Saturday, December 2, 2017

The man who invented Christmas

Director: Bharat Nalluri

Starring: Dan Stephens, Christopher Plumber, Morfydd Clark, Jonathan Pryce, Justin Edwards, Roisin Whelan

Charles Dickens (Dan Stephens) is a young writer who has enjoyed great success with Oliver Twist but has hit a writer’s block. Now in desperate need to recover from several flops and facing impending insolvency, he must come up with a winning idea for his next book. Accompanied with his good-humoured friend and unpaid literary agent, John Forster (Justin Edwards), they endeavour to survive. In a moment of defiant madness, Dickens promises his publisher he will come up with a Christmas book which is six weeks away. Drawing on inspiration from his dark childhood and interweaving them with real-life events, and his dreams and hallucinations, he invents Scrooge (Christopher Plumber), who with a host of characters, help him write A Christmas Carol. This is a charming and watchable Christmas film full of great performances from a sterling cast. A must for all but will interest all Dickens fans for it is full of Easter eggs.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

American Made

Director: Doug Liman

Starring: Tom Cruise, Sarah Wright, Domhnall Gleeson, Alejandro Edda, Caleb Landry Jones.

Based loosely on a true story of Barry Seal (Tom Cruise), an adventurer come drug smuggler caught up in the Iran-Contra Scheme of the 70s-80s. The pilot is unwittingly recruited by US dirty trick brigade to ferry ‘cargos’ between the US and the Medellin drug cartel. At a time in history when the lines of good and bad, right and wrong become blurred Seal helps the US Authorities whilst prospering as a smuggler transporting weapons to the guerrillas and in turn bringing back narcotics to the US. Inevitably things fall apart but not before Seal, the family man, tries to deal with the changing events much of which are out of his control. A good performance by Cruise makes this black comedy enjoyable as he portrays a man trying desperately to deal with the absurdity of the situation.

Monday, August 21, 2017


Director: Joel Hopkins
Starring: Diane Keaton, Brendan Gleeson,James Norton, James Smythe

This is a gentle feel good love story based on a true story of Harry Hallowes and set in modern London. Emily Walters (Diane Keaton), is a widow struggling with debt after the demise of her philandering husband. Concerned friends and son (James Norton) try to help her but only after she meets Donald (Brendan Gleeson), a bad-tempered hermit living in a handmade shack on wooded Hampstead Heath, does her life change for the good. The mismatched pair bond as they work to protect Donald’s living quarters from being repossessed. Despite the on-screen chemistry between the two leading actors a weak script prevents this film from becoming a classic English comedy. At 103 minutes the movie is overlong, but a good support cast, particularly from James Smythe, as a creepy Lothario, makes it all worth watching.

Monday, August 7, 2017

The Trip to Spain

Director: Michael Winterbottom

Starring: Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon

Neither Steve Coogan nor Rob Bryson are my most favourite actors although I accept they are very good, but just not my cup of tea. I did enjoy ‘Philomena’, otherwise not been overly impressed with their body of work. Now, it is me and both these guys are undoubtedly talented and on their third ‘trip’ movie. Coogan, now a film star based in New York, teams up with the London based Bryson on a commissioned tour through rural Spain savouring the culinary delights of selective restaurants for their respective newspapers. Not much different from their previous adventures but their ability to continue a barrage of humorous self-deprecation within the simple plots which marry both truth and fiction brilliantly is truly engaging. Sometimes you imagine a punch up almost imminent, but the likeable companions keep it light, breezy and very amusing throughout. I defy you to tell when the two are acting or improvising. The travelogue is complemented by strikingly beautiful scenery and, of course, food to make your mouth water. I did enjoy this movie.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Zookeeper's Wife

Director: Niki Caro
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Johan Heldenbergh, Daniel Bruhl

A brave couple use their Warsaw Zoo to harbour escaped Jews from the Getto. Inspired by real-life couple Antonina and Jan Zabinski (Jessica Chastain and Johan Heldenbergh), who were members of Polish high society that clandestinely, outwitted Hitler’s zoologist, Lutz Heck (Daniel Brühl), when their zoo is depleted of animals and occupied by a garrison of troops. This is an atmospheric movie with excellent cinematography, especially of the animals distressed by the initial invasion. The film has its moments however, the narrative is somewhat disjointed in places and the real human drama not always to the forefront. Sweet and sour, this is not Schindler’s List, although the gravitas of the story makes is worthy of comparison. Worth watching and could be up for some awards.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Going in style

Director: Zach Braff

Starring: Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Alan Arkin, Ann-Margaret, Christopher Lloyd , Matt Dillon

Grumpy Old men meets the Italian Job in Zach Braff’s remake of Going in Style (1979) which originally starred George Burns. The story follows, three New York septuagenarians (messers Caine, Freeman and Arking) desperate to make sense of their new circumstance as retired working men completely fleeced by the Corporate and Banking world. They decide to get their own back with a bank heist. A larger than life plot follows dotted with light humour and some pathos. Overall this is a feel-good farce with a lot of on screen laughs (more than in the trailer) thanks to screenwriter Theodore Melfi. Good on screen performances from Caine, Freeman and Arking with Ann-Margaret, Christopher Lloyd, Matt Dillon in support, keep the plot going.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Their Finest

Director: Lone Scherfig

Starring: Gemma Arterton, Sam Claflin, Bill Nighy, Jack Huston, Paul Ritter, Rachel Stirling, Helen McCrory, Richard E. Grant, Henry Goodman, Eddie Marsan, Jake Lacy, Hubert Burton, Jeremy Irons, Claudia Jessie, Stephanie

I did so want to enjoy this movie but instead found it drab and dreary at times. Based on Lissa Evans' novel Their Finest Hour and a Half, the story follows the characters involved in making an English propaganda film during World War II. Midst the mayhem of the London Blitz in 1940, the Ministry of Information's film division decide to make a morale boasting picture. Mousey, Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton) lives with a wounded veteran Ellis (Jack Huston), who is a struggling artist. To make ends meet she get a job and almost by accident the copywriter finds herself matched with head screenwriter Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin) to craft the story and script a movie based on the Miracle of Dunkirk. The film within the film is loosely based on (actual) events of young twin sisters who travelled on their father's boat to Dunkirk to try to rescue a family friend. Unfortunately, things did not go quite to plan, but when the twins make shore with some evacuees on board, the newspapers ignored the truth and make the girls out to be heroes. Catrin embellishes the storyline further and production of the propaganda movie is set in motion. It is a busy plot and the movie is really a love story. Bill Nighy is delightfully droll as faded thespian Ambrose Hilliard, coaxed into double duty as supporting ham and acting coach to the proverbial Yank, Carl Lundbeck (Jake Lacy). The supporting cast includes Jeremy Irons, Helen McCrory, Richard E. Grant, Eddie Marsan and Rachael Stirling which should have made this a brilliant film.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Hidden Figures

Director: Theodore Melfi

Starring: Taraji P Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, Jim Parsons

Based on the true story of three African-American female mathletes who overcame racial prejudice and gender bias to play a crucial role in the US space race. Katherine Goble Johnson (Taraji P Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) are part of the "colored computers": a group of mathematically literate African American women used by NASA to beat Russia in the Space Race. Toiling within a segregated organisation, their initial, race-based confinement gradually gives way as their talents draw them deeper into the mathematical action needed to get the rockets off the launch pad and thus keep pace in the space race with the Russians. NASA director, Al Harrison (Kevin Costner) is a gruff authoritarian who has no truck with racism when there is a job to be done. Marginally racist co-workers begrudgingly gradually accept, change has come. Good performances all round with Octavia Spencer in particular good form. The movie was shot by Australian cinematographer Mandy Walker.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Patriots Day

Patriots Day Director: Peter Berg

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Kevin Bacon, John Goodman, Themo Melikidze, Alex Wolff, JK Simmons, Michelle Monaghan, James Colby, Jimmy O. Yang

The dramatized version of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and the efforts to catch the perpetrators, pulls no punches. Eminently watchable the story unfolds through the eyes of outspoken, homicide detective Tommy Saunders (Mark Wahlberg). Gradually the plot develops to incorporate actual events in a manner both respectful and highly informative. What starts as a local cop matter quickly escalates into a massive investigative operation led by F.B.I. Special Agent Rick DesLauriers (Kevin Bacon) as in acts of terrorism, federal authority outranks local authority. Frustration between agencies is evidenced but in the end it is good police work and an intense car chase that eventually brings the two radicalized Chechen-American bombers to book. The film avoids dwelling of the deeper issues of modern anarchy and instead promotes the power of the human spirit to overcome. This is a gripping movie but long at two hours and 15 minutes running time.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Live By Night

Director: Ben Affleck

Starring: Ben Affleck, Sienna Miller, Zoe Saldana, Robert Glenister, Remo Girone, Brendan Gleeson , Chris Cooper , Elle Fanning

Set during the Prohibition, this is based on Dennis Lehane's novel, Gone Girl, and tells the story of a group of Boston hoodlums, led by Joe Coughlin (Ben Affleck). After Irish Moll and love interest (Sienna Miller) helps Coughlin with his minor crime spree in Boston, she reluctantly betrays him to her ruthless gangster boyfriend Albert White (Robert Glenister). After he is jailed for a botched bank robbery and released he joins White’s nemesis and gang rival Maso Pescatore (Remo Girone), out for vengeance. Coughlin is sent to Florida to develop the rum run with the Cubans and has to face off against the local competition, Albert White, and the Klu Klux Klan. There he meets and falls in love with and Zoe Saldana. What follows is rootin'-tootin' gangers stuff, which should have made this as good as Goodfellas or the Sopranos, but sadly it is not. Overlong at 129 miniutes, tedious dialogue, unconvincing acting, and a lack of star perfomance, all add to make this one, a big yawn.