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The final curtain.
3 May 2019
Warning: Spoilers
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.)
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Long Shot (2019)
The definition of punching above your weight!
30 April 2019
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.)
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Wild Rose (2018)
Three chords and the truth.
3 April 2019
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).
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Love and Rage against the machine.
14 March 2019
The baby asked, 'Is there not one righteous among them?": James Baldwin, If Beale Street Could Talk

Beale Street refers to the jumpin' heart of Memphis where Louis Armstrong was born. As explained in text from Baldwin's source book (requiring a speed read!) it's used as a metaphor for the birthplace of every black person in America. ("Every black person in America was born on Beale Street"). But the story is set in Harlem, New York, and with this intellectual stretch, before I even get past the title, I am immediately reaching for the "P-word", of which more later.

Tish (KiKi Layne) is 19 and in love with her lifelong friend 'Fonny' (Stephan James). So much in love in fact (and so careless) that Tish is now pregnant with his child. Tish must break this news to both families herself, since Fonny is inside awaiting trial for a vicious rape that he claims he didn't commit. Tish and their joint families are trying to help, but can Fonny be released in time to see the birth of his child? Or are the institutions so set against him that release is impossible and death row might await?

At its heart, this film portrays a truly beautiful love story. Tish and Fonny (both adorably played by the young leads) are friends becoming more than friends. We see their emerging love through flashback scenes. Some of these, particularly one on a metro train, are exquisitely done; long gazes into eyes, starting as one thing and ending as another.

In another scene, Fonny takes Tish's virginity, and it's done with style, taste and finesse. For younger teens this should be compulsory viewing as an antidote to all the horrible porn they are seeing on the internet: THIS is what sex, based on a foundation of true love, is all about. (The film is UK15 rated for "infrequent very strong language, strong sex" - I actually agree with the rating for the language (and actually I think an act of marital violence should also have also been referenced).... but not for the sex, which should be 12A).

It's a love story then? Well, yes, but offset against that, it's a very angry film, seething with rage about how the police force and the justice system is set 'against the black man'. Director Barry Jenkins (of - eventual - Oscar winner "Moonlight" fame) has a message to impart and he is intent on imparting it.

The film didn't get a SAG nomination for the ensemble cast, but it almost feels that they missed out here. As well as the two young leads being spectacular, the whole of the rest of the cast really gel well together, particularly the respective parents: Colman Domingo ("Selma") as Tish's father Joseph; Regina King as Tish's mother Sharon; Michael Beach ("Patriots Day") as Fonny's father Frank and Aunjanue Ellis as his bible-bashing mother. A dramatic scene where they all collectively hear the news about the pregnancy is both comical and shocking in equal measure.

If this film gets an Oscar nomination for sound, I'll frankly be cross! There is significant use of sonorous, bass-heavy music and effects (including a lovely cello theme by Nicholas Britell) - all very effective; there is a lot of earnest and quietly spoken dialogue between the characters - also moody and effective. Unfortunately the two are mixed together in some scenes and frankly I couldn't make out what was being said. Most frustrating.

In addition, there is voiceover narration from Tish (if you follow my blog regularly you KNOW what I think about that!). Actually, this isn't as overly intrusive as in films like "The Hate U Give", but it sounds like it was recorded in a dustbin! It's a bit like that effect you get with headphones where the plug isn't quite in the socket, and everything sounds way off and tinny. When combined with Layne's accent the effect, again, made the dialogue difficult to comprehend.

There's a degree of bad language in the film, albeit mild in comparison to "The Favourite"! Tish's sister (Teyonah Parris) uses the c-word in one very funny dissing of Fonny's 'up-themselves' sisters (Ebony Obsidian and Dominique Thorne). But the n-word is used repeatedly during the film, and that I can never get used to. I 'get it' (in the sense that I understand the perception) that this is a word that 'only black people can use between themselves'. But this just feels elitist and wrong to me. At a time when Viggo Mortensen gets crucified for using it once (while being descriptive and in-context) during a press junket for "Green Book", I just feel that if a word is taboo it should be taboo, period.

I will also raise the "p-word", that being "pretentious". Barry Jenkins clearly feels he has something to prove after the success of "Moonlight", and there are certainly moments of directorial brilliance in the film. As previously mentioned, the sex scene is one of the best I've seen in a long while. Also beautifully done are a birthing scene and two confrontational scenes in Puerto Rico. But there are also moments that seem to be staged, artificial and too 'arty' for their own good. Any hidden meaning behind them completely passed me by. (Examples are Sharon's wig scene and a pan around Fonny's wood sculpture). It all seems to be "trying too hard".

Hate for the police is also writ large on the film, with every discriminatory police officer in the whole of the US embodied in the wicked sneering face of the police office Bell (Ed Skrein).

This is a film written and directed by an American black man (Jenkins) and largely fully cast with American black people. And I'm a white Englishman commenting on it. I'm clearly unqualified to pass judgement on how black America really feels about things! But comment I will from this fug of ignorance.

It feels to me that the "Black Lives Movement" has given, at long last, black film-makers like Jenkins a platform in cinema to present from. This is a great thing. But I'm sensing that at the moment the tone of the output from that platform (such as this film) seems to me heavily tinged with anger: a scream of frustration about the system and racial injustice over the years. It's the film-makers right to make films about subjects dear to them. And I'm sure this summer we'll sadly again see atrocities as previously seen in the likes of Ferguson and Dallas, fuelling the fire of hate. But I would personally really like to see someone like Jenkins use his undoubted talents to make a more uplifting film: a film reflecting the more positive strives that are happening in society, allowing for people of all races and all sexual orientations to make their way in business (not drug-running or crime!) and/or life in general. Those good news stories - the positive side of race relations - are out there and my view is that someone like Barry Jenkins should be telling them.

Final thoughts: I wasn't as much of a fan of "Moonlight" as the Academy, and this film also left me conflicted. The film is well-made and the cast is very engaging. It also has a love story at its heart that is moody but well-done. Overall though the movie felt over-engineered and a little pretentious, and that knocked it down a few pegs for me.

(For the full graphical review please visit One Mann's Movies on the web or Facebook. Thanks)
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The Mule (2018)
Eastwood is back, but is he hero or anti-hero?
3 February 2019
It's delightful to see Clint Eastwood back in front of the camera on the big screen. His last starring film was "Trouble with the Curve" in 2012 - a baseball-themed film that I don't remember coming out in the UK, let alone remember seeing. Before that was 2008's excellent "Gran Torino".

"The Mule" is based on a true New York Times story about Leo Sharp, a veteren recruited by a cartel to ship drugs from the southern border to Chicago.

Eastwood couldn't cast Sharp in the movie as himself because he died back in 2016, so had to personally take the role. (This is #satire.... Eastwood's last film was the terrible "The 15:17 to Paris" where his 'actors' were the real-life participants themselves: you won't find a review from me on imdb for this one as I only review films I've managed to sit through.... and with this one I failed!).

Eastwood plays Earl Stone, a self-centred horticulturist of award-winning daylily's (whatever they are) who is estranged from wife Mary (Dianne Wiest) and especially from his daughter Iris (Alison Eastwood, Clint's own daughter), who now refuses to speak to him. This is because Earl has let his family down at every turn. The only person willing to give him a chance is his grand-daughter Ginny (Taissa Farmiga, younger sister of Vera). With his affairs in financial freefall, a chance meeting at a wedding leads Earl into a money-making driving job for the cartel operated by Laton (Andy Garcia). (Laton doesn't seem to have a first name..... Fernando perhaps?).

With has beat-up truck and aged manner, he is invisible to the cops and so highly effective in the role. Even when - as the money keeps rolling in - he upgrades his truck to a souped-up monster!

It's difficult to know whether Eastwood is playing a hero or an anti-hero. You feel tense when Earl is at risk of being caught, but then again the law officers would be preventing hundreds of kilos of cocaine from reaching the streets of Chicago and through their actions saving the lives of probably hundreds of people. I felt utterly conflicted: the blood of those people, and the destruction of the families that addiction causes, was on Earl's hands as much as his employer's. But you can't quite equate that to the affable old-man that Eastwood portrays, who uses much of the money for charitable good-works in his community.

In parallel with the drug-running main plot is a tale of Earl's attempted redemption: "family should always come first". When the two storylines come together around a critical event then it feels like a sufficient trigger for Earl to turn his back on his life of selfishness. This also gives room for some splendid acting scenes between Eastwood and Wiest. It's also interesting that Earl tries to teach the younger DEA enforcement agent not to follow in the sins of his past. Bradley Cooper, back in pretty-boy mode, plays the agent, but seemed to me to be coasting; to me he wasn't convincing in the role. Michael Peña is better as his unnamed DEA-buddy.

The showing at my cinema was surprisingly well-attended for a Wednesday night, showing that Eastwood is still a star-draw for box-office even in his old age. And it's the reason to see the film for sure. His gristled driving turn to camera (most fully seen in the trailer rather than the final cut) is extraordinary. He even manages to turn in an "eyes in rearview-mirror" shot that is surely a tribute to his Dirty Harry days!

If you can park your moral compass for a few hours then its an enjoyable film of drug-running and redemption. I'd like to suggest it also illustrates that crime really doesn't pay, but from the end titles scene I'm not even sure at that age if that even applies!

(For the full graphical review, check out One Mann's Movies on the web or Facebook. Thanks).
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Battle Royal.
26 January 2019
It's an unbelievably turbulent story, but as it's a true story the late 1500's were clearly turbulent times. I mean, there weren't even any Starbucks. After a brief Fotheringay flash-forward (#spoilers!) it's 1561 and the widowed catholic Mary Stuart (Saoirse Ronan), ex-queen consort of France, arrives on Leith beach to assert her right as queen of Scotland. Indeed, she feels she has succession rights to the English throne too after her protestant first cousin, once removed, Elizabeth (Margot Robbie) passes. She's not exactly welcomed back to Scotland since she is muscling in on the rule of her half brother (James McArdle).

But Mary is playing a dangerous game on multiple fronts, and her life - as I'm sure you're aware - is not going to be a smooth one.

What was life like in the court of Mary? As painted here, it was a fairly louche affair, with casual - but never penetrative - sexual encounters that (as portrayed) had a significant impact on Scottish history. This might have been accurate... who knows. What seems to almost certainly be a fabrication is Mary and Elizabeth's dramatic meeting (in what appears to be a laundry!). The film attempts to smooth over the cracks with dialogue about 'This meeting must never be documented'. Nice try!

Was this necessary? It certainly adds an opportunity for Ronan and Robbie to bounce off each other directly, but there is a certain attraction in a film where the drama is purely played out in communication through letters. (There is an interesting discussion of the topic on the historyextra.com web site).

What's also mooted in the film - "I'm more man than woman" - is that Elizabeth's reason for not marrying and not bearing children was that she was a lesbian. I'm not sure of the historical provenance of this either.

This is clearly the Ronan and Robbie show. Both deliver star turns that impress. From the trailers you would think that the screentime of the pair would be about 50:50. Actually, it's more like 80:20 in Ronan's favour.

As if last year's Oscar nomination wasn't enough to stamp her place in the list of the acting greats, Saoirse Ronan here IS Mary Queen of Scots, with a fierce and determined stare that would put the fear of God into most men. Margot Robbie, under ugly make-up reminiscent of Charlize Theron in "Monster", is impressive in a much quieter and more mannered way. Both must feel a little aggrieved at being overlooked for Oscar nominations.

Elsewhere there is a plethora of acting talent, most of it hidden behind big bushy growths. The biggest and bushiest of these belongs to David Tennant as the hellfire preacher and rabble-rouser John Knox. (He's so well-endowed in the facial hair-area that the lady next to me exclaimed to her friend at the end-titles "David Tennant? Who was he??").

Other familiar faces are Downton's Brendan Coyle as the Earl of Lennox; Jack Lowden as his son and Mary's second husband Henry Darnley; Adrian Lester as Lord Randolph; Guy Pearce as William Cecil, Elizabeth's right hand man; and rising star Joe Alwyn as Robert Dudley... the nearest Elizabeth ever got to a husband. Another actor I spent ages trying to recognise was Mary's third husband (she sure got through them) Lord Bothwell; he is Martin Compston, star of TV's excellent "Line of Duty" series.

Big, broad historical epics at the cinema are few and far between, so in the vein of "a change is as good as a rest" it's a welcome release. The cinematography (by John Mathieson) is glorious: the external shots (great drone work!) makes me immediately want to go hill-walking again in Scotland. And some of the internal shots are beautifully lit: a scene of the Scottish lords ganging up on Robert Dudley for a signature is like a Vermeer painting.

As you might expect from a historical epic, the costumes (by Alexandra Byrne) are great and the hair and makeup team (Jenny Shircore, Marc Pilcher and Jessica Brooks) did a great job. They are all in fact Oscar nominated.

And of course from a great British ensemble cast the acting is great.

But the story chugs along rather turgidly, and even the moments that you think herald a monumental action sequence - like an attack down a wooded hillside at a bridge, reminiscent of "Gladiator" - end in a curious damp squib. There is nothing here of the great battle sequences of "Braveheart".

More tellingly, when the axe finally fell I felt curiously unmoved: nothing like the stirring I felt with the disembowelment of Mel Gibson in that Scottish classic I just mentioned. So something in the movie just didn't connect with me at an emotional level. It feels like it's falling between two stools of a retelling of history and a deeply involving drama. The direction was by first timer Josie Rourke and the screenplay as a second time outing by Beau Willimon ("Ides of March").

In summary, my view would be that it's worth seeing for its epic spectacle, but it's not a film I will be rushing to see again.

(For the full graphical review please visit One Mann's Movies on the web or Facebook. Thanks)
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Enjoyable and harmless comedy laced with a degree of sentimentality.
26 January 2019
Pete (Mark Wahlberg) and Ellie (Rose Byrne) are focused and business-oriented home designers. They've talked about having kids "sometime in the future" but the years - as years are want to do - are motoring away from them. Pete is concerned that if they have their own kids now then he will end up being an "old dad" (cue very funny, black-comedy, flashback). This leads them into contact with the State's fostering service - led by Karen (Octavia Spencer) and Sharon (Tig Notaro) - and they progress into foster training. This introduces into their 'perfect adult lives' 15-year old Lizzy (Isabela Moner) and her younger siblings Juan (Gustavo Quiroz) and Lita (Julianna Gamiz). As these guys come from a troubled background Pete and Ellie find they have their work cut out. Who will crack first?

Wahlberg and the excellent Rose Byrne make a believable driven-couple, and Byrne has such a range of expressive faces that she can't help but make you laugh.

Of the child actors, Nickelodeon star Isabella Moner shines with genuine brilliance, both in terms of her acting as the fiercely loyal Lizzy but also in terms of her musical ability (she sings the impressive end-title song). With Hollywood in 'post-La-La-Showman: Here we go again' mode, this is a talented young lady I predict might be in big demand over the next few years.

Top of my list of the most stupid "where the hell have I seen her before bang-my-head-against-the-cinema-wall" moments is the actress playing Ellie's mother Jan. She is OF COURSE Julie Hagerty, air-hostess supreme from "Airplane!".

Also good value, and topping my list of "I know her from lots of films but don't know her name" is Margo Martindale* as Pete's exuberant and easily bought mother Sandy.

The script by director Sean ("Daddy's Home") Anders and John Morris zips along at a fine pace, albeit in a wholly predictable direction. It helps that I struggle the think of many films about the adoption process itself. Sure there have been lots of movies about children that have been adopted - Manchester By The Sea and Lion being two recent examples - but the only film I can immediately think of (and not in a good way) with foster care at its heart was the Katherine Heigl comedy from a few years ago "Life as we know it". So this is good movie territory to mine.

There are some fine running jokes, notably young Juan's penchant for constantly getting injured. However, the script also lapses as did Anders' "Daddy's Home 2" from last year - into moments of slushy sentimentality. I would have preferred a harder and blacker edge to the comedy: something that last year's excellent "Game Night" pulled off so well.

There are also a couple of characters in the film that were poorly scripted and which just didn't work. While Octavia Spencer was fine (channelling an almost identical version of her wisecracking and sardonic character from "The Shape of Water"), I just had no idea what her colleague Sharon (Tig Notaro) was supposed to be. The tone was all over the place. Similarly, who should pop up on a balcony in an unexpected cameo but the great Joan Cusack. And very funny she is too for the 10 second interruption. But the writers having got her there just couldn't leave alone and we get a plain embarrassing extended interruption that strikes a duff note in the flow of the film.

The film is amusing and harmless without taxing many brain cells. Most notably unlike many so-called American 'comedies' it did actually make me laugh at multiple points. I should also point out that my wife absolutely loved it, rating it a strong 8/10 going on 9/10.

But the really cute thing is that the film is "inspired by a true family": namely Anders' own. He and his wife fostered three kids out of the US foster service, so the script is undoubtedly loosely based on their own experiences, which give it an extra impact for some of Peter and Ellie's lines. It gives you a completely different perspective on the film knowing this. My wife after the film was saying "I'm not sure how accurately it portrays the fostering process". But it clearly does.

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Vice (I) (2018)
Puppet on a Cheney.
18 January 2019
By an strange coincidence, the morning after seeing this film, I heard on BBC Radio 4 a snippet of the farewell speech of President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1961. I thought there was no sound-bite summed up the film better than this: "In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist".

"Vice" tells the 'true story' - well... they 'tried their ****ing best' (LOL) - of the quiet man behind the throne, Dick Cheney (Christian Bale). Featuring flash-backs and flash-forwards at random, we trace the career of the Wyoming Yale drop-out from the early 60's through to his rise to power and then his graceful retirement, where he went on to run 'Iron Man' races and breed award-winning Golden Retrievers. (Important note: If you are a character that bolts for the door at the first sight of an end-title.... resist!).

It's a film about infuriating Republicans (n) and a film that's no doubt infuriating (v) many Republicans. Other than an infamous hunting incident I knew nothing about Cheney.... and, to be honest, I'm still not sure I'm much the wiser. For this is a film by Adam McKay, who made "The Big Short" and the 'facts' presented to you by the narrative - in the same manner as the 'facts' presented in Michael Moore's documentaries - perhaps need to be taken with more than a little pinch of salt. (I did see an interview though where McKay said that all his "facts" had been "fact-checked". But this might be fake news!)

It begs the question with me as to whether the film has been funded as a pro-Democratic piece of mischief. By the way, there is a nice 'mid-credit' scene mocking the "liberal-bias" in the film that is worth staying for.

If you remember "The Big Short" then you will no doubt remember McKay's anarchic film-making style. This is very like that film, but without all of the celebrity pieces to camera (and I personally missed Margot Robbie in that bubble bath). This mockumentary style is, in the main, wildly entertaining but occasionally crosses over the line into 'rather annoying' territory. In trying hard to make an entertaining biopic about someone who, in many ways, was a pretty dull and grey politician, McKay occasionally goes over-the-top and the script become pretentious. (A Shakespearean sonnet was one such moment for me).

There are some absolutely jaw-dropping assertions made by the film that - if I was an American - would make this a squirm-inducing movie to watch. The picture paints a dark and disturbing picture. If I had a parent or spouse that lost their life to the Iraq war in pursuit of those imaginary 'Weapons of Mass Destruction", I would be distraught by the movie's assertions. Is this historical fact? It seems truly unbelievable and downright criminal if so.

Christian Bale justly deserves award-nominations for his portrayal of Cheney. The man is an acting-machine and the physical transformation from the young stocky 60's lineman to the stooped and overweight elderly gent is staggering. Supporting Bale is a strong supporting cast, led by Amy Adams as Dick's assertive, opinionated and clever wife Lynne. Adams also ages extremely well in the film, and it's another standout performance from her. The sense is always there, from glances and moods rather than overtly in the script, that this is very much a partnership towards a goal (an "axis of evil" if you will!).

Carell gets better and better in every film. His Rumsfeld feels like an intelligent impersonation of the leader, and interactions with others in the cast (such as Tyler Perry as Colin Powell) feel genuine and passionate.

And is there a bad film that Rockwell has been in? His portrayal of the 'Bush boy' least-likely-to-lead is also uncanny. He's painted, probably accurately, as a puppet in the hands of Cheney, the great manipulator.

The film is narrated by the excellent Jesse Plemons as an every-man who ends up with a close relationship with Cheney, as we find out later in the film (something I didn't for a minute see coming).

Eddie Marsan - one of my favourite actors - also pops up, as does an uncredited Alfred Molina in a funny, but disturbing cameo role.

If you liked McKay's "The Big Short" then I think you will enjoy this one. Conversely, if you were irritated by the quirky directorial style of that film then this one will also drive you to distraction. A few people I saw walk out of the showing: it just wasn't for them. As a UK15-rated film, there are also "disturbing scenes" (as the BBFC describes them), mostly in the form of inter-cut news footage of 9/11 and other terrorist incidents, and infamous US torture tactics that still remain shocking to this day. (One of the worst of these for me featured the close-to-home Piccadilly tube bombings in 2005.) The editing also deliberately cuts from very quiet scenes to EXTREMELY LOUD military explosions that made me often jump out of my skin: so perhaps not for the overly nervous cinema-goer!

But this is one of the most thought-provoking films that I am likely to see this year, and I was fascinated from beginning to (final) end.

(For the full graphical review, please check out One Mann's Movies on the web or Facebook. Thanks.)
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The Upside (2017)
Not the 10* French classic, but a fun and moving movie nonetheless.
18 January 2019
So, the movie-going audience for this film will divide into two categories: those that have seen the original 2011 French classic "The Intouchables" that this is based on, and those that haven't. "The Intouchables" would have got 10* from me, no problem.

This movie joins a list of standout European movies - for example, "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"; "Let The Right One In"; "Sleepless Night"; etc. - that have had Hollywood "makeovers" that don't match up to the originals. And this is no exception. However, it's still been well made and deserves respect as a standalone piece of movie-making.

Based on a true story, Phillip Lacasse (Bryan Cranston) is left both paraplegic and widowed by a string of bad luck. Not that money can buy you everything, but his care arrangements are substantially helped by him being a multi-millionaire ("Not rich enough to buy The Yankees; Rich enough to buy The Mets"). This is from success in investments and writing about such investments.

Depressed, cranky and with a "DNR" that his diligent PA Yvonne (Nicole Kidman) seems unable to comply with, Phillip lashes out at anyone and everyone and so dispatches his carers with monotonous regularity. Dell Scott (Kevin Hart) is on parole, with the requirement to seek work. Due to a mix-up, he finds himself in the employ of Phillip: with the suspicion that he's been hired because he is the very worst candidate imaginable, and thus the most likely to let Phillip shuffle off this mortal coil. But the two men's antipathy to each other slowly thaws as they teach each other new tricks.

Those who have seen "The Intouchables" will fondly remember the first 5 minutes of that film: a flash-forward to a manic police car-chase featuring our protagonists (there played by François Cluzet and Omar Sy). It drops like a comedy hand-grenade to open the film. Unfortunately, you can't help but feel a bit let down by the same re-creation in "The Upside". It has all the same content but none of the heart.

After that rocky start, the film continues to rather stutter along. Part of the reason for this I think is Kevin Hart. It's not that he's particularly bad in the role: it's just that he IS Kevin Hart, and I was constantly thinking "there's that comedian playing that role".

However, once the story gets into its swing, giving Cranston more of a chance to shine (which he does), then the film started to motor and my reservations about Hart started to wane. Some of these story set pieces - such as the one about the art work - are punch-the-air funny in their own right. Cranston's timing in delivering his punchlines is immaculate.

There seems to have been some furore about the casting of Bryan Cranston as the role of the disabled millionaire instead of a disabled actor. Lord save us! He's an actor! That's what actors do for a living: pretend to be people they're not! It's also worth pointing out that François Cluzet was an able-bodied actor as well.

As already mentioned, Bryan Cranston excels in the role. Phillip goes through such a wide range of emotions from despair to pure joy and back again that you can't help but be impressed by the performance.

On the female side of the cast, it's really nice to see Nicole Kidman in such a quiet and understated role and it's nicely done; Aja Naomi King does a nice job as Dell's protective ex-girlfriend Latrice; and there's a nice female cameo as well, which I won't spoil since I wasn't expecting to see her in the film.

As a standalone film it has some laugh-out-loud moments, some feelgood highs and some moments of real pathos. The audience I saw this with was small, but there was still a buzz in the room and sporadic applause as the end titles came up: God only knows that's unusual for a film! The director is "Limitless" and "Divergent" director Neil Burger, and it's a perfectly fun and innocent night out at the flicks that I commend to the house in this month of celluloid awards heavyweights.

(For the full graphical review, please check out One Mann's Movies on the web or Facebook. Thanks).
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"Scandal" that no longer seems so scandalous.
12 January 2019
The Front Runner is based on the true-story of US presidential hopeful Gary Hart (Hugh Jackman) and if you are NOT aware of the historical background (and have not seen the trailer) then you might want to skip the rest of this review - and all other reviews - so you can see the film first and let the history come as a surprise to you.

Hart was younger than most candidates: good-looking, floppy-haired and refreshingly matter of fact in his dealings with the public and the press. Any interviews had to be about his politics: not about his family life with wife Lee (Vera Farmiga) and teenage daughter Andrea (Kaitlyn Dever).

Unfortunately, Hart has a weakness for a pretty face (or ten) and his marriage is rocky as a result: "Just don't embarrass me" is Lee's one requirement. His "nothing to hide" line to an intelligent Washington Post reporter - AJ Parker (a well cast Mamoudou Athie) - leads to a half-arsed stake-out by Miami Herald reporters and incriminating pictures linking Hart to a Miami pharmaceutical saleswoman Donna Rice (Sara Paxton). As the growing press tsunami rises, and his campaign manager (J.K. Simmons) gets more and more frustrated with him, can his candidacy survive and will his (now very much embarrassed) wife stick by him?

Hugh Jackman is perfectly cast here; very believable as the self-centred, self-righteous and stubborn politician. But this central performance is surrounded by a strong team of supporting players. Vera Farmiga is superb as the wounded wife. Sara Paxton is heartbreaking as the intelligent college girl unfairly portrayed as a "slapper" by the media. The scenes between her and Hart-staffer Irene (Molly Ephraim), trying desperately to support her as best she can, are very nicely done. J.K Simmons as campaign manager Bill Dixon is as reliable as ever. And Alfred Molina turns up as the latest film incarnation of The Post's Ben Bradlee - surely one of the most oft portrayed real-life journalists in film history.

One of my biggest dissatisfactions with the film is with the sound mixing. Was this a deliberate act by director Jason Reitman, to reflect the chaotic nature of political campaigning? Whether it was deliberate or not, much of the film's dialogue - particularly in the first 30 minutes of the film - is drowned out by background noise. Sometimes I just longed for subtitles!

The screenplay, by Matt Bai (from his source book), Jay Carson (a Clinton staffer) and director Jason Reitman might align with the story, but the big problem is that the story is just a little bit dull, particularly by today's levels of scandal. This suffers the same fate as "House of Cards" (even before the Kevin Spacey allegations) in that the shocking realities of the Trump-era have progressively neutered the shock-factor of the fiction: to the point where it starts to become boring. Here, only once or twice does the screenplay hit a winning beat: for me, it was the scenes between Donna Rice and Irene Kelly and the dramatic press conference towards the end of the film. The rest of the time, the screenplay was perfectly serviceable but nothing spectacular.

A core tenet of the film is Hart's view that politics should be about the policies and not about the personality. Looking at the subject nowadays, it's clearly a ridiculously idealistic viewpoint. Of course it matters. Politicians need to be trusted by their constituents (yeah, like that's the case in the UK and the US at the moment!) and whether or not they slap their wives around or sleep with farm animals is clearly a material factor in that relationship. But this was clearly not as much the case in the 70's as it is today, and the suggestion is that the Hart case was a turning point and a wake-up call to politicians around the world. (An interesting article by the Washington Post itself points out that this is also a simplistic view: that Hart should have been well aware of the dangerous game he was playing.)

Do you think that powerful politicos are driven to infidelity because they are powerful? Or that it is a characteristic of men who have the charisma to become political leaders in the first place? Such was the discussion my wife and I had in the car home after this film. Nature or political nurture? I'm still not sure. It's worth pointing out that to this day both Hart and Rice (interestingly, an alleged ex-girlfriend of Eagles front-man Don Henley) stick to their story that they never had sex.

The film's perfectly watchable, has great acting, but is a little bit of a non-event. The end titles came and I thought "OK, that's that then".... nothing more. If you're a fan of this style of historical political film then you probably won't be disappointed by it; if not, probably best to wait and catch this on the TV.

(For the full graphical review please check out One Mann's Movies on the web or Facebook. Thanks).
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The Favourite (2018)
A bawdy masterpiece
6 January 2019
I'll just put it out there. "The Favourite" is a masterpiece of movie making on just so many different levels.

The story grips you from the off. The gout-suffering Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) is being maniupulated from her bedchamber (both physically and mentally) by Lady Sarah Marlborough (Rachel Weisz), wife of a war-hero General. Arriving at the palace (actually Hatfield House in Hertfordshire) is Sarah's cousin Abigail (Emma Stone), fallen on hard times. But although joining the court as a "dirty parlour maid", Abigail is more than a match for Sarah in terms of political scheming and sculduggery. The scene is set for a no-holds battle royale to gain the affections of the queen and be the power behind the throne.

First and foremost, the film presents a triumvirate of female star turns that would - I hope - immediately grab three of the slots for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress Oscar categories.

We all know Olivia Colman as a UK national treasure, but with a movie past that has seen her primarily in smaller supporting roles, this should catapult her onto the worldwide stage. Colman is just unbelievably good as the mentally unhinged monarch Queen Anne. (If you look at the history of Queen Anne in relation to motherhood, referenced in the film, you can understand and sympathise with her mental state.) The camera spends leisurely periods focused on her features and many of these are just extraordinary. One such scene at a dance, with Anne unblinking and mentally deteriotating for what must be a good minute or two is so breathtaking that it made me giggle (inappropriately) with pure movie joy.

Equally good is Rachel Weisz as the incumbant favourite Lady Sarah. Her transformation from someone fully in control to someone seeing a yawning turn in her fortunes approaching is just brilliantly done. Helped by superbly scripted lines ("How did you sleep?" asks Abigail; "Like a shot badger" spits out Sarah), she delivers brilliantly on a role that was reminiscent to me of Glenn Close's turn in "Dangerous Liaisons".

Probably in 3rd place in the awards ranking, but not taking away anything from her excellent kick-ass performance, is Emma Stone as Abigail. We've seen similar performances from Stone before: indeed the film has a nice recreation of her "La La Land" audition breakdown at one point!

Excellent in supporting roles, but rather overshadowed by the ladies, is Nicholas Hoult fully be-wigged as the leader of the opposition and the ever-reliable Mark Gatiss as Lord Marlborough

Based on the strong UK-talent and the Oscar buzz, the film has received a widespread distribution into UK multiplexes, but I think it has more of an arthouse feel to it that might trigger some disatisfaction from the general cinema-going public. (Looking back, I made exactly the same comment about "The Lobster".)

But it is technically brilliant, and I'll call out some of the star turns in the technical department (since it's impossible to read any names from the crazily over-stylized end-titles).

I've already referenced that the script has some memorable whip-smart lines ("Look at me! How dare you! Close your eyes!") all the more impressive that this is the debut movie screenplay by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara.

It is strikingly filmed, using fisheye lenses and to reflect an air of disquiet and paranoia. This always seem to be in use, but seem to be "more fishbowly" (not sure what the technical term is!) in some scenes than others. There are also some remarkable low-angle tracking shots: one of Rachel Weisz walking along a passageway is breathtakingly done. The cinematography is by Robbie Ryan, who did "I, Daniel Blake" and "American Honey" and I would approve of seeing it recognised in the awards season.

Also fantastic are the costumes on show, particularly those worn by Rachel Weisz which are just stunning. As such, there's a second shout-out in two films ("Mary Poppins Returns") for Sandy Powell here.

Also outstanding is the music composed and coordinated by Johnnie Burn. He's collaborated with the director on his previous films in various capacities as well as the surreal "Under the Skin". While the soundtrack comprises well-chosen period chamber music, there are also periods of intrusive and persistent electronic tones that reflect Sarah's rising crisis just beautifully.

Holding the whole thing together is Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos. Lanthimos is a bit of an acquired taste that to date I haven't fully acquired. My one criticism with the film is the same one I levelled at "The Lobster" - that it is a tad overlong. A comedy, particularly a black-comedy, can outstay its welcome, and for me I think it would have been a better film if cut down to nearer 90 minute than two hours. (The film is divided into different titled segments, and if you want to orientate yourself as to where you are there are 8 of them.)

I did appreciate though that Lanthimos managed to cheekily include a couple of lobsters into the script, along with his usual menagerie of rabbits and ducks! Having his work cut out then on this film was animal coordinator Gerry Cott!

This is marketed as a "bawdy comedy-drama" and be warned that it is very, VERY bawdy. It's a 15 certificate in the UK (R in the US) and for once I'd view it as quite a lenient rating. There are lesbian sex scenes in the film which although subtle (you see less than in "Colette") are still relatively strong. However, the language is decidedly on the fruity side with liberal use of the F-word and the C-word. As such, it will not be for the easily offended.

I don't bandy the word "masterpiece" around often, but in this case I think it's justified.

(For the full graphical review, please check out One Mann's Movies on the web or Facebook. Thanks).
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Colette (I) (2018)
"The hand that holds the pen writes history".
4 January 2019
Colette is yet another tale of female empowerment: a woman with real talent trying to break out of the gilded cage she finds herself trapped in.

This is a true story, set in Paris in the late 19th Century. Colette (Keira Knightley), a beautiful country girl living in Burgundy is seduced by and then married to the much older Parisian 'literary entrepreneur' Willy (Dominic West). Willy is a "brand" in Paris: a well-known critic turned author. The only problem being that he does virtually no writing of his own but ghosts work out to his team. Colette exhibits a gift for writing slightly lascivious tales of her life (under the pseudonym Claudine) at her girl's school, where clearly nighttime swimming lessons taught more than back stroke! As a result, Willy fills a financial hole by publishing Colette's work in his name. The books fly off the shelves faster than the publishers can print them. But Willy has expensive habits and Colette gets locked into writing an ever-popular series but without a voice of her own.

If the "swinging 60's" started anywhere, it was probably in Paris during this time period! While Victorian England was staid and conservative, Paris - home of the Moulin Rouge - was a hot-bed of liberation. As a result, Colette and Willy's marital affairs are - erm - sexually 'fluid'. While Colette has to learn to live with her philandering 'Free Willy', he positively encourages the bi-sexual Colette to explore the other camp, as it were.

Keira Knightley turns in a truly cracking performance in the titular lead. No-one does 'brooding' better than Knightley, and she gets ample chance here to exercise that look, most notably in a train scene near the end of the film: if looks could kill.

Dominic West delivers as reliably a solid performance as you would expect from him, but he is such a despicable and loathsome character that it is difficult to warm to him.

Driving me mad (not sexually you understand.... although...) was the girl playing the American double-dip love interest Georgie: I knew her so well but just couldn't place her. It was the American accent that threw me: she is of course Eleanor Tomlinson, Demelza from TV's "Poldark", here showing a lot more flesh than she can get away with on a Sunday night on BBC1!

The film is obviously in English about one of France's literary greats (although curiously Colette writes in French). My guess is that the film will go down like a lead balloon in France as a result. A part of me would have liked this to be French language with subtitles, but maybe that's just me.

When you look at it objectively, Colette's story is quite remarkable: what a clever and determined woman.

Aside from Knightley, the other star turn in the film comes from cinematographer Giles Nuttgens (who also did "Hell or High Water"). The scenes, particularly the bucolic ones set in the French countryside, are simply gorgeously photographed. The framing of the shots is also exquisite with an impressive shot of the slog up a spiral staircase to the couple's flat being repeatedly used.

It remains curious to me how prudish both the UK and the US are still about sex on screen. In the UK the film is a 15 certificate; in the US the film is R-rated! Yes, there are some breasts on show, and a few mixed- and same-sex couplings (particularly during a frenetic 5 minute period in the middle of the film!), but they are artfully done and you don't get to see much more than the breasts. In comparison, the violence that would get meted out during a 15/R action thriller would typically makes my eyes water.

This is one of those films that is worthy, beautifully done, well acted but for some reason it felt to me like a bit of a slog. At 111 minutes it certainly felt a lot longer than it was. The middle reel of the film in particular is rather pedestrian (and yes, I recognise the irony of the fact that I just said there was the frenetic 5 minutes of sex during that part!). Maybe on the night I was just not in the mood for this type of film.

The director is Englishman Wash Westmoreland, whose last film back in 2014 was the impressive "Still Alice".

I'm glad I've seen it, and it is a lot better than many films I saw last year. But in terms of my "re-watchability" quotient, its not going to rate that highly.

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Going against the trend by using more plastic.
3 January 2019
It's unusual for me to go into a film knowing so little about it: no trailers other than a snippet that showed it was Steve Carell starring and appearing as a plastic figure of himself. That's it. Period. After watching the film this evening, I've been astonished to see that it has TOTALLY BOMBED at its opening weekend in the US. Because personally I really enjoyed it.

For once, I'm not going to go near the plot, since going into this movie cold was a genuine pleasure. All I'll do is set up the situation: that Steve Carrell plays Mark Hogancamp who is an artist who's constructed a model installation of a WWII Belgian town - Marwen - in his back-yard. Against this backdrop he is photographing epic WWII encounters between his plastic alter-ego, Captain Hogie, and various other figures, some friend, some foe.

It sounds completely bonkers. And indeed it is. For the first quarter of the film, I was really trying to grasp whether I should be reaching for a very low IMDB rating or not. But the screenplay, by director Robert Zemeckis and "Edward Scissorhands" writer Caroline Thompson, is clever in only disclosing its hand slowly and with the minimum of exposition. For me, the very best sort of storytelling. (Even at the end of the film there were some elements of the story still left unexplained... who, for example, was Deja Thoris (Diane Kruger) based on? I can guess... but only guess). Gradually the pieces of the jigsaw came together and I started to warm to it more.

But then something odd happened. Steve Carell got in my head. I suddenly got 100% invested in what happened to Mark to the point where - with a car tyre involved... you'll know the bit - I suddenly realised I was sat bolt upright on the edge of my cinema seat. I don't get that level of emotional engagement that often.

Carell is without doubt a superb actor. We saw it with "Foxcatcher". I've seen it again in the (soon to be UK-released) "Beautiful Boy". Here he delivers what I think is an EXTRAORDINARY performance: and if it wasn't for the sniffy reviews, and the bad box office word of mouth I feel Carell should surely have been - no pun intended - a shoe-in for an Oscar nomination.

Elsewhere in the cast, most of the other characters - many female (it's certainly not the most on-trend politically correct movie!) - spend most of their time in plastic form, so it's difficult to comment on their performances. But the talented combination of Janelle Monáe, Gwendoline Christie, Eiza González (from "Baby Driver"), the statuesque Stefanie von Pfetten and Diane Kruger all turn up. Getting the most 'real world' screen-time though is Leslie Mann as Mark's new neighbour Nicol ("without the e"). And very good she is too.

The repeated and seamless flips between the real-world and Marwen are artfully done and the plastic characters are beautifully realised. Yes, it's CGI but its really cleverly done CGI. A delicate balance between the photo-realism of Pixar and the clunky puppetry of Team America.

We even dip in at one point to some full on Sci-Fi where Zemeckis can't help but delve into an aspect of his past filmography: scenes that made me laugh out loud.

One of the benefits of the model scenes is that they can get away with some pretty extreme puppet-on-puppet violence that would have definitely not got it a UK-12A certificate otherwise! A shout out also to Zemeckis-regular Alan Silvestri, who delivers a lovely soundtrack including a really cheeky Great-Escapesque little motif.

I've praised the screenplay for its reserve and intelligence, but on the flip-side there are a number of elements that don't sit well: There are a few extremely dodgy lines that jerk you out of the story (and I'm not talking about the deliberately tongue-in-cheek ones, as many of them are); some of the humour (and there are some good gags in here) seems somewhat misplaced within the overall tone of the film; the film verges towards the overly melodramatic at times, bringing to my mind the old Harrison Ford flick "Regarding Henry"; and a few of the characters seem to be messily discarded without further comment (Nicol's 'boyfriend' Kurt (Neil Jackson) for example).

I didn't pay much attention to the opening statement on the screen. Which made the closing caption, after so much fantasy, act as a stun grenade on me. Mark Hogancamp is a real American, and the film is based on real events! There is a 2010 documentary based on the guy called "Marwencol" which I haven't seen but would like to: many people on the internet rave about it. This seems to be part of the negative reaction: many who love the documentary don't want to see the memory sullied by a dramatic work of fiction.

But I really enjoyed this one. It has its flaws, sure, but my rating completely ignores the critics and the public view (which irritatingly seems to be largely based on "word of mouth" - what an evil phrase - rather than people who've ACTUALLY SEEN IT). My recommendation would be to ignore the bad press, go see it, get through the first quarter with your mouth agape ("We are not a codfish Michael") and then go to One Mann's Movies and tell me what YOU thought.

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A valiant attempt to recreate a masterpiece.
2 January 2019
How do you repaint a masterpiece: the Mona Lisa of children's fantasy cinema? Some would say "You shouldn't try".

As I've said before, Mary Poppins was the first film I saw when it came out (or soon afterwards) at a very impressionable age.... I was said to have bawled my eyes out with "THE MAGIC NANNY IS GOING AWAY!!" as Julie Andrews floated off! So as my last cinema trip of 2018 I went to see this sequel, 54 years after the original, with a sense of dread. I'm relieved to say that although the film has its flaws it's by no means the disaster I envisaged.

It's a fairly lightweight story. Now all grown up, young Michael from the original film (Ben Whishaw) has his own family. His troubles though come not singly but in battalions since not only is he grieving a recent loss but he is also about to be evicted from 17 Cherry Tree Lane. Help is at hand in that his father, George Banks, had shares with the Fidelity Fiduciary Bank. But despite their best efforts neither he, his sister Jane (Emily Mortimer) nor their chirpy "strike a light" lamplighter friend Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda) can find the all-important share certificates. With the deadline from bank manager Wilkins (Colin Firth) approaching, it's fortuitous that Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) drops in to look after the Banks children - John (Nathanael Saleh), Anabel (Pixie Davies) and Georgie (Joel Dawson) - in her own inimitable fashion.

I know musical taste is very personal but my biggest problem with the film was that the songs by Marc Shaiman were, to me, on the lacklustre side. Only one jumped out and struck me: the jaunty vaudeville number "A Cover is not the Book". Elsewhere they were - to me - unmemorable and nowhere near as catchy as those of "The Greatest Showman". (What amplified this for me was having some of the classic Sherman-brothers themes woven into the soundtrack that just made me realise what I was missing!) Richard M Sherman - now 90 - was credited with "Music Consultant" but I wonder how much input he actually had?

Another issue I had with the film was that it just tried WAAYYY too hard to tick off the key attributes of the original:

'Mary in the mirror' - check 'Bottomless carpet bag' - check 'Initial fun in the nursery' - check 'Quirky trip to a cartoon land' - check 'Dance on the ceiling with a quirky relative' - check 'Chirpy chimney sweeps' - check ("Er... Mr Marshall... we couldn't get chimney sweeps... will lamplighters do?" "Yeah, good enough")

Another thing that struck me about the film - particularly as a film aimed at kids - is just how long it is. At 2 hours and 10 minutes it's a bladder-testing experience for adults let alone younger children. (It's worth noting that this is still 9 minutes shorter than the original, but back in the 60's we had FAR fewer options to be stimulated by entertainment and our attention spans were - I think - much longer as a result!)

But with this whinging aside, the film does get a number of things spit-spot on.

Emily Blunt is near perfection as Poppins. (In the interests of balance my wife found her bizarrely clipped accent very grating, but I suspect P.L. Travers would have approved!). Broadway star Lin-Manuel Miranda also does a good job as Jack, although you wonder once again whether the 'society of cockney actors' must again be in a big grump about the casting! I found Emily Mortimer just delightful as the grown-up Jane, although Ben Whishaw's Michael didn't particularly connect with me, .

Also watch out (I'd largely missed it before I realised!) for a nice pavement cameo by Karen Dotrice, the original Jane, asking directions to number 19 Cherry Tree Lane.

What the film also gets right is to implement the old-school animation of the "Jolly Holidays" segment of the original. That's a really smart move. Filmed at Shepperton Studios in London, this is once again a great advert for Britain's film technicians. The London sets and the costumes (by the great Sandy Powell) are just superb.

Finally, the aces in the hole are the two cameos near the end of the film. And they would have been lovely surprises as well since neither name appears in the opening credits. It's therefore a CRYING SHAME that they chose to let the cat out of the bag in the trailer. In case you haven't seen the trailer, I won't spoil it for you here. But as a magical movie experience the first of those cameos moved me close to tears. He also delivers a hum-dinger of a plot twist that is a genuinely welcome crossover from the first film.

Frank Marshall directs, and with a pretty impossible task he delivers an end-product that, while it didn't completely thrill me, did well not to trash my delicate hopes and dreams either.

But what we all think is secondary. Because if some three or four year old out there gets a similarly lifelong love of the cinema by watching this, then that's all that matters.

(For the full graphical review, please check out One Mann's Movies on the web or Facebook. Thanks).
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Green Book (2018)
Vacation without Aggravation
23 December 2018
The "Green Book" was a handbook (now, thankfully, out of print) for those of colour travelling in the southern states of the US , who want to stay in or dine at places they will be welcomed rather than abused. It is of course 1962 and Bobby Kennedy as Attorney General has racial equality strongly in his firing line.

The ever-flexible (and here, after piling a lot of weight on, almost unrecognisable) Viggo Mortensen plays Tony 'Lip' Vallelonga - a racist Italian-American living in The Bronx and working as a bouncer at "The Copacabana" club. Oscar-winner Mahershala Ali plays Dr Don Shirley - a black virtuoso pianist of high acclaim. How this odd couple meet and interact on a journey from Pitsburg to Birmingham is the heart of the film.

I'm actually loathe to say ANY more about the plot of this film. I saw this at a UK Cineworld "Secret Screening" and so went into the film completely blind about the content: which was just BRILLIANT! For this, for me, is as near a perfect road-movie as I am likely to see this or any other decade. To say it is a feelgood Christmas classic to approach "It's a Wonderful Life" is not - I think - putting it too strongly.

The film has apparently had Oscar buzz since winning the Toronto Film Festival's "People's Choice" award, and the chemistry that builds up between Ali and Mortensen is just fantastic. While I'm a fan of Mortensen ("Captain Fantastic" was a minor classic), it is Ali's performance as the gentle and mannered Shirley which impresses most, and would be my pick for the Oscar nomination if I had to choose between them.

Also truly impressive is ER's Linda Cardllini as Tony's wife Dolores: her reactions to "Tony's" letters home are just exquisite. I wonder whether a Supporting Actress nomination might be deserved here also.

The screenplay by Brian Hayes Currie, Peter Farrelly and Nick Vallelonga (Tony's son.... yes, this is based on a true story), sizzles with fantastic one-liners and wordplay. It breathes life into the 1962 setting by not shying away from using what, today, are highly offensive racial slurs: these might offend some, but they are essential for a film that lampoons racist behaviour so wonderfully.

Above all, it's a film with genuine heart. A story that lifts the spirit and paints onto the screen in technicolour glory the struggle (albeit you feel a rather sanitised one) that lifted America out of the dark ages in terms of equality.

It is perhaps this degree of "Oscar baitedness" - (if that's not a word then it is now) - that might be its biggest weakness in garnering support among the voters at Oscar time. It is though perhaps worth bearing in mind that it was "Driving Miss Daisy" - an odd-couple inter-racial chauffeur-based movie - that won the Best Film Oscar for 1989!

This is a film of subtlety and nuance that makes it all the more surprising that the director is Peter Farrelly. Yes, he of the Farrelly brothers of such crass, unsubtle and hilarious films like "There's Something about Mary" and "Dumb and Dumber" and such crass, unsubtle and totally awful films like "Me, Myself and Irene" and "Dumb and Dumber To"! It's like asking Mr Bean to direct a performance of Swan Lake at the Royal Opera House! Yet, here it just plain works. The comedy injected into the film (and there are a number of times I laughed out loud) is perfectly balanced with the story.

What I wanted to say here was: "Go see this film. No, REALLY. It will leave you with a warm Christmas glow in your heart to last you through the holidays. Well, it should - it did me." However, although the States already had this for Thanksgiving, it looks as if the UK general release of this film is not set to happen until the 1st of February next year. Which is a great shame and a missed opportunity. (It's as if they made a Christmas film like "Die Hard" and then released it in July! #sarcasm #yesiknowtheydid).

Seldom have two hours flown by with such joy at the cinema. At this late stage in the year, my "Films of the Year" draft list is going to need another shake up!

(For the full graphical review, please check out One Mann's Movies on the web and on Facebook. Thanks).
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At last, the hilarious Brexit comedy we've all been waiting for.
23 December 2018
Warning: Spoilers
As comedy goes it's classic gold! London has been transferred, presumably via a futuristic huge forklift truck of some kind, onto a huge chassis and is now chugging its way across mainland Europe. Needing fuel, it has the capability to gobble-up (take that Barnier!) other towns and cities (also roaming the countryside) which London 'digests' (smoke that Tusk!). Curiously, the captured cities' inhabitants are not exterminated but integrated into the City's population: so much for any anti-immigration policy! (LOL).

But all doesn't go entirely smoothly for the UK capital. The Lord Mayor of London (Patrick Malahide) declares "We should never have gone into Europe. It's the biggest mistake we ever made". (Classic: how we SNORTED with laughter!)

Stuffing it squarely to the 'remainers', London makes its own future. "It's time to show the world how strong London can be". Having conquered most of Europe, it's time to set its sights on new markets to conquer: so London takes the Chinese on! (Now the tears of laughter are flowing freely!) Trade deals have never been more entertaining since "Star Wars: The Phantom Menace"!

OK, so in the interests of 'advertising standards', I'd better make clear before you rush out to the cinema expecting a comedy feature that my tongue is firmly in my cheek here. For "Mortal Engines" is the latest sci-fi feature from Peter Jackson. But when viewed from a Brexit perspective, it's hilarious!

In terms of plot, this (like "Waterworld") makes clever use of the Universal logo to set the agenda. The world has been decimated with a worldwide war - though clearly one that selectively destroyed bits of London and not others! - and the survivors must try to survive in any way they can. Settlements are divided between those that are 'static' and those (like London) that are mobile and constantly evolving: "Municipal Darwinism" as it is hysterically described. But London, or rather the power-crazed Londoner Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving), wants revolution rather than evolution and he is working on development of one of the super-weapons that started the world's demise in the first place.

But Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar), separated when young from her mother Pandora (yes, she has a box and we've seen it: wink, wink) is intent on stopping him, since she is on a personal path of vengence. Teaming up with Londoner Tom (Robert Sheehan) and activist Anna Fang (Jihae) they must face both Thaddeus and the ever-relentless Shrike (Stephen Lang) to try to derail the destructive plan.

Anna Fang declares "I'm not subtle" and neither is this movie. The film is loud and action-filled and (as a significant plus) visually extremely impressive with it. I'm not a great fan of excessive CGI but here it is essential, and the special-effects team do a great job. The production design is tremendous - a lot of money has been thrown at this - and the costume design inventive, a high-spot (again snortworthy) being the Beefeater guards costumes!

Where the film really crashes, like a post-Brexit stock market, is with the dialogue. The screenplay by Jackson himself, with his regular writers Fran Walsh and Phillipa Boyens contains some absolute clunkers, notwithstanding the unintended LOL-worthy Brexit irony. It's jaw-droppingly bad, believe me.

As for 'the turns', the only real "name" in the whole film is Jackson-favourite Hugo Weaving. Just about everyone else in the cast is pretty well unknown, and in many cases it shows. Standing head and shoulders though for me over the rest of the cast was Icelandic actress Hera Hilmar, who strikes a splendidly feisty pose as the mentally and physically scarred Hester. I look forward to seeing what she does next.

Story-wise, there's not a sci-fi film that's not been looted, and a number of other films seem to be plundered too. (I can't comment on how much of this comes from the source book by Philip Reeve). The Londonmobile looks for all the world like Monty Python's "Crimson Permanent Assurance Company"; the teenage female lead is Sarah Connors, relentlessly pursued by The Terminator; the male lead is archaologist cum hot-shot pilot Indiana Solo, leather jacket and all; there is a Blade Runner moment; a battle that is a meld of "The Great Wall" and Morannon from "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers"; a less sophisticated aerial location from "The Empire Strikes Back"; and another classic Star Wars moment (without the words being actually said!).

Now I'm loathe to say anything bad about director Peter Jackson, after his breathtakingly memorable "They Shall Not Grown Old". And the film has its moments of flair, most memorably a "life flashing before your eyes scene" that I found genuinely moving. But overall, as an actioner, it's a bit of a mess. It's a long way from being the worse film I've seen this year by a long stroke - it kept me interested and amused in equal measure for the running time. But I think given it's initially bombed at the Box Office, any plans Jackson had to deliver a series of these movies might need to be self-funded.

(For the full graphical review, please check out One Mann's Movies on the web or Facebook. Thanks).
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Stan & Ollie (2018)
When the laughter has to end.
22 December 2018
The problem with any comedy double act is that if illness or death get in the way (think Dustin Gee and Les Dennis; or Morecambe and Wise) the wheels can come off for the other partner. "Stan and Ollie" tells the story of the comic duo starting in 1937 when they reached their peak of global popularity, albeit when Laurel was hardly on speaking terms with their long-term producer Hal Roach (Danny Huston).

As you might guess from this, the emotional direction for the film is downwards, but not necessarily in a totally depressing way. The film depicts the duo's tour of Laurel's native country (he was born in Lancashire) and this has its ups as well as its downs.

Not knowing their life story, this is one where when the trailer came on I shut my eyes and plugged my ears so as to avoid spoilers: as such I will say nothing further on the details of the plot.

My wife and I were reminiscing after seeing this flick about how our parents used to crack up over the film antics of Laurel and Hardy. And they were, in their own slapstick way, very funny indeed. The film manages to recreate (impecably) some of their more famous routines and parodies others: their travel trunk gallops to the bottom of the station steps, mimicking the famous scenes with a piano from 1932's "The Music Box". "Do we really need that trunk" Hardy deadpans to Laurel.

There are four star turns at the heart of the film and they are John C. Reilly as Ollie; Steve Coogan as Stan; Shirley Henderson (forever to be referenced as "Moaning Myrtle") as Ollie's wife Lucille and Nina Arianda (so memorable as the 'pointer outer' in the 'Emperor's New Clothes' segment of "Florence Foster Jenkins") as Stan's latest wife Ida.

Coogan and Reilly do an outstanding job of impersonating the comic duo. Both are simply brilliant, playing up to their public personas when visible but subtly delivering similar traits in private. Of the two, John C. Reilly's performance is the most memorable: he IS Oliver Hardy. Not taking too much away from the other performance, but there are a few times when Coogan poked through the illusion (like a Partridge sticking its head out from a Pear Tree you might say).

Henderson and Arianda also add tremendous heart to the drama, and Arianda's Ida in particular is hilarious. Also delivering a fabulous supporting role is Rufus Jones as the famous impressario Bernard Delfont: all smarm and Machiavellian chicanery that adds a different shape of comedy to the film.

Overall it's one of those pleasant and untaxing cinema experiences that older audiences in particular will really enjoy. However, the film's far from perfect in my view: the flash-forwards/flash-backs I felt made the story bitty and disjointed; and ultimately the life story of the duo doesn't have a huge depth of drama in it to amaze or excite, the way that 2004's "Beyond the Sea" (the biopic of Bobby Darin) did for example. But the film never gets boring or disappoints.

I'd like to say that the script by Jeff Pope ("Philomena") is historically accurate, but a look at the wikipedia entries for the pair show that it was far from that. Yes, the tours of the UK and Europe did happen, but over multiple years and the actual events in their lives are telescoped into a single trip for dramatic purposes. But I think the essence of the pair comes across nicely. Laurel's wikipedia entry records a nice death-bed scene that sums up the guy: "Minutes before his death, he told his nurse that he would not mind going skiing, and she replied that she was not aware that he was a skier. "I'm not," said Laurel, "I'd rather be doing that than this!" A few minutes later, the nurse looked in on him again and found that he had died quietly in his armchair."

"Stan and Ollie" has a few preview screenings before the New Year, but goes on UK general release on January 11th 2018. Recommended.

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Beautiful Boy (I) (2018)
Trying to climb a slippery pole.
13 December 2018
As John Lennon's lyrics go:

"'Cause it's a long way to go, A hard row to hoe Yes, it's a long way to go"

And so it proves for young Nic Sheff (Timothée Chalamet). For - based on a true story - Nic has progressively worked through the encyclopaedia of drugs until he has arrived at "C for Crystal Meth" where he is working through a recurring nightmare of addiction and attempted rehab.

What's harder... being the victim of drugs or being the caring onlookers desperately hoping that this attempt to climb the slippery pole to recovery will be a successful one? This is reflected as a key aspect of the film, and as a parent it makes for a very hard watch. The 'caring onlookers' in this case are Nic's father David (Steve Carell), his girlfriend Karen Barbour (Maura Tierney), the couple's natural children Jasper (Christian Convery) and Daisy (Oakley Bull), and David's ex-wife and Nic's mother Vicki (Amy Ryan).

This is only the 2nd English-language film from director Felix van Groeningen (after 2012's " The Broken Circle Breakdown") and the film has its fair share of impressive directorial flourishes such that Felix might need to get added to that elusive list of "famous Belgians"! Not least among them is the use of flashbacks. The film starts with a 12 month flashback, but then throughout the story David flashes back to scenes of his boy's childhood. Many of these reflect the regret in perhaps failing to identify ways he could have done things differently to avoid the current crisis.

While many of these flashbacks are sudden and unexpected, I didn't find them confusing to follow although I can see how they might annoy some viewers who prefer a more 'linear' storytelling approach.

Above all, it is the acting performances that make this film, and the four key cast members all turn in memorable turns. It's excruciating watching Carell's parental anguish and then (like a blast of light) his realization of a truth he'd been avoiding for a long time. It's Chalamet though who truly shines, delivering fully on the realization of the tortured and self-torturing Nic. Already nominated for a Golden Globe, I would have thought another Oscar nomination is assured for this. ER's Maura Tierney also excels in a quieter supporting role: something that generally seems to be her niche at the movies.

This is most definitely a gruelling movie from beginning to end - especially for parents of young teens - and as such it feels a lot longer than it's 2 hour running time suggests. But it is well worth the effort. A drama that really delivers on its message: "just say no". It rather frustrates me that the film is a UK 15 certificate. Not that I'm criticising the BBFC here, since with graphic drug taking, a lot of choice language and one (not overly graphic) sex scene, the rating is appropriate. However this would seem to me to be required viewing by every 13 year old, since if Chalomet's performance can't drill the message home to not climb onto that pole in the first place, then noone can.

(For the full graphical review, please check out One Mann's Movies on the web and Facebook. Thanks).
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Lestranger than fiction
10 December 2018
Warning: Spoilers
I'd really love to tell you about the plot. I really would! But I would struggle to pull all the multitude of strands together from J.K. Rowling's story and coherently explain them to anyone. If Rowling had put ten thousand monkeys (not a million - it's no bloody Shakespeare) into a room with typewriters and locked the door I wouldn't be surprised.

Let me try at a high level..... The arch-criminal wizard Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) is being tortured in 'Trump Tower', but manages to escape and flees to Paris in pursuit of a mysterious circus performer called Credence (Ezra Miller) and his bewitched companion Nagini (nudge, nudge, wink, wink) played fetchingly by Claudia Kim. Someone needs to stop him, and all eyes are on Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law). But he is unable to do so, since he and Grindelwald are "closer than brothers" (nudge, nudge, wink, wink). So a reluctant and UK-grounded Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) is smuggled into the danger zone... which suits him just fine since his love Tina (Katherine Waterston) is working for the ministry there, and the couple are currently estranged due to a (topical) bout of 'Fake News'.

Throw in a potential love triangle between Newt, his brother Theseus (Callum Turner) and old Hogwart's schoolmate Leta Lestrange (Zoë Kravitz) and about a half dozen other sub-plots and you have... well... a complete muggle - - sorry - - muddle.

Above all, I really can't explain the crux of the plot. A venerable diarrhoea of exposition in a crypt, during an inexplicably quiet fifteen minutes (given 'im-who-can-be-named is next door with about a thousand other people!) left me completely bewildered. A bizarre event at sea (no spoilers) would seem to make absolutely NO SENSE when considered with another reveal at the end of the film. I thought I must have clearly missed something... or I'd just not been intelligent enough to process the information.... or.... it was actually completely bonkers! Actually, I think it's the latter: in desperation I went on a fan site that tried to explain the plot. While it was explained there, the explanation aligned with what I thought had happened: but it made no mention of the ridiculousness of the random coincidence involved!

The film's a mess. Which is a shame since everyone involved tries really hard. Depp oozes evil very effectively (he proves that nicely on arriving in Paris, and doubles-down about 5 minutes later: #veryverydark). Redmayne replays his Newt-act effectively but once again (and I see I made the same comments in my "Fantastic Beasts" review) his character mumbles again so much that many of his lines are unintelligible.

I also complained last time that the excellent actress Katherine Waterston was criminally underused as the tentative love interest Tina. this trend unfortunately continues unabated in this film.... you'll struggle afterwards to write down what she actually did in this film.

Jacob (Dan Fogler) and Queenie (Alison Sudol, looking for all the world in some scenes like Rachel Weisz) reprise their roles in a sub-plot that goes nowhere in particular.

Of the newcomers, Jude Law as Dumbledore is a class-act but has very little screen time: hopefully he will get more to do next time around. Zoë Kravitz impresses as Leta.

As you would expect from a David Yates / David Heyman Potter collaboration, the product design, costume design and special effects are all excellent. Some scenes are truly impressive - an 'explosion' in a Parisian garret is particularly spectacular. But special effects alone do not a great film make. Many reviews I've seen complain that this was a 'filler' film... a set-up film for the rest of the series. And I can understand that view. If you analyse the film overall, virtually NOTHING of importance actually happens: it's like the "Order of the Phoenix" of the prequels.

I dragged myself along to see this one because "I thought I should". The third in the series will really need to sparkle to make me want to see it. If J.K. Rowling were to take me advice (she won't - she NEVER returns my calls!) then she would sculpt the story-arc but leave the screenwriting to someone better. The blame for this one, I'm afraid, lies at Rowling's door alone.
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Would the last straight woman in Stockholm turn off the lights?
23 November 2018
You've gotta love a Scandi-thriller. Well, that was until last year's hopeless Michael Fassbender vehicle "The Snowman" which devalued the currency better than Brexit has done to the pound! The mother of them all though was the original "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" trilogy (in Swedish) in 2009. Although subject to a wholly unnecessary English remake two year's later by David Fincher (with Mara Rooney and Daniel Craig) it was Noomi Rapace who struck the perfect note as the original anarchic and damaged Lisbeth Salander: a punk wielding a baseball bat like an alien-thing possessed (pun well and truly intended!).

Now though we have "A New Dragon Tattoo Story" (as the film's subtitle clumsily declares) based on the book by David Lagercrantz, who took over the literary franchise after the untimely death of Stieg Larsson. Picking up the reins as Salander is that most British of actresses Claire Foy.... which seems an odd choice, but one which - after you get past the rather odd accent - she just about pulls off.

Lizbeth Salendar (Claire Foy) has an interesting hobby. She is a vigilante, like a lesbian Batman, stalking the streets of Stockholm putting wrongs right where abusive boyfriends/husbands are concerned.

She is also a hacking machine for rent. And Frans Balder (Stephen Merchant) has a problem. He has invented a software program that allows its user to control every nuclear warhead in the world from a single laptop (cue every other Bond/24/Austin Powers script ever written). But he has had second thoughts and wants it back from its resting place on the server of the NSA's chief hacker, Ed Needham (Lakeith Stanfield). Balder recruits Salander to recover it, but when things go pear-shaped Salander finds herself on the wrong side of both the law and the encircling terrorist "spiders".

Scandi-dramas work best when they exploit the snow; maintain a sexual tension; and go dark, gritty and violent. On the plus side, "The Girl in the Spider's Web" ticks most of those boxes adequately. Foy's Salandar is smart, sassy and sexy, outwitting the best of the best, and only once finding her intellectual match. (If you're a lesbian, Stockholm is most definitely the place to be: there only seemed to be one hetero-female there, and she was an adulteress).

But Salander also has a Bond-like invincibility that unfortunately tests your incredulity at multiple points. Contributing to the excitement is the stunt team, who keep themselves busy with some great car and bike chases.

So, the movie has its moments and is great to look at. But the film ends up a sandwich or two short of a smorgasbord, thanks largely to some totally bonkers plot points and more than a few ridiculous coincidences. There are without doubt an array of well-constructed set pieces here, but they fail to fully connect with any great conviction. An example of a scene that infuriates is a dramatic bathroom fight in a red-lit gloom with identical protagonists that is cut together so furiously you would need a Blu-ray slo-mo to work out what the hell is going on... and then I fear you might fail.

So it's an A- for the Production Design (Eve Stewart, "The Danish Girl") and the Cinematography (Pedro Luque, "Don't Breathe"), but a C- for the director Fede Alvarez (also "Don't Breathe").

I will save my biggest source of wrath though for that major bug-bear of mine: trailers that spoil the plot. I've asked before, but for a film like this, WHO EXACTLY PUTS TOGETHER THE TRAILER? I'd like to think it's some mindless committee of marketing execs somewhere. Because I HONESTLY CAN'T BELIEVE it would be the director! (If I'm wrong though, I would point my finger at Mr Alvarez and chant "shame, shame, shame"!). For the trailer that I saw playing in UK cinemas does it's level best to not only drop in the key spoilers of the plot (including the climactic scene), but also spoils just about every action money-shot in the movie. It's all so pointless. If you've by any chance managed to get to this point without seeing the trailer, then SAVE YOURSELVES and AVOID IT!

As I mentioned earlier, Claire Foy again extends her range by playing Salander really well. She is the reason to go and see the film.

The Daniel Craig part of Blomkvist is played here by Sverrir Gudnason, who was in "The Circle" (which I saw) and was Borg in "Borg McEnroe" (which I didn't). Blomkvist really is a lazy ****, since he works for the publication "Millenium" but writes absolutely nothing for years. It must be only because the boss (Vicky Krieps) fancies him that he keeps his job. Gudnason is good enough, but has very little to do in the movie: its the Salander/Foy show. Slightly, but only slightly, more involved is Lakeith Standfield as the US intelligence man.

Stephen Merchant is an odd casting choice for Balder. Not withstanding that he was brilliant when almost unrecognisable in "Logan", here he looks far too much like his "Ricky Gervais sidekick" persona to be taken seriously: and it's not even remotely a comedy (there is only one humorous moment in the film, a nice "clicker" gag in a car park).

I had high hopes for this film from the trailer, but I was left disappointed. It's not classic Scandi-noir like the original "Tattoo"; and it's not going for the black comedy angle of "Headhunters" (which I saw again last week and loved... again!). It falls into a rather "meh" category. It's not a bad evening's watch, but perhaps worth leaving for a DVD/cable showing.

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A fantasy that's glossy and beautiful to look at.
12 November 2018
Before the heavyweight juggernaut of "Mary Poppins Returns" arrives at Christmas, here's another Disney live action feature to get everyone in the festive spirit.

It's Victorian London and Young Clara (Mackenzie Foy) lives with her father (Matthew Macfadyen), her older sister Louise (Ellie Bamber) and her younger brother Fritz (Tom Sweet). It's Christmas and the family are having a hard time as they are grieving the recent death of wife and mother Marie (Anna Madeley). Like her mother, Clara has an astute mind with an engineering bias and is encouraged in this pursuit by her quirky inventor godfather, Drosselmeyer (Morgan Freeman). At his fabled Christmas ball, Clara asks for his help in accessing a gift Clara's mother has bequeathed to her. This leads Clara on a magical adventure to a parallel world with four realms, where everything is not quite peace and harmony.

This is a film that visually delights from the word go. The film opens with a swooping tour of Victorian London (who knew the Disney castle was in the capital's suburbs?!) via Westminster bridge and into the Stahlbaum's attic. It's a spectacular tour-de-force of special-effects wizardry and sets up the expectation of what's to come. For every scene that follows is a richly decorated feast for the eyes. Drosselmeyer's party is a glorious event, full of extras, strong on costume design and with a rich colour palette as filmed by Linus Sandgren ("La La Land"). When we are pitched into the Four Realms - no wardrobe required - the magical visions continue.

The film represents a Narnia-esque take on the four compass-point lands of Oz, and on that basis it's a bit formulaic. But the good vs evil angles are more subtley portrayed. Of the Four Realms leaders, Keira Knightley as Sugar Plum rather steals the show from the others (played by Richard E. Grant, Eugenio Derbez and Helen Mirren). Mirren in particular is given little to do.

What age kids would this be suitable for? Well, probably a good judge would be the Wizard of Oz. If your kids are not completely freaked out by the Wicked Witch of the West and the flying monkeys, then they will probably cope OK with the scary bits of the "Realm of Entertainment". Although those who suffer from either musophobia or (especially) coulrophobia might want to give it a miss! All kids are different though, and the "loss of the mother" is also an angle to consider: that might worry and upset young children. It is definitely a "PG" certificate rather than a "U" certificate.

Young people who also enjoy ballet (I nearly fell into a sexist trap there!) will also get a kick out of some of the dance sequences, which are "Fantasia-esque" in their presentation and feature Misty Copeland, famously the first African American Female Principal Dancer with the American Ballet Theatre. (I have no appreciation at all for ballet, but I'm sure it was brilliant!)

As for the moral tone of the film, the female empowerment message is rather ladled on with a trowel, but as it's a good message I have no great problem with that. I am often appalled at how lacking in confidence young people are in their own abilities. Here is a young lady (an engineer!) learning self-resilience and the confidence to be able to do anything in life she puts her mind to. Well said.

The story is rather generic - child visits a magical other world - but the screenplay is impressive given its the first-feature screenplay for Ashleigh Powell.

The film is credited with two directors. This - particularly if there is also an army of screenwriters - is normally a warning sign on a film. Here, there clearly were issues with the filming since Disney insisted on reshoots for which the original director, Lasse Hallström, was not available. This is where the "Captain America" director Joe Johnston stepped in.

I really enjoyed Mackenzie Foy's performance as Clara. Now 18, she is a feisty and believable Disney princess for the modern age. (If, like me, you are struggling to place where you've heard her name before, she was the young Murph in Nolan's "Interstellar"). Another name I was struggling with was Ellie Bamber as her sister. Ellie was excellent in the traumatic role of the daughter in the brilliant "Nocturnal Animals", one of my favourite films of 2016. (Hopefully the therapy has worked and Ellie can sleep at night again!).

A newcomer with a big role is Jayden Fowora-Knight as the Nutcracker soldier: Jayden had a bit part in "Ready Player One" but does a great job here in a substantial role in the film. He stands out as a black actor in a Disney feature: notwithstanding the Finn character in "Star Wars", this is a long-overdue and welcome approach from Disney.

British comedians Omid Djalili and Jack Whitehouse turn up to add some light relief, but the humour seems rather forced and not particularly fitting.

I wasn't expecting to enjoy this one much, but I did. Prinicipally because it is such a visual feast and worth going to see just for that alone: I have a prediction that this film will be nominated for production design, costume design and possible special effects.

I think kids of the right age - I would have thought 6 to 10 sort of range - will enjoy this a lot, particularly if they like dance. Young girls in particular will most relate to the lead character. For such kids, I'd rate this a 4*. The rating below reflects my rating as an adult: so I don't think 'drag-a-long' parents in the Christmas holidays (if it is still on by then) will not be totally bored.

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We DO remember them.
11 November 2018
"Trapped in a Charlie Chaplin World". So says director Peter Jackson in a post-screening discussion with Mark Kermode, describing early black and white documentary footage. Whereas modern film runs at 24 fps, most of the old footage is hand cranked, with speeds as low as 12 fps which leads to its jerky nature. Jackson in this project with the Imperial War Museum took their WW1 footage and put it through a 'pipeline process. This cleaned-up and restored the original footage; used clever computer interpolation to add in the missing 6 to 12 frames per second; and then colourised it.

The results are outstanding. Jackson wisely focuses the film on the specific slice of WW1 action from the trenches. And those anonymous figures become real, live, breathing humans on screen. It is obviously tragic that some (and as commented by Jackson, many in one scene) are not to be breathing humans for much longer.

These effects take a while to kick in. The early scenes in the documentary are in the original black and white, describing the recruitment process, and how many of the recruits were under-age. (To explain the varied comments in the film, they should have been 18, although officially shouldn't have been sent overseas until 19).

It is when the troops arrive in France that we suddenly go from black-and-white to the fully restored and colourised footage, and it is a gasp-inducing moment.

All of the audio commentary is from original BBC recordings of war veterans recounting their actual experiences in the trench. Some sound like heroes; some sound like rogues; all came out changed men. Supporting music of WW1 ditties, including the incredibly rude "Mademoiselle from Armentières" over the end credits, is provided by Plan 9.

But equally impressive is the dubbing of the characters onscreen. Jackson employed forensic lip-readers to determine what the soldiers on-screen were saying, and reproduced the speech using appropriate regional accents for the regiments concerned. Jackson also recounts how the words associated with a "pep-talk" speech to troops by an officer he found on an original slip of paper within the regimental records: outstanding. Added sound effects include real-life shelling by the New Zealand army. It all adds to the overall atmosphere of the film.

The film itself is a masterpiece of technical innovation that will change in the future the way in which we should be able to see this sort of early film footage forever. As a documentary it's near-perfection. But if I have a criticism of the cinema showing I attended it is that the 3D tended to detract rather than add to the film. Perhaps this is just my eyesight, but 3D always tends to make images slightly more blurry. Where (like "Gravity") there are great 3D effects to showcase, it's worth the slight negative to get the massive positive. But here, there was no such benefit: 2D would have been better. For those in the UK (and possibly through other broadcasters worldwide) the film is being shown on BBC2 tonight (11/11/18) at 9:30: I will be watching it again to compare and contrast.

Jackson dedicated the film to his grandfather. And almost all of us Brits will have relatives affected by this "war to end all wars". In my case, my grandfather was shot and severely wounded at Leuze Wood on the Somme, lying in the mud for four days and four nights before being recovered... by the Germans! Fortunately he was well-treated and, although dying young, recovered enough to father my father - else I wouldn't be here today writing this. On this Rememberance Sunday, 100 years on, it is a time for us to truly remember the sacrifice these men and boys gave to what, all in the film agree, was a pretty obstinate and pointless conflict.
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Widows (2018)
Death becomes her
10 November 2018
If you are considering "inheritence planning" there are probably a number of things you might be toying with: what happens to your house; how to best transfer your investments; who gets the dog; etc. But probably "a grudge" is not on the list. But that's the problem faced by teacher's union rep Veronica (Viola Davis). As you might presume from the film's title Veronica, together with fellow widows Linda (Michelle Rodriquez), Alice (Elizabeth Debicki), Amanda (Carrie Coon), are left in a tight spot when a gang's robbery of a local black hoodlum's stack of cash goes badly wrong. The leader of the gang, and Veronica's husband, is Harry Rawlings (Liam Neeson), and his certain set of skills are not enough to save him.

The victim of the robbery, Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry), is running for local office in the upcoming elections against Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell), trying to take over the role as part of a long dynasty from his grouchy father Tom (Robert Duvall). Where Jamal might be better with words, Jamal's brother Jatemme (Daniel Kaluuya, "Get Out") has a more physical approach to resolving issues.

What Harry has left behind for Veronica is a notebook containing the details of their next job, and Veronica gathers the female group together to carry out the raid to help save them from a "bullet in the head".

I really enjoyed this film. It's the ying to the yang of the disappointing "Ocean's 8" from earlier in the year. Yes, it's YET another film that focuses on female empowerment and with a strong black presence within the cast. But what for me made it stand out above the crowd was the quality of the writing and the assuredness of the directing.

Although based on the ancient UK TV series by Lynda La Plante, the script is written by "Gone Girl" screenwriter Gillian Flynn, and is excellent. It really doesn't EXPLAIN what is going on, but shows you a series of interconnected scenes and lets you mentally fill in the blanks. While you don't need to be a rocket scientist to understand the overall story arc, I must admit that even now I'm not 100% sure of some of the nuances of the story. Harry, for example, seems to be a hardened career criminal, and yet he seems to be revered by the political leaders on both sides, even though he seemed to have loyalty to noone. The script cleverly uses flashbacks and has enough twists and turns to keep you on your mental toes.

The characters also worked well for me, with each having a back story and motivations that were distinctly different from each other. Alice (helped by Debecki's standout performance) is particularly intriguing coming out of an 'interesting' relationship. Is she just following the path of her unpleasant mother (Jacki Weaver)? Some of the actions might suggest so.

As for the direction, Steve McQueen (he of "12 Years a Slave"), delivers some scenes that could justly be described as "bold". A highpoint for me was a short drive by Jack Mulligan and his PA Siobhan (an excellently underplayed Molly Kunz) from a housing project, in a neighbourhood you might worry about walking through at night, to the Mulligan mansion in a leafy and pleasant street. McQueen mounts the camera on the bonnet (hood) of the car, but you can't see the interior other than occasional glimpses of the chauffeur. All you can hear is Mulligan's rant to his Siobhan. I thought this worked just brilliantly well. The heist itself well done and suitably tense with an outcome that continues to surprise.

If there's a criticism then the ending rather fizzles out, leaving a few loose ends flapping in the breeze.

As for the performances, it's only been a couple of weeks since my review of the excellent "Bad Times at the El Royale" and I named as my second film of the year for my (private) "Ensemble Cast" award. And here hot on its tail is the third. There are such strong performances across the cast that it's difficult to pull out specifics: as you start looking at the list you pull out more and more and more names...

  • As referenced above, I loved Elizabeth Debecki's performance. Both vulnerable and strong all in one package.
  • Colin Farrell, for me, gives his best performance in years as the son caught within the shadow of his overpowering father. A confrontational scene between Farrell and Robert Duvall is particularly powerful.
  • Daniel Kaluuya is truly threatening (possibly slightly OTT) as the psycho fixer.
  • For the second time in a month Cynthia Erivo stands out as a major acting force, as the hairstylist cum gang member Belle.
  • Jon Michael Hill, excellent as a fire-breathing reverend with flexible political views.

It would not surprise me to see Best Supporting Actor nods for any combinations of Debecki, Farrell, Kaluuya and Erivo for this.

I must admit that I'm not the greatest fan of Viola Davis: I find her performances quite mannered. But there's no doubting here the depth of her passion and with this lead performance she carries this film.

Final Thoughts: I loved this as an intelligent action movie that's a cut above the rest. Which is a surprise, since from the trailer I thought it looked good but not THAT good! It comes with my recommendation for an exciting and gripping two hours at the cinema.

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Form-Prefect of the Dead
8 November 2018
Warning: Spoilers
Meredith Houseman (Simon Pegg) is housemaster of Sparta house in Slaughterhouse school: an ancient public school establishment steering England's future greats to greatness (which probably explains a lot about the current Brexit mess!). Houseman is not in a happy place, given that his girlfriend is now in deepest darkest African doing "good works" with handsome French doctors, and particularly that she is played by Margot Robbie: I would be also be sad... #punching!

New school starter Don Wallace (Finn Cole) is equally unhappy as he is a northern teen dragooned into attending the school by his well-meaning Mum (Jo Hartley). His strange room-mate Willoughby (Asa Butterfield) seems to be a chronic depressive; he is being picked on by the prefect-bully Clegg (Tom Rhys Harries); and his bed was previously occupied by a Viscount, since deceased under unpleasant circumstances that no-one wants to talk about. At least he has the distraction of the upper-sixth school goddess Clemsie Lawrence (Hermione Corfield) to take his mind off his woes.

All this washes over "The Bat" - the school's headmaster (Michael Sheen) - since he is engrossed in some shady deal with an evil corporation doing fracking in the school grounds. The fracking though seems to be doing more than just causing a few minor earth tremors, as ancient forces are unleashed.

The movie is positioned as a "comedy/horror", along the lines of "Shaun of the Dead". The film also has Frost and Pegg as executive producers and they also have starring roles in the film. But there the similarities really end: this is a "Cornetto film" without a cone of solid chocolate lurking at the bottom to enjoy.

The script (by director Crispian Mills and first-time screenwriter Henry Fitzherbert) is nowhere near as sharp as the Frost/Pegg scripts or their famous collaborations. The story overall makes precious little sense: it's a hodge-podge of elements from many Harry Potter films (especially "The Chamber of Secrets"), Lindsay Anderson's "If..."; and Roy Boulting's "The Guinea Pig"; with also a sprinkling of the anarchic essence of Michael Palin's classic "Tomkinson's Schooldays". The whole thing never manages to gel into a cohesive whole.

After the second reel, the film completely loses sight of the plot: there's a whole lot of running, screaming and dying going on but there's little logic behind any of it that I could fathom. What didn't help my comprehension of what was going on were some 'Cornetto-esque' sequences of manic editing. Images were thrown onto the screen so subliminally that any clever nuance was lost. I'm sure at one point there was a droll (if gross) segue at a "Roman orgy" of a girl receiving oral sex before being 'eaten out' in an entirely different way. But you would need a Blu-ray and a frame-by-frame pause function to get the joke.

That's not to say that I didn't laugh a few times along the way. There are some sight gags - for example, Wooten (Kit Connor) as the lad at the bottom of the bullying pecking order, chained to a U-bend - that made me laugh, and some running jokes - for example, Frost as the head of the anti-fracking camp offering the kids drugs at every encounter - that mildly amuse. But once again here's a British comedy that, like the atrocious "The Brits are Coming", thinks that "funny" largely revolves around swearing a lot - how useful that "frack" sounds so similar to another word - with added bodily dismemberment.

As for 'the turns', Pegg and Frost ham it up with their usual comedy schtick well enough, and it was quite fun to see Sheen try a comedy role for a change as the conniving and supercilious headmaster. Elsewhere all the young cast put their hearts into it, but it's again Asa Butterfield that your eyes gravitate to, due to his striking features. I last saw Asa in the excellent if harrowing WW1 drama "Journey's End", and he here proves again that he is a One Mann's Movies 'name to watch for the future'.

Overall, there's a lot to irritate in this film. From the "z" in the title to... well... about 80% of the film. There is no nuance or subtlety to either the writing or the direction. I think that's a great shame. The film has a good premise hidden in there. An adult comedy set around the ridiculous rules and rites of public schools (away from the light nonsense of "St Trinians") is overdue. And the whole subject of fracking, and the conflicts surrounding the controversial techniques, hasn't yet - to my knowledge - been explored in a fictional movie. The film does have a few very funny moments. But as a whole I left the cinema with that "wasted two hours" feeling. Not recommended.

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"Fame and fortune and everything that goes with it"
2 November 2018
Sometimes a trailer generates a bit of a buzz of excitement with a cinema audience and the first showings of the trailer for "Bohemian Rhapsody" was a case in point. But would the film live up to the potential?

Farrokh Bulsara (Rami Malek), born in Zanzibar to Indian parents, is a shy boy with a dramatic singing voice. At a concert he meets Mary (Lucy Boynton) who becomes the "love of his life". When a space for a lead singer becomes available in a college band, Farrokh leaps at the chance and onstage becomes an exuberant extrovert. The band, of course, changes its name to Queen and with Farrokh assuming the name of Freddie Mercury they are set for global success. But Freddie is a complex character, and the demands and temptations of global super-stardom take a terrible toll.

Wow! What a great film on so many different levels. As a biopic of Mercury and a history of one of the greatest ever rock bands, the film is highly entertaining. But I wasn't prepared for how emotional I would find it. Mercury's life is befitting of a Shakespearian tragedy: an estrangement from his 'conservative' father (Ace Bhatti); a public extravert, but privately an insecure and needy bi-sexual, constantly searching for his perch in life; a meteoric rise and an equally spectacular and historic fall.

The film culminates in a recreation of the band's spectacular 20 minute set for 1985's Band Aid concert at Wembley. It's a spectacular piece of cinema and one that - for me - puts the much hyped concert scenes from "A Star is Born" back in its box. Aside from a few niggles (the sound engineers in the booth were, if I'm not mistaken, all the size of Hagrid!) it's a spectacular piece of CGI work.

If I'm being critical, there are a few bits of the movie that are a tad tacky and twee. A whizz around the world of tour locations is composed of some pretty ropy animations that didn't work for me. And a few of the 'creations' of classic songs - particularly "Another One Bites the Dust" - are a bit forced. Countering that though, the "Bohemian Rhapsody" is mesmerising.

As for the cast, I'll just put it right out there: Rami Malek is just sensational as Mercury! I first called out Malek as someone to watch in "Need For Speed", but since then he's gone on to major fame in the TV series "Mr Robot". Here he is a force of nature on the screen and you literally can't take your eyes off him. Every nuance of Mercury's tortured soul is up there. I would love to see the performance recognized in the Awards season, with the showreel clip being a brilliant standoff in the rain with Paul Prenter ("Downton's" Allen Leech).

The rest of the band - Ben Hardy as drummer Roger Taylor; Gwilym Lee as lead guitar Brian May; and Joseph Mazzello (yes, young Tim from "Jurassic Park"!) as bass guitarist John Deacon - all work well together, with Lee looking more like Brian May than Brian May! Lucy Boynton, so great in "Sing Street", gets a meaty dramatic role to sink her teeth into, and the ever-reliable Tom Hollander is great as the band's legal rep/manager Jim "Miami" Beech: his 'knowing looks' near the end of the film are brilliantly done.

The surprise piece of casting though was the very welcome return of Mike Myers as the exec Ray Foster: only seen spasmodically on screen since 2009's "Inglorious Basterds". It's a role that reminded me of Tom Cruise's turn in "Tropic Thunder"! But it's well done. After making "Bohemian Rhapsody" famous again in "Wayne's World", how could he have refused? I say "Welcome back Mr Myers": you've been missed.

And a final shout out to Paul Jones, my son-in-law's brother, who gets a full screen appearance in the crowd, arms outstretched, during the "Fat Bottomed Girls" set! (I must admit, I missed it, so will have to go and see it again!)

This is a film that grabs you and propels you through the story at a fast lick. It's a surprisingly moving story, with a well-known and tragic finale. It's not a perfect film, but it is up there wih the year's best as a high-energy cinema experience. If I still gave half-marks this would be a 4.5.

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