graveyard, the “petal bridge” and the first sight of the land of the dead are done with such majesty and art that they take your breath away. Literally jaw dropping! (Try to make sure you see it on the big screen). So there are similarities here with “Blade Runner 2049” which also had images that could easily grace the walls of any art gallery in the world.

Coco6
Just jaw-dropping. Miguel gets his first view of ‘The Land of the Dead’. (Source: Pixar).

Where the film deviates from “Blade Runner” though is the original story by Lee Unkrich (who also directs), Adrian Molina (who co-directs), Jason Katz and Matthew Aldrich. Whereas the sci-fi reboot was a bit flaccid, story-wise, Coco develops in a surprisingly non-linear way. The story you think you are on suddenly does unexpected  switchbacks and gets very deep indeed. 

Deep?  But this is a kids film right? Well, no, not really. Sure it has a lot of fun skeleton action, in the style of the re-constituting Olaf from “Frozen”, and a cute but mangy dog with a ridiculously long tongue. But the themes exposed here are FAR from childish. They encompass family, ambition, work/life balance, death and remembrance in such a fashion that parents exposing the film to young kids (I would think, up to 7 or 8 years old) should be ready with sensitive answers to “Mummy/Daddy, why…” questions so as to avoid significant anxiety and nightmares. The relationship between Miguel and his grandmother Abuelita, switching from violent outbursts to sudden loving hugs, might – I think – also confuse and disturb young children. Its UK certificate is “PG”, not “U”, for good reason.

Coco1
Miguel enters a fragile alliance with the trickster Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal) to help get what they both want. (Source: Pixar).

So be prepared to cry. If you are anything like me, there will be a point in this film where you are desperately trying to recall the faces and voices of all of those people in your life that you have lost over the years. And some of the final jolts in this film will leave you almost as drained (almost!) as the start of “Up”. 

As befits the subject matter there is a great score, with a mariachi feel, by Michael Giacchino, including a nice rendition of “When You Wish Upon A Star” over the Disney castle production logo. And there are some great songs, including the pivotal “Remember Me” which is now Oscar nominated.  

Coco2
Passport control at Heathrow was never like this.

Watch out for some nice cameo voice performances as well: Cheech Marin (from Cheech and Chong) plays the ‘border control’ officer, and Pixar regular John Ratzenberger (Hamm in “Toy Story”) turns up again playing Juan Ortodoncia, a character whose dentist fondly remembers him (LOL)!

With John Lasseter recently dragged into the #metoo scandal, and taking 6 months off to ponder on his “missteps”, one hopes this will not knock Pixar off its track too much. For with this evidence the studio shouldn’t keep trying to milk existing “Incredibles” and “Toy Story” franchises, but come up with more original entertainments like this. Because, for me, this rises into my top-three favourite Pixar films of all time (along with Toy Story and Wall-E). 

Fad Rating (adults): FFFFF.

Fad Rating (young children): FFF with parental guidance.  

Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: The Post (2018).

Landing the Hindenburg in a Thunderstorm.

TP-poster

What a combination:  Streep, Hanks, Spielberg, Kaminski behind the camera, Williams behind the notes. What could possibly go wrong?

Nothing as it turns out. After, for me, the disappointment of “The BFG” here is Spielberg on firm ground and at the height of his game. 

It’s 1971 and the New York Times is in trouble for publishing what became known as “The Pentagon Papers”: a damning account of multiple administration’s dodgy dealings around the Vietnam War, put together by Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood, “Star Trek: Into Darkness“) and meant for “posterity” – not for publication! Watching from the sidelines with frustration at their competitor’s scoop are the Washington Post’s editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks, “Bridge of Spies“, “Inferno“) and the new owner Kay Graham (Meryl Streep, “Florence Foster Jenkins“, “Suffragette“). With immaculate timing, Graham is taking the paper public, so needs the newspaper embroiled in any sort of scandal like a hole in the head. But with the US First Amendment under pressure, will Graham and Bradlee put their business and their freedom at risk by publishing and being damned?

TP7
Bradlee (Tom Hanks) and Graham (Meryl Streep) in the Washington Post’s newsroom.

Both of the leads play characters that are quite strikingly out of character from their normal roles. 

In a seamingly endless run of ‘kick-ass’ women in the movie driving seat, here I expected Streep to be in full “Iron Lady” mode, but in fact she starts the film as quite the opposite: nervous, timid, vascillating. For although the story is about “The Washington Post” and “The Pentagon Papers”, the real story is about Graham herself (Liz Hannah’s script is actually based on Graham’s autobiography). In many ways it’s about a woman, in a male world, overcoming her fear and finding her own voice. As has been demonstrated in many recent films (“Hidden Figures” for example) the working world for woman has changed so markedly since the 60’s and 70’s that it’s almost impossible to relate to these chavenistic attitudes. Graham is repeatedly downtrodden as “not good enough” by her underlings within earshot, and then thanks them “for their frankness”. When the women folk retire at dinner, to let the men-folk talk politics, Graham meekly goes with them. Even her father, for God’s sake, left the newspaper not to her but to her (now late) husband! It’s no surprise then that she is coming from a pretty low base of self-confidence, and her journey in the film – as expertly played by Streep – is an extraordinarily rousing one.

TP2
The real deal: Ben Bradlee and Kay Graham.

Hanks, normally the guy you’d most like to invite round for dinner (@tomhanks if you happen to be reading this sir, that’s a genuine invitation… we make a mean lasagne here!) also plays somewhat outside of his normal character here. As Bradlee, he is snappy, brusque and businesslike. Although I don’t think he could ever quite match the irascibility of the character’s portrayal by Jason Robards in the classic “All the President’s Men” – who could? – its a character with real screen presence.

The similarities with Alan J Pakula’s 1976 classic Watergate movie – one of my personal favourites – don’t stop there. The same sets that were once populated by Redford and Hoffman are gloriously reproduced with Spielberg and Janusz Kaminski delivering great tracking shots through the newsroom. (Watch out for Sacha Spielberg – daughter of Stephen and Kate Capshaw – who also turns up there delivering a package).

TP3
The scoop revealed: Odenkirk, Hanks and David Cross get the low-down.

The supporting cast includes Sarah Paulson (so memorable in “The Trial of O.J. Simpson”) as Bradlee’s wife Tony, Bradley Whitford (“The West Wing”, “Get Out“) and Tracy Letts (“The Big Short“) as two of Graham’s board advisors and Jesse Plemons (“The Program“, “Bridge of Spies“) as the lead legal advisor. Particularly impressive though is Bob Odenkirk (“Breaking Bad”) as Ben Bagdikian, Bradlee’s lead investigative reporter on the case: all stress, loose change and paranoia in his dealings with the leaky Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys).

TP5
Bagdikian (Bob Odenkirk) ordering a drink for himself and his travelling companion.

In a memorable piece of casting Richard Nixon is played by…. Richard Nixon. Although a silluohetted Curzon Dobell stalks the Oval office, the ex-president’s original phone recordings are played on the soundtrack. (There, I knew those recordings would be useful for something… thank heavens he kept them all!) 

The film also demonstrates in fascinating style the newsprint business of yesteryear. When I click a button on my PC and a beautifully laser-printed page streams out of my Epson printer, it still seems like witchcraft to me! But it is extraordinary to think that newspapers in those days were put together by typesetters manually building up the pages from embossed metal letters laboriously slotted into a frame. Brilliantly evocative.

TP4
Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys) takes a risk.

If Spielberg has a fault, it is one of sentimentality – something that is pointed out in Susan Lacy’s superb HBO documentary on Spielberg (something I have yet to write a review on, but if you like Spielberg you should definitely seek out). Here he falls into that trap again, with an unnecessary bedroom scene between Graham and her daughter tipping the screenplay into mawkishness. It’s unnecessary since we don’t need the points raised rammed down our throats again. It’s something repeated in a rather bizarre final scene with Graham walking down the steps of the supreme court with admiring woman – only woman – watching her. These irritations tarnish for me what could have been a top-rated film.

But the movie is an impressive watch and older viewers, and anyone interested in American political history will, I think, love it. The film, especially with its nice epilogue, did make me immediately want to come home and put “All the President’s Men” on again… which is never a bad thing.  Highly recommended.

Fad Rating: FFFFf

 

Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: The Commuter (2018).

“This train is freaking me out”.

Commuter-poster

“The Commuter” is not a good film. You know that I’m not a prude about action films: “Die Hard” is one of my all time favourites and I even gave this actor/director combo’s previous outing – “Non-Stop” – a rather generous three Fads. But like many of my commutes, this is a hundred minutes of life that I won’t get back again.

Liam Neeson (“A Monster Calls“, “Taken 3“) plays Michael MacCauley an insurance salesman (no, I’m not making it up) who of course used to be a police officer with a certain set of skills. With advancing years, a couple of mortgages to keep up and a son about to go to college, he is financially rather exposed.

 

Commuter2
“Giver me a sausage roll off the trolley…. NOW damn it”.

When a bad day turns worse, the commuting MacCauley is approached by a mysterious woman (Vera Farmiga, “The Judge“, “Up In The Air”) who offers him a financial bail-out for doing “just one small thing”. No, it’s not for sex in the toilet… it’s to use his familiarity with the train and its normal passengers to find the person that ‘doesn’t fit there’. For there is a lot at stake and MacCauley is drawn into a perilous game where his own life and the lives of his son and wife Karen (Elizabeth McGovern, “Downton Abbey”) are put at risk. 

Commuter1
Vera Farmiga has a proposition for Liam Neeson.

What the inexperienced writers (Byron Willinger, Philip de Blasi and Ryan Engle (“Non-stop”)) were clearly shooting for was a Hitchcockian “ordinary man in deep-water” style flick of the James Stewart “North by Northwest” variety…. but they really miss this by a mile. With the 65 year old Liam Neeson – here playing 60 – performing acrobatics on, under and across an express train, belief is not just suspended – it is hung drawn and quartered! The action is just ludicrously unrealistic.

Unfortunately, Neeson – although still looking remarkably good for his advanced years – is increasingly is starting to look like Roger Moore in “A View to a Kill”:  its time to hang up the ‘action hero’ coat and focus on more character acting pieces (this was the man who gave us Oskar Schindler after all).

Commuter3
A chain defies all the laws of physics… train guard Colin McFarlane tries to help Neeson avoid disaster. A green screen is obviously not evident!

The plot also has more holes than a moth-eaten jumper. Omnipotence of the villains is evident, but never explained, and while they are fiendishly clever in some aspects they are face-palmingly stupid about others. (No spoilers, but the threat to MacCauley’s family is mind-numbingly foilable).

Commuter4
It was fairly obvious that Obi Wan Kenobi was out of place on the train. No.. of course not… this was just MacCauley’s commuting pal Walt (Jonathan Banks)

A ‘major event’ at the end of reel two (if you’ve seen the spoilerish trailer you’ll know what this is) leads – notably without any ‘consequence’ – into a completely ridiculous final reel that beggars belief. It also includes a “twist” so obvious that the writers must have assumed an IQ of sub-50.

Commuter5
What’s the great Sam Neill (“Jurassic Park”) doing in this mess?

This is a film that melds “Taken”, “Non-stop”, “Unstoppable”, “Strangers on a Train” and – most bizarrely and cringe-worthily – “Spartacus” to create a cinematic mess of supreme proportions. I put director Jaume Collet-Serra’s last film – “The Shallows” – into my Top 10 films of 2016. He’ll be lucky if this one doesn’t make my “Turkeys of the Year” list for 2018.

Avoid!

Fad Rating: Ff.

(Multiple spoilers in this trailer… you have been warned).

 

 

Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: Darkest Hour (2018).

Not buggering it up.

DH-poster

As Doctor Who repeatedly points out, time is most definitely a tricksy thing. As I think I’ve commented on before, the events of 1940-45 are not in my lifetime but were sufficiently fresh to my parents that they were still actively talked about… so they still appear “current” to me. But I find it astonishing to realize that to a teen viewer this film is equivalent in timeframe to the sinking of the Titanic!  #ancienthistory! So I suspect your connection to this film will be strongly affected by your age, and that was definitely reflected in the average age at my showing which must have been at least 60.

It’s 1940 and Western Europe is under siege. Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup, “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel“) is the Conservative Prime Minister but is voted out of office in an attempt to form a grand coalition government with Labour leader Clement Atlee (David Schofield). Despite appearing a shoe-in for the role, Viscount Halifax (Stephen Dillane) turns it down, thinking that his alternative (and bête noire) would drink from the poisoned chalice and be quickly be out of his (and Chamberlain’s) hair. For that alternative choice is the volatile and unpredictable Churchill (Gary Oldman), grudgingly invited into the job by King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn, “Rogue One“). With the Nazi’s bearing down on the 300,000 encircled troops at Dunkirk, and with calls from his war cabinet to capitulate and seek terms of settlement, this is indeed both Churchill’s, and the country’s, ‘darkest hour’.

DH2
“Up yer bum” – Churchill needs some practice at the proper V-sign for the papers.

Despite the woeful lack of historical knowledge among today’s youngsters, most will be at least aware of the story of Dunkirk, with many having absorbed Christopher Nolan’s film of last summer. This film is almost the matching bookend to that film, showing the terrifying behind-closed-door events that led up to that miracle. For it was terrifying seeing how close Britain came to the brink, and I’m not sure even I really appreciated that before. While this might have been a “thriller” if it had been a fictional story, we well know the outcome of the story:  but even with this knowledge I still found the film to be extremely tense and claustrophobic as the net draws in around Churchill’s firmly-held beliefs.

Gary Oldman’s performance is extraordinary, and his award nominations are well-deserved. We have grown so used to some of his more over-the-top Russian portrayals in films like “Air Force One” and last year’s (pretty poor) “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” that it is easy to forget what a nuanced and flexible actor he is. Ever since that “No, surely not!” moment of that first glimpse of the film’s trailer, it has almost been impossible to ‘see’ Oldman behind the brilliant make-up of the character (Kazuhiro Tsuji gets a special credit for it). But his eyes are in there, and there are some extreme close-ups (for example, during a bizarre and tense phone call with Roosevelt (David Strathairn)) when you suddenly see “There you are!”. 

DH1
The supportive wife – Clemmie (Kristin Scott Thomas) gives Winston (Gary Oldman) a hug.

While I have nothing against Brian Cox as an actor, I far prefer the portrayal of Churchill on show here compared to last year’s “Churchill“: true that that film was set three or four stressful years later, but Cox’s Churchill was portrayed as an incompetent fool, an embarrassment to the establishment that have to work around him. Oldman’s Churchill is irascible, unreasonable, but undeniably a leader and a great orator.

Mirroring “Churchill” though, the action is seen through the eyes of Churchill’s put-upon secretary, here played delightfully by Lily James (“Downton Abbey”, “Baby Driver“) who perfectly looks and sounds the part. The character is more successful than that of Ella Purnell’s Garrett in that she is given more room to develop her character and for the audience to warm to her. Oldman is getting all the kudos, but Lily James really deserves some for her touching and engaging performance here.

DH5
Perfectly cast: Lily James as Churchill’s secretary Elizabeth Layton.

Also in Oldman’s shadow is the always marvelous Kristin Scott Thomas (“Four Weddings and a Funeral”, “The English Patient”) as Clemmie Churchill, expressing all the love and frustration associated with being a long-suffering wife to an over-worked husband in the public service.

At the pen is “The Theory of Everything” writer Anthony McCarten, and I’d like to say its a great script but with most of the best lines (“a sheep in sheep’s clothing” – LoL) coming from Winston himself it’s difficult to tell. Some of the scenes can get a bit laborious and at 125 minutes – though not long by any means – the script could still perhaps have had a nip and tuck here and there.

Where some of this time is well spent though is in some sedate shots of London street life, across two separate scenes panning across everyday folk as the stresses of war start to become more evident. This is just one of the areas where director Joe Wright (“Atonement”, “Pride and Prejudice”) shows considerable panache, ably assisted by the cinematography of Bruno Delbonnel (“Inside Llewyn Davis“): a boy closes his telescope-fingers around Churchill’s plane; a bomb’s eye-view of the beleaguered Brigadier Nicholson in Calais; and – very impressively – the smoky imperiousness of the House of Commons set.

DH4
An atmospheric chamber: the recreation of the wartime House of Commons is spectacular (with production design by Sarah Greenwood (“Anna Karenina”, “Atonement”)).

And most-importantly Wright delivers what Christopher Nolan couldn’t deliver in “Dunkirk“: a properly CGI’d vista of hundred of small boats crossing the channel to Dunkirk. Now THAT is a scene that Kenneth Branagh could justly have looked in awe at!!! 

There are a number of scenes that require disbelief to be suspended though: the biggest one being a tube train ride – very moving and effective I must say – but one that features the longest journey between any two stations on the District Line than has ever been experienced! 

DH3
One stop on the District Line via Westminster…. via Harrow-on-the-Hill!

So this is a great film for really reliving a knife-edge moment in British history, and is highly recommended particularly for older viewers.  If I’m honest though, between “Darkest Hour”, “Churchill” and John Lithgow’s excellent portrayal in “The Crown” I’m all over portrayals of the great man for a few years.  Can we please move on now Hollywood?

(I think I’ve been a bit mean with this scoring at FFFf, so I’m post-publish upgrading it a notch).

Fad Rating: FFFF.

 

Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies DVD Review: Wind River (2017).

Survive or Surrender.

WR-poster

Of all of the movie released I missed during 2016 (typically due to work commitments) this one was one near the top of my list. I’m a fan of both Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen, and the setting and story to this one really appealed.

And now I’ve caught up with it, I am not disappointed… certainly one that would have muscled its way well into my top 20 of last year.

Wind River is an Indian reservation in Wyoming (although its filmed in Utah).  Natalie (Kelsey Asbille), a young Indian teen, is found in the snow raped and murdered by local tracker Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner, “Arrival“, “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation“). The local police, led by Ben (Graham Greene), are surprised when a passionate but naive young FBI officer – Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen, “Avengers: Age of Ultron“) – arrives out of a blizzard without remotely sensible clothing. So begins an investigation into who committed the crime, where local knowledge and skills are more applicable than all the CSI-knowhow in the world. 

WR1
Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) and Ben (Graham Greene) get to work.

This film is everything “The Snowman” should have been and wasn’t. At its heart, there are some memorable relationships established. Gil Birmingham (so good as Jeff Bridges’ right-hand man in “Hell or High Water“) plays Natalie’s dad, grieving and railing against all outsiders other than Cory, who he has a deep and close relationship with. For Cory has a back-story that goes beyond just him marrying into (and now separated from) Wilma (Julia Jones), a woman from the reservation.

WR2
Cowboys and Indians. Cory (Jeremy Renner) and Martin (Gil Birmingham) having a deep and moving discussion.

Cory himself has a role that is deep and multi-layered, and Renner is the perfect choice for it (although many scenes could have been cut and spliced into this from his – I thought really strong – Bourne spin-off “The Bourne Legacy”!). Here he has both action scenes and raw emotional scenes to tackle, and although perhaps he doesn’t quite pull off the latter to perfection, he comes pretty close. 

WR3
“Do you wanna build a snowman?”. Cory makes a grim discovery.

Elizabeth Olsen – who seriously deserves more meaty roles like this – plays a ‘flibbertigibbet’ girl (there’s an old word that needs more airtime!) who turns out to have real internal steel. Yet another admirable female role model. #She-do!

The film also paints a vivid and intolerable picture of the dead-end nature of reservation life for many, with poor decisions as a teen (and we’ve all made those) here not being forgiven for the rest of your life. 

Written and directed by Taylor Sheridan, who also wrote “Sicario“, “Hell or High Water” and the soon to appear Sicario sequel, “Soldado”, pens some fine and memorable dialogue.  “Shouldn’t we wait for some backup?” asks Banner.  Ben replies “This isn’t the land of backup. This is the land of you’re on your own”.  It’s a film with useful tips as well, like NEVER, EVER go for a run in seriously sub-zero temperatures!  (As I’m penning this review in sub-zero Canada at the moment, this is timely advice. #skiptheruntoday.)  Sheridan won a Cannes Film Festival award as director for this, but arguably it’s a shame the script has been largely overlooked for the major awards so far.

And that land is one of the stars of the film as well. Filmed around the town of Park City in Utah, it’s gloriously snowy countryside with impressive mountain scenery.   

WR4
Bleak but impressive, Utah is one of the stars.

My only quibble with the movie is that there are some elements of the plot that don’t quite gel properly. At various times, the heavens open and it buckets down – and I mean buckets down – with snow that must add inches to the landscape in minutes. And yet Cory can still point out tracks in the snow that were made days before? Huh?  Also (without spoilers) some elements of communications are also conveniently unreliable when they need to be.

Will this be for everyone?  While I commented that the excellent “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing.Missouri” (which shares similar background subject matter) did NOT have flashback scenes to the rape, this film does go there, and so might be upsetting for some viewers.

WR5
Girl in Trouble. Kelsey Asbille plays the victim Natalie.

But it’s a high-class, intelligent crime thriller that takes “Mexican standoff” to a whole new level.  Recommended.

Fad Rating: FFFF.

 

 

Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: Molly’s Game (2018).

Wordy but entertaining.

MG-poster

You can never accuse Aaron Sorkin of skimping on his words. Sorkin is of course the award-winning writer of “The West Wing” but on the big screen he has also written many classics:  “A Few Good Men”; “The Social Network” and “Steve Jobs” for example. Here he also makes his directorial debut in a movie about the true-life turbulent career of Olympic wannabe skier Molly Bloom.

Bloom is played by Jessica Chastain, from films such as “Zero Dark Thirty” and “Miss Sloane” (one of my films of the year last year).  Chastain’s roles as an actress are often quite cold and calculating, as suits her demeanour. As such her characters are not often easy to warm to in movies (and as such, my wife is not a fan).

MG4
Taking the piste. Molly in her younger ski-centric role.

Here as Molly Bloom she is as equally driven as in “Miss Sloane“, but the drive is learned from her father (Kevin Costner), bullying her to be the best she can be at skiing in a highly competitive family. Forced out of the skiing business (for reasons I won’t spoil), she takes a “gap year” from law school that turns into a “gap life” after she falls into the slightly shady business of running poker nights for LA’s rich elite. It’s here that Chastain’s Bloom is able to show a gentler and more compassionate side, trying to talk some of her clients (who invariably fall in love with her) off the ledge of their gambling addiction.

MG2
Chris O’Dowd as one of the punter’s in deep.

Sorkin’s script (based on Molly’s own autobiography, I should add) does a really nice job of cutting backwards and forwards through Molly’s timeline to drill into motivations and her mental state, and in doing so he pulls out an award-winning (or at least Golden-Globe award-nominating) performance from Chastain in the process. Also very effective though is Kevin Costner (“Hidden Figures“, “Man of Steel“), who is quietly building an impressive portfolio of supporting actor roles. Here he rather dials in his “tough and aloof guy” performance until the park bench scene (below) where he surprises in a good way.  

MG3
Benches with wolves. Kevin Costner impressive as Molly’s hard-line father.

It’s also a blessed relief to find a decent vehicle to showcase the undoubted talents of Britain’s Idris Elba – an actor who has been woefully served by rubbish such as “Bastille Day“, rather lame sequels like “Star Trek: Beyond” or minor roles such as in “Thor: Ragnarok“.  Here he can really get his teeth into the role of Molly’s lawyer, with a multi-layered character that reveals a little – but not too much of – his back-story to leave you with intriguing questions.

MG1
An indecisive Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba) can make his mind up about Molly (Jessica Chastain).

So it’s a good film, but an intelligent watch that mandates your attention. The script is sufficiently dense and wordy that it requires significant concentration: this is not a “park your brain at the door” type of ‘Michael Bay film’. (As such, while it remains a recommended watch, I’m not sure it would be one that would necessarily make my DVD list for repeat watchings). 

MG5
Michael Cera (centre) as the mysterious but powerful “Player X”; a Hollywood actor, but who is he supposed to be? (Answers on a postcard!).

But again, I must comment on what an amazing year this is turning out to be for women in film. Less #Me-too and more #She-do! Once again, here is a movie where a confident woman is firmly in the driving seat, and while powerful men try to bring her down, it is not them that succeeds. (The studio bill for talent in the past year must be a LOT less than it was the year before!  #don’tshootme  #topicalhumour #CarrieGracey).  #TimesUp.

Fad Rating: FFFf