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.

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

Captain Phillips

Tom HanksBased on a true story published in the book “A Captain’s Duty:Somali Pirates, Navy SEALS and Dangerous Days At Sea” by Captain Richard Phillips, the film tells the account of how his cargo ship, the US Maersk Alabama was hijacked in 2009 by a handful of Somali pirates and he himself later kidnapped by them in a emergency lifeboat and held hostage whilst the US Navy pursued. Tom Hanks plays our eponymous hero whom isn’t too romantically portrayed. Indeed, you can see at the start of the film that many of his staff  appear to have their noses put out of joint by his officiousness. This seemingly innocuous start to the film is essential however as it sets the tone that Captain Phillips was not a hero. He was a victim of circumstance, but so was his Somali captors whose desperation is clear in the remainder of the film.

Captain Phillips #2

Google search appears to omit the 4 Somali actors who played the pirates

And on that note I pass to the other stars of the film, though a search on Google may suggest otherwise. Type in “Captain Phillips” and the cast list appears to leave out the four Somali actors who play the pirates. So let me attempt to make amends and congratulate Faysal Ahmed, Barkhad Abdirahman, Mahat M. Ali and Barkhad Abdi for their excellent performances. To have played baddies or “Die Hard” terrorists would have been easy. Instead, they mix determination, vitriol and thuggery with fear, paranoia and hope to beautifully delicate heights. Indeed, I’m pleased that at the time of writing, BAFTA and The Academy have nominated Barkhad Abdi for supporting actor. I think awards, if they are any use at all, should definitely be given to rising hopefuls to boost future work rather than celebrating the same old fluff!

Indeed, it would be good to see Captain Phillips do well on the gong front as it was quite an original idea and an accomplishment for director Paul Greengrass who has made a very layered and engaging film despite it being set in the very bland and dull environment of the ocean, without resorting to cheap thrills and effects (no big slow motion storm waves and epic explosions) There is a bitter aftertaste as I was left thinking why exactly “International Waters”  means a “free-for-all” for the strongest nations, usually America. There is a beautiful moment when one of the pirates explains that fish stock in Somali waters has become so depleted for his country’s fishermen because of greed and disobedience of international law by other countries. Compare their frail crafts to the massive cargo vessel, symbolic of western materialistic greed. And fundamentally, the film explores mans own fragility captured impeccably by Hanks in the last scene as, during a medical inspection, the whole experience catches up with the captain. Superb acting. There’s a reason why this guy has won 2 Oscars!

 

Posted in 2014, BAFTA's 2014, Oscar's 2014

The World’s End

The World's End #1 Gary King (Simon Pegg) has been unable to move on in life since he was in his late teens – the glory years! He still drives his car, The Beast, still listens to the same cassette compilation tape and still lives in his home village of New Haven. During a group therapy session, he becomes convinced that the root to his troubles was his inability to complete “the golden mile” – an epic pub crawl which appears to be the most enduring image of happier days for him. So twenty years on he reunites his original gang, his four mates who have significantly moved on from those halycyon years – one is even teetotal. However much time has passed since those days and it appears that his friends may well abandon the idea which for them has lost all creed and substance. Until, that is, something very peculiar happens that binds them together and their pub crawl become an epic quest – a search for truth, discovery, survival…. and a few more pints!

I was looking forward to this film. The last in director Edgar Wright’s so called “cornetto trilogy” (previous instalments including Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz) starts off exciting and Britishly familiar. If there are “coming of age” films, this definitely starts like a “coming of middle-age” film. The concept is quirky and fun, in an age where reunions and 80’s school discos are popular, or at least were a few years back, this film seemed to be ticking off all the boxes rather like Gary’s golden mile map. Then it grew a bit reminiscent of the previous two films, with odd behaving locals who maybe out to kill you, not to mention a few classy fight scenes very much of a pseudo Hollywood standard. Then something happened. I don’t wish to give spoilers but those who have seen this film, or indeed the last Indiana Jones film, will know what I’m talking about. Something in the film goes badly wrong and off at a wild tangent as though they were stuck for an ending! You are left at the end of the film a little baffled, a little short changed and immensely disappointed.

The World's End #2And after the previous films successfully jokingly lampooned their relevant genres, this had little spoofing. Indeed the comedy has moved on a little since the Spaced years of the early noughties. What started off looking deliberately aged and jaded, alas, never evolved and so the irony of a film that has stubborn nostalgia as a main theme for it’s protagonist ended up being exactly that itself.

This film would have been just as good as the others ten years ago but is old hat now! Shame, but life moves on!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in 2013, DVD | Leave a comment

The Conjuring

The Conjuring #3According to the film’s opening, this was based on a true story! Ok. According to the film’s poster there is a noose hanging from a tree in the garden of a creepy looking house. No spoiler alert here apparently, it’s on the poster despite being a major plot line in the story. Not looking good so far! Ok. Paranormal investigators and husband ‘n’ wife team Ed and Lorraine Warren present a seminar where they shock students with their weird spooky footage from previous jobs of theirs. These people are calm professionals when it comes to witnessing witchcraft and the paranormal. So I guess that must explain their hysterics later in the film then. And our lucky victims tonight are a family, husband and wife with their five lovely daughters. That’s right they’ve moved into their dream home with the plan of settling down. Of course, they’ve not had the house surveyed or they would have been au fait with it’s horrific, terrifying past, surely?

Inevitably the restless spirits in the house start to play up, first gradually so not even the audience notice, and eventually till they’re spinning the children about by their hair. Yet no one in the family suggests moving? Nope, they opt for our husband and wife team, whom suggest getting the Vatican involved! Geez! Oh and there is an evil looking doll. Yup, that ol chestnut!

The Conjuring #1If you’ve never seen a horror film in your life then I’d say give this one a whirl. But horror connoisseurs will find this film frustratingly predictable as it appears to feast off every cliché in the book. From corny lines to borderline plagiarism, this film tries so desperately hard to be a horror film it looses us. One minute we’re in Hitchcocks The Birds, the next minute we’ve an  establishing shot of a house that’s almost alive, reminiscent of Amityville. Cut to a Kubricesque hall shot and then we’re doing an exorcism like in that film, what was it’s name….? Oh yeah The Exorcist! It’s a typical example that, no matter how you try to pack it to the hilt, there is more to a film than formula and devices. A good horror films requires us to believe and when your lay on the cliché this thick, you just end up rolling your eyes heavenwards and wish that the ground swallowed you whole rather than the characters on the screen.

If you’re looking for a good Halloween film, you can do better than this. Check out our reviews of these other spooky films.

Posted in 2013, Halloween | Leave a comment

Bullitt

Bullitt #1Shame there’s not much around at the local cinema right now, just the usual formulaic Hollywood crap. And as the nights are drawing darker and colder who would blame anyone for wanting to get their film fix from the comfort of their own home. So like my previous review, The Conversation, here’s another classic again set in the streets of San Francisco. Fresh from the hit The Thomas Crown Affair, here is Steve McQueen at his finest in the film that made polo neck sweaters look good, had arguably one of the finest theme tunes around and still looks cool even 45 years after it was made. Pretty impressive.

I had approached the film with a little trepidation given its elevated cult status, especially amongst men of my age. And perhaps it’s because I am a man of my age (midlife crisis ‘n all) that I found it enjoyable. Yes, I wanted to be the good cop Bullitt/Steve McQueen and drive as dangerously as he, whilst being as cool as ice despite being under immense pressure from a ghastly mix of powerful politicians and ruthless mobsters. The film has some fantastic chase sequences through the streets of San Francisco and set the trend for other films to follow including The French Connection, The Driver, Smokey and the Banditt and was even spoofed on one of my favourite ever filmsWhat’s Up Doc?

Bullitt #2

That’s not to say you won’t be amused by certain aspects of the film that may not have aged as well. Apparently before 1973 it was quite possible for someone to smuggle a gun on board a plane unchecked. Unthinkable now. And there is a moment where the main characters stand for what seems like several minutes whilst an enormous fax machine clunks and whirrs through it’s machinations only to produce a single carbon copy sheet of A4 with a suspects fuzzy picture on it. But “oh the suspense” whilst we hung around waiting for it to stop clanking and crunching.

The only drawback to this film is that you may find yourself, like I, having to verify certain aspects of the story on the IMDB before being completely satisfied how all the ends tied together. But at only 110 minutes you are left pining for the days when films, like this one, literally “cut to the chase!” Too many films these days try for epic status but fill up the time with faff. Just like the formulaic crap that, as I began, is currently on at my local cinema. Enjoy a night in.

Posted in 1960's, DVD | Leave a comment

The Conversation

The Conversation #2This classic from 1974 is written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola has survived the test of time very well. This is despite the fact the main theme, undercover surveillance, sports some pretty ancient technology. Nevertheless the concept of technology intruding into our lives and its byproducts such as paranoia and conspiracy has never been more relevant or popular. In this movie, surveillance specialist Harry Caul (Gene Hackman) thinks he may have uncovered a murder plot. But is he just paranoid and can events actually be easily explained?
This is a brilliant film with brilliant acting, cinematography, script, sound(track), pace and ambience. It has a clever way of being simple, subtle and subliminal and yet so very captivating, complex and conniving. Whilst a great ensemble creation, the films owes much of its success to Hackman for whom this film is as great an achievement as The French Connection. The character, reminiscent of Edward Lyle in Enemy Of The State (a role he would later play), is a loner, detached, sad and thanks to the nature of their voyeuristic profession, self reflective on their own pathetic existence! Hackman doesn’t over fuss on camera and often, just standing there, he provokes so much in the moment. What is his secret? We don’t know. This makes him so captivating to watch. I often find myself likening him to Kevin Spacey and this is not just because they both played Superman’s nemesis Lex Luthor. Ok, gush over!
The Conversation #3There are also great supporting performance from John Cazale, Allen Garfield, Harrison Ford and even a cameo from Robert Duvall as the sinister Director. And the non-speaking shadowy figure on the other side of the Catholic confessional booth was in fact Richard Hackman, Gene’s brother.
If you like this film, why not also try the German classic Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives Of Others)

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Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa

Alan Partridge Alpha Papa #1 East Anglia has produced many, many famous faces but none (bar Delia Smith and the people who make Colmans mustard though theoretically they’re not a face, they’re a condiment) could be more famous than Alan “A-ha” Partridge. The former DJ turned sports presenter turned chat-show host turned motivational speaker turned DJ again for North Norfolk Digital has finally turned film star with his very own film in which he stars. Rumoured to be ten years in the making (though the filming probably only took ten weeks) Alan, author of failed motivational book “Bouncing Back!” has a sure fire hit on his hands and moribund it isn’t!

Anyone who has followed Alan’s webcam antics on YouTube in recent times won’t be surprised to find him at the start of the film working at North Norfolk Digital presenting his regular slot with his co-host Sidekick Simon (Tim Keys). But change is afoot and the hand of fate rears its ugly misshapen head when new owners rebrand the radio station ‘Shape FM’ and in the inevitable shake up someone is for the chop. To who will it happen? (sorry, that should be ‘to whom?’)

Partridge fans will be pleased to see regular characters including Alan’s hard working PA Lynn Benfield (Felicity Montagu), geordie Michael (Simon “Simplz” Greenall) and troubled DJ Dave Clifton (Phil Cornwell) as well as some terrific supporting performance from Colm Meaney, Monica Dolan, Anna Maxwell-Martin and Darren Boyd. Behind the scenes credit should go to Armando Iannucci, Peter Baynham, Rob Gibbons, Neil Gibbons and Steve Coogan.

Alan Partridge Alpha Papa #2It’s HOT on action! If you’re watching this gripping drama in the cinema, insist they leave the lights on. If you’re watching it at home, prepare a change of pants. Because if you don’t soil yourself with the fear and suspense, then you’ll wet yourself laughing. Either way you will end up fouling yourself several times during this movie. And if it leaves you with anything, it’s the knowledge that “cows don’t have hymens!” Another fascinating fact same time tomorrow.

The best British comedy for decades!

Posted in 2013, DVD | Leave a comment

Superman: Man Of Steel

Superman #1The trouble with big industries like the music industry and Hollywood studios is that they stick with what works. This lack of adaptation is their Achilles heal. And what’s worse is their stubbornness to believe that they may not always be right. Anyone with a computer can have a crack at making a film or producing music these days. And these people are less dependant on formula as the studios. In other words, their ideas are often original.

The latest in the Superman franchise, this time an offering from Watchmen director Zack Snyder, fails to offer anything original in it’s production. For what is a 3D film, the scenes are often filled to the brim with explosions and fast paced editing that is so intense, it doesn’t permit any form of self orientation which is essential for the viewer to enjoy the 3D aspect. There are too many explosions. There are too many buildings collapsing. There are too many fast-paced edits in the film. It’s as if, since 9/11 and the rise of portable media, movies are desperately trying to reclaim the crown that reality has stolen from them. The onyl time the camera is still is for the headshot dialogue, scripted with the usual trite cliches.

Superman #2This low quality screenplay by David Goyer (with story by him and Batman veteran Christopher Nolan) is presumably why they cast someone like Henry Cavill. He looks amazing which is fine as the acting agenda in this film takes a low priority thanks to every second being interupted by yet another CG special effect. I can see the studio producers sat there with their cigars saying “Give me more explosions, more CG, more, more, more…!” with all the artistic panache of a 60 year old banker bursting into tears whilst singing “All by myself” on the X-Factor! (though the latter would be more fun to watch)

Give me the Richard Donner film any day! At least Terence Stamp’s General Zod didn’t look like Buzz Lightyear on crack!

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Star Trek: Into Darkness

Vue Cinema LogoI am still reeling about how one ticket, a drink and popcorn could cost me £24.85 and I still have to sit through half an hour of advertising but that’s exactly what happened this afternoon at the Vue Cinema (formerly Apollo) on Piccadilly Circus. I had considered the venue the best in London last year, but the change of ownership since Vue purchased the chain in May 2012 has had a significantly negative impact on the venue. I for one will think twice before returning.

Star Trek Into Darkness #3I’d gone to see the new JJ Abrams Star Trek:Into Darkness in 3D. And being a hot day found myself alone in the air conditioned cinema. Nice (though not £25 worth of nice!!) This is Abrams second ST film. He’s quite a one for taking on old franchises and making them his own whilst respecting their essence so as not to disappoint a huge core of die hard fans (Unlike the latest Die Hard offering which disappointed a huge core of Die Hard fans – seriously, what were they thinking.) This task is going to get even more difficult for Abrams who has recently been tasked with the next Star Wars instalments after their purchase from Lucas by Disney. Yes Disney. I know!

This film is good but given the money spent on it, it would have been a scandal of epic proportions had it not been. The story is pre “5 year mission” and all the corny cliches are there. Bones McCoy saying “I’m a doctor not a torpedo technician, dammit!” and the ubiquitous cameo from one of the original cast! The 3D aspect is ok with a few arrows coming out of the screen at ya and some rather nice space shots. But there is some rather cringeworthy aspects too. Simon Pegg’s Scotty and Anton Yelchin’s Chekov had disappointingly dreadful accents. Not quite Dick Van Dyke bad! But nevertheless a bit off and I expected better from them! There are some awful domestic couple comedy between Uhura and Spock and Karl Urban’s Bones McCoy was pretty 2 dimensional.

Star Trek Into Darkness #1We all like a baddy and Benedict Cumberbatch is excellent and beautifully measured as Khan and Peter Weller as Marcus is pretty good too. And stay to the end, as the end credits offers some of the best 3D effects zooming through a library of planets and moons. But if your local cinema is charging high prices to see it in 3d, then skip it till the DVD comes out. It’s not integral to the film and this technology is doomed to fail if they continue to treat loyal cinema goers in this appalling and greedy way! Shame on you Vue!

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Hitchcock

Hitchcock #2For me he’s probably one of the best film directors that ever lived. Why? Because he knew how to tell a story. Not just script but camera angle, lens, music, casting etc etc…  In an industry which can often resemble a conveyor belt production line, often at the insistence of the producers (who , despite their own opinion, rarely have an artisitic bone in their body) it is a rare moment when a director has not only the auteured vision for his project, but the balls to stand up and get his way, regardless of what the producers think. And in this film, despite being at the top of his game, Hitchcock even has to put his money where his mouth is and fund the new film, Psycho, himself. And that’s to say nothing of the headaches he receives from the censors!

Psycho, of course, became arguably his seminal work which, as you can imagine given his legendary repertoire of work, is no mean achievement. The film stars Anthony Hopkins as Hitchcock and Helen Mirren as his wife Alma. It chronicles the making of Psycho and the ‘soap-opera’ behind the scenes life. The movie also contains a parallel, psychological theme as Hitchcock “hangs out” (albeit symbolically rather than literally) with the tormented mind of serial-killer Ed Gein (Michael Wincott) the real-life inspiration for the original book. It also depicts how personal parts of his life may have contributed to the film, such as the peephole used by Norman Bates and using his fresh temper (thinking his wife was having an affair) to help frighten Janet Leigh in the shower scene. And was it just me or did Janet Leighs dressing room resemble the films notorious motel room?

Hitchcock #3The make-up department surely deserve a mention for Hopkins transformation. However, Hopkins’ voice lets him down occasionally – some scenes he nails it but there are moments when it’s Hopkins not Hitch speaking, which is a shame. Mirren is good in her role, but the whole film is fairly mild and never really permeates the dark depths that one would imagine making a film such as Psycho. Personally, I can forgive this and when half the film is set on a the movie set it’s like the dream-back-stage-pass! Bernard Hermann’s eerie themes makes a cameo appearance in the underscore and at one point one can hear the haunting echo of the word…”McGuffin!” For a Hitch fan like myself, it’s heaven!

Posted in 2013, BAFTA's 2013, Oscar's 2013 | Leave a comment