Bridge of Spies – The Review

It’s a while since I’ve seen a good live action Steven Spielberg movie on the big screen. Tintin was flawed but terrific, and obviously animated, which makes me believe that awful Indy flick in 2008 was the last time, which is not a good thing. And before that, offerings such as the rather good Minority Report and War of the Worlds featured awful epilogues. 

So could the maestro finally pull off a gripping movie which wasn’t scuppered in the last five minutes?

Well, before I answer that, a little preamble. 

  
Tom Hanks is superb as James Donovan, an Irish American insurance lawyer who oozes integrity. 

He’s asked by his law firm to represent Rudolf Abel, an English/Russian spy, brilliantly played by Mark Rylance. 

The relationship between these two men forms the backbone of the movie. Is Abel guilty or innocent? Can the legal eagle prove his innocence if he is? 

The second act sees Mr Hanks go to Germany, East and West, as the Berlin Wall is going up. 

  
Yes, there are shadows of Jimmy Stewart resonating through Hanks’ performance. Frank Capra’s influence is obvious in places, but if you’re going to steal a movie style, steal from the best. 

It’s a slow burner for the most part. Watching one man trying to achieve a two for one exchange during a bleakly historic point in time could have been dull and taxing but Hanks once more proves to be the most compelling actor of his generation, a thesp as likeable off screen as he is on. 

I was blown away by the third act, an emotionally powerful finale with the dynamic between Donovan and Abel being heart wrenchingly powerful. 

  
Thomas Newman’s score is good not great and I was annoyed by the over saturated photography. However, it scarcely matters. Despite suffering a full blown migraine by the end, it was worth every eye-watering moment, many tears resulting from the film itself. 

And the epilogue was perfect. 

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Black Mass – The Review

How much you like Black Mass depends on your fondness for watching assorted characters dying in horrible ways roughly every 10 minutes. 
On the plus side Johnny Depp is superb as “Whitey”, the psycho Boston crimelord who commits or commands much of the killing. 

His performance, complete with android blue contact lenses and receding hairline, commands much of the screen time. When he’s not on screen, you wish he were. 

There’s an awkwardness about Benedict Cumberbatch as Whitey’s political VIP brother echoing a long lost Kennedy brother, while I kept expecting Kevin Bacon to talk to camera and try and sell me a phone service. 

  
The score by Tom Holkenborg is pretty good, but the problem is I didn’t care about any of the characters. The trail of carnage went from occasionally tiring to a little predictable. A dinner party scene involving “a secret recipe” was a little too reminiscent of Joe Pesci’s psycho gangster in Goodfellas. In fact many scenes were a little too reminiscent of Scorsese gangster flick or Depp’s earlier crime epic Donnie Brasco.  

And it also commits the cardinal sin of including a St Patrick Day Parade, something inevitable in any movie about Boston and Irish American relations. 

Then there were more recent “American” offerings such as the humdrum Gangster and the superior Hustle. You do spend a lot of time looking at the 70s and 80s decor and costumes, which takes you out of the moment. 

It’s well made and ticks over, but it lacked any sucker punch moments. Because most of the characters were so toxic, it was hard to sympathise with anyone. 

A good watch but it may have worked better as a mini series where characters had more room to breathe and the killings were spread out.  

Jessica Jones – The Review

When Marvel moved into the world of Netflix-backed adult drama with Daredevil, the mix of extreme violence and slow burning story proved compelling. Characters were allowed to grow and breathe over a dozen episodes or more. It buried the Ben Affleck mess for good and paved the way for more binge TV. But of all the characters in the Marvel universe, few were desperate to see Jessica Jones, the tale of a sexy alcoholic private eye who operates on the same streets as Daredevil. 
  With expectations at zero, thankfully it proved to be a darkly compelling watch. 

Krysten Ritter is superb as the eponymous protagonist, all world weary sex appeal while being tough yet vulnerable when needs be. 

However, David Tennant stole the series as the lethal mind controller Kilgrave. 

A heroine is only as good as the villain she goes up against and Kilgrave is one of the best. Tennant was in his element, chewing scenery like a ravenous goat let loose in a theatre. 

 
Solid support came from Mike Colter as old school Marvel hero Luke Cage. His relationship with Jones adding sex appeal and comedy. 

It’s a compelling watch and for this instant convert, the inevitable season two cannot come soon enough. 

Steve Jobs and The Lady In The Van Reviews

“So I said to mother while buttering a cream cracker, ‘Would you like a more expensive Apple computer; one that was self contained and incompatible with others?’
“She said: ‘No Steve Jobs. I wouldn’t. And why do you sound like Alan Bennett has written your dialogue instead of Aaron Sorkin?”

That’s because I’m in two minds as a film reviewer having seen both Steve Jobs and The Lady in the Van back to back. I’m not sure where one started and the other began.

“But surely they’re two completely different films?” argues you the reader (in a non Alan Bennett voice).

Well yes they are, but both are penned by playwrights; both still feel like they belong on stage, and both feature British directors. Yet strangely as a double bill, they worked rather well together.

Anyway, here’s the verdict.

Steve Jobs
Like every Sunday, I grab my iPad and book a couple of movie tickets. Then I check my emails and Facebook, listen to a few itunes from my portable tablet and reflect on some digital holiday photos.
Without Steve Jobs all this would have been so different.
Like many, I’ve been living with his legacy for a chunk of my life, either during his early days with Apple or later years with the iMac, iPod, iPad and so on.
The visionary computer wiz left such an indelible mark on our lives, it’s hard to imagine a world without those ubiquitous products.
So when it came to making an inevitable biopic, the project needed someone who could compress key moments of Jobs’ life into digestible portions and a director who could do the story justice.

Step forward Aaron Sorkin and Danny Boyle, who between them deliver an absorbing, rewarding, well constructed yarn which doesn’t paint the eponymous protagonist in a positive light.
Had it done so this would have been a pointless exercise.

There’s enough Macheads out there gushing over Jobs’ work to turn off newcomers instantly. Unlike his sleek iMac, this needed a few rough edges to make the project work, and both Sorkin and Boyle ensure there’s enough to make this offering worth a look.

Michael Fassbender may not be the spitting image of Jobs but he captures the essence of the man, while Seth Rogen gives one of his best turns as right hand man Steve Wozniak.

Terrific support comes from Kate Winslet as marketing exec Joanna Hoffman, and Jeff Daniels as CEO John Sculley, while the cinematography cleverly switches from the grainy finish of the first act to the high def finale. (Handy for those flashbacks in the third act).

One scene revolves around Ridley Scott’s ‘1984‘ Super Bowl Apple ad, which still looks terrific after 32 years. (The director admitted in BBC documentary Eye of the Storm that he didn’t have a clue what Apple was when he made it).

Is it a masterpiece? Not really, but as a genuine three act play with much walking and talking, Sorkin’s script is hugely rewarding, while Boyle peppers the screen with enough visual gags to push it beyond the trappings of its stage-like setting.

Sadly it speaks volumes that Jobs saving a piece of digital art from his daughter after years of estrangement feels strangely empty. It’s hard to emote over something saved to a hard drive rather than hand crafted.
Though it lacked a sucker punch moment which made me care about the eponymous protagonist, I still admired the craftsmanship of the product.

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Photo: Roger Crow

The Lady in the Van
The opening of The Lady in the Van involves a collision. That would have been dramatic enough, had the woman in the mobility scooter not enhanced the experience in the dark Castleford cinema by almost colliding with the screen as she did assorted three point turns.
Who needs 4DX and Dbox when members of the public accidentally mirror the on screen drama for no extra cost?

Aptly for an Alan Bennett-penned tale, I’m near his home town of Leeds and the cinema is packed. (A previous screening of Steve Jobs had eight viewers including my wife and I).
Maggie Smith is superb as the former ambulance driver and nun who winds up parked in Bennett’s Camden drive for around 15 years.
She’s plagued with problems, haunted by an event in her past and harassed by a shadowy figure (Jim Broadbent).

Alex Jennings is a perfect fit as Bennett, a dual role thanks to the writer’s clever conceit of talking to himself.
Both will be shoo ins for Baftas early next year, as will Bennett’s script.

There were echoes of the movie Shine (troubled protagonist with a fondness for the piano plagued by ghosts from their past).

However, despite being beautifully made, like Steve Jobs, it failed to clutch at the heartstrings.
There was an inevitability to the story, though the odd flight of fancy in the third act boasted a Gilliamesque touch.

Not so sure about the last minute which saw drama and reality collide, but the tale of one man’s compassion for a troubled woman was a lesson many can learn from.

The Lady in the Van – A review

Watching the opening of The Lady in the Van (involving a collision) while a woman in a mobility scooter with her lights on in the dark cinema almost colliding with the screen was definitely one of the most surreal cinema going experiences of my life.
Aptly for an Alan Bennett-penned tale, I’m near his home town of Leeds and the cinema is packed. (A previous screening of Steve Jobs had eight viewers including my wife and I.)
Maggie Smith is superb as the former ambulance driver and nun who winds up parked in Bennett’s Camden drive for around 15 years. 

  
She’s plagued with problems, haunted by an event in her past and harassed by a shadowy figure (Jim Broadbent).

Alex Jennings is a perfect fit as Bennett, a dual role thanks to the writer’s clever conceit of talking to himself. AB has such a unique voice as a writer and person, there’s little wonder he’s been so imitated over the years, so good to see an actor give something other than a caricatured performance. 

Both will be shoo ins for Baftas early next year, as will Bennett’s script. 

For me there were echoes of the movie Shine (troubled protagonist with a fondness for the piano plagued by ghosts from their past). However, despite being beautifully made, it failed to clutch at the heartstrings. 

  
There was an inevitability to the story, though the odd flight of fancy in the third act boasted a Gilliamesque touch. 

Not so sure about the last minute which saw drama and reality collide, but the tale of one man’s compassion for a troubled woman was a lesson many can learn from. 

Steve Jobs – The Movie: a review

Like every Sunday, I grab my iPad and book a couple of movie tickets. Then I check my emails and Facebook, listen to a few itunes from my portable tablet and reflect on some digital holiday photos from a few weeks ago. Without Steve Jobs all this would have been so different. Like millions of folks I’ve been living with the legacy of Jobs for a chunk of my life, either during his early days with Apple or later years with the iMac, iPod, iPad and so on. The visionary computer wiz has left such an indelible mark on all our lives, it’s hard to imagine a world without those ubiquitous products. So when it came to making an inevitable biopic of his life, the project needed someone who could compress key moments of Jobs’ life into digestible portions and a director who could do the story justice. Step forward Aaron Sorkin and Danny Boyle, who between them deliver an absorbing, rewarding, well constructed yarn which doesn’t paint the eponymous protagonist in a positive light. 

  
Had it done so this would have been a pointless exercise. There’s enough Macheads out there gushing over Jobs’ work to turn off newcomers instantly. Unlike his sleek iMac, this needed a few rough edges to make the project work, and both Sorkin and Boyle ensure there’s enough to make this offering worth a look. 

Michael Fassbender may not be the spitting image of Jobs but he captures the essence of the man, while Seth Rogen gives one of his best turns as right hand man Steve Wozniak. 

Terrific support comes from Kate Winslet as marketing exec Joanna Hoffman, and Jeff Daniels as CEO John Sculley, while the cinematography cleverly switches from the grainy finish of the first act to the high def finale. (Handy for those flashbacks).

Is it a masterpiece? Not really, but as a three act play with much walking and talking, Sorkin’s script is hugely rewarding, while Boyle peppers the screen with enough visual gags to push it beyond the trappings of its stage like setting. 

It Follows – A review

Horror movies, like comedy, are subjective. I know this only too well because buoyant after seeing It Follows, I commented on how much I liked it online and was bombarded with a wave of negativity, which is fine. 

The film I had seen was clearly a different movie with the same cast and title. 

Some horror fans like their movies like underdone steak, while others, aka me, prefer them well done. Neither is right or wrong, it’s just that after years of seeing bloodbaths, torture porn and meta horrors poking fun at the genre with a knowing wink, I prefer to see that little used commodity in horror cinema these days, suspense.

The idea of a Ring-style curse plaguing teen victims is nothing new of course; it’s been passed down since caveman times, but that eternal issue of sex equals death, combined with a paranoia of being followed by a relentless spirit is an ever potent one.

  
With a cast of unknowns, there was no baggage to take me out of the moment. None of those bits where your brain goes into overdrive trying to think of that movie the bloke in the specs was last in. 

Roving shots of leafy American suburbs and rundown houses echoing the results of the 2008 credit crunch make this a John Carpenter film for the 21st century. 

Sam Raimi had of course done those eerie shots of a car being pursued by a relentless force in Evil Dead all those years ago, but it’s no less effective here. 

The soundtrack pulses with menace and it builds to a hit and miss finale which I’d expected would be slightly more spectacular. Let Me In had done a far more effective swimming pool showdown a few years ago.

Though the ending might leave some feeling a little disappointed, there is plenty to enjoy here.

Slightly arty, rather knowing and occasionally scary. It won’t suit everyone, clearly, but for me it was just the ticket after the horrors of work. 

Brooklyn – The Review

Brooklyn, the new movie starring Saoirse Ronan, is an epic 1950s-set film about homesickness.In it she plays young Irish immigrant Eilis Lacey  who leaves Ireland for the promise of New York City.

She stays at a boarding house run by the brilliant Julie Walters, but the yearning for her hometown becomes so great it destroys her happiness.

Eventually, she meets a charming young Italian American, and falls in love, but when a tragedy occurs back home she returns to Ireland to say her goodbyes. However, with the promise of a new life in Ireland beckoning, she finds it more difficult to return to America and her loved ones there.

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And that is about it plot wise. Nick Hornby’s screenplay is beautifully crafted, the performances are all top notch, and this $10million production, (with almost as many backing folks involved), slots together nicely. However, by the end of it you do wonder if that’s all there is to it and nothing more.

By chance I saw it with a load of pensioners one Tuesday lunchtime. Many hadn’t really grasped the concept of staying silent in the cinema. However, I could see why it appeals to them. There were many occasions when I laughed out loud, and had a big smile on my face, but in the last 10 minutes I was wondering whether to walk out so I could catch a another screening of Spectre. I’m glad I stayed till the end, because the pay off will fill your heart with joy.

Okay, the plot might be less than the sum of its parts, but Ms Ronan is an electrifying screen presence who lights up every scene she’s in.

Non-Stop – A Review

I didn’t expect much from Non-Stop, the Liam Neeson vehicle about an Air Marshal being harassed on an airliner, but to my surprise it proved incredibly addictive.

To put the screening in context, I had just come off the back of an eight hour shift, it was 11 PM, and my defences were down. However, sat with my headphones on (so I didn’t disturb my wife in bed asleep), it had the strange effect of making me feel like I was on a red eye flight.

The set up is superb: Neeson is Bill Marks, the alcoholic sky cop who boards a non-stop flight to London. Clearly he is a man on his uppers; his face is etched with weary experience.

On the plus side, he gets to sit next to Julianne Moore, a mysterious flame-haired passenger with a scar on her chest.

Scattered around the flight are a series of dubious characters from all races and backgrounds naturally.

The director Jaume Collet Serra, who worked with Neeson on Unknown (they even reference the film in a subtle on screen message), makes a good fist of the screenplay. It’s the sort of thing Hitchcock would have done more than 50 years ago. Obviously it’s been given a 21st-century spin, complete with on screen text messages (one involving a damaged phone is a nice touch).

When Bill starts receiving messages that someone will die every 20 minutes unless a huge sum of cash is transferred into an anonymous a bank account, our troubled hero starts looking for the culprit.

Creeping around in the barely lit plane, assessing the assorted passengers is one of the highlights of the film. It’s only when the lights come on and people start getting wary that the film hits turbulence.

Any scenes set outside of the aircraft are also a little disappointing; it doesn’t matter how good special effects get these days, we can always sense a fake shot regardless of the production budget. This was a relatively cheap $50m, a chunk of which probably went on its star. I’d have preferred a version only set inside the plane so the viewer feels they are on the flight.


A few years ago a similar premise was offered with the Flight Plan, the Jodie Foster thriller about a grieving widow and her daughter on a flight. Foster’s character loses her offspring and can’t understand why most people on the flight think she never existed. For the first two thirds that was equally gripping, but was let down by a poor finale.

By the time Non-Stop eventually reveals the antagonist, at least this viewer was slightly less disappointed, although most that comes in the last 10 minutes is sprinkled with a heavy covering of cheese.

Neeson has become the new Clint Eastwood, all swagger and menace, with a nice line in quips. As a viewer in his late 40s, it was refreshing to see a hero and a leading lady who were also getting on a bit. (I will quite happily watch Julianne Moore read from the phone book, she’s that good).

Although this was the sort of film you would quite happily watch on a flight (if any airline was brave enough to show it), it was savaged by the critics, who were quite clearly looking for something highbrow with a more polished script.

Good support comes from Michelle Dockery, Corey Stoll, Lupita Nyong’o (under used) and Scoot McNairy.

For someone that loves occasionally trashy entertainment well put together, this ticked most of the (black) boxes.

20 films of 2015

2015: a year of extraordinary films, fascinating indie flicks and nostalgic blockbusters. However, while a few left me bored, others were tear-inducing, life-affirming, memory-scarring masterpieces.

From tales of wrestlers, gods and Kings, and men the size of ants, to FBI agents chasing drug lords and a gothic ghost story, I laughed, cried and gave hard stares to chatting cinemagoers.

Enough waffle. Here’s my pick of the 20 best films of the year.
20: Ex-Machina. Alex Garland’s intelligent three hander ticked over nicely. See what I did there?
19: Jurassic World. Pure cinematic spectacle and a great third act also made up for the weak characters.

18: Foxcatcher. A slow burning drama with top turns from Ruffalo, Tatum and Carell.
17: Awaiting. A low budget, gripping gem with Tony Curran on great form. Take a bow writer/director Mark Murphy.

16: 50 Shades of Gray. A kinky fairytale for frustrated secretaries the world over. I loved it…like you do.
15: Mr Holmes. Ian McKellen’s Oscar and BAFTA worthy take on the Baker Street sleuth was a gloriously created yarn. Arguably the best perf of the year.
14: Danny Collins. Al Pacino’s fading music star was a bittersweet gem.
13: Ant-Man. Best superhero flick of the year. Edgar Wright’s departure may have been no bad thing… and I love his work.
12: Big Hero 6. Best animated film of 2015. Yes, that includes the over rated Inside Out.
11: Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation. Tom Cruise back on form as Ethan Hunt; Simon Pegg fast becoming the saga’s MVP, and a star was born in Rebecca Ferguson. The opera scene was outstanding.
10: Crimson Peak. Guillermo del Toro’s elegant gothic horror boasted fine turns from Jessica Chastain and Tom Hiddleston. A clockwork roller coaster that took its time, but was worth the ride.
9: The Martian. Not as good as Andy Weir’s novel, but Ridley Scott’s best in years.
8: Spectre. James Bond returned. Cash tills rang. Things exploded.

7: Wild. One woman’s physical and mental trek gave Reese Witherspoon her best turn in years.
6: The Theory of Everything. Eddie Redmayne’s career best turn as Stephen Hawking was worthy of the awards gold.
5: Birdman. Surreal, compelling and dazzling with a superb turn from Michael Keaton.
4: Kingsman – The Secret Service. Came out of nowhere, cost the same as 007s catering budget* and proved hugely enjoyable. Also turned Taron Egerton into an overnight star.

*Possibly. I just made that up.
3: The Duke of Burgundy. Peter Strickland’s powerhouse adult drama paid homage to euro movies of the seventies. Beautifully mounted, like many of the moths featured, with a great Cats Eyes score.
2: Sicario. Gritty, stylish drama with some tense set pieces and great photography by Roger Deakins.

1: Mad Max: Fury Road. George Miller’s heavy on the mad, light on the Max reboot was the best film of its type since Mad Max 2 in the early Eighties. Charlize Theron was outstanding. Best film of the year. Shiny and chrome.