Hidden Figures

I’ve always been a bit of an astronut and so it was a no brainer to check out the film that is one of this years Academy contenders. Based on a true story, Hidden Figures tells the story of three scientists – Katherine Johnson (Taraji P Henson), Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe). They work at NASA and the former Johnson is a “computer” who backs up and check data of a highly mathematical nature. Vaughn is an unofficial Supervisor and Jackson an aspiring engineer. However, this is 1961 and not only are they female but they are also African-American at the height of the US’s apartheid. So for the best part of the film they are banging their heads against the brickwall of racist bigotry that was prevalent in its time. However they fight on with heads held high and show their worth, Johnson especially who successfully helps with the co-ordinates that help put the first US man into space and would ultimately help put a man on the moon and get the Space Shuttle program underway!

The film has three themes. The first is racism and their struggle to overcome its unforgiving grip on their lives. The theme is heavily played, perhaps over egging it, but the dignity of the women to rise above it did help temper this as did the other two themes. Al Harrison (Kevin Costner) uses his authority to leverage some rest-bite from the bigotries of fellow scientists such as Paul Stafford (badly cast as Jim Parsons – sorry the guy will always be Sheldon Cooper and has been paid handsomely paid for this career suicide) and Vivian Mitchell (Kirsten Dunst) the bitch boss who eventually yet slightly reluctantly finds redemption and ends up liking the “coloureds” – all a bit corny that!

The second theme was their lives, community and interaction with each other. This was beautiful and included a lovely romantic storyline (yes I usually hate romance) for widowed Johnson who finds love a second time around in Col Jim Johnson (Mahershala Ali – aka Remy from House Of Cards) Nice to to be informed at the end of the movie that they spent 57 years together!

And the final theme is the whole Space Race thing. This for me was the fun bit. Not too dumbed down yet not over my head either. Gave a real pace to the film as well as a feeling of involvement. And the nice blend of effects and old authentic footage is a credit to director/writer Theodore Melfi.

Ultimately this is a feel good film. The genre of African-American has certainly become a theme in the Academy awards in recent years and one can’t help cynically wondering if it was made for the awards. However, given the politics that have surface in the last 12 months, its also a poignant and chilling reminder that history can easily repeat itself.

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Posted in 2016, 2017, Oscar's 2017, Oscars, Uncategorized

Arrival

Ever since Metropolis, a great Hollywood mainstay has been aliens from another planet. There are films like ET, Men In Black or Super8 that see it naively with a child’s perspective. There are the sinister visitations such as Independence Day or War Of The Worlds which have a more apocalyptic, threatening feel. And there are those films that inspire awe with the transcendentalism of two alien species, the human being one. And it is this category, along with Close Encounters Of The Third Kind and Contact that this film belongs. Indeed I was convinced this film would be very similar to the latter.

It’s concept was straight forward. Weird shaped pods appear in a dozen places around the world. The reaction of humankind everywhere is the usual Smörgåsbord of cliches – panic, awe, looting, macho gun-ho-ness and hippy acceptance. Basically everything that was covered in Morons From Outer Space. But luckily the film doesn’t dwell too much on that. Instead our protagonist is an ex-mother Louise Banks (Amy Adams), haunted by the premature death of her daughter from cancer (not a spoiler, we find out in the first 5 minutes of the film) and who has since lost herself in her work as a universal languages expert. She is commandeered by the US army, along with Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), to meet the aliens and decipher what they want.

And despite the film developing into complex dimensions beyond our mortal understandings, it doesn’t loose its audience, unlike Contact, and that’s what makes it enjoyable. Indeed director Denis Villeneuve takes us on what feels like an educational and exciting journey without, if you’ll pardon the pun, alienating his audience. The result leaves you with a satisfying feeling that you somehow partook in the venture yourself and doesn’t leave you feeling baffled and shortchanged. Villeneuve is up for Best Director on the 26th Feb – the nomination is worthy though I doubt he’ll win given his competition and lack of buzz about the film generally.

If I had to be critical I would pick out Forest Whitaker who, for a Hollywood name, brought little to a role that could easily have gone to a lesser known actor.

 

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Posted in 2016, 2017, Oscar's 2017

Jason Bourne

Yes, it’s been more than a while since the last film review. I haven’t been to the cinema since the new Star Wars last December. So I was hoping for a treat when I booked to see the new Jason Bourne film titled…”Jason Bourne”

Jason Bourne #2After the Bourne trilogy, Damon famously stated he would not return as Bourne saying “We have ridden that horse as far as we can.” Anyway, that wasn’t to be and he’s back. We join Bourne who’s still on the run from the CIA and trying hard to find the backstory of his father who was involved in something shady that involved grainy flashbacks and ultimately a rather predictable rendezvous with a car bomb in the sepia-laden Far East. There is a smell of corruption withhin the Agency in the form of Robert Dewey played by the wrinkly, watchable, yet minimally expressive Tommy Lee Jones. And there is an Agent Starling sort called Heather Lee, (played by Alicia Vikander) a CIA Cyber Ops Division banging her head against the chauvinistic, patriarchal top brass in suits, clichés straight out of Working Girl.

A fan of the trilogy, I found this film was quite light on storyline. Without the run up of a thorough backstory that a trilogy provides, it was unable to develop the complex intricacies of the earlier films, leaving the story quite two dimensional and feeling like an additional after thought many years later. I remember the famous end credits used to symbolise the twists and turns one experienced with the plot. This film deserved nothing more complex than a bus map! Consequently it relied heavily on the action sequences. And there is nothing wrong with that. However, the action is always chases! There were 3 major car chases and quite a lot of “running through a crowd” chases. Remember the ubiquitous sex and cigarette scenes of the 80’s and 90’s. Well, the car chase has become just as much of a cliché. Other than a burning car in one of the chases, there was no fresh or original angle that other franchises (such as Bond) feature in their films.

Jason Bourne #1And the script wasn’t up to much either. One line that made me smart was from Heather Lee about Bourne. “He’s seen things. He knows things.” Don’t get too technical will you! And that pretty much epitomised the blandness of the script.

The film was ok, for an afternoon out of the house. But shouldn’t have been a Bourne film as it let the trilogy down. Sorry.

Yes I’m back and as ruthless as ever. 

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Posted in 2016

Kingsmen – The Secret Service

Kingsman-#2Anyone who is old enough to remember life before the internet can probably remember a time when James Bond films were fairly formulaic (as I explained in my review of Skyfall) But of late, the movies have matured and become more complex, leaving some pining for the good old days.
Enter Kingsmen The Secret Service – a fairly camp rendition of the romantic MI5 we all wished did exist. Kingsmen is a tailors on Savile Row, but enter the right dressing room and you descend to a private underground station with a sophisticated bullet train that whisks you off to a Manor House hidden in the countryside where secret service recruits are trained. Once training is complete another dressing room at Kingsmen will show you an arsenal of high tech weapons and gadgetry – a room where Q branch meets GQ magazine!
Heading the cast is smarmy but deadly Oscar winner Colin Firth, supported by Michael Caine. Unknown Taron Egerton plays the young delinquent fostered by Firth to be trained to high MI5 standards through a quick montage. The stakes are high as in the background Samuel L Jackson, fresh from a spate of poor career choices (Big Game, Kite, Barely Lethal….heard of them? No?), plans to conquer the world by getting everyone to beat each other up when a SIM card activates a sound that sends them mental.
Kingsmen-#1Yes the whole film is camp as tits and very tongue in cheek. Even some of the special effects are poorly executed (the worst in the opening titles, risky). Yet surprisingly the whole film is compelling and thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyable. The highlight without doubt is a fight sequence in a church involving Firth and for its imagination, choreography and direction should receive an award for….best…fight? Amazing stuff.
And like some films, be sure to watch the credits as it’s not as over as you may think. A sequel will be inevitable given this films popularity and will be a challenge to top.

Kingsman: The Secret Service [Blu-ray]

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Posted in 2014, DVD

The Inbetweeners 2

The Inbetweeners 2 #3I can’t believe it was just over 3 years ago when I reviewed the first Inbetweeners movie. It appeared to be a suitable finale to what was a very popular TV series on UK’s Channel 4. And the film had been a huge success. Then there was rumour and speculation – there was going to be another? But surely they’d have graduated from Uni by now? (Thankfully, the “gap year” saves the mathematical dilemma here) Would it be a sequel too far, outstaying its welcome, desperate to relive some of those golden moments? I held my breath a little before watching this movie.
Well, the characters had moved on and if the first film was a coming of age movie, this was the coming of reality of age. We find our heroes a little jaded by their life experiences, even a little resigned to the anticlimax their new paths had taken them. Will is still the social outcast at Uni, Simon is completely under the thumb of his psychotic girlfriend and Neil still ponders life’s agonizing quandaries such as “How long after a poo do you have to wait before you can have sex?”. They then get an invite from Jay to come to Australia where he is spending his gap year in his inimitable fantasy world of orgies and more orgies. Of course it’s bollocks! But they all go a-travelling down-under for a 3 week holiday and that’s the film in a nutshell.
Everyone I’ve spoken to who has not seen the film voiced the same reservations I mentioned previously. Those who have seen the film, myself now included, found it hilarious. Comedy films by and large come from America and are rarely funny. It’s probably cos I’m British, but Brit-Coms are often hilarious as proved by this film and the recent Alan Partridge film. This month also saw an announcement from Ricky Gervais that he’ll be reprising his role as David Brent next year in a mockumentary film – immediately the alarm bells sounded but maybe, as my reactions to this film proved, those worries are unfounded.
The Inbetweeners 2 #2I also have a confession. Despite my glorious review of the first film, I see I only gave it 3 stars. That must have been the film snob in me. So I’ll make amends with a slightly exaggerated rating this time round in its favour! Great, silly, immature fun!

Buy The Inbetweeners 2 [Blu-ray] [2014]

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Posted in 2014, DVD

Intersteller

Intersteller #1These days when you watch a trailer you more or less see a mini version of the whole film. Indeed the trailer for this film makes the film look rather plain and I was in two minds whether to go and see it. (After all, you may have noticed that since fatherhood at the start of the year reviews have been few and scarce and there’s a good reason for that – ask any new parent, they’ll tell you. Needless to say, today I got to go to the cinema and so I had my pick of the films!) The running time, 2hrs and 50m, was nearly enough to put me off completely. But I was going to see it on IMAX – Sci-Fi looks great on that doesn’t it? Though my apprehension wasn’t helped by memories of my midnight trip to see Prometheus at the Southbank IMAX which, whilst enjoyable in the wee hours, was tainted by the protests of Scott fans who thought he had ruined the franchise big time like The Phantom Menace. But this is Christopher Nolan! OK – let’s give it a whirl. I’m glad I did.

So Earth appears to be dying. Crops are suffering severely with blight, dust storms are rampant and scientist reckon life for humankind is doomed after the current young generation. Ex-NASA pilot Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is called to fly a special space mission to seek a new habitat for humankind to emigrate to. The journey is epic and will require a small section in stasis and a jaunt through a wormhole just to the right of Saturn. But Cooper leaves behind his son Tom and his daughter Murph (kept sounding like Smurf – “that’s Murph!”) and the latter is proper pissed off about him leaving. Indeed, there are no spoilers here because I’ve more or less recounted the trailer. But thankfully, that is only the first hour of the film. The rest is superb, but you’ll probably be asking why?

Intersteller #3The great thing about this film is that despite being set slightly in the future, everything seems plausible and well thought out. There is no dreadful ambiguity as there is in other films such as Contact (also starring McConaughey) or Kubrick’s 2001:A Space Odyssey. We follow the main character through absolutely every minute of his experience and get to share, feel and live it with him. The worlds have this plausibility too yet also contain a few surprises – like frozen clouds or mountains on the horizon that aren’t what they seem (proper “That’s no moon, it’s a Space Station” moment)

There are some interesting, yet successful casting choices in this film too including John Lithgow (who stayed on the 3rd Rock from the Sun) and, as you’d expect in a Nolan film, Batman veterans David Gyasi, Michael Caine and Anne Hathaway. The ubiquitous droids, in this case TARS, CASE and KIPP, were bizarre to say the least. They had amazingly natural voices and were highly intelligent including settings for wit and honesty! Yet I’ve never seen a clunkier droid since V.I.N.C.E.N.T. in cult flop The Black Hole. But this only added to the overall feasibility and therefore sense of realism. And it’s this realism which is key to bridging our imagination in any SciFi film, and many films fail at it. Great care appears to have been taken to address this factor and it is very much to the film’s credit!

I’m gonna stick my neck out here and categorise the review on this site under the BAFTA and Oscar category for 2015 – I’ll be very surprised if some aspect doesn’t get a nomination for one of them!

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Posted in 2014, BAFTA's 2015, Oscar's 2015, Uncategorized | Tagged as: , , ,

3 Days To Kill

3 Days to Kill, Kevin CostnerThere has been a fashion, which has recently spiked in popularity, of mixing what would otherwise seem odd combinations into winning (and therefore original) formulas. Last year for my birthday I enjoyed the signature dish at Londons “Duck And Waffle” which was precisely that plus a fried egg and maple syrup. It sounds wrong but it was delicious. One can’t help thinking about all the disastrous combinations that may have been tried and never made it past the test stage. Some poor soul still had to eat it.

This film too is a weird combination of action and domestic family duties. A CIA agent and top assassin (Kevin Costner) finds he has a terminal illness. The film charts how he juggles his brutal job with trying to be the dad he never was. The result is a combination like fish fingers and custard – and probably the reason this film simply doesn’t work.

3 Days To Kill #2Costner is pretty impeccable in whatever he is in and, like Richard Gere last year, it was nice to finally see a return of this actor who, like Gere, was at his prime in the 1990’s. But he is let down by a terribly corny script and is forced through a variety of “being a good dad” cliches that would have been fine in a 30 second advert that precede the movie, but is saccharin and lard crowbarred as it is into this ill-constructed story! And then there are the attempts to be funny, even quirky. But the humour is of the quality you see politicians attempt in their speeches and just leaves you feeling awkward and embarrassed for them. The action sequences however are good.

Given there has been an absence of reviews on FilmFridays lately and it’s a shame to resume with such a negative one. The reason for the hiatus is that I became a father! If this film has done anything positive, then it’s to remind me to avoid ever becoming a schmaltzy cliched parent and, I guess, to put my children before my career of killing people! Wow, what an epiphany, not!

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Posted in 2014

On The Waterfront

On-The-Waterfront-#2Filmed, released and set in 1954, the movie is set in the docks near Manhattan and tells the story of Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando), a dockworker who lives a humdrum existence accepting casual low paid work at the docks and spending the rest of his time keeping pigeons. Nothing wrong there, you may ask! However the entire workforce lives under the suppressive shadow of mob union leader (and ironically named) Johnny Friendly who runs a racket out of the docks. People who step out of line are quickly and fatally dealt with. Despite the imminent danger, many workers remain “d&d” (deaf and dumb) fearing lethal retribution or the eternal shame of informing.

Enter Edie Doyle (Eva Marie Saint) whose brother has recently fallen victim to Friendly’s mob, of whom Malloys brother Charley (Rod Steiger) is a close member. She appeals to Terry and with the help of the waterfront priest Father Barry (Karl Malden) aims to change Terry’s heart and stand up to Friendly by giving testimony. But will he be safe?

On-The-Waterfront-#1Before all the special effects, Hollywood quite often relied on a good story to get bums on seats. Present day Hollywood could do well to remember this simple yet powerful device that can make a film like this compulsive to watch, ultimately earning it a modest handful of Oscars including Best Picture and Best Actor for Brando. But the guy who “could have been a contender” without doubt was Karl Malden as Father Barry. His sermon on the docks is as powerful as any Shakespeare soliloquy and utterly captivating. For this reason, and as small comfort to him for not winning Best Supporting Actor,  FilmFridays declares him Man of the Match in this movie!

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Posted in 1950's, Oscars | Leave a comment

Saving Mr Banks

Saving Mr Banks #1Disney brings us this film about the making of its film Mary Poppins. The story, presumably based on anecdotal and early spooled recordings of the early development stages depicted in the film, tells of the hot cold relationship between Walt Disney himself (Tom Hanks) and the writer of Mary Poppins Pamela L Travers (Emma Thompson), a woman more English and stern sounding than the original voice of the speaking clock or indeed the woman who voices the elevator at Belsize Park Underground Station. The film compares the development of the story we know and love in the Disney classic with Travers own upbringing, specifically her relationship with her father; hence the significance of the Mr Banks character whom he symbolises.

In his second big production of the year after Captain Phillips, Hanks presents an uncomplicated and down to earth Disney, whilst Thompson does the character she does best, posh Britannic matriarch. If she hadn’t been cast in the role, then I imagine Helena Bonham Carter would have been a close second choice. And I found it odd that Disney themselves should present this movie. Had it been another producer one would have been impressed with their admiration for the film and its birth. However, instead, I couldn’t shift my preconception that this was Disney “bigging itself up”. Consequently it comes over as gushingly over sentimental and despite the fact that the film itself was great, this ruined it for me! And by the end I wondered whose film Mary Poppins was? Travers? The publics? No! You are left without doubt that Disney is more than a commercial machine – it is the saviour of everybody’s childhood and don’t you forget it!

Saving Mr Banks #2Much of the film depends not only on you having seen the original film but to be very familiar with it to get the “in” jokes. As a period piece (early 60’s) it’s rewarding in decor, costume and appearance. The underscore (supervised by original Poppins composer Robert Sherman) revisits Poppins leitmotif with interesting effect. But I can’t help feeling the entire film should be an extra on the Mary Poppins DVD rather than a creation its own right. Fun for Poppins fans but there it ends.

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Posted in 2014, BAFTA's 2014, Oscar's 2014 | Leave a comment

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Posted in 1950's, Oscar's 2012, Oscar's 2014 | Tagged as: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,