Archive for Film & DVD Reviews

Bowie: The Man Who Changed the World (2016)

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Bowie: The Man Who Changed the World (2016)

1h 25min | Documentary, Biography, Music | 9 May 2016 (UK)
 
Genres: Documentary
Director: Sonia Anderson
Starring: David Bowie, Lawrence Myers, Paul Nicholas
Supporting actors: Dana Gillespie, Mary Finnigan, ‘Whispering’ Bob Harris, Clive Langer, Chris Sullivan, Breege Collins, Angie Bowie
Studio: Under The Milky Way
 
 
There are things to like in this documentary. It offers some of insight into a very complex, multi-faceted and creatively restless man. A man stimulated by new ideas and experiences. It features interviews with Bowie himself and people who knew him (if you ever could!). The documentary is fascinating because the subject never ceased to amaze, entertain and, at times, baffle us.
 
Bowie was a versatile innovator who had a huge impact on popular culture. Everyone saw the waves emananting from what he did but Bowie the man was a mystery. This documentary doesn’t solve that mystery but the interviews do give us some glimpses of the character behind the creativity.
 
For me the most interesting part was the first part dealing with his early life. Both Dana Gillespie and Mary Finnigan paint a bleak picture of his homelife.
 
Mary Finnigan says of Bowie’s mother “she was very stiff, very starchy, you had no chance of getting to know her properly, very reserved”.
 
Dana Gillespie speaks of visit to his home – “a cold house” “it was like walking around with cement blocks on your shoulders” and reveals Bowie said “Whatever it takes I want to get out of this place. I never want to grow up here”.
 
The rest really charts his escape to and triumph in a different world. There are some great Bowie moments. The 1976 interview with Russell Harty is very funny. Harty tries sarcasm on Bowie but he more than meets his match. The interviews with close friends and business associates can be informative. I had no idea that when he was broke he auditioned for the musical Hair! or how hands on he was on different aspects of his stage productions like lighting.
 
There is some great information in this documentary but it does jump around in terms of timeline and isn’t well structured. The images don’t always match the story being told and some are overused. My other big criticism is the complete lack of Bowie music which I’m guessing was down to not reaching agreement with the Bowie estate.
 
I saw this on Netflix so if you’re on there check it out. Would I buy it if I wasn’t on Netflix? On balance yes because, as a Bowie fan, despite my criticisms, it is worth watching.
 
Reviewed by Pat Harrington
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 Sicario 2: Soldado (2018) 

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Josh Brolin in Sicario 2: Soldado. Photograph: Allstar/Columbia Pictures

Sicario: Day of the Soldado (original title)
15 | 2h 2min | Action, Crime, Drama | 29 June 2018 (UK)
Director: Stefano Sollima
Writer: Taylor Sheridan 
Starring
Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, Isabela Moner, Catherine Keener, Jeffrey Donovan, Elijah Rodriguez, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Matthew Modine, Shea Whigham

Sicario 2 is a bleak film. It breathes hopelessness. The subject matter is the failed U.S. war against the Mexican drug cartels as in Sicario 1. The Spanish word “sicario,” means hit man or contract killer. It’s difficult to know if the government agents or the cartel gangsters are being referenced. Perhaps it describes both. In Sicario 2 what few rules there were have been torn up as the drug cartels have smuggled ISIS terrorists over the border. One kills himself and takes out members of a US border patrol and another makes it across to take part in a bomb attack on a crowded supermarket.

US secretary of defense (Matthew Modine) orders a dirty war. The man for the job is obvious – Matt Graver (Josh Brolin). He has few moral qualms and likes to get the job done. Matt has a plan – divide and rule. He wants to get the cartels fighting each other and plans murder and kidnapping to provoke that. Alejandro Gillick (Benicio Del Toro), a US black-ops ally with a grudge against the cartels is reactivated to help.

The main part of the story centres on the kidnapping by the US black-ops team of Isabel Reyes, played by Moner (the daughter of a Cartel leader) and the fall-out from that. Another story that intersects concerns another teenager Miguel Hernandez (Elijah Rodriguez), a Mexican-American boy with a family on both sides of the border who joins a gang of human traffickers. Sicario 2 emphasises the profitability of human trafficking and the cartels involvement. This depiction of crime, terrorism and migration has proved uncomfortable for some in the US as it may resonate with those who want to build a wall to keep people out!

There aren’t any conventional heroes in Sicario 2. It’s clear that this war will go on and on with brutal inhumanity the norm on both sides. This is underscored by the score by Hildur Gudnadottir. It’s relentless and fills you with dread and foreboding. The Beast from Sicario (2015), written and Performed by Jóhann Jóhannsson, is played over and over again.

The ending was unconvincing and out of keeping with the tone of the Movie and the likely actions of those inhabiting this shady, amoral world. Far happier than I expected though still depressing!

Reviewed by Pat Harrington

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Love, Simon (2018)

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Love, Simon is a ground-breaking film aimed at a mainstream audience

PG-13 | 1h 49min | Comedy, Drama, Romance | 16 March 2018 (USA)
Director: Greg Berlanti
Writers: Elizabeth Berger (screenplay by), Isaac Aptaker (screenplay by) |
Stars: Nick Robinson, Jennifer Garner, Josh Duhamel

Simon Spier (Nick Robinson) is a 17-year old with a secret. Simon has “a perfectly normal life” in all ways but one: Simon is gay. The emphasis should be more on the perfect thant the normal in that last phrase though! His parents (played by Josh Duhamel and Jennifer Garner)are a loving, understanding couple and he even gets on well with his Sister! Problems that many teenagers grapple with are absent from this film.

This does enable the film to focus on the central theme but it is at the expense of realism. Love, Simon has one scene where Simon imagines a college life which includes highly choreographed group dancing to a gay anthem. The rest of the film isn’t so divorced from reality but it isn’t too far off.

Love, Simon isn’t gritty. It’s very vanilla, family-friendly and a PG-13. Warning: There is gay kissing but nothing beyond that! There isn’t much depiction of straight sex either! Everyone is fairly well-behaved!

Don’t get me wrong though, the film is entertaining and well written. It engages your interest in the central mystery very well. Simon sees a posting on a school gossip forum from another student ‘Blue’ who says he is gay but nervous about ‘coming out’ openly. Simon spends much of the movie trying to figure out who this might be. The audience is carefully kept in the dark with Blue’s postings being read by different voices throughout the film, depending on who Simon suspects he might be at a particular point.

There are also some great supporting roles. I found the vice-principal (Tony Hale) very funny, the drama teacher (Natasha Rothwell) engaging and out-and-proud classmate Ethan (Clark Moore) a good counterpoint to Simon.

At heart Love, Simon is a rom-com. I went with my daughter to see it at a special screening and I think that the main audience for it will actually be teenage girls.The film may be criticised for it not confronting issues of homophobia head-on but it’s not that kind of movie – it isn’t dark and it’s aiming at communicating to a mainstream audience. It’s a groundbreaking film which deals with an important issue. It’s better than a lot of teenage films of the same genre as it has good humour, a clear plot and does make you think about how difficult it could be for a teenager dealing with their sexuality in a society which can still be unaccepting of difference.

Editorial note: Love, Simon is based on Becky Albertalli’s 2015 novel was called Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda.

Reviewed by Pat Harrington

 

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Darkest Hour (2017)

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Hitler is at the height of his power in 1940. His forces are pushing aside opposition in France and Belgium and the British are retreating. An invasion of Britain is a real possibility. It’s not just the ‘other side’ the new wartime leader Winston Churchill has to worry about either. Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup) and Halifax (Stephen Dillane), think that the best hope is a deal with the Nazis and and are plotting (seemingly with some approval from the King, George VI, at least at first) to undermine Churchill’s cabinet.

Churchill is the hero of this film and his many faults are downplayed. There is reference to his poor judgment and Galipolli and we do get a taste of his ruthless streak when he sacrifices troops like disposable pawns.

His extreme political views on certain topics are not referenced. As far on as 1937, then aged 62, he justified mass genocide of indigenous peoples on the grounds of white supremacy, announcing to the Palestinian Royal Commission: “I do not admit […] that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America or the black people of Australia.

“I do not admit that a wrong has been done to these people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher-grade race, a more worldly-wise race, to put it that way, has come in and taken their place.”

That was nothing new for Churchill. In December 1910, aged 36, Churchill wrote to prime minister Herbert Asquith warning of the “unnatural and increasingly rapid growth of the feeble-minded and insane classes” (general terms then used to describe the mentally ill and impaired).

Their rapid growth, he asserted, together with the “steady restriction [of the] thrifty, energetic and superior stocks” (folks like himself, of course), constituted “a national and race danger which it is impossible to exaggerate.”

He argued that they should be “sterilised” or “segregated under proper conditions so that their curse died with them and was not transmitted to future generations.”

As home secretary in 1911 he brought the artillery on to the streets of east London in a somewhat onesided battle to deal with Latvian anarchists in the siege of Sydney Street.

In 1910 he ordered the military into Tonypandy to support local police and authorities in quelling disorder and the strikes of the miners.

When Iraqis and Kurds revolted against British rule in northern Iraq in 1920, Churchill, then secretary of state at the War Office, said: “I do not understand the squeamishness about the use of gas. I am strongly in favour of using poison gas against uncivilised tribes. It would spread a lively terror.”

In the 1926 General Strike Churchill edited the government’s newspaper, the British Gazette, and used it to put forward his anti-union and anti-Labour views.

Before the War he even had a good opinion of Fascism and Hitler.

He wrote to Mussolini: “What a man! I have lost my heart! […] Fascism has rendered a service to the entire world […] If I were Italian, I am sure I would have been with you entirely.”

As late as 1935 he wrote of Hitler: “If our country were defeated, I hope we should find a champion as indomitable to restore our courage and lead us back to our place among the nations.”

In 1943, a famine broke out in Bengal and up to three million people starved to death. He bluntly refused any aid, raging that it was the Indians’ own fault for “breeding like rabbits.”

Of course these views, which jar with our values today, were far from unusual at the time. The past is another country. That’s not to say that there were not many even then who would have had an opposed view. There were. Let’s hope that some of those who go to see the film take a closer look at the history behind it.

He was certainly a bastard but to use the Sumner Welles phrase he was “our bastard” – at least during the War. He is described as the one UK politician who frightened Hitler and, perhaps, that is true. He was also, in my view, right on the likely outcome of appeasement.

The film does present Churchill as the contradiction he was. This is brought out in scenes with his long-suffering wife Clemmie (Dame Kristin Ann Scott Thomas) and family as well as scenes with his secretary, Elizabeth Layton (Lily James).

An underlying theme of the film is the power of language and the importance of oratory. There are many scenes where we see Churchill mobilise the English language and send it to war (as Halifax puts it). Oldman’s Golden Globe-winning performance is forceful and effective and Churchill’s speeches have lost nothing of their persuasive and stirring qualities through his delivery.

Reviewed by Pat Harrington

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Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

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15 | 1h 55min | | 12 January 2018 (UK)

This is a dark film dealing with big issues.
Mildred Hayes (Frances McDonagh) is a mother whose daughter was raped and murdered.
One year on and the police have made no progress and have no leads.
She hires three billboards to call out the police and the popular Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) on their inability to catch the killer. Mildred is forthright in her views telling the local news channel: “My daughter Angela was murdered 7 months ago, it seems to me the police department is too busy torturing black folk to solve actual crimes.” She’s a tough woman with a fractured heart and she is angry. Very, very, angry.
You can feel the pain emanating from Mildred. We aren’t invited to sympathise with her, but you can’t help but understand the pain she is enduring and understand the drive she has for revenge, not just on the unknown killer, but on the community and institutions that don’t seem to care. That’s the root of her decision to hire the billboards.
This act has many consequences and shines a light on the divisions, hypocrisy and narrow mindedness of the small community. Most of the community don’t like the billboards and want Mildred to shut-up. They try to pressure and bully her into taking the boards down. They also put pressure on the agency that hired her the boards.
The local police are an unlovely bunch. Their Chief says that if he sacked all the racist cops in his force he’d have a handful left and they would all hate “fags”. One of these racist Cops, Dixon (Sam Rockwell), does all in his power to disrupt the billboard campaign and his violence and crude hatred are difficult to stomach. As his character develops, however, you start to have some sympathy with him for what has made him what he is and the fact that he is strong enough to begin to change. The way Dixon is developed shows how nuanced the film is.
Mildred comes over as one determined lady. She has suffered domestic abuse, the death of her daughter and virtually a whole town that hates her. Her allies, like her, aren’t at the centre of the community, they have little power and are marginalised and ill-treated.
There’s a lot of profanity in this film and the violence is raw but it is a story that is telling a truth.
There are excellent performances from the cast, and the film picked up four Golden Globe awards including Best Picture, Best Screenplay, Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor.
It also has an evocative American based soundtrack.

 

Reviewed by Pat Harrington

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The Last Jedi (2017)

WARNING – MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS

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Some have seen symbolism of a wider view of The Force in this poster

This film was great. Audiences seem to have liked it too. It received a Cinemascore of “A,” exactly the same as The Force Awakens and Rogue One, and its average rating from moviegoers surveyed by Comscore was five out of five stars. In its opening weekend alone it grossed $220,009,584. Worldwide it has grossed $892,107,89 so far. I was surprised, therefore, at some of the hostile reactions to it online. What may lie behind that says more about our society than the film.

Dave Schilling points out at Birth Movies Death The Last Jedi can be seen as a metaphorical depiction of the baby boomer generation (a generation that featured a lot of white men — good and bad — in positions of power) handing off leadership roles to younger generations, particularly millennials, who tend to be more racially diverse and to advocate having more women in positions of power. The good guys are a young white woman, a black man, a woman of Asian descent, and a Latino man, while the bad guys are two white men.

Of course there are many other criticims relating to the plot itself. To give one example, Finn and Rose’s journey to the casino planet of Canto Bight is seen by some as an unnecessary diversion from the main plot. It’s certainly something you can make a case for although I take a different view. To me the corruption of Canto Bight (whose wealth is based on selling armanents to both The First Order and The Resistance) is clearly intended to provide the moral core – the contrast between the Jedi and everyone else (including the Rebels, to a degree). Perhaps that needs restating because of the suggestion that Skywalker wants to create something new embracing both the light and the dark (embracing “a larger view of the Force”). Some have even seen a symbolism of this in the first poster. Here it is depicted by Luke’s face (light side) on one side, Kylo Ren’s (dark side) on the other, with Rey in the middle separating the two and her lightsaber going from blue to red. Or so some say! So, I don’t see the visit to Canto Bight as a diversion but a small part of the film that helps you understand the rest.

This is a good movie which has a substance to it that makes you think. The action scenes are great, particularly the space battles between the bad guys and The Resistance. The fight scenes are also worthy of mention, particularly the Throne Room scene.

It was great to see Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia) again, sadly in her last role and, of course, Mark Hamil (Luke Skywalker) as a sullen, bearded recluse who has lost faith in the Jedi. Both provoked suprisingly emotional reactions in me. Real sadness in the case of Leia and disappointment, at least at first, in Skywalker.

My major criticism of the film is that the Dark Side of the Force was just not Dark enough! That’s probably, partly, because the likes of Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine/Darth Sidious are such tough acts to follow. It’s also because Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is just too clean-cut and boyish to convince as a villain. I guess I expect my villains to be more rugged!The most interesting thing about Kylo Ren is his ambivalence toward the Light and Dark, the Sith and Jedi. In both The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi we see that. Is that fully milked as a theme. In The Last Jedi it seems that Rey could win him over but I don’t think the turmoil in Kylo was ever fully developed as a theme. There was just not enough tension.

Still, despite any flaws, this is a great film with and ensemble cast (special mention of Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Vice-Admiral Amilyn Holdo (Laura Dern).

Reviewed by Pat Harrington

Cast and Crew

Director: Rian Johnson
Writer: Rian Johnson
Actors: Mark Hamill
Carrie Fisher
Adam Driver
Daisy Ridley
John Boyega
Oscar Isaac
Lupita Nyong’o
Andy Serkis
Domhnall Gleeson
Anthony Daniels
Laura Dern
Benicio Del Toro
Peter Mayhew
Producers: Kathleen Kennedy, Ram Bergman
Composer: John Williams

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Suburbicon (2017)

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Director:George Clooney
Produced by:George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Joel Silver, Teddy Schwarzman
Writer(s):Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, George Clooney, Grant Heslov

 

Suburbicon is a very disappointing film. On paper it looks great with George Clooney directing Matt Damon in a film script originally written by the Coen Brothers and reworked by Cooney and his collaborator Grant Heslov.  Clooney and the Coens have had some big hits  with O Brother, Where Art Thou? to Intolerable CrueltyBurn After Reading, and Hail, Caesar! so the benchmark is set high It is billed as a dark comedy set in a 50s surburb. We are promised another look at the dark underbelly of middle-class America – a popular theme in Hollywood done much better in Blue Velvet.

There are two strands to the plot. First a murder mystery and second opposition to a black family moving in. How the two are connected is unclear and that is just one of the problems of the film.

The murder mystery around the Lodge family (Matt Damon, Julianne Moore and Noah Jupe) and  is very predictable.  Jupe as the son of the family stands out.  Oscar Isaac also deserves a mention for a great performance as an Insurance Investigator.

The characters of the black family under siege, the Mayerses (Leith M. Burke, Karimah Westbrook and Tony Espinosa) are not developed. It’s said that the basis is the real-life case, that of the Myers family, who arrived in Levittown, Pennsylvania, in 1957 but there is no feeling of truth or reality to the tale told in Suburbicon.

There are very few times when the script makes you really unsettled and delivers the kind of chills that would raise it above the mundane. Only, at times, when Lodge Snr is justifying himself to his son does it hit the right note. Little wonder then that Suburbicon did not do as well as expected at the box office and was, in the main, a critical flop.

Reviewed by Patrick Harrington

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