Posts Tagged ‘Film reviews’

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part

Posted: February 16, 2019 in Film reviews
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Directed by Mike Mitchell. Starring Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett and Tiffany Haddish.

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After the events of the first film, Finn has won the right to play with his dad’s Lego, but the caveat is that his younger sister Bianca has to as well.

Inside the Lego universe the city of Bricksburg is attacked by giant Duplo invaders. As the years pass these attacks continue, to the point where Bricksburg becomes post-apocalyptic wasteland named Apocalypseburg, and all things cute and colourful are frowned upon lest they draw down the invaders. The only one who hasn’t changed is Emmet (Pratt) who retains his upbeat, everything is awesome attitude, much to the despair of his friend Lucy (Banks). When he builds a cute dream house out in the desert Lucy fears this will attract another attack. Emmet is worried about a dream he’s had about an apocalyptic event named “Our-Mom-Ageddon”.

When a Duplo attack, led by General Sweet Mayhem (Brooklyn 99’s Stephanie Beatriz) rains destruction on Apocalypseburg, Lucy blames Emmet. Mayhem kidnaps Lucy, along with Batman (Arnett) and others to take back to the Systar System where a marriage is planned.

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Emmet tries to rally support but no one will help him, so he heads for the Systar System alone. He doesn’t get very far before encountering difficulties, but is saved by rugged action hero Rex Dangervest (also Pratt) who offers to help, and encourages Emmet to become less of a doormat.

Meanwhile in the Systar System a portentous marriage edges ever closer, as does the threat of Our-Mom-Ageddon. Can Emmet and Lucy save the day, or is it time to put aside childish things?

 

The original Lego movie was a surprise hit, so surprising that I have to admit that I didn’t see it at the cinema. With a wry script, great animation and a decent cast it rose above it’s lame toy tie in potential to becomes a hugely enjoyable film. Since then we’re had the excellent Lego Batman film and the Lego Ninjago Movie, so the first thing to say is that obviously the surprise element of the first film’s assuredly gone this time, so it’s to its credit that the film is still as enjoyable and funny as it is, a sequel that’s overall as good as the first film, albeit one that’s not as good in some areas but better in others. So the plot is a trifle more contrived and convoluted, but on the upside the slightly mawkish ‘real world’ element of the first film is softened somewhat, mostly down to a great cameo appearance.

Setting aside the animation and the voice cast, the true architects, master builders if you will, of this film are writers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, and I can’t help but wonder what their Solo would have looked like. The film’s is chock full of wit and great dialogue, and manages to impart a good message about tolerance for others’ ideas without tripping into clunky, He-Man style moralising.

Untitled1Pratt is good in a duel role, Banks is excellent and Haddish is wonderfully sinister Watevra Wa-Nabi, shape shifting alien queen. Yet again it’s Arnett who threatens to steal the show as Batman though.

The visuals are amazing, although as with the other Lego films, sometimes there’s so much going on that it can get a touch overawing and cluttered, as with the other Lego movies, it’s a film that will benefit from multiple viewings because there’ll be loads of visual jokes you miss the first time around; in particular I loved Rex Dangervest’s raptor buddies (complete with amusing subtitles.)

Visually overpowering at times, and the shift when you have to reappraise everything you’ve seen so far doesn’t quite hang together well enough, but this is a film with its heart in the right place, it looks gorgeous and oozes wit. Throw in a voice cast at the top of their game and everything is still awesome because this is a film that fits together as well as Lego bricks.  I don’t really see where they can take this with a third entry however.

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Glass

Posted: February 2, 2019 in Film reviews
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Directed by M. Night Shyamalan. Starring James McAvoy, Bruce Willis, Anya Taylor-Joy, Sarah Paulson and Samuel L. Jackson.

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What the Beastie Boys look like now will shock you!

Since being nicknamed ‘The Horde’, the multitude of personalities that inhabit Kevin Wendall Crumb (McAvoy) have kidnapped four cheerleaders, and plan to sacrifice them to Kevin’s ultimate personality, the inhumanly strong entity known as ‘The Beast’. On his trail however is vigilante David Dunn (Willis), a man with his own special powers, he is incredibly strong and can sense the guilt in people he touches. When he brushes past Kevin (who’s possessed by 9 year old Hedwig at the time) David sees the girls chained up. David’s son Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark) who acts as his support via radio, manages to identify the building David saw in his vision.

David arrives in time to save the girls, and then confronts the Beast, but when the police arrive both David and Kevin are arrested and taken to a psychiatric hospital where Elijah Price (Jackson) the man who caused the original train crash that David was the only survivor of, and a man who named himself Mr Glass due to his brittle bones, is also a resident.

Soon David, Kevin and Elijah meet Dr Ellie Staple (Paulson) a psychiatrist who specialises is delusions of grandeur, and very specifically people with the delusion of being superheroes. Ellie explains she has just a few days to convince the men that their belief is a delusion, or else surgery will be required.

Can Ellie convince the three that they’re not superpowered after all, or has she made a huge miscalculation that could cost thousands of lives?

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With a tiny budget Die Hard 6 had to rely on John McClane fighting terrorists in a single room

And so we reach the finale of a curious trilogy that began way back in 2000 with Unbreakable (arguably Shyamalan’s best film) and unexpectedly continued via the surprise 2017 hit Split. Of course, Split was only a very loose sequel to Unbreakable, with little more than a Willis cameo to tie it all together, but Glass works much better as a sequel to both films.

Shyamalan is a divisive director. The Sixth Sense is very good, but did set the tone for him producing genre pictures complete with a shocking (or not) twist, and the law of diminishing returns kicked in, which each film ending up with a sillier resolution than the last. Which isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy Signs, or The Village, but they were films that fell apart if you gave them much thought. Shyamalan also generated complaints of pretentiousness with The Lady and the Water. For me the nadir was The Happening, a hilarious film, but one that, given its subject matter, really shouldn’t have been so laugh out loud funny. Even at his most ludicrous I had faith in Shyamalan to deliver chills (think Haley Joel Osment menaced by ghosts in his apartment, or Bryce Dallas Howard stalked through the woods), but the Happening wasn’t remotely scary. Soon Shyamalan was reduced to directing for hire. The Visit in 2015 garnered some good reviews, but it was Split that really got people talking again, and which prompted Glass.

It’s a curious film, one that does harken back somewhat to Shyamalan’s earlier work, but one that’s too flawed to be anywhere near as good as something like the Sixth Sense or Unbreakable. The gap between the first and second film doesn’t help (for example I’d forgotten about David’s water related vulnerability) and at times some of the acting and dialogue is very clunky, and there are some curious narrative choices into the bargain.

And yet I liked it. No it isn’t perfect, and yes it’s probably at its strongest in the middle portion of the film, but kudos to Shyamalan for giving us something a little different, even if it never feels quite as good as it should be. And you know, I didn’t see the twist (and yes there is one, of course) coming, which is something else in its favour.

Review-GlassAs with Split the strongest part of the film is McAvoy. It must be an actor’s dream to play so many different characters within the same film, and credit must be given to Shyamalan as writer and director here as well. Sure some of the personalities seem ropier than others, but on the whole it’s a masterful acting display, especially given that he often has to seamlessly switch between characters in the same scene, and given that he has to be capable of being both sympathetic victim, and monstrous predator by turn. Surely sooner or later the guy’s going to have to win an Oscar?

It’s nice to see Willis back, and it’s nice to see him not just phoning it in, and if he seems a bit peripheral at times I don’t think it’s Willis’ fault that Shyamalan clearly wants to play more with the villains. I do wish he’d had more of a role to play however, but it is nice to see him giving a damn again.

Jackson does that thing, as with Django, of making you remember there was a time before he just played Samuel L Jackson. Elijah is terrifyingly intelligent, and scarily manipulative, and as with McAvoy he does make you feel a smidgen of sympathy for the character—the flashback to him as a child is incredibly wince inducing.

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I’m a big fan of Sarah Paulson and she does the best she can with what could have been a very two-dimensional role. She’s such a good actress that she does manage to play Staple as warm caregiver one moment, and cold clinician the next.

Also returning from Split is Anya Taylor-Joy, who has an important role to play, but really serves as little more than a plot point, as do Spencer Treat Clark as Joseph and Charlayne Woodard returning as Elijah’s mum.

It’s mostly well shot, although some of the camera work intended to put us in the middle to fight scenes felt jarring. Its biggest problem though is scale. In trying to make an epic superhero film on an indie budget the result can’t hep but come off as somewhat underwhelming, especially when we’re teased a far more spectacular finale than we actually get. Sure, Shyamalan made it work in Unbreakable, but that was almost twenty years ago, before Marvel, DC, Fox etc gave us a plethora of big budget superhero films, and before the genre was really given a self-referential makeover. In 2000 Unbreakable was something different, in 2019 Glass is far less unique, and even feels a trifle hackneyed in places.

But despite that it’s enjoyable enough hokum, and though it’s not the sequel to Unbreakable I’d hoped for, I for one am glad we finally got one.

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McAvoy’s got a crush on you!

Stan & Ollie

Posted: January 24, 2019 in Film reviews
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Directed by Jon S. Baird. Starring Steve Coogan, John C. Reilly, Nina Arianda and Shirley Henderson.

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In 1937, and at the height of their fame Stan Laurel (Coogan) and Oliver “Babe” Hardy (Reilly) struggle with their boss Hal Roach over their contracts. Stan wants the two of them to jump ship and get a new deal somewhere else, but whilst his contract is up for renewal, Babe is tied to Roach and chooses instead to allow himself to be paired with another comic in a film about an elephant, much to Stan’s dismay, and, although the two will eventually reunite, this causes friction between them.

In 1953, and with their glory days far behind them, the duo embark on a music hall tour of Britain in order to make some money whilst they work on new material for a Robin Hood film. Whilst the tour is initially greeted by lukewarm crowds, after prompting by their promoter Bernard Delfont (Rufus Jones) and despite Babe’s obvious health issues, the two agree to a gruelling series of public appearances, and the crowds improve.

Joined by their wives Lucille Hardy (Henderson) and Ida Laurel (Arianda) the tour continues to be a success, but with Babe’s health an issue, and increasing uncertainty over the future of the movie, old wounds reopen and fractures in the partnership are created that may never be healed.

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The tour takes its toll

Let’s get the “negatives” out of the way first. This isn’t a film that will surprise you, there are no twists, not even an antagonist really, unless age or the fickle nature of fame count. It’s a lean film that at times feels a trifle lightweight.

All of that is true, but none of that stops Stan & Ollie from being truly glorious.

I grew up watching Laurel and Hardy on the telly with my dad, he loved them to bits and so it has to be said that I was perhaps predisposed to love this film anyway, but I think it could have failed miserably if it hadn’t been made with a good heart, and this film clearly was. It glorifies Laurel and Hardy without ever deifying them. They’re flawed men, each with their vices, and each with failed marriages in their wake, yet they’re both fully rounded, believable character you can empathise with, and they clearly have great affection for each other, despite, as they say, being two men who were just thrown together by Hal Roach because one was fat and the other skinny.

Coogan and Reilly are superb. Their mannerisms are spot on, and their chemistry is joyful to behold. Of the two I think Coogan shades it, if only because Reilly is ever so slightly hampered by his prosthetics at times, whilst Coogan has a bit more freedom, but much like the originals, it wouldn’t matter how good one was if the other wasn’t up to snuff, and this is a film of partnerships—and not just the partnership between Stan and Ollie, there’s also the partnership of Stan and Ida, and Babe and Lucille, and in fact the pairing of Lucille and Ida, and however good Coogan and Reilly are, and however much this is their film, credit must go to Henderson and  Arianda for their performances because both women are excellent, each playing a woman fiercely loyal to her husband, and fiercely dismissive of the other,  and frankly if someone wanted to make a prequel from the perspective of their ocean crossing to get to England, with the two women sparring the whole time, I’d pay good money to see it.

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Two double acts for the price of one.

The direction and set design are wonderful, evoking 1950s’ Britain to a tee, and whilst probably lost on US audiences, the running gag about Norman Wisdom did make me laugh, and this is a film full of laughs, albeit many of them are very gentle, and quite melancholic.

The script is touching without ever veering towards oversentimentality, and it really sneaks up on you. I didn’t expect to be fighting back tears at the end, but blimey if this film didn’t hit me everywhere it counted, and I only wish my dad could have seen it. I think he’d have liked it too.

Funny, sad, sweet and just plain beautiful, this is a loving tribute to a great double act. Sure, it could have been longer, but then so could Stan and Ollie’s career, and as the axiom goes, always leave them wanting more…

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The Favourite

Posted: January 16, 2019 in Film reviews
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Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos. Starring Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz and Nicholas Hoult.

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Not bad for someone who used to be a contestant on Numberwang!

It’s 1708 and Queen Anne (Colman) sits on the British throne. Britain is at war with France but Anne, crippled by gout and despair over multiple miscarriages and the deaths of every child she’s managed to bring to term, has no interest in ruling, so this is left to her friend and adviser, Sarah Churchill (Weisz) the wife of the Duke of Marlborough (an underused Mark Gatiss)  whose husband is leading the battle in France. Sarah is more than a friend to Anne, because secretly she’s also her lover, however she treats her poorly. Sarah spars constantly with the Tory leader of the opposition, Robert Harley (Hoult) who objects to the punitive taxes levied to pay for the war.

Into the household comes Abigail Hill (Stone) Sarah’s cousin who’s in disgrace after her father lost the family fortune. Sarah gets Abigail a menial job as a scullery maid, but when she manages to soothe Anne’s gout she is elevated to become one of the Queen’s servants. All too soon Abigail is using her proximity to the Queen to try and supplant Sarah as Anne’s favourite, and the stage is set for a tussle for the Queen’s affections that could have far reaching ramifications for the future of Britain.

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“You’re my favourite.” “No, you’re my favourite!”

A Britain riven with political turmoil, divided over how to deal with Europe…but enough about Brexit, I really want to talk about the Favourite.

There was a time when period dramas were stuffy affairs, there’s nothing stuffy about Lanthimos’ saucy tale of 18th Century oneupwomanship, a snarky, bawdy, hilarious, heart-breaking and lavish feast that revolves around three fantastic performances. You’ll hear a lot of hype about how good Colman, Weisz and Stone are, and let me just clarify that every single superlative is justified, and if at least one of them doesn’t run away with an Oscar there’s no justice.

I think like most Brits, Queen Anne isn’t a monarch I was taught a lot about at school, in fact the first thing that the name conjures up for me is furniture (Queen Anne table etc) yet in Colman’s hands she proves a fascinating character to base a film around. Liberties may have taken with history (there’s no evidence she kept 17 rabbits, and not much to suggest she had same sex relationships) but the pain at the heart of Colman’s performance is all too genuine, given Anne really did lose 17 children to miscarriage, still birth and, perhaps most tragically, a son when he was just 11, and as a visual metaphor for that loss the rabbits  work perfectly, and in fact sum up the film which balances the surreal with the all too real.

There’s a preposterousness to the film that’s intoxicating, with bewigged gentleman indulging in duck racing or pomegranate chucking whilst the women behind the scenes pull the levers of power.

Colman is excellent as the queen, befuddled and almost childlike one moment, capricious and jealous the next, easily led yet capable, on occasion, of sharp intellect. In more than one scene she goes from joy to rage in the space of a few moments whilst the camera lingers on Colman’s nuanced expression.

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“Stand and deliver! I’ll take that Oscar please!”

As Sarah, Weisz is wonderfully cold and snide, sniping at Anne at every opportunity, albeit in a curiously loving way, and it’s testament to her portrayal that a character we initially find ourselves disliking, will eventually come to appear more sympathetic, and the change is completely earned. It’s also completely clear that Anne and Sarah are in love, even if that love manifests in some decidedly unloving behaviour on occasion.

This leaves Stone as the ingenue Abigail, the final corner of this painful triangle, and whose performance shouldn’t be underestimated because she’s every bit as powerful as her co-stars, and much like Weisz she engenders one feeling from the audience upon meeting her, yet slowly changes as the film progresses.

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“When they said lady in waiting they weren’t kidding were they?”

All three are roundedcharacters; flawed, manipulative, downright nasty on occasion, yet feel completely real, with a reason behind each aspect of their personality, even if on occasion it’s simply the fact of being women in a man’s world. In many ways none of them are nice, and that’s so bloody refreshing.

As the male of note Hoult gives as good as he gets, giving a wonderfully spikey performance that bounces well, especially off Stone and Weisz, and his comic timing is spot on.

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“Okay I may have overdone things a little.”

Lanthimos’ direction paints the royal court as a curiously surreal bubble, yet his camera trickery never distracts from the characters at the heart of the story and he makes great use of long shots down corridors, even corridors whose walls are composed of flaming torches, and cavernous rooms, suggesting that, even when they’re with other people, each of these women is alone, cut off by their own pain or lust for power. The script is wonderfully acerbic, providing a whole heap of wince inducing laughs, because this is a very funny film, even in its more tender moments.

The costumes and cinematography are wonderful, in particular you have to love Weisz’s highwayman’eque shooting outfit, and it’s nice to see such a rich use of darkness, because at that time the world likely would have been a dark place much of the time, plenty of shadows to hide a multitude of sins within.

It’s a tad too long, and the music is somewhat intrusive at times, but any flaws are miniscule compared to the film’s strengths. Admittedly I’ve only seen two films so far in 2019, but for the moment this one is definitely my favourite!

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“Drop that Oscar, Rachel!”

Mary Poppins Returns

Posted: January 6, 2019 in Film reviews
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Mary Poppins Returns

Directed by: Rob Marshall. Starring Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ben Whishaw, Emily Mortimer Julie Walters, Dick Van Dyke, Angela Lansbury, Colin Firth and Meryl Streep.

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On reflection I really loved this film.

It’s the 1930s and the Banks children are grown up. Michael (Whishaw) lives in the family home on Cherry Tree lane with his children: Annabel, John and Georgie. His wife passed away a year ago and he’s assisted by his sister Jane (Mortimer) and housekeeper Ellen (Walters). He’s struggling financially though, and this leaves the family home in danger of repossession. Michael believes his father was given shares in Fidelity Fiduciary Bank, but unless he can find them the bank, managed now by William Wilkins (Firth), will turf the family out onto the street.

When Georgie flies the kite Michael and Jane had when they were children he’s almost dragged into the air, but is saved by Jack (Miranda) a lamplighter, the apprentice of Bert from the first film. The kite does seem to have snagged something in the clouds however, and soon enough a familiar silhouette comes gliding down. Mary Poppins (Blunt) is back and is soon ensconced in the Banks’ family home. Michael and Jane remember her but don’t recall any of the fantastical adventures they had, but all too soon Annabel John and Georgie find themselves transported to a world of magic, courtesy of Poppins and Jack, but can the family home be saved?

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“I’m sorry madame, I have no idea who this Q fellow is but I can assure you it isn’t me.”

I have a confession to make, up until a few weeks ago I’d never seen Mary Poppins, but in anticipation of this sequel I finally watched it. Sadly I wasn’t impressed. Maybe it’s not watching it with the innocence of a child but with the cynicism of an adult, but I found it very flawed. Which didn’t seem to bode well for Mary Poppins Returns.

Except, try as I might I can’t be remotely cynical about Poppins Returns, because I loved every second of it.

Much like The Force Awakens this is ostensibly a sequel, albeit one that hits a multitude of marks from the beloved predecessor. So again we have a father distanced from his children, whose sister, rather than wife, is a social activist. We have a salt of the earth working class bloke who’s fully aware of Mary Poppins and magic, and we have some children in need of a stern, or maybe not so stern, nanny. Oh, and then we have Poppins herself, an authoritative figure who never seems overbearing, a proponent of fun and frolics who carries just a hint of darkness within her (as a side note Emily Blunt might be one of the best Doctor Whos we’ll never have) and we have songs, lots of songs.

Even though I might not have felt like it, millions of people were incredibly trepidations when the sequel was announced. The casting of Blunt suggested Disney knew what they were doing, but still, a lot of people held their breath…but if it can have such an impact on me I can only hope the majority of fans love it.

The film looks gorgeous, and despite homaging the original, none of those homages feel unearned, or like a cheap rip off. It’s an odd thing to say, given how light and fancy free the film feels, but it’s clear that care has been taken over every creative choice, from the script to the casting to the effects and the music. This is a swiss watch of a film, and there’s nary a misstep in any area.

What could have been a leaden, by the numbers, sequel is instead a sumptuously, energic tour de force that doesn’t remotely feel 130 minutes long.

The cast are great, especially the kids. Whishaw and Mortimer are solid, and Firth is moustache twirlingly enjoyable as Wilkins, and there are lovely cameos by Van Dyke, Lansbury and Streep (clearly having a ball) but the beating hearts of this film are Blunt and Miranda.

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“Cor blimey, ave a banana!”

Miranda’s theatrical background is put to great use here, and he plays the loveable man of the people to a tee. One thing that surprised me about the original is how often Poppins takes a back seat to Bert, and it’s the same here. I had no real knowledge of Miranda before this, but he makes one hell of an impression.

However good he is, the reason this films works is down to the best casting of all. I won’t lie, I’ve adored Blunt for ages, going back to Young Victoria. I’ve yet to see her flounder; A Quiet Place, The Girl on the Train, Scicario, Edge of Tomorrow…she’s amazing in all of them, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that she scores again. From her clipped accent to the twinkle in her eye that tells us she knows far more than she’s letting on, she’s excellent, what most surprised me was her singing voice, and her energy, especially in the almost vaudevillian ‘A Cover is not the Book’. She sings, she dances, and her comic timing’s second to none.screen-shot-2018-10-23-at-16.42.53

The decision to ape the old school animation of the original, rather than go for something more modern, is a good one. Only time will tell if the songs prove as catchy as those from the original, I suspect not but nobody’s 100% perfect, not even Poppins, and there are a few (very minor) gripes; As with the original there’s sense of the film being a series of set pieces that don’t really advance the plot (though I think it worked better here) and again, despite spending all her time with the children it’s actually a man named Banks she’s really there to help. Walters is good, but she’s essentially just doing Mrs Bird from the Paddington films again, and there’s a clear feeling of similarity with everyone’s favourite Peruvian immigrant, not least because he’s in it. Mortimer feels a little wasted, and hints of a romance don’t go anywhere, and you can’t really feel too sorry for the Banks’ given there’s likely millions far more destitute at the time (but the film’s hardly alone in portraying a rose-tinted vision of the past.)

On the whole though, I loved it. Well directed, scored, written and cast, with cinematography to die for, it might be emotionally manipulative but frankly I was quite happy to have it twist my emotions around its little finger!

Almost practically perfect in every way.

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Widows

Posted: December 1, 2018 in Film reviews
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Directed by Steve McQueen. Starring Viola Davis, Elizabeth Debicki, Michelle Rodriguez, Cynthia Erivo, Colin Farrell, Brian Tyree Henry, Daniel Kaluuya, Carrie Coon, Robert Duvall and Liam Neeson.

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Harry Rawlings (Neeson) is a career criminal, a renowned robber known for his meticulous planning. By contrast his wife, Veronica (Davis) is a straight arrow, she works for a teacher’s union and keeps her nose out of Harry’s business. When Harry and his team are blown up after a botched robbery, Veronica no longer has the option of looking the other way. The money Harry stole in that last job belonged to Jamal Manning (Tyree Henry) a crime boss who wants to go straight and who planned to use the money to fund his political campaign against Jack Mulligan (Farrell) the son of former alderman Tom (Duvall). Manning wants his money back and he doesn’t care that Veronica wasn’t involved in Harry’s dealings.

With her life on the line, and with the realisation that she owns nothing because everything was Harry’s, Veronica’s only option is to rely on Harry’s notebook, which contains plans for his next job. She needs help however, and so turns to the widows of the rest of Harry’s crew, including Alice (Debicki) who’s had to become an escort following her husband’s death, and Linda (Rodriguez) whose store was repossessed following her husband’s death. The only widow no interested is Amanda (Coon) who has a young son to look after, and so the women recruit Linda’s babysitter, Belle (Erivo).

Not only do they have to become a well-oiled team in a matter of days, but they also need to worry about Jamal’s psycho brother Jatemme (Kaluuya). Can they follow in their husbands’ footsteps and become master criminals, or are they doomed to fail?

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I heard a lot of good things about Widows, the cast is impressive, I love a good heist movie, was a fan of the original UK TV show, and the only other McQueen film I’d seen, 12 Years a Slave, was powerful stuff, so I was eager to catch this. Sad then to report that I came out feeling somewhat disappointed.

I can see why this has turned some critics’ heads, it’s well acted and covers more ground than the average heist movie ever will, but therein lies it’s problem, because I don’t think it really knows what kind of film it wants to be, and whilst it tackles some weighty ideas (domestic violence, inter racial marriage, political corruption, gangland violence, and police brutality amongst others) it never seems to have enough time to devote to each and every element, and as a result winds up being something of a curates egg rather than the complex socio-political crime epic it so clearly wants to be, and late on it features a contrivance so jarring it felt like a scene was missing, as characters are stranded by the road one minute, yet have a car in the very next scene. For a second I thought I was watching The Predator again, and you really have to expect better from a filmmaker as accomplished as McQueen.

Worst of all, as a thriller it commits the cardinal sin of just not being very thrilling, and even the twists and betrayals are predictable.

Where it scores points is in the casting, and McQueen has pulled an enviable group together. Davis is the centre that holds the film together, and she gets some powerful scenes as she transitions from sedate union worker to hardened criminal, and if the transformation isn’t completely sold this is more down to compacting a mini-series worth of growth into a film than Davis’ performance.

DoQ7ZCBUYAAtCJgAs Alice Debicki runs Davis a close second, and although her character suffers from the same shift in skillset, Debicki does manage to make it feel more organic, possibly because Alice had left less of a sheltered life than Veronica, and there’s a nice understated chemistry between the two characters. Debicki is an actress who’s impressed me in everything I’ve seen her in since I first watched The Man from Uncle (she’s definitely on my best Bond girls we never had list) and despite the character initially coming across as a willowy airhead, she quickly emerges in many ways as the most naturally competent member of the team.

imagesRodriguez is less well served with her part. There’s a nice subversion of her usual casting, in that she isn’t in Fast and Furious mode here, and she shows some nice vulnerability early on, but this is quickly shunted to one side because McQueen has too many other characters to focus on. Still she fares way better than Erivo who’s basically just there to make up the numbers.

Special mention has to go to Kaluuya, another actor I’ve had my eye on for a long time and, much like Debicki, an actor who constantly impresses, and here’s he’s genuinely terrifying as Jatemme, even if the character is little more than an obstacle to overcome, just a plot point. Farrell is also good, with a nuanced performance that doesn’t allow his character to fit neatly into a box. He’s a corrupt politician, yet clearly isn’t happy in the role. That leaves Neeson, who’s obviously doesn’t get much time to shine but is reassuringly Liam Neeson about it, and Duvall who, even in his late eighties, can still dominate a scene. His presence does raise memories of The Godfather though, and one can’t help but feel this was intentional, and if it was it sadly only underscores how far from The Godfather this is.

The action scenes are solid enough, but in going for gritty realism McQueen jettisons much potential for drama, and at times this is a heist movie that almost feels embarrassed at being a heist movie.

I didn’t hate it, and it’s possible that a repeat viewing would allow me to appreciate it more because there is a lot to like about it, but for now at least these widows haven’t managed to steal my affection.

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Bohemian Rhapsody

Posted: November 25, 2018 in Film reviews
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Directed by Bryan Singer. Starring Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton, Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy, Joe Mazzello.

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It’s 1970 and immigrant college student Farrokh Bulsara dreams of being a rock star, though he’s mainly earning money as a baggage handler at Heathrow. He’s been following a band named Smile for some time, and fortuitously approaches them with some lyrics just after their lead singer has quit to join another band. Although initially sniffy about the odd-looking Farrokh, guitarist Brian May (Lee) and drummer Roger Taylor (Hardy) are won over by his voice. On the same evening Farrokh catches the eye of a young shop assistant, Mary Austin (Boynton).

With the addition of bassist John Deacon (Mazzello) the band become a success, changing their name to Queen even as Farrokh changes his name to Freddie Mercury and becomes engaged to Mary.

As the band go from strength to strength however, it becomes increasingly clear that despite his love for Mary, Freddie needs to come to terms with his sexuality. As friction builds within the band, and Freddie’s hedonistic partying threatens to get out of hand, can Queen come back together in time for the Live Aid concert, or with this band bite the dust?

 

Ok, let’s lay cards on the table right away. Bohemian Rhapsody is a cheesy story, told with broad brushstrokes, clunky dialogue and a cavalier attitude towards historical fact. This is a film with a troubled history, and a film that couldn’t be more on the nose if it were Pinocchio.

And I bloody loved it.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a great film, yet somehow it manages to surpass the sum of its parts, thanks in no small part to a fine performance by Mr Robot’s Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury. Given what a larger than life showman Mercury was, it’s to Malek’s testament that he manages to not only to strut his stuff in an eerily accurate way, but also imbue Mercury with a vulnerability that forms the heart of the film. Yes the teeth get a little getting used to, but once you acclimatise Malek inhabits Mercury’s skin effortlessly, and if you get a chance watch the side by side movie Live Aid and real Live Aid to truly appreciate how good his performance is, and whilst you can see why Sacha Baron Cohen was originally cast, and why Ben Whishaw was considered, it’s hard to imagine anyone else in the role now.

DF-26946_R.jpgMercury cuts a sad figure, suffering racism and having to deal with being gay at a time when homosexuality might have no longer been a crime, but was still frowned upon, especially by the media. His relationship with Mary is heart-breaking at times, because he so clearly loves her, just not in the way she would want him to, and Boynton is also very good as the person who grounds Freddie.

Lee, Hardy and Mazzello are all good as the bandmates, each of them doing a good job of aping the real May, Taylor and Deacon, and despite the fact that the film is primarily about Mercury, the rest of Queen are more than just background (as you’d expect given May and Taylor’s involvement in the film).

There’s sterling work from solid performers like Tom Hollander, Aidan Gillen and Allen Leach, although a cameo by a heavily made up Mike Myers and a gag about Wayne’s World plumbs the depths somewhat.

bohemian-rhapsody-3.jpgIt’s amazing the film is as coherent as it is given the troubles on set, with Singer eventually stepping aside for personal reasons after clashing with the cast and repeatedly turning up late. Dexter Fletcher came in to finish the film, but Singer retains the directorial credit and I guess we may never know how much a hand Fletcher may, or may not, have had in salvaging the film.

The film’s at its clunkiest early on, and some of the dialogue is risible. “Ah you’re Brian May, astrophysicist, and you’re Roger Taylor, dental student.” It does get more fluid as it progresses however, and even in its down points the music of Queen is always a joy to listen to, especially if Malek and co are strutting their stuff at the time, and there are genuinely heart-breaking moments, and the recreation of Queen’s Live Aid set is a glorious set piece worth the price of admission all on its own.

The film does take liberties with the truth however; Freddie didn’t meet the band and Mary on the same night, he didn’t get his HIV diagnosis until after Live Aid and the band hadn’t effectively broken up before Wembley, but artistic licence isn’t exactly unheard of in biopics, and despite concerns that the film would sugar-coat Freddie’s life, his sexuality and partying are front and centre. Of course it could go a lot further (by all accounts one of Baron Cohen’s reasons for exiting was because he wanted an R rated film) but Freddie’s promiscuity and drug taking aren’t ignored so much as softened for a more audience friendly rating.

In the end the film is much like Queen themselves. As one of the characters remarks early on, we’re a band of misfits playing music for misfits, and yet they became much, much greater than the sum of their parts, much like this film.

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