Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
"Remember who we are. The Shaw family. We never, never, never give up."
It's utter nonsense of course, like most of the "Fast and Furious" films, but I have to admit it's done with some tongue in cheek style.
A vicious cyber-soldier, Brixton (Idris Elba) tries to steal a deadly virus but is thwarted by brave MI6 agent Hattie (Vanessa Kirby). To help recover the virus, Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) is recruited in London by CIA agent Loeb (Rob Delaney, the "non-super" hero Peter in "Deadpool 2"). In an interesting piece of related casting, the Eteon Director (Champ Nightengale - LoL, a cameo for someone far more famous) recruits Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) in LA as a part of the team.
Both agents know they are heading for trouble... but do they really appreciate how much the pair hate each other's guts?
The trail leads from London to the Ukraine to (a very picturesque) Samoa in a race against time to both defeat the undefeatable Brixton and save Hattie: now a ticking time bomb of global destruction. And Hattie has relations!
As a "Fast and Furious" film there are of course some truly absurd car stunts involved and - unlike the Mission Impossible films - you are never quite sure what is "real" and what is CGI generated. Which is a shame.
For me, the gold standard for chases remains Tom Cruise's chase through Paris in "Mission Impossible: Fallout". Here, the car chase through London - whilst impressive - never quite reaches the seat clenching tension of MI6.
And a final stunt with a helicopter is - I'm sorry - just plain ridiculous. If a chopper can partially lift 5 x load then why can't it completely lift 1 x load. Give me a break!
To round things off, there is one of the most unbelievable "100% survival of a car crashing off a cliff" scenes in movie history!
The acting is largely from the Arnie Swartzenegger school, with Johnson and Statham giving it the old shtick. Dwayne Johnson may be one of Hollywood's most bankable stars (the boy has done REAL good for himself), but he can't do serious acting. His "pathos" scenes with his daughter (a vibrant Eliana Sua) are excruciating.
Dropping in as class acts are Helen Mirren as the elder Shaw and the excellent Vanessa Kirby as Hattie. Kirby gets a lot more to get her teeth into than in the last Mission Impossible movie, and is really very good. Mirren is rather too posh to be the incarcerated East End con, but is a fun turn nevertheless.
Also excellent, as always, is Eddie Marsan as the key scientist. Marsan really turns in a splendid performance in every film he's in. He's top of "Division 2" in my books. Never the star, but always starring.
Mexican actress Eiza González (from "Baby Driver") also crops up as an unfeasibly good-looking Russian femme fatale.
Writers Chris Morgan and Drew Pearce do a good job at keeping the script light and fluffy. The animosity between Hobbs and Shaw is played to 110%, and for me the interplay frankly became a bit tiresome. But it's a fun-enough film to entertain, although it's bladder-testing running time of 2 hours 17 minutes is at least 30 minutes too long. There is a natural Ukraine-based finale, but it's not taken, and the film goes on... and on... and on.... and on. Enough already.
I've said many times before that comedies shouldn't last more than 90 minutes, and although an "action film" this is fundamentally a comedy and the rule should apply. It would have been a much better film if it was compacted.
I did criticize "Fast and Furious 8" for scenes that brazenly objectified women. And there was a moment - just one, fortunately - with a gyrating bikini-clad beauty - where I thought "uh, oh" - this franchise has not moved with the times.
But actually, this was the only scene where I thought that. Cinema has moved along massively in the last two years, driven by the "Times Up" movement. Here the women are all given pretty leading "kick-ass" roles, and they generally show the muscle-bound morons up, often saving their arses.
Final Thoughts: It's summer popcorn nonsense, but its well done popcorn nonsense. Probably not a film high on my list of films I want to see again, but as an entertainment vehicle it was not too shabby.
(For the full graphical review, please check out "One Mann's Movies" on Facebook and the web. )
To my surprise, this movie was not what I was expecting at all. From the title, I was sure I'd see a portmanteau movie of unconnected short stories, similar to 1983's "Twilight Zone: The Movie". But with a kid-centric plot and set in a small American town, the formula is similar to "It" or "Super 8". However, the episodic nature of serial "incidents" aligns it more with the style of the "Final Destination" films.
Stella Nicholls (Zoe Margaret Colletti) is a horror geek and aspiring writer living in Mill Valley, a small Pennsylvanian town during the Nixon election of 1968. Stella has a couple of friends: the requisite Scoobie Doo Shaggy character Chuck (Austin Zajur) and the 'sensible' "it's all science" character Auggie (Gabriel Rush). But pursued by local hoodlum Tommy (Austin Abrams), Stella, Chuck and Auggie are thrown together with draft-dodging outsider Ramón (Michael Garza).
They escape into the local spooky house - a house where legend has it that terrible things were done to a strange albini girl, Sarah. That legend has it that Sarah used to tell local kids scary stories through the walls. And Stella finds a book... a book that appears to be unfinished....
This is a time when horror films are either "old school" or more psychological in nature (like "Hereditary"). This one has Guillermo del Toro's hand behind that of lead-writers Dan and Kevin Hagerman. And it's firmly old-school. There are some effective (but at times comically created) spooky moments that are scary without being hugely gory. This earns it a UK15, rather than a UK18, certificate. It's disappointing that doesn't stretch to 12A to attract a younger teenage audience, since the source material is actually from a "Goosebumps"-like set of short stories by Alvin Schwartz.
The story's 'episodes' are nicely varied. At the gross-out end of the scale is an episode with Chuck's sister Ruth (Natalie Ganzhorn) that might get arachnophobes running for the exits. My personal favourite? A 'red room' episode with the oncoming fate comically arriving in slow-motion like the steam-roller in "Austin Powers"!
This is another film that relies on the quality of its young cast, with the only moderately well-know cast name being Gil Bellows as the local sheriff. In this regard, the stand-out performance is that of Zoe Margaret Colletti who does a fabulous job as Stella. She's been in a few films in the past ("Annie", "Wildlife" and "Skin") but this is her breakout performance in a starring role. She's done her CV a great favour here.
Directed by "Troll Hunter" director André Øvredal, I really enjoyed this one. I'm not a massive fan of 'slasher' style horror films. I have no burning desire to be constantly reminded of what the inside of my body looks like. So this turned out to be much-more to my liking than the normal horror flick. It had enough spookiness to make me turn on the lights when I got back home, but not enough to pervade my dreams.
The young cast perform well. They are given enough back-story and personality by the script to make you care about their fate.
So overall, this one comes with a "Recommended for wimps" (like me)!
(For the full graphical review, please check out One Mann's Movies on t'interweb or Facebook. Thanks.)
A snappy summer hit: but it should have been much better
As a bit of summer fun, "Crawl" is a real B-movie... but with a decent premise at its heart.
But who came up with that title? It's been out for a few weeks before I got to see it last night. But for that whole period I have been cheerfully mis-calling it "Chomp!". This is a far more satisfactory title. Ladybirds crawl! Beetles crawl! Alligators chomp!
For this is a tale of those creepy, ice-cold reptiles. Haley (Kaya Scodelario) - usefully a leading college-swimmer - is called by her older sister Beth (Morfydd Clark) concerned that she's been unable to reach her Dad (Barry Pepper). He lives in the Florida Everglades and a category 5 hurricane is moving in. Haley goes against the tide of evacuees to reach her old family home looking for her Dad and his dog (mangy cute canine alert).... but finds more than just him there!
With nature advancing in multiple forms, will the father, daughter and dog all weather the storm?
There's a nice idea at the heart of this film. In the same way that sharks creep a lot of people out with their unblinking cold eyes - making "Jaws" such a hit - so lots of people - me included - get freaked out by alligators. If you've been to the Everglades, as I have, there is something totally unnerving about the size and (normal) stillness of these monsters from a prehistoric age. A "Jaws with 'gators" had the potential to be a fun summer hit.
It's also a good move for the scriptwriters (Michael and Shawn Rasmussen) to put the action in the heart of a hurricane. How else could you strand two people in the middle of a civilised area? (You imagine the writers going through the same mental exercise as the army geeks in "Close Encounters"). But it's the most inconsistent Cat 5 in meteorological history. I've heard people tell of riding out a big storm at home: that they can't hear each other speak, and that's within the four walls of the house. Here (in an obviously studio-dressed set) the storm barely registers for 60% of the running time: there are moments when you could hear a pin drop! And although the "fan machine rental" store next to the studio lot must have been empty, even in the external scenes I've seen stronger winds on Bournemouth sea front.
Once we get into the basement of the house, things get pleasantly claustrophobic, keeping (at least initially) the tension high.
What exactly is the deal with these gators? WIth the T-rex in "Jurassic Park", the deal was pretty clearly spelled out and stuck to: they could only see movement, so stay still and you'd be OK. In this flick, the rules of engagement are far from clear. There is a speech by Dave about them being able to see you, even in the dark... but I was never clear whether they could see you, still or otherwise, and whether they responded to noise or not. And the rules seem to be flexible throughout the film: at one point the duo stay stock still as 'gators swim right past them; in others they stay still (and OUT of the water) yet the gators suddenly launch up at them. Make your mind up!
Unfortunately, while the story has potential, the dialogue is truly awful. You know you're in trouble when the lead actress is explaining the backstory aloud to a dog! "Jaws" has a brilliant and personal back-story of a misunderstood sheriff battling the greed of local businessmen against common-sense. Here, the writers clearly feel the need to add some family-based angst into the story, but the lines between Haley and dad Dave are SHOCKINGLY bad. And they are spouted at the most inappropriate points in the action! It's actually laughable, and not in a good way. At times I literally had my head in my hands.
As a B-movie with a limited budget, the cast is small and made up largely of unknowns. Barry Pepper (sniper Private Jackson in "Saving Private Ryan") is the best-known name of the cast. Unfortunately, having to emote the lines he's contracted to say in this movie doesn't help his CV.
Kaya Scodelario - who was in the "Maze Runner" films and was the love interest in the last "Pirates of the Caribbean" flick - suffers the same fate but fares slightly better. She strikes a good action heroine pose, and is one of the better things in the film.
Directed by Alexandre Aja ("Piranha 3D") this is a sub-90 minute film that at least doesn't outstay its welcome. It's been a decent summer hit for the studios (at the time of writing it has made $75 million on a meagre $13 budget).
It's certainly not for the faint-hearted in its gore. It delivers a lot of chomping, with the action getting progressively more ludicrous, reminiscent of the "flesh-wound" scene in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail"!. Some jump scares work well. But I can' t say its a great film, because it's really not. In the hands of a Spielberg, this might have really had legs (...to chomp on, LoL). It's CERTAINLY no "Jaws". It's not even a "Deep Blue Sea". But it's mildly entertaining nonetheless.
(For the full graphical review, please check out One Mann's Movies on the interweb or Facebook. Thanks.).
Angel Has Fallen (2019)
Lumbering in every sense of the word.
"Olympus Has Fallen" (2013) was a great tongue-in-cheek action movie, directed by Antoine Fuqua, with a dynamic Gerard Butler - then 44 - saving the President of the United States (Aaron Eckhart) from certain death from Korean terrorists. Roll forwards three years and an appallingly xenophobic repeat - "London Has Fallen" - failed to impress me (though I note that I did call it as probably Trump's favourite of the year!). Yet another three years have now passed, and with Morgan Freeman's character making his way from Speaker to Veep to President, the team are back for more of the same.
The film starts with a bit of a bang. Mike Banning (Butler) is still on presidential protection duty but time is taking its toll. Suffering from back pain and crippling headaches, he tries his best to hide the symptoms since his ability to function in the role is questionable. Moreover he is wrestling emotionally as to whether to accept a 'way out' in the form of a cushy desk job.
When a terrorist attack leaves Banning as the 'last man standing' the finger points to him as "the inside man". How can Banning prove his innocence and bring the real villains to justice?
I saw Butler in a hire-car commercial a few weeks back 'playing the action hero' and thought at the time "Man, he's looking too old for that!" And so it seems. In the movie he lumbers around the screen like an overweight traffic warden.
The script - by Robert Mark Kamen, Matt Cook and director Ric Roman Waugh - very sensibly tries to deflect that by writing his creakiness into the story.... but it just really doesn't make a great job of it. One of the problems is that this material - a protection officer past his prime - was done SOOOO much better by Clint Eastwood in 1993's "In The Line Of Fire", one of my favourite action films of all time. This pales in comparison. Banning's ills are inconsistent: his headaches don't seem to apply when he's 12 inches from a grenade going off!
The movie is also ludicrously predictable. You would have to be seriously lacking in attention not to work out who the 'baddie' is going to be. The film doesn't even bother to do a decent "reveal".... it's more of an apologetic whimper! Even the "big boss" - a distorted voice on the phone - I guessed at the first call!
So this is not a film to tax the brain cells. But you'd at least have respect for the evil masterminds if they actually had an evil masterplan that made even remote sense: you know.... irradiating Fort Knox to increase the price of their Nazi gold, or fixing Brexit or other such implausibility. But no - it seems the evil masterminds seem to have no plan other than their self-destruction: like Disney's lemmings, bad-guys are just herded off the cliffs with Land-rovers to be machine gunned.
I'm sorry to announce this, but really young toddlers just can't act very well. They certainly CAN'T act "traumatised" as armed men break into their house and violence happens in front of them. Young Lynne Banning (played by one of Jessica or Maisie Cobley - coincidentally Mrs Movie-Man's maiden name) appears to be QUITE distraught during this particular scene. Unless this was some top class CGI work (the effects in the rest of the film would suggest otherwise) this is stepping over a line for me and I felt highly uncomfortable.
There are two saving graces in the film: Morgan Freeman (who must have seriously wondered what turd he was polishing here) and Nick Nolte, playing Banning's reclusive father Clay. The film actually starts to come alive for a bit in a middle forest section, with some nice interplay between father and son. But, after some serious pyrotechnics, and another double digit lemming body-count, we return to staider fare.
Summary: It didn't have the distasteful xenophobia of "London Has Fallen" (which I rather generously gave a 3/10). So I feel I should at least top that. But again I feel I'm being generous. It's all crushingly mediocre, and if I can remember any of it after three months, I'll be very unlucky indeed!
(For the full graphical review, please check out One Mann's Movies on the web or Facebook. Thanks).
A fun summer adventure film for kids that's also fun for adults.
The Plot is a wholly ridiculous story ripped from multiple Tarzan movies of the 40's and 50's. But go with it.
Six-year old Dora (Madelyn Miranda) and Diego (Malachi Barton) are having fun growing up in the jungle with their academic parents. (At least, you assume Diego's parents are there somewhere... this is all very vague!). Dora's parents - Cole (Michael Peña) and Elena (Eva Longoria) - are explorers on a lifelong mission to discover the lost Inca city of Parapata. Parapata is famed to be crammed with gold - "more than all the rest of the world's gold put together".
But Dad makes clear that they are not in it for the financial benefit: the motto is explorers = good; treasure hunters = bad.
But Dora's idyllic childhood is rocked when Diego has to return to civilization and she has to grow up alone with her parents.
Roll forwards 10 years and Dora has grown. Now as Isabela Moner, she discovers a vital clue to Parapata's location. But this signals a change for Dora, since she is not allowed on the expedition and must go to a far wilder place: to join Diego, now Jeff Wahlberg (nephew of Mark) in an LA high-school.
But Mum and Dad are not the only ones on the trail of Parapata's treasures, and together with new friends, the spiky "mean-girl" Sammy (Madeleine Madden) and the nerdy astronomy geek Randy (Nicholas Coombe), they must mount a rescue mission that takes them.... you'll NEVER guess where..!
The film is a blast for kids, and probably suitable for emotionally robust kids of all ages. Nobody actually dies, despite falling unfathomably long distances onto rocks! However, the film also pulls off that great and welcome trick by dropping in enough jokes for parents to be entertained. "Yumm... delicioso!" says young Dora. Then breaking the fourth wall "Can YOU say delicioso?". Fleabag-style this confuses the hell out of Mum and Dad. Cole says to Elena, "Don't worry... she'll grow out of it". And fortunately, she does before the joke becomes tiresome!
There's no warning about drug-taking, since the hallucinogenic scene with exploding flowers will go right over young kid's heads. But I found it very amusing!
There are also some fun "fish out of water" high school scenes. We've seen many of these before with the likes of Spider-Man, but here they are light-touch and fun.
When things get back into the jungle, they take on a much whackier angle. It's all very "Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull", but without the crushing disappointment! But again, kids will love the puzzle-solving and the "Mummy-ish" gothic humour. The only part of this that I think might disturb young kids is a quicksand scene, that parents might like to pre-warn youngsters that everything will work out fine!
Holding the whole film together like a little Duracell Bunny of vitality is 18-year old Isabela Moner, who is a genuine talent, honed in the Nickelodeon studios. She was impressive in the above average "Instant Family", and I predict she will go onto great things over the next 10 years.
Elsewhere, a "Pointless" answer from the cast is Benicio del Toro as the voice of "Swiper", a bizarrely talking and poorly-disguised fox! This probably makes more sense to those who know the original kid's cartoon!
Even more annoying is Dora's (strangely multi-coloured) monkey Boots... the Jar Jar Binks of the film, who might amuse very young children but probably not many other folks.
Final Thoughts: Here's a film that is not trying to be anything other than a fun and much needed summer outing for families. Disney used to do this sort of live-action family film thing so well in the 70's and 80's, before they got obsessed with pointless recreations of their cartoon classics.
The director is James Bobin, who's formerly directed a number of the Muppet movies, and this movie breathes with the same sense of anarchic fun without being too up itself.
The film occasionally makes you cringe, with some dreadfully (and deliberately) naff songs, but I enjoyed it and for the right audience (kids 8 to 12) I think they'll have a blast.
(For the full graphical review, please check out One Mann's Movies on this new-fangled internet thing, or else on Facebook... whatever the earth that is. Thanks).
Glorious to look at, Tarantino's love letter to 60's Hollywood.
Of all Tarantino's controversial films, OUATIA seems to have polarised critics and movie-goers more than most. What did I make of it? To be honest I'm still processing.
The plot revolves around three characters over a couple of days in February and August 1969. Rick Dalton (Leonardo diCaprio) is an ageing film star, on the long wind down from stardom. As producer Marvin Schwartz (Al Pacino) points out to him, there's a reason he's being offered the 'heavy' roles in lots of TV pilots. The studios no longer care about him, and his job is just to make their young new stars look good. This is having a devastating affect on Rick's confidence and self-belief.
Propping him up, both literally and psychologically is Rick's long-term stuntman buddy Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). Cliff keeps repeatedly running into a hippy chick (a brilliantly vibrant Margaret Qualley) on the streets of LA.
Living next door to Dalton (and the almost ever-present Booth) at 10050 Cielo Drive are newly weds the Polanski's. That's Roman (Rafal Zawierucha, clearly auditioning to be the new Austin Powers!) and fledgling actress Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie). Those with only a subliminal knowledge of true-crime will know what happened there in true life on August 8th 1969. A heavily pregnant Tate and three of her friends (together with a hapless by-stander) were brutally murdered by members of the 'hippie' cult under the control of Charles Manson. (An interesting historical fact is that both Quincy Jones and Steve McQueen were both also invited to be present on that evening).
As this is a Quentin Tarantino film, albeit a revisionist one, you know the night is not going to end with a cookie and a nice cup of hot chocolate!
Man.... Leonardo diCaprio and Brad Pitt are good! If you were to think of male film actors of the past with natural screen charisma, who would you pick? Errol Flynn? Cary Grant, for sure. Steve McQueen. Possibly Harrison Ford? Pitt and diCaprio just ooze confidence and charisma in this movie, and are clearly having enormous fun.
This is particularly true of diCaprio who's always had the "it" factor in spades. (Remember that phenomenal champagne toast in "The Great Gatsby"?) Here he is supremely confident in playing an ever-so-slightly-stuttering character who's confidence is on the wane. A scene where precocious young actress Trudi (a splendid performance from Julia Butters) whispers to him "That's the best acting I've ever seen" is an Oscar-worthy piece of acting in its own right.
Pitt is also still a pin-up at 56... as a guy who clearly has a whole wing of his home dedicated to gym equipment, a rooftop scene is certainly "one for the ladies".
Much has been made of Margot Robbie's lack of lines in the film. But she honestly does most of her acting here - which is flawless - without needing lines. A scene of her watching herself (actually the real life Sharon Tate) in the Matt Helm flick "The Wrecking Crew" is jaw-droppingly wonderful. And before we even get there, a scene of her just driving down the highway listening to music is just mesmerising.
Elsewhere in the cast there are some memorable cameos. For me, the most prominent of these is Damian Lewis's turn as Steve McQueen. It's absolutely pitch perfect. So much so that I would love to see him inserted into a full-length recreation of "The Great Escape"!
Much as "The Nice Guys" did such a great job of representing LA in the 80's, so here Tarantino's crew have done a bang-up job in recreating LA in 1969. Some of the street scenes are simply stunning and are works of magic. (I noticed that the Visual Effects coordinator here was none other than the veteran Star Wars/Star Trek genius John Dykstra). The costume department also did a great job, with the film dripping with nostalgia. This rose-coloured nostalgia angle I know has made some millennials gag somewhat. Racism isn't touched on at all here - aside from Bruce Lee (Mike Moh) the movie is wall-to-wall white. But in terms of "macho-male-bulls**t" the film reeks of it. I think we can also readily agree that this was a "different time", not a "better time".
I know I've used superlatives like "jaw-dropping" more than once in this review. But in terms of the cinematography (by Tarantino regular Robert Richardson) and film editing (again by regular collaborator Fred Raskin) it's technically glorious. The camera swoops and glides over Hollywood, cutting from one scene to another beautifully. Some road scenes, of Booth weaving in and out along a highway at speed, are incredibly well shot.
And so we turn to the writing and directing, both done by Quentin Tarantino. Here I pause in my praise.... since the film struck me as both brilliant and self-indulgent in equal measure. Is it sacrilege to say that this Tarantino is just a bit dull in places?
In terms of brilliance, the film ducks and dives continuously. There are flashbacks and sudden cuts to parallel scenes that make you think "where the hell does this fit in"? But you are never left confused for long.
As a "director", Tarantino is also a master at "misdirection". The rascal is continually setting you up for an expectation, often filling you with dread for what you are about to see - - and then he heads off in a completely different, tension-dispelling direction.
But for me, many of the scenes in the film were flabby and self-indulgent. There were numerous "driving" shots, that always seemed to outstay their welcome by several seconds. What were they trying to prove? And similarly, many of the movie-making scenes seemed padded and slow. I'm always the first to complain about the lack of character development within most movies, and certain scenes - the ones between Dalton and Trudi for instance - were deliciously slow in achieving that. But I could have happily trimmed at least 15 minutes off the bladder-testing 161 minutes and I think it would have been a tighter and better film.
Tarantino films are famed for their gratuitous violence, and this comes with a BBFC 18 certificate for "Strong and Bloody Violence". You could be mistaken for thinking that the BBFC had got this completely wrong for the first 140 minutes or so of this movie. Yes, there are numerous "F-bombs" dropped, and the promise of oral sex from a minor.... so it was never going to be a PG!
All that changed in the closing scenes. But I have to say, I have seen far more gratuitous camera shots of the outcomes from violence in previous Tarantino flicks. Here, although the violence is extreme, Tarantino shows much-welcomed restraint in not showing much in the way of close-ups of 'bashed in faces'. As is common in his films, the violence also has a comical edge to it, being more cartoon-like in quality.
Final thoughts: This feels like a slightly flawed masterpiece. Tarantino's Mona Lisa with a few accidental smudges. I think I feel obliged to leave it a week and go and see it again, if I can find the time. It's a film I think will grow on me with a repeat viewing. I think (on the understanding that you don't drink too much tea, coffee or beer before going in) this comes with a "Strongly Recommended" tag from me.
(For the full graphical review, please check out One Mann's Movies on the interweb or Facebook. Thanks.)
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.
(For the full graphical review, please check out One Mann's Movies on the whacky and wonderful world wide web, or on Facebook. Thanks.)
"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).