January 2018~ The Greatest Showman

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of musicals. It’s also no secret that as much as I love the Les Mis stage version, I’m not a fan of the film due to the way the sound/singing was recorded. It was with some hesitation that I decided to watch The Greatest Showman.

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The film tells the life of Phineas Taylor (PT) Barnum, American Showman and the founder of Barnum & Bailey’s Circus. It isn’t true to life (though some bits are) but aims to tell a story “in the spirit of PT Barnum” and act as a celebration of humanity. Therefore the creators have taken a fair bit of artistic licence with the tale and I’m ok with that.

During the film, Barnum gathers a variety of oddities, from Fedor Jeftichew aka The Dog Boy, the world’s heaviest man (The Lord of Leeds, played by Daniel Everidge) and Shannon Holtzapffel as Prince Constantine, The Tattooed Man who all bring something different to the circus and the film itself. The recruitment scene near the start is one of my favourites.

Whilst there were great performances all around, Hugh Jackman (as PT Barnum), Keala Settle (as Lettie Lutz, The Bearded Lady), Zac Efron (as Phillip Carlyle, a character based in-part on Barnum’s real-life partner, James Bailey) and Zendaya (As Acrobat/Trapeze Artist Anne Wheeler) shone throughout. ‘Rewrite the Stars’ has to be one of the best scenes in the movie, coming a close second to the ‘This is Me’ routine, powerfully performed by Keala Settle and co. Other notable songs include the title track ‘The Greatest Show’ and ‘From Now On’.

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The only issue I had with the film is the scene set in England with Queen Victoria. To me, the actress playing her wasn’t quite right. Apart from that, it is a real, feel-good movie with a great message on inclusion. I really hope it does well during award season this year.

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The Prince Charles Cinema announced that they would be showing a sing-along version on Saturday 27th of January. I managed to get the last ticket as they sold out very quickly. I’m not a great singer. I sang in choirs and on stage in ‘Hansel & Gretel’ at The Bloomsbury Theatre in 1983/84 as a child but when my voice broke I gave up. I still enjoy it no matter how bad I sound- I blame my mother! Luckily, others at the PCC were the same. Only a few decent singers, the rest of us just “harmonised”!

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Before the film begam Toby Anstis of Heart FM Radio fame ran some competitions, gave away some freebies and held a very quick Q&A with the director of the film, Michael Gracey. Then there was a fancy dress competition; a young girl dressed as Barnum, won a hat worn (and signed by) Hugh Jackman himself.

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Then the film began. It was a fun afternoon and was so popular that the PCC have announced more screenings.

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My only gripe: for a film that promotes inclusion and equality (and has a large man as a character) why were all the freebie tee shirts only large?? At least my niece will get something to wear.

December 2017~ The Last Jedi

I’ve managed to see Star Wars: The Last Jedi quite a few times since release. The film has divided the Star Wars fanbase. The Force Awakens was criticised for being too similar to past movies. Director Rian Johnson dared to go where no one has gone before and actually make a film that was very different from the rest. Sure, it had the things we expect from a Star Wars film such as space battles, lightsaber fights, droids etc. But the direction he took for some of the characters upset many fans.

I want to address just a few key points.

Beware: Spoilers below photo.

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  1. Snoke- For me, it was good to see that Snoke was not that important to the storyline, otherwise he would just be a rehash of the Emperor/Darth Sidious. We also finally get to see an apprentice kill his master which is typical of the Sith.
  2. Leia- This is Carrie’s final performance as Leia due to her untimely death. I enjoyed watching Leia prepare Poe for leadership and hope for a fitting ending for Leia. Many people are upset by the Mary Poppins scene where Leia is blown out into space and survives by using the force to pull herself back to the ship. This isn’t the first time this has been used. Kanan and Plo-Koon (I think?) both used this skill and although Leia isn’t a Jedi, she is force sensitive and a Skywalker.
  3. Porgs- I have no issue with Porgs. They were a great solution to the problem of trying to digitally remove the thousands of puffins that inhabit Skellig Michael. Plus they were great comic relief!
  4. Canto Bight- Many people hated this. I don’t understand why. It showed the disparity in the Star Wars galaxy between the poor, downtrodden citizens and those that are profiting from the conflict itself. A situation true to most wars I would imagine.
  5. Luke- This was the best end for Luke. No longer was he the naive young farmboy, or the slightly cocky wannabe Jedi or the Jedi Knight he became in RotJ. He saw the truth that was the arrogance of the Jedi Order. He failed his own padawan (in his eyes) by believing he was too weak to resist the dark side. Like Yoda and others before him, he went into exile, withdrawing from the Force. Only when Rey appeared did he begin to doubt everything he had done. He was torn between believing that the Jedi needed to end and helping his twin sister. In our world where mental health has such a huge focus this was a good way to show that everyone, including powerful Jedi masters, are susceptible to issues such as depression and low self-confidence.

Anyway, that’s my take on it. I loved the film and can’t wait for Episode IX and the Han Solo movie. Roll on May 25th!

November 2017~ Justice League

This film has been a long time coming!

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Following hot on the heels of this Summer’s blockbuster, Wonder Woman, Justice League is easily better than any of the previous DC films with the exception of Wonder Woman.

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This next chapter in the DCEU once again stars Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne/Batman, Henry Cavill as Clark Kent/ Superman and the ever-awesome Gal Gadot as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman. This time they are joined by Jason Momoa as Arthur Curry/Aquaman, Ezra Miller as Barry Allen/The Flash and Ray Fisher as Victor Stone/Cyborg. Back as Alfred Pennyworth, Bruce Wayne’s loyal butler is Jeremy Irons, with Amy Adams returning as Daily Planet reporter and Superman’s love interest, Lois Lane. Connie Nielsen reprises her role as Queen Hippolyta from Wonder Woman.

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The film is an origin story for The Justice League and Cyborg, with only a snippet of information being given on the backgrounds of Aquaman and The Flash. This makes me think we will see individual films for them at some point (they may already have been announced and I’ve missed it!).

After the events of Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice, Bruce Wayne has found new faith in humanity. He is also feeling a lot of deep-rooted guilt about his part in the death of Superman; a death that is being mourned worldwide. An old enemy from the past has been awakened and threatens the very existence of the human race. Inspired by Superman’s selfless sacrifice, Bruce enlists the help of Diana Prince to create league of heroes to stand against this threat. Despite encountering problems in creating his team, the newly formed Justice League (a phrase never heard in the film), it may be too late to save humanity from extinction. But there is always hope…..

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The film is much more light-hearted than previous DCEU films. It was great to see Gal Gadot reprising her role as Diana/Wonder Woman for a third time (yes, I’m a huge fan), and it’s good to see that by the end of the film, her character is finally coming out of the shadows thanks to Bruce Wayne. She is a real leader and openly interacting with the public as well as being a huge inspiration to all. We also were treated to a brief visit to Diana’s home. The paradise island of Themyscira and the Amazon warriors- I’ll write no more as it will spoil things.

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Until now, I have not been a fan of Ben Affleck as Batman, but this movie has changed that opinion. Bruce is much more reflective in this movie; he’s showing and feeling his age. 20 years of fighting crime in Gotham City and the death of Superman has taken its toll. I’m predicting he recruits another Robin at some point.

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The new characters that we were introduced to worked well on the whole. I had a bit of an issue with Aquaman seemingly liking a drink a bit too much; I like a drink, just didn’t like the way it came across. Blatantly stealing items from the Batcave in front of the team didn’t sit well either for a superhero, but on the whole he was a likeable character. It was good to see his tough facade broken down, albeit unknowingly, by Diana’s Lasso of Hestia.

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Cyborg was well portrayed as an angry, untrusting, unwilling victim of experimental medical procedures by his father. Out of all the characters, Cyborg probably has the most development over the movie. I thought he was a bit of an ass when the film first started, but that soon changed.

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Ezra Miller’s Barry Allen/The Flash was the one character I didn’t like in the trailers. It goes to show how misleading trailers can be. Yes, Barry was used a lot for comic relief, but there was so much more. The backstory with his dad, who is in prison for murder, and Barry’s mission to save him sits nicely in the background for future use I believe.

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If I had one criticism, it’s that we didn’t see enough of Mera, Aquaman’s Atlantean counterpart. What we did see of Amber Heard in the role was good, I just wish there had been more.

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It’s obvious which scenes were shot by original director, Zack Snyder and which were shot by Joss Wheedon. It doesn’t detract too much from the movie and when you think of the reason for change of director, you can understand it.

The ending was a bit rushed, but I have seen that in lots of films of late so it seems to be a trend. It did its job and told the story, so won’t mark it down too much for that.

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I would happily see this film again and can’t wait to add it to my blu-ray collection. It is definitely worth seeing on the big screen, so catch it while you can and make sure you stay for the two mid-credit scenes!

Finally, here’s a random Wonder Woman from the film. Just because I can…..

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November 2017~ The Death of Stalin

The Death of Stalin is a period comedy that tells the story of the aftermath of the death of Russian dictator, Joseph Stalin.

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The story begins at the studios of Radio Moscow where a Mozart concerto has just finished. Stalin calls and demands a recording which means that they have to start all over again. This opening sequence sets the scene well and shows how the Russian people were terrified of Stalin and lived in fear of his death squads. The film continues with his death and the power struggle that ensues amongst the high-ranking officials in Moscow. The story is based on true events, though those events took place over a matter of months, not days as it is in the film.

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The performances by the lead actors is what really makes the film. Adrian McLoughlin briefly plays Joseph Stalin as a bit of an east-end thug, very Kray like. Michael Palin plays Vyacheslav Molotov, a noted diplomat who comes across as a bit weak but in reality is very manipulative. Jeffrey Tambor as Malenkov, Stalin’s weak-minded deputy and successor brings an incompetence to the role that is at times cringe worthy and also hilarious. Simon Russell Beale does a stellar job as the bad guy, Lavrentiy Beria. Also making appearances are Paul Whitehouse, Paddy Considine, Dermot Crowley, Richard Brake, Andrea Riseborough and Rupert Friend.

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Two people stood out for me. Steve Buscemi as a very Americanised, Russian-Nucky Thompson Nikita Khrushchev, whilst Jason Isaacs plays General Georgy Zhukov as a brusque Yorkshireman type. Jason also had the best line in the film- “Did Coco Chanel take a shit on your head?”

If you like period comedy, or any of the actors in it, then go and see it. It’s well worth it and you’ll be laughing (sometimes inappropriately) from the outset.

Footnote: I saw the film at the Odeon Covent Garden.

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I’ve not been to this cinema since it was an ABC. It’s a great little cinema with pleasant staff. Its also one of the nicer Odeons, as some that I have been to have fallen into disrepair or have been demolished (RIP Odeon Marble Arch).

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There are a few classic posters on display as well as two quirky model hands. One belonging to Robert Carlyle and the other to Sir Michael Caine.

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I must find out more about these at some point.

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If you are in the West End and don’t want to deal with the mad crowds in Leicester Square, then take a ten-minute walk to the Odeon Covent Garden on Shaftesbury Avenue- you can’t go wrong!

October 2017~ Blade Runner 2049

Set 30 years after the original film, Blade Runner 2049 is a worthy sequel to what is now considered to be a cult-classic.

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This film focuses on Officer K, a Blade Runner in LA in the year 2049. K stumbles upon something when ‘retiring’ a replicant that was on the run. Something that makes him question who he really is and leads him in search of one of the most successful Blade Runners- Rick Deckard, played once again by Harrison Ford.

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As with the first film it leaves the viewer with questions. It is a story that yet again makes you question what it is to be human and have a soul.

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The visuals in this film are amazing and the creative team have done well to match the dystopian look of LA from the first film and also make it look environmentally worse. Denis Villeneuve has done an amazing job thanks to Hampton Fancher’s (co-writer of the original Blade Runner) screenplay. The story itself fits nicely into the world originally created by Philip K Dick in the book ‘Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep’ on which the original movie was based. Apart from Harrison Ford, Edward James Olmos briefly returns to the role of Gaff, complete with origami unicorns but minus the cityspeak. Sean Young also puts in a brief appearance as Rachel.

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This epic film needs to be scene on the big screen to do justice to all the visuals and the great soundtrack. If you haven’t seen it and you loved the original, then what are you waiting for?

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August 2017 ~ War for the Planet of the Apes

I’ve been a fan of The Planet of the Apes franchise from a very young age as you can see from the picture below…

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….and I still have a few Simian friends right now.

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Back in 2001 I was happy to hear that Tim Burton was attempting to reboot the series, however, like many others I was very disappointed with the film. Then in 2010, Rise of the Planet of the Apes was announced and like many, I was very dubious.

Luckily, the film turned out well, and had lots of nods to the original film with Charlton Heston. You can find a list of those easter eggs here:

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Then a couple of years later came the sequel, which only had a few callbacks, mostly just repeats of the previous film. It didn’t follow on straight after the events of the first film but instead used a time-jump to explain the story in between films and to introduce the Simian Flu backstory in full.

In 2016 another sequel was announced. War for the Planet of the Apes. It was released in July 2017. Again this film utilised a time-jump at the start and to move the story on a few years.

By now the apes have established a settlement in the forest outside of San Francisco. Caesar has re-established control over the ape population after the events of the previous film with Koba and the ape-coup. That is until humans rear their ugly heads and start causing trouble.

I’m not going to go into the full plot details as that would spoil it, but suffice to say the story was enjoyable with lots of action. There is also a great deal of humour from a new ape character called ‘Bad Ape’ who reminds me of US comedian, Jerry Lewis.

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Even though this rebooted series of ‘Apes’ films was supposed to stand alone from the originals, I can see it all tying in nicely with the original Charlton Heston film from 1968.

The CGI gets better with each film and I look forward to the story being wrapped up in the as-yet-untitled fourth film.

There were lots of easter eggs in this film too, including the introduction of a new character, a mute-human child who is rescued by Maurice the Orangutan. The child (played by Amiah Miller) was named Nova which is a call back to the original Nova played by Linda Harrison.

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The Alpha/Omega military group led by Woody Harrelson links back to the Alpha-Omega cult in ‘Beneath the Planet of the Apes’.

In the original film, all of the humans (except the three astronauts) were mute. In the new film it is starting to happen to humans.

Obviously Caesar is a callback to Roddy McDowall’s other ape character from ‘Conquest of the Planet of the Apes’ but in this new film, the latest Caesar has a son called Cornelius- McDowall’s character in the original movie.

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Then there is the beach scene at the end which harkens back to the original scene with Taylor/Nova or horseback, only this time it’s the apes and Nova on horseback. In both scenes the main character (Taylor/Caesar) is riding toward their destiny.

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Finally, there is the doll, which in the original, serves to prove to Dr Zaius that there was an older, human civilisation before the apes. In the newer film it serves a much different purpose.

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If you are a fan of the ape films. go and see it. If you like action/sci-fi films, go and see it. It’s a good solid movie that I would happily see again. It probably won’t win any major awards (unless it’s for CGI) but nevertheless it’s worth a watch!

July 2017 ~ Dunkirk

“Rolls-Royce Merlin engine. Sweetest sound you could hear out here.”

I don’t claim to be a professional film critic, quite the opposite. I like to talk about my views on films that I have seen. Sometimes I agree with others, sometimes not. Filmgoing is a very personal experience for me (which is why I like to go alone) and I know that films affect people in different ways and that is what makes them special.

I always see films more than once. If I don’t it normally means that I disliked it so much it’s not worth a second viewing. The first time I see a film I concentrate on the story. Does it make sense? Are there huge, gaping plot holes? That kind of thing. The second time I pay more attention to how it was shot, the acting, soundtrack etc. If I do see a film multiple times (For example: Rogue One 7 times and Wonder Woman 9 times) then I must REALLY have enjoyed it!

On to Dunkirk by Christopher Nolan (Director of Interstellar, The Dark Knight Trilogy, Inception) It will be short, spoiler-free review (I hope!).

I really enjoy war films based on real events, providing they are as accurate as is possible. I know that time constraints mean that events have to be condensed or altered slightly and I’m fine with that as long as they are accurate as possible. One example of this are two films based on the same event, The Battle of The Alamo. One of the most popular films based on this event was the 1960 movie starring John Wayne. Whilst this was a good, entertaining movie, it was highly inaccurate. The 2004 version of the story, directed by John Lee Hancock (No relation) was much more accurate. The director had taken the time and effort to do his research. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a lot more accurate than The Duke’s version.

My initial worry with Dunkirk was that it would be sensationalised like many of today’s films, so I purposely avoided any teaser/trailer, right up to the final 4-part trailer that was released back in April this year. I was able to see the film without knowing a great deal which was a bonus.

My first screening was in 70mm at The Odeon Leicester Square. I can wholeheartedly say this is the best way to see the film. There is so much going on over such a wide area that it needs 70mm to do it justice.

What struck me first about the film was the soundtrack by Hans Zimmer. There wasn’t a loud score, drowning out dialogue as can sometimes happen. Don’t get me wrong, it works for certain films like Star Wars but with Dunkirk I think it would have taken away from the story. There was a soundtrack, but it was subtle enough to not distract. The volume was just right. For example, the track “Supermarine” which played over the dog-fight was at the perfect level to really enhance the scene.

The second thing that  struck me was the dialogue, or should I say lack of. Sometimes I’m sure that scriptwriters and directors put in dialogue just for the hell of it and it can come across as cheesy (ahem George Lucas!). Not here. There was dialogue when needed. I don’t want to say more as it will spoil it.

The story was great. It takes place over three time periods, based on different locations. The first was ‘The Mole’ (Similar to a breakwater, to protect harbours) which took place over the course of a week. The second was ‘The Sea’ which focussed on the Small Vessels Support and takes place over the course of a day. The third and final location was ‘The Air’ which focussed on a small group of fighter pilots and takes place over the course of an hour. By the end of the film, these three intricately woven stories have all become one and makes, for me, a moving, accurate as possible, story about sacrifice, loss and the stubbornness of the British people during World War 2 and Operation Dynamo.

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The visuals are breathtaking. From the scenes on the beach or at The Mole, to the sky and down to the sea. There are times you will find yourself holding your breath.

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Stand out performances by Sir Kenneth Branagh, James D’Arcy, Mark Rylance and Aneurin Barnard. But, the best two performances throughout the whole film, for me, were Cillian Murphy as the shell-shocked soldier, and Tom Hardy as Farrier, the Spitfire pilot who could give across so much emotion during this film with just his eyes…

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The one performance that I thought was hyped-up by the media was Harry Styles. He just didn’t do it for me. It wasn’t that it was a bad performance, it was that anyone could have done it in my opinion.

Keep an ear out for a special voice-cameo by Sir Michael Caine.

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If you can, see it in 70mm at The Odeon and receive a free-film strip!

I’ve seen it twice. Will I see it again? Most definitely!

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