Film review – The Post

The Post

Stars Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep, Bob Oedenkirk

Certificate 12A

Director Steven Spielberg

There are a couple of films worth watching before Steven Spielberg’s 2017 movie The Post. Classic Watergate thriller All the President’s Men, and Robert McNamara’s excellent documentary The Fog of War.

Not that you need to do any homework before diving into the maestro’s grown-up drama; the movie he shot while Ready Player One was having special effects added by artists who weren’t born when The Washington Post faced one of the biggest dilemmas of its career.

We see how, in 1966, during the Vietnam War, military analyst Daniel Ellsberg documents the progress of military activities for Secretary of Defence Robert McNamara.

While returning home, McNamara informs Ellsberg that he thinks the Vietnam war is hopeless, despite telling the Press he has every confidence in the war effort.

Years later, Ellsberg secretly photocopies covert reports documenting America’s conflict in Vietnam, and leaks them to reporters at The New York Times.

The meat of the story centres on newspaper heiress Katharine Graham, publisher of The Washington Post, and editor-in-chief Ben Bradlee.

When Bradlee’s staff receive the top secret documents, Graham has to decide whether to publish and be damned, or face prison and the closure of her paper.

That’s it. Of course in the hands of a lesser director, this could have been yawnsome, but Spielberg was a master in his early twenties. Decades later, he can do this sort of thing with one hand tied behind his back.

And while Streep is as excellent as ever as Graham, Hanks is phenomenal as Bradlee, doing that thing he does.

Whether leaning against a chair waiting for a decision, or sat with his feet on the table. Yes, he’s still good old Tom Hanks with a different hair cut, but here he seems to embody the spirit of a seasoned newspaper man. It’s a fabulous performance, but there’s still room for a little Hanks schtick to lighten the mood.

It’s also a joy to witness the old school composition of a newspaper page in the age before it was all done digitally.

And on the subject of compositions, John Williams is as outstanding as ever, delivering another powerhouse score.

The timing of The Post is no coincidence. Set in an age when Nixon was in the White House, the movie’s masterstroke is to remind us that freedom of the Press is still a necessity, especially when ’fake news’ has become the catchphrase to question everything, even when it’s the truth.

As events in Washington play out like an episode of The Man in the High Castle, (the show in which Nazis rule an alternate America), this is one of those movies worth watching a couple of times.

Yes, the sub-text about a woman operating in a man’s world is as subtle as a round of applause in a library, but it still features a sucker punch moment during the final few minutes as Streep’s character leaves court.

If you’ve not seen All the President’s Men, have it on standby to watch after, and then give The Fog of War a look.

Those extras will make a great movie even better.

8/10

Advertisements

Film review – The Commuter

The Commuter

Stars Liam Neeson, Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga

Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra

Certificate 15

One evening after a late shift, I slipped my headphones on and watched Non-Stop. It was one of the most immersive home movie experiences of recent years as the bulk of it took place on a flight, and felt like I was actually on a red eye.

The set-up was simple: troubled law enforcer Liam Neeson was going from A to B, got a mystery message and had to solve a mystery.

It was the same premise as Jodie Foster’s Flightplan, but a lot more thrilling.

And as Neeson and director Jaume Collet-Serra had struck gold with Non Stop and the earlier thriller Unknown, there was little surprise when they teamed up again for this film in three parts.

The first is mostly terrific. Neeson is Michael, an ex cop who has spent a decade commuting to a life insurance job. He knows pretty much everyone on his train. So when he gets the sack, gets drunk with some old cop colleagues (one called Alex Murphy, possibly as a nod to RoboCop’s alter ego), and goes home to break the news to his wife, his life really starts to fall apart.

His phone is stolen, but on the plus side he starts chatting to mystery woman Joanna (Vera Farmiga). No chance of any funny business as he emphasises the fact he’s married. She’s not bothered as she’s apparently carrying out a psychological study.

(Fans of Farmiga’s Source Code will get flashbacks to that superior train-based thriller).

Up to his neck in debt and with a kid off to college, the tempting carrot of a stack of cash to carry out a hypothetical task is too good to resist. When the lady vanishes, Liam/Michael goes off to find the theoretical money. And what do you know? He finds it.

Michael is soon forced to uncover the identity of a hidden passenger on the train before the last stop.

What follows is a mostly gripping thriller which mirrors the same tried-and-tested formula of Non Stop… until an ’axe’ versus axe fight scene, a runaway train sequence straight from Unstoppable, and a shark-jumping explosive set piece. When 60-year-old Liam/Michael fights with a far younger man, the movie turns into a bad Die Hard clone.

Now Liam is obviously great when the occasion demands, but during some of the fight scenes, he turns into the cringeworthy tragi-comedy character from cult 1990 offering Darkman. More ham than a butcher’s shop window.

Once the train comes to a stop, and the movie starts sounding like a send up of Spartacus, plot threads are tied up, and the lengthy finale oustays its welcome like the delayed Leeds to King’s Cross.

As Michael is unwittingly caught up in a criminal conspiracy that involves everyone on the train, you wonder how much more ridiculous things will get.

There’s a nice in-joke regarding a phone and the film Unknown, and great closing titles, but those annoying action scenes push this into the realms of farce. Neeson scrabbling around under the train is pure comedy, and again reminiscent of the time he had to race across the top of one in Darkman.

There was a first-class thriller here, and had Serra stuck to Hitchcock-style tension rather than ridiculous set pieces, it would have been a lot more successful instead of literally going off the rails.

The special effects aren’t bad, but for the most part it looks like a video game cut scene. Too many elaborate camera moves, such as a pull-back through the entire train, which would have looked dated in 2008.

Perhaps best to watch the first half, and when things start getting (really) silly, turn it off and watch the original version of The Lady Vanishes.

That’s far more satisfying because flashy camera moves and explosions are no substitute for a great story.

7/10

An Interview with Dusty and Me Director Betsan Morris Evans and Actor Ian Hart 

An Interview with Dusty and Me Director Betsan Morris Evans and Actor Ian Hart

By Roger Crow

Dusty and Me is the 1970s-set tale of one young man and his adopted dog. Roger Crow visited the East Yorkshire set and spoke to director Betsan Morris Evans and star Ian Hart.

Betsan, what attracted you to the movie?

“I love the story. I love the fact it was a picture set in the north, and not in a ’It’s grim up north’-type way.

“It has a fairytale element, so it sort of has that Amelie-style feel to it.”

Tell us about the look and tone of the project. 

“We went with really heightened colours. We wanted to do something very distinctive. And yet the heart of it… it’s just a very strong story about a family. There’s no car chases. Nothing desperately exciting happens. And it’s about a dog and a boy, and through the dog, the boy reconnects with his family.

“Dislocation with families is very big at the moment. In the 1970s they used to take children from working class backgrounds and send the great and the good to public schools. Which made them not settle at home. And not belong at school either. So it was an interesting social experiment. This looks at that, and through this dog he gets back with his family. And not only do his family relate with him again, they also begin to relate to each other. So we’ve got resolutions of lots of relationships.”

Have you worked with any of the cast before? 

“No, and we had a very short run-up (to filming). So we were in the situation of four weeks before starting (filming), trying to find a cast. And the actors fell in love with the script. They all said ’Yes’. Which was exciting.

“We’ve had to work around Iain Glen; he’s arrived from Game of Thrones, from Madrid, and then went off to Belfast. The actors made an effort. And they’ve taken the script and run with it.”

How difficult was it having a greyhound as your star?

“Really hard. It’s not like a nice Labrador that you can say ’Sit. Lie down’. But a greyhound looks at you and goes… nothing, because they’re not interested in food, so you can’t bribe them. And they’re proper greyhounds. They race. They’re two sisters that look identical. They’re not interested in people. They’re just interested in running, when they want to run. That’s the interesting thing. It meant we had four weeks, which is short for a movie anyway, and it had dogs.”

It looks like it has an international appeal. 

“Yeah, it’s a simple story. It’s not a big, dramatic… when you think of The Full Monty, which was set against the industrial sackings and stuff like that, it doesn’t have that political weight. It’s much more in my mind about a family like in Little Miss Sunshine. That’s been our reference. And we’ve got people appearing on the screen talking to each other, which is touches of Amelie.

“We were very lucky to work with the University of York with the CGI. So they’ve made what is a small budget, a huge budget. And everyone’s pulled together.”

I let Betsan get back to work and finally meet one of my favourite actors, Ian Hart.

You may have seen him in assorted projects, including Backbeat, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Bates Motel and Boardwalk Empire.

Tell us about your character.

“I’m playing the patriarch of the family. He is somewhat disengaged with his family. So they’re all off doing other things, and he’s basically spending all of his time in the pub.

“He used to work on the docks. He’s probably on long-term compensation, whatever it was called back in the 70s. ’Governmental relief’ for having a bad back. And a malingerer. He is such a miserable sod. And the rest of the family try to be all happy and lovable, and they drag him with them. So eventually he realises there is some benefit in the love of his family. He is such a curmudgeon.”

What persuaded you to come from sunny LA to the north of England? 

“The weather,” he laughs. “As always. Perpetual sunshine is just too much. The ocean, and the mountains, the humming birds. I don’t know, it seemed like the right thing to do.

“When I met Betsan and I read the script… it’s such a nice, light-hearted piece. There’s a lot of drama that is based in misery.

“I was recently a judge at a film festival and the theme may as well have been misery. Every now and again it’s nice to leave that world behind and do something which is a little bit more light-hearted. And I seldom do that, so for me it was a good opportunity.”

You’ve appeared in so many great projects. What’s been your favourite?

“I did this thing called Five Daughters, and that’s a piece of work I’m quite proud of. I really enjoyed Boardwalk Empire; I was so glad to do that.

“I did a little bit on a pilot for Martin Scorsese; I always wanted to work with him. Sadly it was so brief. I played Led Zeppelin’s manager, Peter Grant. I got to meet Scorsese, only for a few days but nonetheless it was such a thrill. I wouldn’t say was the best performance I’ve ever given, but it was a nice experience.

As a Marvel fan, it was good to see you in Agents of Shield.

“Yeah, the anomalous things you do when you need the rent money. When I was living in LA, my rent was huge. It was the nature of the school district. I’ve got two kids so I had to live in the school district that was applicable. And with that, like everything else comes a massive rent bill. I did Agents of Shield. That paid that month’s rent. You go in and you do two of three days or whatever it was. The people are lovely, so I’ve no regrets.”

Dusty and Me is released in selected cinemas on September 28, and VoD On October 1

Dusty and Me trailer

Film review: The Disaster Artist

The Disaster Artist

Stars James Franco, Dave Franco, Seth Rogen

Certificate 15

If there’s one thing Hollywood loves more than films about itself, it’s movies about romance.

The town is filled with bruised romantics either smarting from a costly divorce or in the honeymoon phase of a new romance.

And when a film is made about a cult movie with a bromance attached, it touches a chord with every aspiring writer/producer/star who tried and failed to get a film off the ground.

In short: the underdog.

I’ve never seen The Room, Tommy Wiseau’s 2003 project regarded as one of the worst movies ever made.

Considering a passion for cult flicks, I’m surprised it wasn’t more of a blip on my radar until a few years ago when it started getting repeat screenings in Hull.

The Disaster Artist, produced, directed by and starring James Franco (as Wiseau), is inspired by said film, and proof that success can be crafted from failure.

Penned by Scott Neustadter and Michael H Weber, it’s based on Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell’s 2013 book which examines the making of Wiseau’s vanity project, a tale of love, friendship, and rejection. Had it been made for a few thousand dollars, you can understand if it suffered from a lack of quality. The Room cost a reported $6million, largely due to a huge deficit of directorial common sense.

It helps that Wiseau is such a mystery figure. Nobody knows where he’s from, how old he is or the source of his vast wealth, and while cash might buy movie cameras, it doesn’t buy the respect he craves.

It opens in San Francisco, 1998, where 19-year-old Greg Sestero (Dave Franco – a Matt Damon/Team America doppelgänger) meets Tommy Wiseau in acting classes.

Though Tommy’s eccentric performance of a scene from A Streetcar Named Desire leaves the acting coach (played by Melanie Griffith) non-plussed, Greg is inspired and the two become friends, and move to Los Angeles (where Tommy has an apartment he barely uses!) to pursue acting careers.

Though Greg lands an agent (Sharon Stone, in a cameo), Tommy’s barely coherent speech patterns and inability to take direction mean he’s less successful. However, his assorted rejections do lead to a eureka moment when his mate suggests they make a film.

This “Let’s do the show right here,” scene is the staple for countless movies, and could have been a cliche, but James Franco plays it straight. Easy enough when making a film about such an extraordinary character prone to random outbursts.

Wiseau’s script for The Room proves a baffling enigma, but as long as the cast and crew are getting paid, they go along with it.

Of course it raises key questions. If Wiseau has all this cash, why didn’t he make the movie from the word go? His answer is because he never had a friend to make it with before.

And for the actors working on such a weird film, why do they put themselves through it with such a tyrannical director?

The answer comes with a scene which touches a chord with anyone who’s ever loved making, starring in or reporting on films – a killer line from actress Carolyn Minnott (Jacki Weaver): “Even the worst day on a movie set is better than the best day doing anything else.”

Sadly for the film’s production, Greg’s romance with nightclub worker Amber (the excellent Alison Brie) leads to Tommy’s jealousy; his one friend has been snatched away, so he throws his toys out of the pram and behaves like a monster on set. It’s both hilarious and touching.

Like Tim Burton’s luminous biopic of Ed Wood, the maker of some of the worst films ever made, The Disaster Artist may focus on a bad movie, but for those who’ve had a friendship ruined through ego, or a dream of getting their vision on screen, it’s a huge success.

Not sure we needed the side-by-side comparisons between the original movie and TDA’s recreations, but that’s Hollywood for you. Like a cinematic narcissus in a hall of mirrors, it’s fascinated by an endless reflection of itself, especially the facets which are less clear than others.

8/10

Film review – The Krays: Dead Man Walking

The Krays: Dead Man Walking

Starring Rita Simons, Josh Myers, Guy Henry

Directed by Richard John Taylor

It’s almost 30 years since the Kemp brothers played London gangsters Ronnie and Reggie. Though Peter Medak’s film had its moments, ’The Krays’ proved arguably less entertaining than ’Legend’, the 2015 Tom Hardy drama in which he proved mesmerising in both roles.

Boasting a huge budget, star talent and the muscle of Brian (LA Confidential) Helgeland in the director’s chair, it was a piece of stunt casting that paid off.

I’m guessing the latest take on the story, or one of them, cost less than Legend’s catering budget, but while The Krays: Dead Man Walking is obviously a modest production, it’s not without its high points.

Terrific portentous opening titles and score (by Aztec Camera and The Smiths veteran Craig Gannon); a magnificent performance by EastEnder Rita Simons, and the ever reliable Guy Henry chewing every scene he’s in as Lord Boothby. (Sadly he’s not in it enough, so I’m hoping for a sequel featuring more of the shady character).

It centres on the Krays as they break Frank ‘The Mad Axeman’ Mitchell from Dartmoor Prison in December 1966.

Familiar faces such as Darren Day and Linda Lusardi help flesh out the story, while the siege-like feel of the drama ensures there’s plenty of tension throughout.

It’s grim, moody, violent and not for the faint of heart.

NathanJohn Carter and Marc Pickering make a good fist as the notorious twins. It helps that they don’t carry as much baggage as the Kemps or Tom Hardy, while it’s great to see Nicholas Ball making an appearance 40 years after brightening up British TVs with cult drama Hazell. (I also have a fondness for his brief turn in epic 1985 sci-fi chiller Lifeforce, but that’s another story).

Josh Myers gives an unnerving performance as Mitchell, and its achingly sad to see Leslie Grantham in his final performance.

I get the feeling this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Carter and Pickering as you know who. The movie doesn’t outstay its welcome, and while it obviously won’t be for all tastes, if you like Brit indie gangster flicks with a mean streak, this certainly passes the time, even if it does feel like a feature-length teaser for something bigger.

7/10