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The Lion King (2019)
After Dumbo earlier this year, now here is The Lion King: the live-action version of the prize coronation mug sitting on Disney's shelf of trinkets.
I mentioned in my review of "Toy Story 4" that in comparing it with TS1, it ably demonstrated that Moore's Law of computing power must still be at least holding reasonably true. Here is another case in point. Technically, this is nothing short of astonishing. It's almost impossible to believe that what you are seeing is computer animated. Every mouse, lion and cheetah so vibrantly and perfectly visualised. That first sight of Simba draws an audible "Awwww" from the audience.
The pièce de résistance of the film is the first 4 minutes, reproducing with "live" animals the "tribute scene" to the young Simba. It's visually and aurally gorgeous in every way, and worth seeing the film for in its own right.
In "Dumbo", an OBVIOUS error is that ONLY mice and crows can talk to elephants - not humans! So here, it is distinctly unsettling that 'real life' animals can speak and sing. It's also inevitable that the animation of eyes and mouth, present in the original version, saps the scenes somewhat of emotion.
I'd heard this mantra repeatedly in the critic reviews I'd seen, so was honestly bracing myself for the worst. In reality, it had less of an impact than I was expecting it to, and although never moved to tears at any point, the scenes that were supposed to be moving... were.
As with the recent "Aladdin" remake, I found many of the songs distinctly underwhelming. "I just can't wait to be king" lacked the energy and verve of the original, and Chiwetel Ejiofor went the "full Rex Harrison" on "Be Prepared". So much so that the term "song" might be a misnomer.
Above all "Can you Feel the Love Tonight?" was one of Elton John and Tim Rice's most beautiful songs from the original soundtrack. Yet, although not savaged by Donald Glover and Beyoncé (playing Simba and Nala), they at the very least give it a good mauling.
The score by Hans Zimmer is lusciously produced. There is a new song added as "Best-Song" fodder for the upcoming Oscar nominations. This is "Spirit" by Beyoncé, although it failed to stir mine in any way. But the best new song on the soundtrack for me was Elton John's offering - "Never Too Late" - during the end titles. Complete with African instruments and vocals, it is both cracking and very stirring.
As indeed happened in the original movie, the introduction of Timon and Pumbaa adds some much needed energy and humour. Played by Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen respectively, director Jon Favreau encouraged the pair to ad lib many of their scenes. And it shows. There's a lot more fun to be had in there than all Will Smith's genie scenes in "Aladdin". In particular, the famous "breaking the fourth wall" moment in "Hakuna Matata" I found priceless, and made me howl with laughter.
Elsewhere vocally, James Earl Jones is back as Mufasa and in so doing makes you concious that there is noone in the world who could perform that role better. The best performance of the rest of the cast, for me, came from "Black Panther's" Florence Kasumba as the leader of the hyena pack, Shenzi. She venomously spits her lines our quite wonderfully.
TV pundit John Oliver is an interesting choice as Zazu, but didn't nail it for me. I personally missed Rowan Atkinson in that part. Likewise, comparison between Chiwetel Ejiofor and Jeremy Irons as Scar is hardly fair. I'd rate Irons as one of the top 5 vocal performances of any Disney film of all time.
For me, the word that keeps floating to the top of these live action remakes is "pointless". Why try, other than to fill Disney coffers? (Which I guess is the producer's point!) And my opinion hasn't changed after this. I still think its a rather pointless exercise, particularly in this case where there is no human cast.
With these things, I always think of Jim Carrey's cry at the end of his version of "I am the Walrus". He screams "There, I did it. I defiled a timeless piece of art". Jon Favreau can at least sleep happy (sic) in his bed content that he hasn't managed to do that. I can't say I was horrified by this one, because I wasn't. It was majestic, entertaining, technically superb and certainly had its moments.
The acid test for me would be "would I go and see that again". And in this case the answer would be "yes".
(For the full graphical review, please check out One Mann's Movies via Google or Facebook. Thanks.)
Toy Story 4 (2019)
Yes they Canada!
I was certain in my believe that TS4 would be a horrible misstep, following the beloved original trilogy! (And to be honest I wasn't really as mad-keen on TS3 either!) As such, I really wasn't fussed that due to holidays and work trips it's been out a month before I've seen it. But how wrong I was! Pixar have really done it again and pulled a gem out of the bag.
There is more emotional heft in the pre-titles sequence of this film that in many so-called dramas I have seen this year. It's extraordinary how nuanced the animation has become.
I guess it should come has no surprise, that the animation quality has improved: the original Toy Story came out nearly 25 years ago! The pre-title sequence, and the opening titles (flashing back to the glory days of playtime with Andy), allow you to compare and contrast the then and now animation quality. I remember being completely wowed by the photo-realism of the people in the Pixar original. But now that looks like Etch-a-Sketch compared to the quality of the latest installment.
Furthermore the camera can zoom and soar around the scenes at will, illustrating that Moore's Law for computing power pretty much holds true!
The Plot: Buzz and Woody's new owner, Bonnie, is starting kindergarten and in so doing she brings a new toy - Forky, the spork - into existance. Forky is suicidal in not yet understanding his place in the 'circle of life'. When the family go off in their RV ("Damned Renault!!" - yes, I had a few of them!) Woody has his work cut out in keeping Forky out of the recycling!
They stop over in a small town, where the roving funfair has also stopped. During the visit, Woody gets reintroduced to an old romantic acquaintance - Bo Peep. However, he also has to confront a smiling face of deceit. No, this time not Lotso Huggin Bear, but instead the talking doll Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), who is supported by her scary looking henchmen.
Most of the old crew are along for the ride. (The late Don Rickles part as Mr Potato Head had to come from archive audio clips). This time though the film seems to revolve around a pretty small subset of the toys. The likes of Slinky, Hamm, Rex and the Potato Heads get relatively little screen-time.
However, what we do get is the introduction of some wonderful new characters. This includes diminutive cop Giggle McDimples (voiced by Lori Alan); the hilarious Bunny and Ducky (voiced respectively by Jordan Peele - yes! Jordan Peele! - and Keegan-Michael Key); Combat Carl(s) (voiced by Carl - "Apollo Creed" - Weathers); and foremost of all Duke Kaboom! Duke, a self-doubting Canadian Evel Knievel-style stunt-rider action figure, is voiced in enthusiastic style by Keanu Reeves.
Tom Hanks and Tim Allen again are the film's heart and soul. Buzz has a somewhat lesser role to play this time, but Hanks is as great as he's ever been voicing Woody.
And it shows how loved this film series is. Talent just queues up to say just a single line! Well, how can you say no to being part of film history? Aside from those mentioned above, the film boasts lines from Timothy Dalton; John Ratzenberger; Annie Potts; Jay Hernandez; Joan Cusack; Wallace Shawn; Laurie Metcalf; Carol Burnett; Carl Reiner; Bill Hader; Patricia Arquette; and even the great Mel Brooks.
Pixar has to work for young kids and it does. I took my four year old grandson to see it and he enjoyed it. (More importantly, he sat through the lot without a wee!). There are a few mildly scary bits for very young children. My Frankie took it all in his stride. After being suitably spooked by Anthony Hopkins in "Magic" in 1978, Gabby Gabby's "heavies" were far more concerning to me in any case!
But there is much for adults to love as well. In terms of comedy there are many laugh-out-loud moments: a Combat Carl left repeatedly 'hanging'; Buzz's "inner voice"; Bunny and Ducky's imagined plans; and all of Duke Kaboom's scenes. And as with previous films, there are moment where the script plumbs new depths of emotion. These are friendships between bits of plastic, but they are friendships that have been lived through our childrens' lives. As such, emotions run deep at the end of the film and I defy anyone not to be fighting back tears at the closing scene.
As always, there are Pixar Easter Eggs to be found in the film, In this case, a HUGE number, especially within the Antique Shop scenes. Items are there from every Pixar film, including from the Pixar shorts (Tinny from "Tin Toy"'s there, for example). (There's some pointers for more to spot from the article here, but I'm sure that is just the tip of the iceberg.)
Directed by Josh Cooley (as his first feature!), it's a masterpiece, and cements itself firmly in my films of the year list.
(For the full graphical review, please check out One Mann's Movies on the web or Facebook. Thanks).
A career best from Kidman.
"Destroyer" seems to have had mixed reviews, but it is really one of the most gripping watches I've seen in 2019.
The plot is both familiar (think "The Departed" mixed with "Hell or High Water") but at the same time intricate. Nicole Kidman plays police detective Erin Bell who's in a bad place. She looks to be on her last legs through drink and drugs, but she is being propped up in her post by an understanding boss and a tolerant partner (who spends most of his time leaving "Where the hell are you?" voicemails).
Erin is in pursuit of a truly evil man - Silas (Toby Kebbell) - who is back after a long absence. Erin and Silas have a past that is only unfolded as the film evolves. (To say more would ruin what is an outstandingly well-constructed screenplay). Aside from the "day job", what Erin also has to contend with her truly wayward 16 year old daughter Shelby (Jade Pettyjohn).
It's an astonishing performance. Nicole Kidman is simply extraordinary in this role. As ably demonstrated recently in the excellent "Big Little Lies", Kidman at 52 years old, is still utterly gorgeous in the flesh. But In the same way that Charlize Theron "uglied up" for "Monster", so Kidman here is almost unregonizable as the police officer on the edge. Apparantly she could barely walk due to a bout of the flu during the final scenes of the film, so the acting here required not a huge amount of acting! But it's a terrific performance and one that I think justly deserves a Best Actress Oscar nomination. I'd be genuinely disappointed if she didn't get one for this.
Standout performances also come from Sebastian Stan as Erin's former squeeze Chris and Jade Pettyjohn as young Shelby. Great to also see Bradley Whitford ("West Wing") in a cameo as a truly smug and obnoxious money launderer.
The screenplay by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi (who wrote the "Ride Along" franchaise) is also artfully done, to the extent that again I would personally nominate it for an Oscar. It's true, that the good cop / bad cop movie and the bank heist movie have been done countless times before, such that it feels immediately familiar. And the tone of the film (supported by an effectively stress-inducing music score by Theodore Shapiro) reminded me of "You Were Never Really Here". But here the continuous and dizzying flashing between timelines kept me on my toes and I for one didn't see the stunning twist in the tale coming at all.
Credit must also go to director Karyn Kusama, who is new to me, who keeps the action moving at a slick pace such that I wasn't for one second bored.
Perhaps if there's a criticism here it's that we don't get to see enough of the characterisations fleshed out. This is particularly true of the villain of the piece, Silas, who is painted sufficiently well as being on-the-edge and unhinged, but not unrepentantly "shoot a granny in the face" evil.
I missed this at the cinema, so it took a plane journey to catch up on it. It's a heady mix of criminality, justice, revenge and atonement, and it made the journey just fly by. Highly recommended.
(For the full graphical review, please check out One Mann's Movies via Google or Facebook. Thanks.)
As sponsored by Jacob's Creek.
This was another Cineworld Unlimited preview showing, so this film isn't released in the UK until early August (2019).
Laura (Holliday Grainger) and Tyler (Alia Shawkat) are two late twenty-somethings partying their way to an early death through drink, drugs and lack of sleep in Dublin. They are co-habiting best friends, with Laura a hugely unsuccessful part-time novelist and Tyler a barista. But these "professions" are just to fill the day and provide cash (SURELY not enough!?) to fuel their nights.
They are swimming against the current of convention, but when Laura falls for concert pianist Jim (Fra Fee), and 'settling down' starts to look like an option, then this begins to put a terrible strain on their friendship.
I have to admit that I really didn't enjoy this film. I'm sure it's technically very strong - with great cinematography and (at times) thoughtful script. But I had absolutely no empathy with any of the characters involved. They were driftless individuals leading vacuous hedonistic lives. I just wanted to shake them by the shoulders and shout in their faces "Are you going to be happy with what you've done in your life on your death bed?"
I often talk about "story arcs" in my blog. For example, the "man in a hole" story arc is "happy-sad-happy" through the film. The story arc of this film is "miserable unpleasant people feeling wretched, then slightly less wretched, then wretched again". It was just not a winning formula for me.
I see that the film is described on imdb as a "comedy drama". I think they are shooting for sort of a female version of "Withnail and I". But, to be honest, while there were a few funny lines that raised a smile, I don't think it was funny enough to merit that description. I certainly didn't remotely agree with the "Hilarious" quote on the poster.
Honest to God, I don't think there is a single frame of this film where there is not wine being poured or drugs being snorted. "You drink with a real sense of mortality", dodgy poet Marty (Dermot Murphy) tells Laura. (This is a great line from scriptwriter Emma Jane Unsworth's script). I can't find what the budget of this film was, but it wouldn't surprise me if 80% of it wasn't spent on bottles of Jacob's Creek. I expected to see a "wine wrangler" listed in the end titles.
It's not a great example to set for young people for sure, and it well deserves its UK15 certificate. With its drug taking, heavy drinking and casual (and morally bankrupt) sex, if I was on the BBFC I would have be lobbying for an 18 certificate.
In terms of the cast, Holliday Grainger is excellent and believable in the role of the aimless drifter suddenly finding an anchor. Another really great performance. Equally good is Alia Shawkat, an actress unknown to me. She gets across brilliantly the desperation of a lost soul losing her soulmate. (I just had trouble separating her character in my mind from Rizzo in "Grease". If they ever remake that film, she would be a shoe-in for the role made famous by Stockard Channing.) By the way, if you're trying to pin down where you've seen Fra Fee's striking features before (it was bugging me) he played the part of Courfeyrac in the film version of "Les Miserables".
Made by Sophie Hyde it's an interesting and well made film. As such, I don't want to give it a savage rating. Many may enjoy it. I personally didn't, and wouldn't watch it again. The primary benefit I got from seeing it was again registering Holliday Grainger as an acting force that I will watch out for in future films.
(For the full graphical review, please check out One Mann's Movies on t'internet or Facebook. Thanks. )
Spider-Man: Far from Home (2019)
Where Marvel goes after the Game Ends.
Where does Marvel go after the enormous success of "Avengers: Endgame"? At the time of writing it's just $7M short of it's "Avatar" target of being the biggest grossing film of all time. The answer is a joyous comedy romp with your friendly neighbourhood Spider-man.
Peter Parker (Tom Holland), still reeling from his 'blippage' and the loss of Stark, needs a break. His stress is not improved by his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei, in well-fitting jeans) getting 'closer' with Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau). Fortunately, he's about to go on a European school trip; his chance to get closer to MJ (Zendaya), the source of much pressure in his lycra. Unfortunately school heartthrob Brad (Remy Hii) is also on the trip and zeroes in on MJ too.
But while in Venice a new global terror strikes in the form of a water monster : one of the "elementals". Fortunately Quentin Beck - a.k.a. Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal), a warrior from a parallel Spiderverse - is on hand to assist. But the water-sodden monster is just one of the elementals. Will Peter Parker, teamed with Mysterio, win through and - more importantly - will Spidey get the girl?
As is common with many of the Spider-man films, comedy comes to the fore and this one is no exception. Starting with an excellent "post-blip" tribute video and some hysterical "end-blip" footage, the laughs come free and easy.
It's not National Lampoon's European Vacation, but at times it feels like that. There are more laughs to be had as the school trip hits Europe, and "free-and-easy batchelor" Ned ( Jacob Batalon) forms an unlikely romance with fellow student Betty (Angourie Rice).
Even Gyllenhaal infects his role with a 'wink-at-the-camera' nonchalence that is giggle-worthy. "This is Quentin...." introduces Peter; "No.... " interrupts Gyllenhaal with a 'Smolder Bravestone' eyebrow to camera... "that's Mysterio!"
This irreverence extends to the main villain of the piece (who only emerges late in the second reel), revelling in the role with high camp concern for the creases in his cloak!
This is an excellent ensemble cast, brought over nicely from "Spider-Man - Homecoming" by the same director and writing team (Jon Watts and Erik Sommers respectively). Each character in the school party is well formed: Flash Thompson (Tony Revolori) for example is desperately video-blogging in an attempt to have "likes" fill a personal void (a greeting on arrival at a US airport is both hilarious and heart-breaking).
Tom Holland is great again in the role. He is surely the definitive Peter Parker. I wonder if he had a terrible cold or hayfever or something during filming, since he seemed to have watering eyes in a lot of his scenes.... even the ones that weren't sad!
Zendaya - hot property now after "The Greatest Showman" - does a marvellous job as MJ. As the incredibly sexy siren in "Showman", here she plays the exact opposite: a shy and geeky schoolgirl who you would think about taking for a milk-shake but nothing more.
And once again, surely shining as a future star in her own right, is Angourie Rice as Betty. She was just sooooo great in "The Nice Guys", and here - for me - stole all the scenes she was in.
As always for a Marvel flick there is a finale that gives the numerous digital artists a roof over their heads for another year. But it's all well done.... I had fears on seeing the "Night Monkey" outfit in the trailer that we might be heading for another "Spider-Man 3", surely the CGI / multi-villain nadir of the series. But no, it's all good. Earlier in the film there is quite a mind-warping sequence that is reminiscent of the "Pink Elephants on Parade" of "Dumbo"! (Again, those digital artists all needed a new conservatory or two).
Are there any "end credit scenes" at the end of the film? Yes, actually two crackers. The first features a very welcome cameo return to a well-loved role and provides for a great cliff-hanger ending! And the second - which will probably bamboozle occasional Marvel watchers - made little sense at all yet was good fun!
This is a great summer popcorn movie, enormously entertaining, helped along by a superb soundtrack by Michael Giacchino (if you want to feel some superhero energy for your morning tube ride, listen to his Far from Home Suite Home (LOL) on Youtube). Yes, the movie is a piece of superhero fluff, closer to the "Ant Man" end of the dramatic spectrum, but after the "heavy" drama of "Endgame", it's just what the doctor ordered. Thoroughly recommended.
(For the full graphical review, please check out One Mann's Movies on the interweb or Facebook. Thanks.)
Tell It to the Bees (2018)
A Bee Movie with a sting in the tale.
Tell it to the Bees plays like a grittier Scottish version of "Carol".
It's 1952 ("Carol" was also set in 1952, but in New York). Many married men have come back from the war forever changed. Life is financially tough for most families. In particular, attitudes to multi-racial relationships and (particularly) homosexuality are appalling, and never more so than in the small Scottish mill town where the film is set.
Holliday Grainger plays Lydia, separating from her rough and ready war-veteren husband Robert (Emun Elliott). This is all really hard for 7-year old Charlie (Gregor Selkirk) who without sexual guidance from either parent or school is trying to make sense of his world. Charlie is a sensitive child and finds solace by talking to the bees kept by local doctor Jean Markham (Anna Paquin) where she lives alone in the large family home. "You should tell the bees your secrets. Then they won't fly away." Jean tells the young lad.
As Lydia's circumstances change, she and Jean grow ever closer and scandal is set to envelope the community.
The story comes from a book by Fiona Shaw (the the action moved from Yorkshire to Scotland) and the screenplay is by Henrietta and Jessica Ashworth. Just as in "Carol" the film deliciously builds (if that's not too lascivious a thing to say) the sexual tension that grows between the two women.
But aside from this main love story there are some beautifully crafted sub-stories in there. One in particular, featuring Lydia's cousin Annie Stock (Lauren Lyle) leads to a truly nightmarish scene that will upset some viewers.
An issue I personally found with the Scottish setting is that (like "Under the Skin") much of a dialogue is delivered in a very strong regional accent. This made understanding the dialogue for non-Scots very difficult: I had a particular problem with Emun Elliott in this regard. (Sorry if this comment upsets any Scots reading this: it's just a statement of fact!).
Anna Paquin holds the current record for the youngest-ever Oscar winner ("Best Supporting Actress" in 1993 for "The Piano"), but here proves she hasn' t lost her touch. Because, here she is both determined and vulnerable in equal measure and acts this out brilliantly. Paired with the free-spirited Holliday Grainger they make for a powerhouse performance together, and the sex scene (when it comes) is wonderfully realised: genuinely sensual, but in more of a 50's way than for similar scenes in films like "Desert Hearts" or "Blue is the Warmest Colour".
A late scene on a railway platform - although somewhat clichéd - is an acting masterclass, and memorably done.
Also noteworthy is young Gregor Selkirk in what is his 2nd feature film role. Many of the scenes live or die on this young man, and he does a great job.
This is a small but beautifully crafted film that kept me enthralled. I'm not sure it necessarily needed the bees (some beautiful macro photography by Bartosz Nalazek) but as a simple tale of prejudice in a small community it was well told and delivered the goods.
I really enjoyed this film... so it comes with my recommendation. "Pride" made you appreciate just how far tolerance has come in the UK in 30 years. But "Tell it to the Bees" illustrates that the 80's were just a step along a journey that started long before that.
(For the full, graphical review please visit One Mann's Movies on the internet or Facebook.
Apollo 11 (2019)
Nearly 60 years of manned spaceflight... a "giant leap"?
This is an extraordinary documentary by Todd Douglas Miller.
It's the Apollo 11 mission. That's it. No annoying voiceover from Clooney or Gosling spouting truisms (provided you ignore Walter Kronkite's occasional excellent and sonorous TV commentary). Just extraordinary footage from July 1969 of the 8 day mission and the days immediately preceeding (and in the end titles, following) that historic event.
It's almost unbelievable. 1977's "Capricorn One" famously (and brilliantly) postulated that a fictional Mars landing was all done on a film set to "save face" after a fatal system failure was detected just prior to launch. And it's easy to see where the concept comes from. There is something truly awe-inspiring about the potential number of things that could have gone wrong, but fortunately didn't.
It's crazy..... as it's historical, you KNOW exactly what actually happened. And yet every rocket burn has you on the edge of your seat. The landing itself is "clench the chair-arms" tense: you will never complain again about your low-fuel warning light coming on in your car!
It's not even as if they had the technology to succeed. One of the great things about Damien Chazelle's recent biopic of Neil Armstrong, "First Man", was that the camera lingered on the rivet-ty glory of the Apollo command modules. And there's something uniquely coffin-like about the hatch closing on the three brave men as they lock themselves to the top of a huge great bomb.
Computing wise, the Apollo 11 craft had a computer with 1.024 MHz and 2K of memory; today an Apple S4 Watch has 64-bit dual cores of (presumably) 0.512MHz each (delivering infinitely more computing power) and 1600000KB of memory!
The movie is good in avoiding 'man-splaining' the art of space travel, but this might be confusing for the young and uninitiated. ("OMG!... the rocket's split apart"! "Er, no, it's supposed to do that... it's called stage-separation"). Fortunately, there are some useful little graphical animations added to provide some clue about what you're about to see (for those who didn't have the Airfix Saturn V model and do them repeatedly in your bedroom as a child).
In some cases though there was frustratingly not enough detail provided. Some of the dialogue in the communications with Mission Control I desperately wanted to understand, but just couldn't hear clearly enough. Subtitles though would have ruined the visuals, so I don't think you can win there.
In another crucial scene (the "seat-arm clenching" bit), a "1202 error" flashes in the corner of your screen....WHAT IS THAT, AND IS IT IMPORTANT you scream? Answer there came none. (It's actually a computer overflow alarm, due to the basic nature of the computing capability onboard and the amount of data coming into it during the landing. There's a very technical explanation online (via my blog) if you are interested).
An aspect of the film I liked a great deal was the music score by Matt Morton. But it did niggle a bit that the electronic nature of the music seemed way too modern for the time period depicted. As if deliberately sticking it to anyone so complaining, I did notice in the end titles a statement in small font that said that all of the music was created on musical instruments available in 1969.
This is a film that deserves to be seen at the cinema, and on as big a screen as you can manage to find. It only seems to have a limited UK release (I saw it at our local Picturehouse cinema), but it is really worth going out of your way to catch if you can. A film that properly provides you with a view of our blue oasis of a world from afar: and critically what we might be doing to it.
I also thought it should make humanity feel rather ashamed of itself: if man took those great leaps in the 10 years after JFK's famous speech, what has really been achieved in manned space travel in the 50 years since? On Earth's report card it should say "C- .... could do better".
A film with dodgy voices.
What a great film "Get Out" was. Jordan Peele's classic which unpeeled (sic) race relations in a wholly novel and horrifying way. Yes, the story was a bit 'out there' and unbelievable, but he pulled it off with great chutzpah.
With his follow-up film - "Us".... sorry but, for me, it just didn't work.
It all starts so promisingly. Young Adelaide Wilson (a fine debut performance by Madison Curry) is on a seaside holiday with her mother and careless father when she wanders onto the deserted Santa Cruz beach at night. There sits, like some gothic horror ghost train, the Hall of Mirrors. "Find Yourself" it taunts. She makes the mistake of entering and changes her life forever.
Spin forwards 30 years and Adelaide, now a married mother of two, is back in Santa Cruz with a terrifying feeling that things are about to go pear-shaped. And of course they do!
Why oh why oh why those voices? This film had me gripped until a particular point. Having people stand still and silent at the end of your drive is an incredibly spooky thing to show. But then, for me, the wheels came off big time. The "reveal" of who these people were I could take. But the manner of their behaviour and - particularly - how they talked was horrifying; and not in a good way. When "Red" started speaking I couldn't believe my ears: Joe Pasquale after swallowing Donald Duck.
From there, the film became farcical for me, descending in progressive stages to a tunnel-based apocalypse: a plot element that was just so paper thin it bore no scrutiny at all.
This was, no doubt, an attempt at a satirical dig at the class structure of America ("We are Americans" adding a double meaning to the name of the film). If it had been played as a deliberate comedy farce it might have worked. But otherwise no.
This is not to say that there are not positives in the film. The excellent Lupita Nyong'o gives the whacky material her all, and the other adult female lead - Elisabeth Moss (from TV's "The Handmaid's Tale") - is good value as Kitty Tyler: a diabolical incarnation in either form!
Peele also delivers flashes of directorial brilliance. The "hands across America", disappearing into the sea, is a sight that stays with you. I also liked the twist at the end, although in retrospect it's difficult to relate it to the rest of the story and strikes of desperation in the storytelling.
I know there are some who really like this movie. Each to their own, but I was not one of them. After "Get Out" I was hoping for something much better. I hope that was just Jordan Peele's "difficult second album".
(For the full graphical review, please go to "One Mann's Movies" on t'internet or Facebook. Thanks.)
Men in Black: International (2019)
Lazy, formulaic and pretty pointless.
"Men in Black International", without Will Smith or Tommy Lee Jones, looked like a mistake and indeed it proved to be so.
It's a patchy story at best. New rookie MiB agent "M" (does this mean there are never more than 26 of them around the world?) played by Tessa Thompson teams up with 'dreamboat' agent H (Chris Hemsworth) to try to prevent an evil alien entity called "The Hive" from taking ownership of an ultimate weapon, currently in possession of H's regal alien friend Vungus. H & M go to protect Vungus. But two Hive operatives (played by Laurent and Larry Bourgeois) are way ahead of them. How did they know? Is there a more dangerous enemy? A mole within the MiB organization itself?
Thompson and Hemsworth! Back on the screen together again! The "Ragnarok" part 2 we've all been waiting for! Turn the sizzle-o-meter up to 11 and stand well back! Er... no. Landed with a truly dire script to perform, the duo's on-screen chemistry just never materialises. Tessa Thompson is actually fine, but Chris Hemsworth just seems to be a monotone and annoyingly glib "Thor" redux. It came as a genuine shock to me at the end of the film, where sad scenes of parting are required, that there was supposed to be any emotional attachment between the couple developed at all. Very poor and disappointing.
The script is by two of the "Iron Man" writers, Art Marcum and Matt Holloway, so you might think it should have legs: but, no, the screenplay is incredibly clunky. It might appeal to 10 to 12 year olds (though the film has a UK 12A certificate), but it serves little other than to rather randomly connect the action scenes.
Kevin Maher's waspish review in "The Times" rather cynically referred to the dialogue as being simple enough to be "easily dubbed" (into Chinese). But having seen the film, I fear there is a lot of truth in that.
I'll admit I've never been a massive fan of the Men in Black films, but at least Barry Sonnenfeld's original trilogy had some verve and originality. Here Sonnenfeld has ducked, and "Fate of the Furious" director F. Gary Gray has the reins. And it feels like a distant relative to the originals. My recommendation would be to skip this one, and catch one of the originals on streaming somewhere.
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"Well, I'll bet you I'm gonna be a big star".
There are some movies that when released simply don't need a big marketing campaign. Just a few words of description of the plot are enough to put it on your "must see" list: "A struggling musician has a cycling accident during a freak global blackout and wakes to a world where noone other than him remembers the Beatles or any of their songs." When I heard this I said to myself "yes, Yes, YES"! But would it live up to my expectations?
This is a Richard Curtis penned film, and that's immediately enough to put a tranche of movie-goers off. All his movies have an accent on the uplifting, the positive and/or the whimsical, and I can understand why that winds some people up. If "Richard-Curtissy" was an adjective, and I think it should be, many of these films can be so classified.
Here, although again very Richard-Curtissy, I think he gets the mixture JUST RIGHT.... "Yesterday", for me, was a complete joy from beginning to end.
I imagine Curtis getting this story from a rowdy dinner party round his gaff. He asks his guests, over the third bottle of dessert wine, to play a wild and fantastical "what if" game (in pursuit of the "very good" spare brownie of course). At this particular event, I guess it was co-story-author Jack Barth (in his movie-writing debut) that made the successful attempt to "hog the brownie". For the premise of "Yesterday" is quite brilliant, whilst at the same time being utterly bonkers too!
That being said, the story is not completely original. I thought there were many similarities to the Ricky Gervais vehicle of 2009, "The Invention of Lying", where Gervais alone finds he suddenly has the ability to tell lies, and finds ill-gotten fortune and fame as a result. Much like that earlier film, much of the joy here is in the recognition of the gift given and the dawning realisation of what this might actually mean to him. As such, I found the first half of the film a lot more enjoyable than the second.
The conundrum facing Jack is to remeber all of the Beatles songs and their lyrics (without having Google as a reference), and much fun is had with him stumbling into situations that suddenly remind him of a new track or a particular snatch of lyric.
There is of course an obvious explanation for the whacky storyline, since the hero has received a potentially serious head injury. But would the film go there? (No spoilers here).
Himesh Patel is from TV's "Eastenders" but here makes his movie debut. He is perfectly cast as Jack Malik: in the film, he's a name about to rise from utter obscurity as a Lowestoft retail assistant to global superstardom. Patel is charming and believable as he squirms with his conscience. A surprising and touching beach scene in the final reel of the film is exquisitely acted.
The ever-watchable and utterly gorgeous Lily James here goes brunette: she was actually unrecognisable to me from both the trailer and the poster! Here she makes a very believable high-school teacher with a side-line in management and roadie-ing.
I found Ed Sheeran's cameo in "Bridget Jones Baby" to be excruciating! But here, in what is quite an extensive part, he is much, much better. I think he's been getting lessons.
One of the slight disappointments with the film is that it is a Danny Boyle film that doesn't FEEL like a Danny Boyle film. Aside from some inventive on-screen titles, I didn't detect much of the stylisation that I would expect from one of his films. Yes, there are occasional flashes of genius - for example, the scenes where Malik is desperately trying to remember the lyrics of Eleanor Rigby, and those of him watching, big screen, his own social-media led rise to super stardom. But otherwise, the visuals and storyline are pretty linear in nature.
Although there are cloyingly gooey bits of this film, the element that weaves it all together - such that "all is forgiven" in my book - is the magical music and lyrics of McCartney, Lennon and Harrison.
Was there a better year to be born that 1961? (Well, possibly the mid- to late- 50's so you were old enough to remember more of it). But although only a child aged between two and nine during their album releases, I felt the benefit of three older siblings who WERE able to fully embrace Beatlemania. And the film delights with its modern day recreations of the classic tracks and, as already mentioned, Himesh Patel belts them out wonderfully (especially, I thought, with "Help!").
I can't not give this one 10 stars. I simply loved it, and can't wait for its general release (in the UK, on June 28th 2019) so I can go and love it all over again. Is it technically a 10-star film? Possibly not, but sometimes you just have to go with the way a film makes you feel, not just as you walk, whistling, out of the cinema but for the whole of the next 48 hours and (I suspect) longer. In summary, he loves it. "Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeeeeeaaaaaah".
(This is an edited version. The full graphical review is available on "One Mann's Movies" on t'internet or Facebook. Please consider checking it out. Thanks!)
The Hummingbird Project (2018)
Engineering P*rn with his Cousin Vinny.
What a curious little film this is. The Hummingbird Project is a do-or-die mission for two cousins - Vincent Zaleski (Jesse Eisenberg) and Anton Zaleski (Alexander Skarsgård) - who hatch a plan to run a fibre-optic communications link in a straight line - regardless of swamps, national parks and Appalachian Mountains - between exchanges in Wall Street and Kansas. It currently takes 17 milliseconds for information to get between the two sites. If the team can cut that to 16 milliseconds, floods of market trades will come their way and they will make millions.
The problem is that Vinny and Anton work in a trading organisation for cut-throat boss Eva Torres (Salma Hayek), so their behind the scenes plotting is at least disloyal and at worst borderline criminal.
As the pair Quixotically proceed to buy up land rights and drill horizontal holes, funded by speculative but equally dollar-focused invester Bryan Taylor (Frank Schorpion), will Torres reap her revenge on the pair?
This will appeal to a limited demographic. To really enjoy this film you need to get excited about the prospect of saving a millisecond. Or the joy of understanding the importance of tolerances in electronic components. And it helps if you are an engineering boff that gets moist at the sight of heavy machinery doing what it does best. I fit the bill for at least two out of these three, so overall I enjoyed the film. But I appreciate that this is a Venn diagram that will have a relatively small percentage of the population in the overlap. That doesn't mean a lack of broad appeal makes it a bad film (although the executive producers might disagree). If the only measure was "mass appeal" then every film would be a remake of "Avengers: Endgame".
Notwithstanding the subject matter, the essence of the story also runs against the normal Hollywood grain. To say more here would be a spoiler (I make more comment in a spoiler section on my One Mann's Movies blog).
It all felt to me like this should have been a true story. I was waiting at the end of the opening titles for the card saying "Based on a true story" and during the end credits for the jolly old pictures of the real life Zaleski's and the 'evil' (read, business professional!) Torres. But no. It would have been a much stronger movie if it HAD been based on fact, but this was 100% a work of fiction.
Jesse Eisenberg seems to be a one-trick pony. Here he could be Zuckerberg again, in a slightly parallel field. He gets the chance to act (due to a plot point we won't go into here) but still failed to connect with me.
It was Alexander Skarsgård in a role completely out of his normal niche, that impresses most. He's nerdy, nervy and paranoid, with a strong dose of programmer's Asperger's. Locked in his darkened hotel room with nothing for company but a drum of fibre-optic cable, he impressively demonstrates the despair of failure and the joy - with memorable dance moves - of success.
Also good was Michael Mando (from the Spiderman reboots) as their drilling guru Mark Vega.
The actor I wanted to see more of was Salma Hayak. Eva Torres is another colourful female executive, cum hatchet-woman, that we don't see enough of on screen (I used to work for one, so it's a role I recognise well!). But although Hayak's role starts strongly it just fizzles out.
Overall, I found this an interesting story, but the ending a bit of a damp squib. What might have been barn-storming finale just ends up as a barn-dripping one!
This was written and directed by Canadian Kim Nguyen, someone new to me. This will undoubtedly be a "Marmite-movie", with some loving it and some hating it. I was more on the loving side, but it's not an uplifting watch and the quirkiness of the film never really completely fills that gap.
(For the full graphical review, please check out One Mann's Movies on the interweb, or on Facebook. Thanks).
Late Night (2019)
The Pretty Woman Wears Prada.
Emma Thompson's latest film - Late Night - sees her as Katherine Newbury - a fictional long-standing British late night talk-show host on a US network. The similarities with James Corden (aside from the sex and the really annoying laugh) are obvious. Because the story thrusts itself into the real world, where references to the likes of Jimmy Kimmel and Jimmy Fallon (though curiously not Corden) appear.
Newbury is in a self-imposed rut, and has been for over 10 years: a lazy, formulaic rolling out of the same old schtick with the same boring types of older guests. This is progressively disenfranchaising her from the growing millenial audience; her rating are plummenting and her network boss (Amy Ryan) is happy to advise that the end is nigh.
"Personal excellence" is her watchword, so this comes as a big surprise to her. Less so though to her Parkinson's afflicted older husband, and famous ex-comic Walter Lovell (John Lithgow).
Things need to change. Katherine insists on hiring a woman: any woman. And Molly Patel (Mindy Kaling) is in the right place at the right time. She joins the misogynistic all-male, all-white writing team and sparks fly. So can Katherine - who also has never met the writers! - turn the ship around?
The script by Mindy Kaling drips with great lines. (She cut her comedy writing teeth on the US version of "The Office"). The exchanges between Thompson and Kaling are often the best. One of these is particularly sharp: where Thompson's Newbury launches into a diatribe about the narcissistic nature of youngsters on social media. She moans that young people are constantly spouting their deepest feelings online, in a constant search for some sort of collective redemption. This is a clever and perceptive piece of writing: Newbury comes from my post-war generation where life was just about "bloody getting on with it".
"TimesUp" messages heavily weight the script. But an issue, for me, is that these female empowerment (and the positive racial discrimination messages) are rather too firmly driven home. A scene that particularly grates is the final one that goes completely overboard with the saccharine.
Emma Thompson and John Lithgow, an acting dream-team, don't disappoint particularly when they bounce off each other. But it's a shame that they don't have more scenes together. Lithgow's role in general seems rather light and superficial. For example, there's a scene where Walter and Molly meet during a party, and I was expecting some sort of cute student:mentor relationship to develop; but no, he remains forever on the sidelines.
Thompson's 'wicked witch of the broadcasting west' is a heartless hatchet-women, performing Trump-like firings in withering fashion. It's a characterisation as vivid as Streep's equivalent from "The Devil Wears Prada". "Thawing" scenes where she reengages with real-life and hits the streets for outside broadcasts, are well done.
Kaling's role was, for me, fine without being totally sparkling. I found her character a tad annoying, and never 100% believable. I did enjoy though the performances of Reid Scott (famous for being Dan in "Veep") and Denis O'Hare as Katherine's right hand man Brad. My wife and I spent AGES trying to place where we knew the latter from: IMDB put us out of our agony.... he is the hilarious Judge Abernathy from "The Good Wife"/"The Good Fight" series.
There are some pretty dodgy films out there at the moment and "Late Night" is not one of them. It's a solid and entertaining night out at the movies: seeing Dame Emma Thompson strutting her stuff is good value for any movie dollar.
(For the full graphical review, please check out One Mann's Movies on t'interweb and Facebook. Thanks!).
This little horror is a minor classic.
I normally dislike jump scares in movies. They are a sign of a desperate horror script that has nowhere else to go. Brightburn is different. It starts with a few jumps - both auditory and visual - that serve no real purpose in the story. It's the director (David Yarovesky) giving the horror equivalent of a "nudge, nudge". It says "Buckle up, it's going to be a bumpy ride"! And the warning is well deserved. It's been a while since I've seen so many women (and not a few men) cowering into their partners.
Childless couple Martha and Jonathan Kent... no, sorry, wrong film... Tori and Kyle Breyer (Elizabeth Banks and David Denman) are living in Brightburn Kansas when an unearthly child is delivered to them - - out of the blue, as it were. Brandon (Jackson A. Dunn) grows up as a weedy but highly intelligent 12 year old. But an alien call wakes Brandon into puberty in a wholly unusual way, and life in the normally quiet town of Brightburn is about to get a lot more concerning for the Sheriff's department.
The similarities with a certain DC superhero backstory are stark and playfully whittled into an unfamiliar form. Even down to a flash of red cape as young Brandon rises from his bed taking his sheet with him. It's a riff on a "what if": what if the Man of Steel grew up not to be a mild-mannered reporter, but turned to the dark side instead?
But this is rather simplistic. The movie is outrageously predictable.... until it pulls your comfort rug suddenly from under your feet. Virtually nothing you expect to happen actually happens. Glory be! It's a Hollywood film without a Hollywood film arc!
With a CV that includes "Pitch Perfect 2", "Pitch Perfect 3" and "The Happytime Murders" , Elizabeth Banks holds a special role of honour on my blog by being involved with movies that have consistently made my "Turkeys of the Year" list. So her involvement in this, was not a good sign. But how wrong I was. Banks is actually very effective here as the desperate adoptive mother of the little monster: "You will ALWAYS be my baby boy" she coos, even when all seems hopeless. Equally good is David Denman as Brandon's 'father'.
The film takes its time to introduce them both as a genuinely loving and caring farming couple, and the pair come across so naturally that you can comfortably get to believe the "normal" before the "abnormal" arrives.
Jackson A. Dunn plays young Brandon: if you recognise him, he played the young 12-year old Scott Lang in "Avengers: Endgame". Here he is gloriously creepy as the supernatural child: both terrifying and utterly normal from scene to scene.
The film effectively builds tension, through the use of well chosen music (by Tim Williams, who's previously mostly done orchestration and conducting for a wide range of recent hit movies). That tension needs to be released.... and it is with some effective horror that hits 11 on the ketchup scale. There were apparently two short scenes cut by the BBFC to get the UK15 certificate, but it still feels that the producers (literally) got away with murder to get that certificate approved. If you are of the nervous/squeamish variety, this is probably a film worth you giving a miss.
Director David "Yarvo" Yarovesky has previously worked with producer James Gunn on "Guardians of the Galaxy", but this should be his breakout movie.
It's budget was a mere $7 million. Yep, you heard that right. That's over 28 times cheaper than the bloated blah-fest irrelevance that was "Dark Phoenix".
"Brightburn" is a movie that I foresee will divide audiences but then build a reputation as a classic of the genre. It has the creepiness of an "Omen"; the jump scares of an "Alien"; the darkness of a "Midnight Special"; and the unpredictability of a "Cloverfield". It's not quite perfection: for me, its story stretches credibility in some places (that real action wasn't taken by the legal/social car services earlier!). But it still deserves to be a big hit. I think it will be.
(For the full graphical review, please check out One Mann's Movies on the interweb or Facebook. Thanks).
Not as Agrabahd as I was expecting.
You all know the plot! "Street-rat" Aladdin (Mena Massoud) fancies Princess Jasmine of Agrabah (Naomi Scott). Her father, the sultan (Navid Negahban), only wants happiness for her. But the law says that she can only marry a prince.
Meanwhile, the sultan's evil adviser Jafar (Marwan Kenzari) perceives Aladdin as the fabled "diamond in the rough": the only one able to enter the 'cave of wonders' to retrieve an old lamp; a lamp that contains a genie who will grant the owner three wishes.
The biggest problem here is a 27-year old legacy from the late Robin Williams. In 1992 he embarked on 90 minutes of improvised riffing that the clever Disney animators worked around. How exactly does anyone follow that? Who exactly *could* follow that? As it is, Will Smith has a good crack as the genie, but only makes it to about 60% on the Robin-o-meter. He seems to be far less "street" in this film than his normal persona, perhaps being asked to tone it down by Disney? But this feels like a bad call. If he'd been allowed to 'let-rip' and ad lib, Williams-style, the film might have been a bit more dynamic.
Elsewhere in the acting stakes, both Mena Massoud and Marwen Kenzari both feel underpowered: Massoud can sing adequately for the lead, but lacks the screen presence to nail the role; Dutch actor and comedian Kenzari on the other hand is supposed to be utterly evil but comes across as mildly sarcastic with a side order of constipation. There are a whole world of actors out there who could go the whole "Billy Zane" on the role... but apparently overlooked. In both cases - and in general for the whole production - the roles seem to have been largely chosen for their facial similarities to the animated characters rather than for their charisma or acting abilities.
The biggest change in the script, other than minor tweaks for current taste and sensibilities - "barbaric" for example is gone! - is the respect given to Jasmine who gets a thoroughly "MeToo" makeover as the empowered force for good behind the throne. She even gets her own song - "Speechless" - which gets a curious "snippet" treatment initially but which comes good in fine style later on.
And Naomi Scott is a revelation in the part, setting the screen on fire as a sexy, sassy and wise Disney heroine. Scott firmly sets herself up here as "one to watch" in the future. She is far and away the best thing in the film.
Also good as Jasmine's maid is Saturday Night Live regular Nasim Pedrad, who I spent most of the film thinking was Selma Hayak!
With four grandkids under 5, I always view these films with an eye to "suitability". In Aladdin, there are a few dodgy moments early on: 'henchman number 5' gets suddenly munched by the "blue tiger cave"; and Jafar - clearly to illustrate the depths to which either his 'sarcasm' or his 'constipation' can reach - tosses his hapless right-hand-man down a well to his (presumed) death. ("It's OK little one.... there was a BIIIIGGGG pillow at the bottom"). But other than that, and some possibly scary 'giant-Jafar' effects in the finale, the rest of the film is pretty innocuous. My one reservation for younger kids would be the 128 minute running time. It's a bit flabby in places, and cutting 10 minutes out of the run-time would help youngsters with a less-than feature length attention span.
Guy Ritchie has the unenviable job of bringing it all in, and I was not disappointed by the effort. There is a visual flair on show that made it very watchable. There are also some nice Disney in-jokes: the carpet builds the Disney castle opening titles (tinker bell arc and all!) and the genie conjures up "Fantasyland" on the map.
Overall, I went into this expecting to hate it, but I didn't. The songs lack the manic pizzazz of the original animated versions, but some of them still worked well: "Friend like Me" is particularly effective (I actually got to hear and understand the lyrics this time!). It's a perfectly fun way to spend a couple of hours at the cinema, and for kids, particularly those without the reference of the Disney original, will probably love it.
(For the full graphical review, please check out One Mann's Movies on the interweb or Facebook. Thanks.) ("Made you look")
I enjoyed Bohemian Rhapsody very much - I really did. But I did get some stick for not giving it the full 10*'s: I gave it9*'s (which is still pretty good for me!). I think my main reservation was the sanitisation of Mercury's life. With "Rocketman" - a full-on musical based on the life of Reggie Dwight (aka Elton John) - the word sanitised doesn't enter into it!
It's an extraordinary life story. As a child, Reg had a talent - very nicely demonstrated in the film - for hearing a piece of music once and being able to reproduce it. As a teenager Reg (now played by Taron Egerton) meets Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell), and a writing partnership of the quality of Lennon and McCartney is formed.
Dick James (Stephen Graham, so brilliant in Season 5 of "Line of Duty") is Elton's original manager, dismissive about many of the songs but canny enough to see the potential and send the pair to LA for a shot at fame. There Elton meets the gay empressario John Reid ("Bodyguard's" Richard Madden) and a business and personal relationship drives Elton into megastardom. But that all comes at a cost, as drink, drugs and sex become addictive.
The star turn is Taron Egerton's portrayal of Elton. It's extraordinary. It's so brilliant because its not really an impersonation: by the end of the film, he just *is* Elton. When we hear some of his classic songs, most notably his 'recording' of "Your Song", it's the Taron Egerton version that you hear... not some slavish attempt to recreate the single. And Egerton can sing!
But while Egerton deservedly gets a lot of the praise, he is supported by some really solid supporting performances: most notably Jamie Bell and Richard Madden. Bell's Taupin is a quiet supporting figure, never over-stepping his brief: he's arguably a bigger star than Egerton. Madden on the other hand - probably breaking womens' hearts the length of the country - has steamy sex scenes with Egerton but is otherwise fantastic portraying the controlling monster Reid.
Whis is surely a contender for a Costume Oscar. TThe costume department have a whale of a time with this film. But, after all, they have a huge back-catalog of historically outrageous material to work with! It's all brilliantly done by costume designer Julian Day, and adds greatly to the style and dynamics of the film.
Showing great directorial flair is Dexter Fletcher, famous for coming in and 'saving' "Bohemian Rhapsody" after a less than easy initial shoot with Bryan Singer. Here he's got full control from the get-go, and it shows. The opening of the film is a memorable entrance to a therapy session, and the use of that environment to frame the story is simply brilliant.
It's also not really a biopic with music but a musical framing a biopic. This might come as a shock to "La La Land" haters! But it's intriguing that - apart from some of the historical releases that frame the story - all of Elton's hits are scattered through the film without regard to release date. It's comical to see the reaction of Dick James to 90's hits back in the 70's!
Talking of which, another highspot is the memorable video for "I'm Still Standing" with Egerton cleverly CGI'd in.
The film is a UK 15-certificate, so if you are prudish, prepare to be offended by the homosexual sex and drugs usage. Elton recently commented that "I haven't led a PG-13 rated life," and he pushed that the film should not be diluted to appeal to a broader rating. That's a good decision.
An occasional feature of my blog are sightings of my son-in-law's brother, Paul Jones, who does a lot of film extra work. He's in "Rocketman" but it's not an obvious appearance! During recording of Elton playing "Bennie and the Jets", a call went out to the extras as to whether anyone could play the piano. Paul's hand went up first, so those are Paul Jones' hands - gaudy rings and all - playing the keys!
This will undoubtedly make my Top 10 of the year. I loved it. It's got all the heart of BoRhap, but has 10 times the soul. If you've not seen it yet, I heartily recommend it. How long will it be before I see another music biopic this good? I think it's gonna be a long long time...
Dark Phoenix (2019)
It's got all of the credentials, but none of the heart. The latest big-budget X-Men film is curiously un-engaging.
Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) has achieved an uneasy truce with the US President (Brian d'Arcy James), maintaining that position by donating his team's work to the country as a sort of superhero 'International Rescue'. He even has a hotline phone on his desk. In their latest mission, they help the crew of a space shuttle in trouble who have encountered a powerful space anomaly. During the rescue, the young Jean Grey (Sophie Turner from "Game of Thrones") absorbs all of the energy from the phenomenon and comes back a changed woman.
Struggling with her own mental state, this 'Dark Phoenix' becomes a force that threatens everyone around her including the X-Men. But there's a greater threat to the whole planet, with a team of aliens, led by their leader, Vuk (Jessica Chastain), also laying claim to the Phoenix's powers.
This "First Class" timeline is all very well, but a key issue is that we all know that we end up at the story-line of Bryan Singer's original X-Men from 2000. So any threat against most of the characters in this film is meaningless since we know they make it to the original product: Xavier emerges as Patrick Stewart; Grey emerges as Famke Janssen; Magneto (Michael Fassbender) emerges as Ian McKellen; Storm (Alexandra Shipp) emerges as Halle Berry; etc.
None of this is helped by a screenplay (by John Byrne and Chris Claremont) that is clunkingly predictable. The pre-titles sequence of the recent (and much better) "Shazam!" seemed already familiar when I saw that, but is here replicated almost perfectly (DC/Marvel industrial espionage? Or just a bizarre coincidence?)
As a general rule, I think if you are EVER travelling along a single carriageway road with a child in the back seat* and you get that "pre-title sequence" vibe, then it's ALWAYS advisable to pull over, grab a coffee, and generally wait until you hear some stirring music before hitting the road again! (* Obvs, the child will be sitting in the middle seat..... because the middle seat is ALWAYS more comfortable that either of the two window seats (LOL)),
The rest of the plot almost writes itself, and everything you expect to happen pretty much does (not helped by the fact that one of the twists is absurdly spoiled by the trailer).
As if already giving up on the paper-thin script, most of the actors seem to turn up for the pay-cheque: even Jennifer Lawrence, James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain and Nicholas Hoult appear lacklustre and wooden. The only actors that really made any sort of impression were Sophie Turner, reprising her role from "X-Men: Apocalypse" and clearly putting in the effort to jump from small screen to big, and Michael Fassbender who at least adds a bit of much needed gravitas to proceedings.
I'm afraid much of the blame must be put down to Simon Kinberg, who's produced a lot of great movies but has this as his directorial debut. The pacing left me feeling quite bored in places. I even noticed the obvious fan-boy sitting next to me (one of a set of three!) glance at his watch a couple of times towards the end.
The only time when things became more energised was during a relatively exciting train sequence, where 2nd assistant director Brian Smrz (clearly a stuntman by trade) took the reins. This part of the film actually worked well. It was notable that a brief scene where Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) expressed remorse over the fate of a guard jolted you into the realisation that you'd just seen - you know - ACTUAL, rather than fake, emotion on the screen!
Overall, this is not a truly terrible movie as a piece of popcorn escape entertainment, but it really could and should have been a whole lot sharper. Ask me in three months time and I will struggle to tell you anything about this one.
By the way, "over 15,000 people were involved in the making of this film" it says at the end of the interminable end-title roll, which goes to explain why the budget was $200 million: a figure I suspect they will struggle to recoup. And after sitting through those end-titles - purely for the good of you, dear reader - I can confirm that there is no "monkey" (end-title scene) at the end of it. However, it also does allow me to make one final positive comment about the film: the score by Hans Zimmer was a real humdinger, and I will be seeking out the soundtrack on my streaming channel of choice for a second listen.
(For the full graphical review, please check-out One Mann's Movies on the interweb or Facebook. Thanks).
Avengers: Endgame (2019)
The final curtain.
I will keep this first part of the review short, but add some footnotes (indexed with <#> symbols) to a "spoiler section" below the trailer videofurther down. Proceed at your peril if you haven't yet seen it!
The MCU has delivered an impressively well-connected movie series. In the case of Thanos, this is a story-arc that started in the mid-credit "monkey" at the end of 2012's "The Avengers" and, at the conclusion of "Avengers: Infinity War", saw half the universe's population drift away - Voldemort-style - into grey ash. This, of course, also wiped out half of our heroes. This included Spider-Man (Tom Holland); Dr Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch); Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman); Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson); half of the remaining Guardians; The Wasp (Evangeline Lilly) and Dr Pym (Michael Douglas). Oblivious to all of this is Ant Man (Paul Rudd), still stranded in the 'quantum realm' following the demise of his colleagues, and with no one to flick the 'return' switch.
After some early action, Endgame's story revolves around a desperate attempt by the remaining Avengers, led by Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and a 'retired' Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jnr) to undo the undoable. Can they succeed against all the odds? (With a new Spider-Man film due out in the summer, I'll give you a guess!). Of more relevance perhaps is whether the team can stay unscathed from their encounter with the scheming and massively powerful Thanos (Josh Brolin)?
The film will not be to every fan's taste. After the virtually non-stop rip-roaring action of "Infinity War", "Endgame" takes a far more contemplative approach to its first hour.
The film starts with a devastating prologue, and a great lesson in statistics: that you need a decent sized population to guarantee getting a 50:50 split! There is also a very surprising twist in the first 15 minutes or so that I didn't see coming AT ALL.
But then things settle down into a far more sombre section of the film: short on action; long on character development. The world is grieving for its loss, unable to move on past the non-stop counselling sessions that everyone is getting. This first hour was, for me, by far, my favourite part of the film. Seeing how the characters we know and love have been impacted - some for better rather than for worse - was terrific. Mark Ruffalo's Hulk (with a rather glib plot-point) takes on an hilarious new aspect; and Chris Hemsworth adds hugely comedic value as Thor, setting up in Scotland a "New Asgard" settlement in uncharacteristically laid-back fashion.
As an ensemble cast, everyone plays their parts extremely well. But it is just the breadth of the cast that astounds in this film: just about everyone who is anyone in the Marvel Universe - at least, those who are still alive (alive!) and not dead (dead!) - pop up for an appearance! This is great fun with, in one particular case, the opportunity to try some more rejuvenation of an old timer as previously done with Samuel L. Jackson in "Captain Marvel".
Inevitably, some of these appearances are overly brief, and characters that I wanted to see developed more in this film (particularly Brie Larson's Captain Marvel) get very little screen time. Drax (Dave Bautista) and Mantis (Pom Klementieff) barely get a single line each. So it will depend on where your loyalties lie as to whether you are satisfied with the coverage or not. (I personally find Chris Evans' Captain America a bit of a po-faced bore, so I wasn't keen on the amount of screen time he had).
Stan Lee again gets another cameo in the bag before his demise: will this actually be his last live one?
Overall, I enjoyed this movie. It could obviously NEVER live up to the over-hyped expectations of the fan base. But as a cinematic spectacle, for me, it delivered on its billing as a blockbuster finale, but one filled with a degree of nuance I was not expecting. The problem with the way that the plot have been structured (no spoilers - <#>) is that it is easy to pick holes in the storyline. Indeed, some dramatic options (that to me seemed obvious ones to 'mine') were left 'unmined' <##>; others were left inexplicably hanging <###>.
I suspect the reason for some of this is that the initial cut of this film probably ran to 5 hours rather than the - still bladder-testing - 3 hours as released. There were probably a bunch of scenes left on the cutting room floor that might allow things to make more sense in the extended BluRay release.
It's at times slow, but for me never dull. It does suffer from one significant flaw though: the "Return of the King" disease. It doesn't know when to quit. There was a natural MCU arc to follow and a perfect time at which to end it: but the directors (the Russo Brothers, Anthony Russo and Joe Russo) kept adding additional scenes that detracted from the natural ending <####>.
Above all, unlike I think all but one film in MCU history, there is NO "MONKEY" (end-credit scene) in the end credits: either mid-credit or end-credit! So, after the long title crawl (and some rather odd choices for end-title music by Alan Silvestri), if you are not to look bloody stupid as the lights come up, and face a storm of derision from your partner, then leave after the dramatic roll-call sequence of the film's stars!
******SPOILER SECTION***** Do not read beyond this point if you've not watched the film!
<#> The "plot-hole picking" business I referenced is of course the time-travelling element of the plot. First up, Stark's discovery of the mobius strip McGuffin is nicely done and his moral torment at disrupting the idyllic life he's built is relatable. But this timey-wimey stuff tends to play havoc with logic.....
<##> The missed opportunity I saw was the killing of Nebula (the younger) by Nebula (the elder) (both Karen Gillan). If it had been the other way round, I *might* have understood it. But surely this way round, Nebula the elder would have ceased to exist to go back in time in the first place? That's obviously a paradox! It would at least have been more satisfying if Nebula the elder had "ashed" away or something: literally a self-sacrifice for the greater good. Perhaps I've missed something and need to watch it again!
<###> My other question would be what happened to her sister Gamora? She was alive and kicking (hard) in one scene, but then not mentioned further: just a pining Star Lord (Chris Pratt) looking at her picture? Again, maybe I missed something!
What was particularly joyous was seeing a plethora of great faces on the screen: Rene Russo (no immediate relation to the directors!) as Thor's mother; Natalie Portman, reprising her role of Jane Porter from the first Thor films (so brief, it was clearly constructed from cut footage or something); Michael Douglas, old and young, as Dr Pym and particularly Robert Redford. (So THIS, not "The Old Man and the Gun", is his "final film" then!!?)
My previous reservations (from "Captain Marvel") about the superior fire-power of Captain Marvel also held true. Although she had "all the other planets" around the universe to cater for ("Fair point"), when she did turn up she ripped through Thanos's ship like paper (as she did in her own film). And yet she couldn't rip her way through Thanos? And a stone-less Thanos at that!
This really made no sense to me. In "Infinity War" you could rationalise that the REASON the combined efforts of The Avengers to attack and remove the glove of Thanos failed was BECAUSE he was immensely powerful by having four of the five stones. In the battle scene in "Endgame" he had the better of Stark, Thor, Captain America AND Marvel but without any stones in his possession. Or have I missed something yet again here?
<####> My view of the finale was that it should have ended with the (rather CGI'd) funeral pan round the assembled characters (including a few randoms... I understand the young teen on his own was the kid who helped Stark in "Iron Man Three"). While the Captain America time travelling piece that followed was sweet and all, it's been done before (in Mel Gibson's "Forever Young" for example) and for me wasn't worth the minutes invested in it at the end of an already long film.
So, where will we go from here then in the MCU universe? Stan Lee is dead; Stark is dead; Black Widow is dead (though - as Amy Andrews points out, in her excellent review of the movie - she's been criminally underused). There will no doubt be further MCU films: "SpiderMan: Far From Home" opens in the summer; surely we are due "Black Panther" and "Captain Marvel" follow-ups; ; and Ant-Man and the Wasp have barely scratched the surface together. But will we ever get to see another "Avengers-style" story arc that traverses and connects the characters again in a similar way? Only the timey-wimey stuff will tell.
(For the full graphical review, please check out One Mann's Movies on the web or Facebook.)
Long Shot (2019)
The definition of punching above your weight!
Long Shot is a comedy featuring the 'out-there' journalist Fred Flarsky (Seth Rogan) who has been holding a candle for the glacial ice-queen Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron) for nearly twenty years. At the age of 16 she was his babysitter. Always with an interest in school issues, she has now risen to the dizzy heights of secretary ("of State") to the President of the United States (Bob Odenkirk). With Charlotte getting the opportunity to run for President, fate arranges for Fred to get hired as a speechwriter on the team to help inject some necessary humour into Charlotte's icy public persona. But in terms of romantic options, the shell-suited Fred is surely #punching isn't he?
Getting the balance right for a "romantic comedy" is a tricky job, but "Long Shot" just about gets it spot on. The comedy is sharp with a whole heap of great lines, some of which will need a second watch to catch. It's also pleasingly politically incorrect, with US news anchors in particular being lampooned for their appallingly sexist language.
Just occasionally, the humour flips into Farrelly-levels of dubious taste (one "Mary-style" incident in particular was, for me, very funny but might test some viewer's "ugh" button). The film also earns its UK15 certificate from the extensive array of "F" words utilized, and for some casual drug use.
Romantically, the film harks back to a classic blockbuster of 1990, but is well done and touching.
The sharp and tight screenplay was written by Dan Sterling, who wrote the internationally controversial Seth Rogen/James Franco comedy "The Interview" from 2014, and Liz Hannah, whose movie screenplay debut was the Spielberg drama "The Post".
Behind the camera is Jonathan Levine, who previously directed the pretty awful "Snatched" from 2017 (a film I have started watching on a plane but never finished) but on the flip side he has on his bio the interesting rom-com-zombie film "Warm Bodies" and the moving cancer comedy "50:50", also with Rogan, from 2011.
Also worthy of note in the technical department is the cinematography by Yves Bélanger ("The Mule", "Brooklyn", "Dallas Buyers Club") with some lovely angles and tracking shots (a kitchen dance scene has an impressively leisurely track-away).
Seth Rogen is a bit of an acquired taste: he's like the US version of Johnny Vegas. Here he is suitably geeky when he needs to be, but has the range to make some of the pathos work in the inevitable "downer" scenes. Theron is absolutely gorgeous on-screen (although unlike the US anchors I OBVIOUSLY also appreciate her style and acting ability!). She really is the Grace Kelly of the modern age. She's no stranger to comedy, having been in the other Seth (Macfarlane)'s "A Million Ways to Die in the West". But she seems to be more comfortable with this material, and again gets the mix of comedy, romance and drama spot-on.
The strong supporting cast includes the unknown (to me) June Diane Raphael who is very effective at the cock-blocking Maggie, Charlotte's aide; O'Shea Jackson Jr. as Fred's buddy Lance; and Ravi Patel as the staffer Tom.
But winning the prize for the most unrecognizable cast member was Andy Serkis as the wizened old Rupert Murdoch-style media tycoon Parker Wembley: I genuinely got a shock as the titles rolled that this was him.
Although possibly causing offence to some, this is a fine example of a US comedy that delivers consistent laughs. Most of the audience chatter coming out of the screening was positive. At just over 2 hours, it breaks my "90 minute comedy" rule, but just about gets away with it. It's not quite for me at the bar of "Game Night", but it's pretty close. Recommended.
(For the full graphical review, please visit One Mann's Movies on the web or Facebook. Thanks.)
Wild Rose (2018)
Three chords and the truth.
BAFTA named Jessie Buckley as one of their "Rising Stars" for 2019, and here she proves why.
Buckley plays Glaswegian Rose-Lynn Harlan, a decidedly wild child electronically tagged and released from the clink but straight down to some very public cowgirl sex with her erstwhile boyfriend. Only then does she have the afterthought of going round to the house of her Mum (Julie Walters) where two young children live. For Rose-Lynn is a single mum of two (#needs-to-be-more-careful-with-the-cowgirl-stuff), and the emotional damage metered out to the youngsters from her wayward life is fully evident.
Rose-Lynn is a frustrated 'country-and-weste'... no, sorry... just 'western' singer, and she has a talent for bringing the house down in Glasgow during a show. The desire to 'make it big' in Nashville is bordering on obsession, and nothing - not her mum, not her children, nothing - will get in her way.
Rose-Lynn has no idea how to make her dream come true. (And no, she doesn't bump into Bradley Cooper at this point). But things look up when she lies her way to a cleaning job for the middle class Susannah (Sophie Okonedo) who sees the talent in her and comes up with a couple of innovative ways to move her in the right direction.
Will she get out of her Glasgow poverty trap and rise to fame and fortune as a Nashville star?
Rose-Lynn is not an easy character to like. She is borderline sociopathic and has a self-centred selfish streak a mile wide. As she tramples all over her offspring's young lives, breaking each and every promise like clockwork, then you just want to shout at her and give her a good shaking. It's a difficult line for the film to walk (did the ghost of Johnny Cash make me write that?) and it only barely walks it unscathed.
A key shout-out needs to go to director Tom Harper ("Woman in Black 2", and the TV epic "War and Peace") and his cinematographer of choice George Steel. Some of the angles and framed shots are exquisitely done. A fantastic dance sequence through Susannah's house (the best since Hugh Grant's No. 10 "Jump" in "Love Actually") reveals the associated imaginary musicians in various alcoves reminiscent of the drummer in "Birdman". And there are a couple of great drone shots: one (no spoilers) showing Rose-Lynn leaving a party is particularly effective.
The camera simply loves Jessie Buckley. She delivers real energy in the good times and real pathos in the bad. She can - assuming it's her performing - also sing! (No surprise since she was, you might remember, runner up to Jodie Prenger in the BBC search for a "Maria" for Lloyd Webber's "Sound of Music"). She is certainly one to watch on the acting stage.
Supporting Buckley in prime roles are national treasure Julie Walters, effecting an impressive Glaswegian accent, and Sophie Okonedo, who is one of those well-known faces from TV that you can never quite place. BBC Radio 2's Bob Harris also turns up as himself, being marvellously unconvincing as an actor!
But I don't like country music you might say? Frankly neither do I. But it hardly matters. As long as you don't ABSOLUTELY LOATHE it, I predict you'll tolerate the tunes and enjoy the movie. Followers of this blog might remember that - against the general trend - I was highly unimpressed with "A Star is Born". This movie I enjoyed far, far more.
(For the full graphical review please visit One Mann's Movies on the web or Facebook. Thanks).
If Beale Street Could Talk (2018)
Love and Rage against the machine.
The baby asked,
'Is there not one righteous among them?":
James Baldwin, If Beale Street Could Talk
Beale Street refers to the jumpin' heart of Memphis where Louis Armstrong was born. As explained in text from Baldwin's source book (requiring a speed read!) it's used as a metaphor for the birthplace of every black person in America. ("Every black person in America was born on Beale Street"). But the story is set in Harlem, New York, and with this intellectual stretch, before I even get past the title, I am immediately reaching for the "P-word", of which more later.
Tish (KiKi Layne) is 19 and in love with her lifelong friend 'Fonny' (Stephan James). So much in love in fact (and so careless) that Tish is now pregnant with his child. Tish must break this news to both families herself, since Fonny is inside awaiting trial for a vicious rape that he claims he didn't commit. Tish and their joint families are trying to help, but can Fonny be released in time to see the birth of his child? Or are the institutions so set against him that release is impossible and death row might await?
At its heart, this film portrays a truly beautiful love story. Tish and Fonny (both adorably played by the young leads) are friends becoming more than friends. We see their emerging love through flashback scenes. Some of these, particularly one on a metro train, are exquisitely done; long gazes into eyes, starting as one thing and ending as another.
In another scene, Fonny takes Tish's virginity, and it's done with style, taste and finesse. For younger teens this should be compulsory viewing as an antidote to all the horrible porn they are seeing on the internet: THIS is what sex, based on a foundation of true love, is all about. (The film is UK15 rated for "infrequent very strong language, strong sex" - I actually agree with the rating for the language (and actually I think an act of marital violence should also have also been referenced).... but not for the sex, which should be 12A).
It's a love story then? Well, yes, but offset against that, it's a very angry film, seething with rage about how the police force and the justice system is set 'against the black man'. Director Barry Jenkins (of - eventual - Oscar winner "Moonlight" fame) has a message to impart and he is intent on imparting it.
The film didn't get a SAG nomination for the ensemble cast, but it almost feels that they missed out here. As well as the two young leads being spectacular, the whole of the rest of the cast really gel well together, particularly the respective parents: Colman Domingo ("Selma") as Tish's father Joseph; Regina King as Tish's mother Sharon; Michael Beach ("Patriots Day") as Fonny's father Frank and Aunjanue Ellis as his bible-bashing mother. A dramatic scene where they all collectively hear the news about the pregnancy is both comical and shocking in equal measure.
If this film gets an Oscar nomination for sound, I'll frankly be cross! There is significant use of sonorous, bass-heavy music and effects (including a lovely cello theme by Nicholas Britell) - all very effective; there is a lot of earnest and quietly spoken dialogue between the characters - also moody and effective. Unfortunately the two are mixed together in some scenes and frankly I couldn't make out what was being said. Most frustrating.
In addition, there is voiceover narration from Tish (if you follow my blog regularly you KNOW what I think about that!). Actually, this isn't as overly intrusive as in films like "The Hate U Give", but it sounds like it was recorded in a dustbin! It's a bit like that effect you get with headphones where the plug isn't quite in the socket, and everything sounds way off and tinny. When combined with Layne's accent the effect, again, made the dialogue difficult to comprehend.
There's a degree of bad language in the film, albeit mild in comparison to "The Favourite"! Tish's sister (Teyonah Parris) uses the c-word in one very funny dissing of Fonny's 'up-themselves' sisters (Ebony Obsidian and Dominique Thorne). But the n-word is used repeatedly during the film, and that I can never get used to. I 'get it' (in the sense that I understand the perception) that this is a word that 'only black people can use between themselves'. But this just feels elitist and wrong to me. At a time when Viggo Mortensen gets crucified for using it once (while being descriptive and in-context) during a press junket for "Green Book", I just feel that if a word is taboo it should be taboo, period.
I will also raise the "p-word", that being "pretentious". Barry Jenkins clearly feels he has something to prove after the success of "Moonlight", and there are certainly moments of directorial brilliance in the film. As previously mentioned, the sex scene is one of the best I've seen in a long while. Also beautifully done are a birthing scene and two confrontational scenes in Puerto Rico. But there are also moments that seem to be staged, artificial and too 'arty' for their own good. Any hidden meaning behind them completely passed me by. (Examples are Sharon's wig scene and a pan around Fonny's wood sculpture). It all seems to be "trying too hard".
Hate for the police is also writ large on the film, with every discriminatory police officer in the whole of the US embodied in the wicked sneering face of the police office Bell (Ed Skrein).
This is a film written and directed by an American black man (Jenkins) and largely fully cast with American black people. And I'm a white Englishman commenting on it. I'm clearly unqualified to pass judgement on how black America really feels about things! But comment I will from this fug of ignorance.
It feels to me that the "Black Lives Movement" has given, at long last, black film-makers like Jenkins a platform in cinema to present from. This is a great thing. But I'm sensing that at the moment the tone of the output from that platform (such as this film) seems to me heavily tinged with anger: a scream of frustration about the system and racial injustice over the years. It's the film-makers right to make films about subjects dear to them. And I'm sure this summer we'll sadly again see atrocities as previously seen in the likes of Ferguson and Dallas, fuelling the fire of hate. But I would personally really like to see someone like Jenkins use his undoubted talents to make a more uplifting film: a film reflecting the more positive strives that are happening in society, allowing for people of all races and all sexual orientations to make their way in business (not drug-running or crime!) and/or life in general. Those good news stories - the positive side of race relations - are out there and my view is that someone like Barry Jenkins should be telling them.
Final thoughts: I wasn't as much of a fan of "Moonlight" as the Academy, and this film also left me conflicted. The film is well-made and the cast is very engaging. It also has a love story at its heart that is moody but well-done. Overall though the movie felt over-engineered and a little pretentious, and that knocked it down a few pegs for me.
(For the full graphical review please visit One Mann's Movies on the web or Facebook. Thanks)
The Mule (2018)
Eastwood is back, but is he hero or anti-hero?
It's delightful to see Clint Eastwood back in front of the camera on the big screen. His last starring film was "Trouble with the Curve" in 2012 - a baseball-themed film that I don't remember coming out in the UK, let alone remember seeing. Before that was 2008's excellent "Gran Torino".
"The Mule" is based on a true New York Times story about Leo Sharp, a veteren recruited by a cartel to ship drugs from the southern border to Chicago.
Eastwood couldn't cast Sharp in the movie as himself because he died back in 2016, so had to personally take the role. (This is #satire.... Eastwood's last film was the terrible "The 15:17 to Paris" where his 'actors' were the real-life participants themselves: you won't find a review from me on imdb for this one as I only review films I've managed to sit through.... and with this one I failed!).
Eastwood plays Earl Stone, a self-centred horticulturist of award-winning daylily's (whatever they are) who is estranged from wife Mary (Dianne Wiest) and especially from his daughter Iris (Alison Eastwood, Clint's own daughter), who now refuses to speak to him. This is because Earl has let his family down at every turn. The only person willing to give him a chance is his grand-daughter Ginny (Taissa Farmiga, younger sister of Vera). With his affairs in financial freefall, a chance meeting at a wedding leads Earl into a money-making driving job for the cartel operated by Laton (Andy Garcia). (Laton doesn't seem to have a first name..... Fernando perhaps?).
With has beat-up truck and aged manner, he is invisible to the cops and so highly effective in the role. Even when - as the money keeps rolling in - he upgrades his truck to a souped-up monster!
It's difficult to know whether Eastwood is playing a hero or an anti-hero. You feel tense when Earl is at risk of being caught, but then again the law officers would be preventing hundreds of kilos of cocaine from reaching the streets of Chicago and through their actions saving the lives of probably hundreds of people. I felt utterly conflicted: the blood of those people, and the destruction of the families that addiction causes, was on Earl's hands as much as his employer's. But you can't quite equate that to the affable old-man that Eastwood portrays, who uses much of the money for charitable good-works in his community.
In parallel with the drug-running main plot is a tale of Earl's attempted redemption: "family should always come first". When the two storylines come together around a critical event then it feels like a sufficient trigger for Earl to turn his back on his life of selfishness. This also gives room for some splendid acting scenes between Eastwood and Wiest. It's also interesting that Earl tries to teach the younger DEA enforcement agent not to follow in the sins of his past. Bradley Cooper, back in pretty-boy mode, plays the agent, but seemed to me to be coasting; to me he wasn't convincing in the role. Michael Peña is better as his unnamed DEA-buddy.
The showing at my cinema was surprisingly well-attended for a Wednesday night, showing that Eastwood is still a star-draw for box-office even in his old age. And it's the reason to see the film for sure. His gristled driving turn to camera (most fully seen in the trailer rather than the final cut) is extraordinary. He even manages to turn in an "eyes in rearview-mirror" shot that is surely a tribute to his Dirty Harry days!
If you can park your moral compass for a few hours then its an enjoyable film of drug-running and redemption. I'd like to suggest it also illustrates that crime really doesn't pay, but from the end titles scene I'm not even sure at that age if that even applies!
(For the full graphical review, check out One Mann's Movies on the web or Facebook. Thanks).
Mary Queen of Scots (2018)
It's an unbelievably turbulent story, but as it's a true story the late 1500's were clearly turbulent times. I mean, there weren't even any Starbucks. After a brief Fotheringay flash-forward (#spoilers!) it's 1561 and the widowed catholic Mary Stuart (Saoirse Ronan), ex-queen consort of France, arrives on Leith beach to assert her right as queen of Scotland. Indeed, she feels she has succession rights to the English throne too after her protestant first cousin, once removed, Elizabeth (Margot Robbie) passes. She's not exactly welcomed back to Scotland since she is muscling in on the rule of her half brother (James McArdle).
But Mary is playing a dangerous game on multiple fronts, and her life - as I'm sure you're aware - is not going to be a smooth one.
What was life like in the court of Mary? As painted here, it was a fairly louche affair, with casual - but never penetrative - sexual encounters that (as portrayed) had a significant impact on Scottish history. This might have been accurate... who knows. What seems to almost certainly be a fabrication is Mary and Elizabeth's dramatic meeting (in what appears to be a laundry!). The film attempts to smooth over the cracks with dialogue about 'This meeting must never be documented'. Nice try!
Was this necessary? It certainly adds an opportunity for Ronan and Robbie to bounce off each other directly, but there is a certain attraction in a film where the drama is purely played out in communication through letters. (There is an interesting discussion of the topic on the historyextra.com web site).
What's also mooted in the film - "I'm more man than woman" - is that Elizabeth's reason for not marrying and not bearing children was that she was a lesbian. I'm not sure of the historical provenance of this either.
This is clearly the Ronan and Robbie show. Both deliver star turns that impress. From the trailers you would think that the screentime of the pair would be about 50:50. Actually, it's more like 80:20 in Ronan's favour.
As if last year's Oscar nomination wasn't enough to stamp her place in the list of the acting greats, Saoirse Ronan here IS Mary Queen of Scots, with a fierce and determined stare that would put the fear of God into most men. Margot Robbie, under ugly make-up reminiscent of Charlize Theron in "Monster", is impressive in a much quieter and more mannered way. Both must feel a little aggrieved at being overlooked for Oscar nominations.
Elsewhere there is a plethora of acting talent, most of it hidden behind big bushy growths. The biggest and bushiest of these belongs to David Tennant as the hellfire preacher and rabble-rouser John Knox. (He's so well-endowed in the facial hair-area that the lady next to me exclaimed to her friend at the end-titles "David Tennant? Who was he??").
Other familiar faces are Downton's Brendan Coyle as the Earl of Lennox; Jack Lowden as his son and Mary's second husband Henry Darnley; Adrian Lester as Lord Randolph; Guy Pearce as William Cecil, Elizabeth's right hand man; and rising star Joe Alwyn as Robert Dudley... the nearest Elizabeth ever got to a husband. Another actor I spent ages trying to recognise was Mary's third husband (she sure got through them) Lord Bothwell; he is Martin Compston, star of TV's excellent "Line of Duty" series.
Big, broad historical epics at the cinema are few and far between, so in the vein of "a change is as good as a rest" it's a welcome release. The cinematography (by John Mathieson) is glorious: the external shots (great drone work!) makes me immediately want to go hill-walking again in Scotland. And some of the internal shots are beautifully lit: a scene of the Scottish lords ganging up on Robert Dudley for a signature is like a Vermeer painting.
As you might expect from a historical epic, the costumes (by Alexandra Byrne) are great and the hair and makeup team (Jenny Shircore, Marc Pilcher and Jessica Brooks) did a great job. They are all in fact Oscar nominated.
And of course from a great British ensemble cast the acting is great.
But the story chugs along rather turgidly, and even the moments that you think herald a monumental action sequence - like an attack down a wooded hillside at a bridge, reminiscent of "Gladiator" - end in a curious damp squib. There is nothing here of the great battle sequences of "Braveheart".
More tellingly, when the axe finally fell I felt curiously unmoved: nothing like the stirring I felt with the disembowelment of Mel Gibson in that Scottish classic I just mentioned. So something in the movie just didn't connect with me at an emotional level. It feels like it's falling between two stools of a retelling of history and a deeply involving drama. The direction was by first timer Josie Rourke and the screenplay as a second time outing by Beau Willimon ("Ides of March").
In summary, my view would be that it's worth seeing for its epic spectacle, but it's not a film I will be rushing to see again.
(For the full graphical review please visit One Mann's Movies on the web or Facebook. Thanks)
Instant Family (2018)
Enjoyable and harmless comedy laced with a degree of sentimentality.
Pete (Mark Wahlberg) and Ellie (Rose Byrne) are focused and business-oriented home designers. They've talked about having kids "sometime in the future" but the years - as years are want to do - are motoring away from them. Pete is concerned that if they have their own kids now then he will end up being an "old dad" (cue very funny, black-comedy, flashback). This leads them into contact with the State's fostering service - led by Karen (Octavia Spencer) and Sharon (Tig Notaro) - and they progress into foster training. This introduces into their 'perfect adult lives' 15-year old Lizzy (Isabela Moner) and her younger siblings Juan (Gustavo Quiroz) and Lita (Julianna Gamiz). As these guys come from a troubled background Pete and Ellie find they have their work cut out. Who will crack first?
Wahlberg and the excellent Rose Byrne make a believable driven-couple, and Byrne has such a range of expressive faces that she can't help but make you laugh.
Of the child actors, Nickelodeon star Isabella Moner shines with genuine brilliance, both in terms of her acting as the fiercely loyal Lizzy but also in terms of her musical ability (she sings the impressive end-title song). With Hollywood in 'post-La-La-Showman: Here we go again' mode, this is a talented young lady I predict might be in big demand over the next few years.
Top of my list of the most stupid "where the hell have I seen her before bang-my-head-against-the-cinema-wall" moments is the actress playing Ellie's mother Jan. She is OF COURSE Julie Hagerty, air-hostess supreme from "Airplane!".
Also good value, and topping my list of "I know her from lots of films but don't know her name" is Margo Martindale* as Pete's exuberant and easily bought mother Sandy.
The script by director Sean ("Daddy's Home") Anders and John Morris zips along at a fine pace, albeit in a wholly predictable direction. It helps that I struggle the think of many films about the adoption process itself. Sure there have been lots of movies about children that have been adopted - Manchester By The Sea and Lion being two recent examples - but the only film I can immediately think of (and not in a good way) with foster care at its heart was the Katherine Heigl comedy from a few years ago "Life as we know it". So this is good movie territory to mine.
There are some fine running jokes, notably young Juan's penchant for constantly getting injured. However, the script also lapses as did Anders' "Daddy's Home 2" from last year - into moments of slushy sentimentality. I would have preferred a harder and blacker edge to the comedy: something that last year's excellent "Game Night" pulled off so well.
There are also a couple of characters in the film that were poorly scripted and which just didn't work. While Octavia Spencer was fine (channelling an almost identical version of her wisecracking and sardonic character from "The Shape of Water"), I just had no idea what her colleague Sharon (Tig Notaro) was supposed to be. The tone was all over the place. Similarly, who should pop up on a balcony in an unexpected cameo but the great Joan Cusack. And very funny she is too for the 10 second interruption. But the writers having got her there just couldn't leave alone and we get a plain embarrassing extended interruption that strikes a duff note in the flow of the film.
The film is amusing and harmless without taxing many brain cells. Most notably unlike many so-called American 'comedies' it did actually make me laugh at multiple points. I should also point out that my wife absolutely loved it, rating it a strong 8/10 going on 9/10.
But the really cute thing is that the film is "inspired by a true family": namely Anders' own. He and his wife fostered three kids out of the US foster service, so the script is undoubtedly loosely based on their own experiences, which give it an extra impact for some of Peter and Ellie's lines. It gives you a completely different perspective on the film knowing this. My wife after the film was saying "I'm not sure how accurately it portrays the fostering process". But it clearly does.
(For the full graphical review please visit One Mann's Movies on the web or on Facebook. Thanks.)
Puppet on a Cheney.
By an strange coincidence, the morning after seeing this film, I heard on BBC Radio 4 a snippet of the farewell speech of President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1961. I thought there was no sound-bite summed up the film better than this: "In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist".
"Vice" tells the 'true story' - well... they 'tried their ****ing best' (LOL) - of the quiet man behind the throne, Dick Cheney (Christian Bale). Featuring flash-backs and flash-forwards at random, we trace the career of the Wyoming Yale drop-out from the early 60's through to his rise to power and then his graceful retirement, where he went on to run 'Iron Man' races and breed award-winning Golden Retrievers. (Important note: If you are a character that bolts for the door at the first sight of an end-title.... resist!).
It's a film about infuriating Republicans (n) and a film that's no doubt infuriating (v) many Republicans. Other than an infamous hunting incident I knew nothing about Cheney.... and, to be honest, I'm still not sure I'm much the wiser. For this is a film by Adam McKay, who made "The Big Short" and the 'facts' presented to you by the narrative - in the same manner as the 'facts' presented in Michael Moore's documentaries - perhaps need to be taken with more than a little pinch of salt. (I did see an interview though where McKay said that all his "facts" had been "fact-checked". But this might be fake news!)
It begs the question with me as to whether the film has been funded as a pro-Democratic piece of mischief. By the way, there is a nice 'mid-credit' scene mocking the "liberal-bias" in the film that is worth staying for.
If you remember "The Big Short" then you will no doubt remember McKay's anarchic film-making style. This is very like that film, but without all of the celebrity pieces to camera (and I personally missed Margot Robbie in that bubble bath). This mockumentary style is, in the main, wildly entertaining but occasionally crosses over the line into 'rather annoying' territory. In trying hard to make an entertaining biopic about someone who, in many ways, was a pretty dull and grey politician, McKay occasionally goes over-the-top and the script become pretentious. (A Shakespearean sonnet was one such moment for me).
There are some absolutely jaw-dropping assertions made by the film that - if I was an American - would make this a squirm-inducing movie to watch. The picture paints a dark and disturbing picture. If I had a parent or spouse that lost their life to the Iraq war in pursuit of those imaginary 'Weapons of Mass Destruction", I would be distraught by the movie's assertions. Is this historical fact? It seems truly unbelievable and downright criminal if so.
Christian Bale justly deserves award-nominations for his portrayal of Cheney. The man is an acting-machine and the physical transformation from the young stocky 60's lineman to the stooped and overweight elderly gent is staggering. Supporting Bale is a strong supporting cast, led by Amy Adams as Dick's assertive, opinionated and clever wife Lynne. Adams also ages extremely well in the film, and it's another standout performance from her. The sense is always there, from glances and moods rather than overtly in the script, that this is very much a partnership towards a goal (an "axis of evil" if you will!).
Carell gets better and better in every film. His Rumsfeld feels like an intelligent impersonation of the leader, and interactions with others in the cast (such as Tyler Perry as Colin Powell) feel genuine and passionate.
And is there a bad film that Rockwell has been in? His portrayal of the 'Bush boy' least-likely-to-lead is also uncanny. He's painted, probably accurately, as a puppet in the hands of Cheney, the great manipulator.
The film is narrated by the excellent Jesse Plemons as an every-man who ends up with a close relationship with Cheney, as we find out later in the film (something I didn't for a minute see coming).
Eddie Marsan - one of my favourite actors - also pops up, as does an uncredited Alfred Molina in a funny, but disturbing cameo role.
If you liked McKay's "The Big Short" then I think you will enjoy this one. Conversely, if you were irritated by the quirky directorial style of that film then this one will also drive you to distraction. A few people I saw walk out of the showing: it just wasn't for them. As a UK15-rated film, there are also "disturbing scenes" (as the BBFC describes them), mostly in the form of inter-cut news footage of 9/11 and other terrorist incidents, and infamous US torture tactics that still remain shocking to this day. (One of the worst of these for me featured the close-to-home Piccadilly tube bombings in 2005.) The editing also deliberately cuts from very quiet scenes to EXTREMELY LOUD military explosions that made me often jump out of my skin: so perhaps not for the overly nervous cinema-goer!
But this is one of the most thought-provoking films that I am likely to see this year, and I was fascinated from beginning to (final) end.
(For the full graphical review, please check out One Mann's Movies on the web or Facebook. Thanks.)
The Upside (2017)
Not the 10* French classic, but a fun and moving movie nonetheless.
So, the movie-going audience for this film will divide into two categories: those that have seen the original 2011 French classic "The Intouchables" that this is based on, and those that haven't. "The Intouchables" would have got 10* from me, no problem.
This movie joins a list of standout European movies - for example, "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"; "Let The Right One In"; "Sleepless Night"; etc. - that have had Hollywood "makeovers" that don't match up to the originals. And this is no exception. However, it's still been well made and deserves respect as a standalone piece of movie-making.
Based on a true story, Phillip Lacasse (Bryan Cranston) is left both paraplegic and widowed by a string of bad luck. Not that money can buy you everything, but his care arrangements are substantially helped by him being a multi-millionaire ("Not rich enough to buy The Yankees; Rich enough to buy The Mets"). This is from success in investments and writing about such investments.
Depressed, cranky and with a "DNR" that his diligent PA Yvonne (Nicole Kidman) seems unable to comply with, Phillip lashes out at anyone and everyone and so dispatches his carers with monotonous regularity. Dell Scott (Kevin Hart) is on parole, with the requirement to seek work. Due to a mix-up, he finds himself in the employ of Phillip: with the suspicion that he's been hired because he is the very worst candidate imaginable, and thus the most likely to let Phillip shuffle off this mortal coil. But the two men's antipathy to each other slowly thaws as they teach each other new tricks.
Those who have seen "The Intouchables" will fondly remember the first 5 minutes of that film: a flash-forward to a manic police car-chase featuring our protagonists (there played by François Cluzet and Omar Sy). It drops like a comedy hand-grenade to open the film. Unfortunately, you can't help but feel a bit let down by the same re-creation in "The Upside". It has all the same content but none of the heart.
After that rocky start, the film continues to rather stutter along. Part of the reason for this I think is Kevin Hart. It's not that he's particularly bad in the role: it's just that he IS Kevin Hart, and I was constantly thinking "there's that comedian playing that role".
However, once the story gets into its swing, giving Cranston more of a chance to shine (which he does), then the film started to motor and my reservations about Hart started to wane. Some of these story set pieces - such as the one about the art work - are punch-the-air funny in their own right. Cranston's timing in delivering his punchlines is immaculate.
There seems to have been some furore about the casting of Bryan Cranston as the role of the disabled millionaire instead of a disabled actor. Lord save us! He's an actor! That's what actors do for a living: pretend to be people they're not! It's also worth pointing out that François Cluzet was an able-bodied actor as well.
As already mentioned, Bryan Cranston excels in the role. Phillip goes through such a wide range of emotions from despair to pure joy and back again that you can't help but be impressed by the performance.
On the female side of the cast, it's really nice to see Nicole Kidman in such a quiet and understated role and it's nicely done; Aja Naomi King does a nice job as Dell's protective ex-girlfriend Latrice; and there's a nice female cameo as well, which I won't spoil since I wasn't expecting to see her in the film.
As a standalone film it has some laugh-out-loud moments, some feelgood highs and some moments of real pathos. The audience I saw this with was small, but there was still a buzz in the room and sporadic applause as the end titles came up: God only knows that's unusual for a film! The director is "Limitless" and "Divergent" director Neil Burger, and it's a perfectly fun and innocent night out at the flicks that I commend to the house in this month of celluloid awards heavyweights.
(For the full graphical review, please check out One Mann's Movies on the web or Facebook. Thanks).