Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
Swallows and Amazons (2016)
A pleasant, inoffensive and very British film for all ages
In a summer of mostly disappointing blockbusters, this small British film sneaked in without much fanfare and is probably one of the best family films of 2016 so far.
Yes it's a remake of the 1974 film but don't let that put you off. The story has been tightened up slightly to appeal to 21st century tastes and it's all the better for it. I'm not dissing the original but audiences have changed over the last 40+ years and this film is technically well made using modern techniques but with an involving old fashioned kids spy drama at the heart of it. The film is neither puerile nor patronising and it's script is involving but relatively easy to follow. Sure, there may be some questions left unanswered for the pedantic but considering it is a PG certificate intended to appease adults and pre-teens I think it did a good job at the pacing of the story and keeping it taut.
Modern filmmaking techniques on a story set in the 1930s don't always work but here they keep the visuals flowing smoothly without being obvious and the Lake District (or should that be North Yorkshire where most of it was supposedly filmed!) looks as pretty as ever. I also found all the acting unobtrusive and competent even though Harry Enfield seemed an unusual bit of casting. Kelly Macdonald did a fine job of playing the mother, a role played by Virginia McKenna in the original but to be honest the acting all round was solid if unshowy by the cast. So then, a well scripted, well acted and well directed small scale British film that will appeal to young and old alike (with no bad language of note). Admittedly there is a bit of fisticuffs towards the end and some mild threat as would befit a story involving foreign spies with guns, but it was all good PG rated fun. It felt about the right length too, which shows it wasn't boring or an editing mess.
On the whole I can't really think of a bad thing to say about this film. I felt it was at least the equal of the original, if not a slight improvement. Maybe the viewer should watch them back to back and make up your own mind. This film may not set the box office alight and it may struggle to get a cinema release outside of the UK due to it's small scale and strong British identity, but I suspect it will turn up regularly on television for many years to come.
X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)
I think the critics have been way too harsh in this case - It's actually rather good.
As you can probably gather I thought this was another very good addition to the X-Men franchise. Whilst it doesn't hit the heady heights of Days of Future Past it still is a really good watch and I fail to see why it has had a mixed press.
Firstly I found it to have a perfectly serviceable story, with Apocalypse and his followers recruiting the very vulnerable and angry Magneto as part of his plan to destroy civilisation and rebuild it in his image. Fassbender turns in another solid performance and you really feel his pain and confusion for the Erik/Magneto character. I also thought all the supporting cast were absolutely fine in their roles, and to me Evan Peters as Quicksilver really stole the scenes he was in and makes a fine addition to the cast. The same also goes to Tye Sheridan as Scott/Cyclops, whose back story is filled in better and with more depth than it was in the Wolverine origins film.
I see the critics have been moaning about having too many characters in the film, yet I actually think it was handled better than it was in the Captain America: Civil War film. In Apocalypse the large cast do actually have something to do and contribute to the story, whereas the Captain America film felt like some were shoe horned in, which I felt made that film feel bloated and repetitive whereas this one at least get the storyline moving. I felt that Civil War felt way too long because of all the story padding yet Apocalypse, whilst also a long film, kept my interest to the end (and yes there is a post credits scene that I suspect is setting up Wolverine 3). I should also add that Apocalypse, despite it's bleak story, does have some moments of humour and wit that went down well with the audience.
I also felt the surprise appearance of Wolverine fitted in nicely with the back story that we already know, particularly the one told in X Men 2 and the Origins film, nicely closing that particular characters story arc and fitting in perfectly with the circumstances surrounding his appearance in the very first X-Men film of 16 years ago. If this is to be Wolverines final appearance with the X-men then they have given him a lovely send off.
I did find some minor flaws with the film though, particularly with the visual appearance of some of the characters and how their ages don't compute when the first X-men film of 2000 is taken into account. However, asides from that I thoroughly enjoyed X-Men Apocalypse and thought it was a solid & worthy addition to the other X-Men films. The films had spectacle, action, laughs and carried on with the journeys of the characters we have got to know and love over the past sixteen years.
The Man on the Eiffel Tower (1949)
A flawed yet hugely interesting crime thriller
I found this film a real mixed bag. Firstly there is the jaunting use of colour. It has been well documented that the negative is long lost and only two 35mm film prints of varying quality are known to have survived (the DVD is made from the best elements combined from both these prints). The film print is still quite scratched and dark in places and could probably do with a proper digital restoration but at least it is watchable, if not as easy on the eye as technicolor is.
I'm not going to go into plot details as others have already done that but I did find the film starts off quite well before the plot starts to sag quite badly in the middle and gets overly complicated, although it does pick up again towards the end when Maigret's plan starts to come together leading to the action packed finale. Also, despite receiving a major credit, Wilfrid Hyde White is in the film for one scene only so its more of a cameo than anything else.
I found the dialogue to be hugely artificial at times making it sound like bad acting rather than decent actors trying to say some rather wooden lines. Yet Maigret himself is quite wonderfully acted by Charles Laughton who plays the role just right. Whereas some of the other characters seem very contrived, Maigret has a wonderful sense of humanity and believability as a middle aged, rather rotund detective who is actually smarter than he lets on. In fact Laughton's interpretation is not a million miles away from Michael Gambon's portrayal for television 40 years later. His sense of calm and intelligence, patiently waiting for his arrogant suspect to make a mistake, is reminiscent of Peter Ustinov's unruffled Hercule Poirot.
A final word should go to the production values. Shot on the streets of Paris this film is an interesting view of how post war Paris looked, showing both the beauty of the city and the damage from the war that had finished 4 years earlier. Burgess Meredith was asked to take over directing the film three days into filming and to be fair he does a decent job, keeping the camera moving when it needs to and ensuring the audience know this is not filmed on a backlot in Hollywood. The sound is also beautifully clear too, a hard job when you consider the amount of location work involved.
All in all this film falls short of being a genuine classic due to a muddled and flabby script, bad dialogue (in places) and some overacting by some of the supporting cast. However its still has a lot going for it and is well worth a watch for Laughtons performance alone.
A slight disappointment but might please the kids
The Horrible histories series is not only very educational but also good fun. However what works in a half hour TV show is a huge struggle to work in a feature film. Whilst there are some good gags in the script, a lot of them fall very flat too and in this respect I couldn't help but compare it being like a PG rated the 'League of Gentlemen's Apocalypse' from about a decade ago. The cast try hard but apart from Damian Lewis (who seems very comfortable in a classic Errol Flynn type role) the rest of the cast do sometimes overact, mugging at the camera slightly too much for my liking. It's a shame but not a surprise because the film cannot seem to decide if it is an extended episode or going for a Blackadder style take on history and the script reflects this, as it is neither one nor the other.
Like I said, there are a few good laughs for kids and adults alike but it could have done with a few more as well. The idea of the story, of Shakespeare's pre-fame career, is a novel one and could have been a Monty Python style film for kids but somehow this effort feels a bit flat despite the best efforts of the cast. In this respect some of the blame must go on the script which sometimes lacks in places. Maybe youngsters will like it, fart gags and all, and it does make good use of its locations and period detail but it was not memorable which is a shame. However I hope the Horrible Histories team do get the chance to make another better film as this is isn't a disaster, more of a near miss.
Painted Boats (1945)
Historically important view of a way of life now long gone
There isn't much of a plot to this slightly unusual but fascinating and quite well made film that is part documentary and part soap opera. However that isn't really the point here as the film has far more worth as a snapshot of life for those families who worked and lived on the British canals in the 1940s.
Whilst the film used (mostly) professional actors, the backdrop was real and utilised lots of location filming . As I said there isn't much of a story beyond the lives of a family who live and work on a canal barge and the world they live in. The story concerns the character Mary (Jenny Laird) and her love of life working the canals as generations before her have done. She is engaged to fellow bargee Ted Stoner who dreams of putting down roots and living in a house (unlike Mary). He hopes the army will call him up and offer him a way out and a trade even though he is is supposedly exempted from the draft as well as being illiterate. His younger brother Alf (Harry Fowler) finds life on the canal exciting yet his fractured education and that of others who live like him is also very prominently addressed.
Although there is a certain amount of a 'rose tinted' view of the lives of these gypsies of the river, the film doesn't shy away from the harsh realities of their life either, especially the scene where a contract is signed but the women in the scene cannot write their name so just sign it with an 'X'.
This film works as a glimpse of a way of life that existed for the best part of 200 years. However even in 1945 the film makers could see that the writing was on the wall for the bargee way of life. The importance of the railway network and the improvement of the roads and the rise of the HGV are all addressed. The second world war was probably the last hurrah for the canal network and those who worked on it for industrial reasons. In fact the war itself may very well have prolonged its importance and therefore its existence for a few extra years as trains were needed for things like troop transport and petrol was in short supply for road vehicles because of the war effort. However by the 1950s the wide scale commercial use of lorries, the nationalisation of the railways and the post war social changes in areas such as improved housing, education and healthcare all but effectively sounded the death knell for this way of life and by the end of the 1960s the canals were of little commercial importance anymore . In this respect the film offers us an invaluable look into the final few years of life on the canals and the people who worked them.
Woman in Gold (2015)
Why all the criticism?
I fail to understand the criticism levelled at this worthy legal drama, particularly Peter Bradshaw's scathing review for The Guardian newspaper.
Helen Mirren again turns in another good performance although the real surprise is Ryan Reynolds turn as her naïve but well meaning lawyer, in over his head (just as Matt Damon was in 1997's The Rainmaker) against the state of Austria.
That this is based on a true story seems to have been overlooked by the critics. The concept that Mirren's character was trying to retrieve a famous piece of art, a painting of her aunt, that was stolen by the Nazi's and ended up in a Viennese museum resonates as just a small piece of the injustices dealt to the Jews. That the museum refuses to hand it over by trying every excuse possible resulting in a David vs Goliath showdown and the animosity that gets built up just adds to the flavour.
Yes, maybe the story has been oversimplified for the purposes of the film, and that for the sake of the story 2 years is very conveniently squashed down into a few minutes, but this is still a decent legal drama with a human interest story (told partly in flashback). I certainly enjoyed the film and so did the audience.
Perhaps the critics didn't like it because it lacked any car chases, is fairly pedestrian in its pacing or that it demonises at least some of the Austrian people, for both being complicit in pre-war anti Semitism and the lack of acknowledgement to her plight. I cannot argue with these points but then again it isn't trying to be Schindlers List either. It was probably no coincidence that the vast majority of the audience was an older audience but there should always be a place in cinema for human interest stories too. This is a film about one woman's experience of what the Nazi's did to her, her family, her friends and her attempts to at least try and redress some of the injustices dealt to her. Maybe it won't win any Oscars but I would certainly recommend it for those who like old an fashioned drama based on a true story.
Shaun the Sheep Movie (2015)
Shaun the Sheep - a film that the whole family will enjoy
I considered Aardmans last stop motion effort 'Pirates - in an adventures with scientists' to be a bit of a let down when it was released three years ago and wondered if they had gone off the boil a little bit by trying to appeal to the mass market and thus diluting their witty humour as a result. However after 80 odd minutes of Shaun the Sheep I am happy to report that they are back on track.
Shaun is extremely well animated and manages to keep the story ticking along and funny enough to keep your interest without really feeling stretched. Considering as the film has no real dialogue to speak of that is no mean feat, and is reliant on top notch production design, expressive animation and a script that is entertaining and funny without being overly ridiculous. Whilst the Shaun the Sheep/Timmy Time TV shorts are aimed at young viewers, there is a decent amount of underlying humour here that adults will also engage with and thus it doesn't insult your intelligence the way some films do.
After Aardmans infamous falling out with DreamWorks (who wanted them to Americanize Wallace & Gromit) I did wonder if Aardman had sold out for the mass market after feeling the Sony Pictures distributed Pirates had a whiff of compromise to it, and that's partly why I felt Pirates fell a bit flat. However Aardman have teamed up with an independent European distributor for Shaun and as a result it seems they were allowed to make the film they wanted to make this time round. In effect I was not disappointed with Shaun, the simple but hilarious premise of the TV show is expanded successfully to the big screen with no noticeable compromises for the mass market. That the film is also dialogue free should make it an easy sell abroad too and I'm glad to see the film has been well received.
So well done to Aardman for making one of 2015's most enjoyable, entertaining and amusing films so far.
The House of Magic (2013)
Much better than i expected
Most European animations intended for the mass market are often very disappointing either in a lame script or bland animation. Usually it is Hollywood that rules the roost here, but The House of Magic was a pleasantly surprising film released (in the UK) in a summer already overcrowded with family fare.
Admittedly this film is aimed at a much younger market than say, the Marvel Films but nonetheless it is still doing the rounds where other animation like The Nut Job, How to train your dragon 2 and Planes 2 are also on release. I am a little surprised the distributors put it out during the summer because it obviously won't have the same kind of publicity as those big American productions but nonetheless I am glad to see it has been reasonably well received because it is actually quite watchable and likable. Although I saw the film in 2D I could see the scenes designed for the 3D release and can quite understand those that think its is one of the better 3D releases.
The story is not terribly sophisticated, an abandoned little ginger kitten wanders into a spooky house and ends up fighting a greedy real estate agent who is trying to sell it behind his elderly magician uncle's back. After a sub plot involving the Rabbit and a mouse trying to get rid of the kitten the kitten ultimately ends up teaming up with the other inhabitants of the house (Rabbit, mouse, two lovebirds and various sentient inventions) plus two sick children to thwart him. The film does drag in a few places and is quite predictable but is extremely well animated, has fun with it's music cues (watch out for some classic British pop music from the 1980s) and will ultimately leave children and adults with a big grin on their face as the end credits roll. The script could have done with a few more laughs but anybody who has ever owned a cat will recognize how well translated the mannerisms of 'Thunder' the kitten have been done.
Ultimately I found this to be an undemanding, very well animated and perfectly serviceable little film that has no offensive elements (although I agree with a previous reviewer who found the callous way the kitten is abandoned by its original owner to be a little bit upsetting). Nonetheless the film moves on quickly from that start and the reasons why he was abandoned are briefly addressed in the story (economic recession).
I was going to give this film a 6 but 'Thunder' is such a cute creation and probably the most lovable cat in a film since Puss in Boots from Shrek that I gave it a 7.
Gagarin. Pervyy v kosmose (2013)
A pleasantly well made biopic - flag waving from the Russians for once.
The move into space is one of mankind's greatest achievements in the 20th century and this biopic is a worthy addition to the more commonly found fare us in the west are exposed to.
In a way this could be seen as the Russian equivalent of the excellent 1983 Hollywood film 'The Right Stuff'. It celebrates the putting of the first man into space, Yuri Gagarin of course. The film is told in a way that details his famous flight in 1961 with flashbacks to key points in his life, his childhood, his romance with his soon to be wife, his joining the Soviet Air Force and the trials and tribulations of the journey that resulted in him eventually making history.
As the film is less than two hours long it does have a feel of a carefully put together and slightly hurried celebration of an authentic Soviet hero. Gagarin is made out to be the nicest man in the world who was a model poster boy for the Soviets, and it does gloss over his life and stops conveniently before his faults as a human being (particularly his later alcoholism) became apparent. However that is my only grumble because this is a meticulously well done film with top rate effects and beautifully filmed. Yes it has a certain propaganda value (as do a great many American films on similar lines) that a cynic might try and pull apart. The re-enactments of the Soviet people celebrating his achievement do have a slight cheese factor when viewed from a modern perspective, but these are minor criticisms as the film is not intended to be a warts and all look at Major Gagarin's life, but a celebration of what he achieved and the fearlessness of a man who knew that to make history he had to knowingly take risks, with a brief explanation at the end of his life beyond his famous flight and his tragic death at the age of just 34.
Becky Sharp (1935)
A technicolor curiosity
My memories of this film are a little jaded because its been years since i saw it and its never been released in the UK.
However what i do remember of it is how good Miriam Hopkins is in the lead role. Although the direction is a little staged and awkward, the experienced cast do help to keep this film watchable. This was the first full length three strip technicolor feature film so kudos to the studio for taking the gamble with making it. It is no great surprise it is studio bound because of the amount of lighting that was needed on early technicolor. Also the technicolor cameras were bulky too making the directors job pretty difficult too. The Art department must shoulder some of the blame for the mixed results though. I seem to remember their colour scheme was really uninspired. They could have used nice bright primary colours to show off the system but they erred on a colour set up that made you feel was lacking in courage. However on a critical note, Becky Sharpe was a decently made costume drama that was fairly average with good performances. However its is interesting to note how quickly technicolor improved after 1935. Check out 'Wings of The Morning' from 1937 to see a film that may have had a bad script but made excellent use of external location filming and the colours were a lot more naturalistic.