Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
Paddington 2 (2017)
For once a sequel that doesn't disappoint
I was hugely surprised at just how good the first film was and was tentatively cautious when this sequel was green-lighted that perhaps it might cheapen Michael Bond's beloved family friendly creation.
However, fear not, for this sequel is absolutely terrific on all levels. Firstly it is as funny and witty and as brilliantly animated as the first film. The excellent cast from the first film is also enhanced by a superb turn from Hugh Grant, who hasn't been as good as he is here in a long time. In fact it is quite clear to the viewer that Grant is thoroughly enjoying himself by playing against type and sending himself up as a faded egotistical actor and total cad who sets Paddington up to be the fall guy (or should that be Bear?) for a dastardly deed. There is a touch of the pantomime villain to his performance, but it works splendidly and it fits his character perfectly.
All the wit and heart of the first film is still evident here and in some ways, built upon. Brendan Gleeson is also excellent as an old lag and prison cook who loses his angry nature when he succumbs to Paddington's charms and talents in the kitchen. There are also loads of great jokes too, some pitched at younger children and some deliberately aimed at the more adult viewer.
All in all this is a worthy sequel and a great memorial to Paddingtons creator, Michael Bond, who died whilst this sequel was still being filmed. It is full of laughs, thrills, action sequences, great characters, some wonderful animation (one scene is an obvious nod to the 2D paper cut-outs of the human characters in the 1970s children's TV show) and you would have to have a hard heart indeed to not burst into tears at the wonderful ending. Also, don't leave the film until you watch Hugh Grant gloriously send himself up with a musical song and dance act as the end credits roll.
Thoroughly recommended to anybody who wants to see 100 minutes of family friendly fun that isn't either sickly sweet or too dark for youngsters and still thoroughly watchable to adults too. Great fun and a worthy sequel to one of the best British films in recent years.
Goodbye Christopher Robin (2017)
More than just about Winnie the Pooh
I watched this wondering if it was going to be a dull, forgettable period piece or a tedious biopic and was very surprised just how good it actually was.
This is a really solid film with good performances and nicely directed. The plot concerns the true story of the life of the young Christopher Robin and the changing relationship he has with his parents in the 1920s.
It blends the mental trauma his father has been living with since his WW1 experience, and Christopher Robin's own traumatic childhood, both of witnessing his own parent's fractious relationship and then the deep unhappiness of having his life turned upside down when his fathers book, Winnie the Pooh, becomes an enormous and unexpected worldwide hit and inadvertently makes a celebrity of Christopher Robin.
This is a film primarily about family relationships and it is extremely well written too. Will Tilston, who plays Christopher Robin at 8 years old, puts in an exceptionally competent and sweet performance that makes you genuinely feel for the character.He finds the only person who actually understands and shares his anguish is his nanny, Olive (Kelly MacDonald). Olive too notices how unhappy Christopher Robin becomes but her pleas fall on deaf ears.
The only real flaw in any of the characterizations is Margot Robbie's turn as Daphne, Christopher Robin's mother. Whilst Domnhall Gleeson's AA Milne at least has some back story to explain why his mentally tortured writer is struggling to shake off his demons and thus oblivious to his son's reluctant celebrity status, Daphne comes across as somebody who is a bit cold and shallow and has no problems with watching her son get exploited to make the book a success. This may of course be what she was really like but the film doesn't dig very deep into her character. However this is a minor quibble in an otherwise well made film.
There are moments of humour in the script and no bad language so I expect this film will appeal to older audiences as well as families. The film is also just about the right length too if you like a good old fashioned biopic/drama. There is also a moral at the heart of this tale about the need to let children have a normal childhood, which is very much applicable even now.
Despicable Me 3 (2017)
Not bad but not enough Minions (and no bananas!)
I have to say I was slightly disappointed with DM3. Whist it was amusing enough it lacked the spark that made DM1 & 2 so enjoyable. Whilst the Minions movie showed that the Minions really needed Gru to bring out the best comedy in them, DM3 showed just how thin a character Gru is without the Minions constant rudeness and slapstick to effortlessly carry things along (and I missed Dr Nefario's drollness to slow things down compared to Gru's constant showboating). There was also a feeling of compromise with several of the famous 80s pop songs in the soundtrack finishing just before the vocals started, showing the producers clumsy attempt to save money on the production budget. After the heady high of the Village People ending in DM2 I felt a bit short changed this time round and it kind of ruined the fun.
Whilst I suspect the film will do great box office and a DM4 is almost inevitable I really hope that the writers and producers look at the comments here and realise how close they came to a misfire with this film. The writing was lazy, the fun music soundtrack was poorly done and the minions were badly missed for the majority of the film.
DM1 was an unexpectedly massive hit when it first came out and it led to a superb sequel and a spin off that wasn't bad but could have been better. Unfortunately I feel DM3 is going to be a turning point, either it is the start of a decline in the material and writing or it will give Universal studios a massive kick in the butt that they could do better next time round if they want to keep the quality in the franchise. I really hope they take notice.
A Street Cat Named Bob (2016)
A film with loads of heart despite it's limitations and small budget
There is much to like about this film. For a start Luke Treadaway does a solid job as James Bowen, the lead character. But let's be honest, Bob (as himself) totally steals every scene he is in. A gorgeous ginger Tom, he is adorable and just oozes charm despite not having any dialogue. You could almost hear the audience warm to him from the first time we see him, helping himself to a box of cereal. Bob needed a home and someone to look after him and James needed Bob to find the strength to save himself and a sense of purpose in life.
The film is based on a true story and yet weirdly it suffers a bit from being too adult (in parts) to be a real family film yet it almost comes over as a severely compromised view of the world of drug addiction and thus will be a bit of a disappointment to those expecting a deep character study. In the UK the film is rated 12 so it is neither a kiddies film about a cute cat nor is it quite the Trainspotting style view of a man trying desperately to kick his drug dependency. In this regard the film falls between two stalls and despite trying hard, can never quite make up it's mind what it purports to try to be.
Roger Spottiswoode is a talented director (just look at his CV) and yet he feels a strange choice to direct this. He made the Tom Hanks comedy Turner & Hooch a long time ago so he has form of working with animals and humans but this film is a million miles (and millions of dollars) away from that Disney crowd-pleaser. Here we have a small story that must have been a very delicate balancing act to get right at the script stage, a mixture of comedy & pathos that has to be able to not offend a family audience and yet deal with a serious subject matter and the huge uphill struggle James has to deal with, his desire to get clean of addiction for once and for all. And some credit must go to the screenwriter for showing the degrading and tragic side of drug addiction without making it too overtly harrowing. If this film inspires one other person to turn their life around like Bob motivated James to do, or even stops one person turning to drugs as an escape then it will have done its job.
I should point out that the film also has a light side too, with touches of comedy alongside the seriousness. The supporting cast are all fine too, although the neighbour 'Betty' seems a little too kooky and convenient for my liking. James's support worker Val is wonderfully played out by Joanne Froggatt from Downton Abbey and fans of Mike Leigh films will also recognise Ruth Sheen popping up too. And let's not forget Anthony Head (who is always immensely likable) as James's dad and has a wonderful scene towards the end of the film when he finally shows his true feelings.
So then, this is a worthwhile film providing you aren't expecting to see a) a Garfield film or B) a Trainspotting expose of life as a drug addict. There is almost no bad language to speak of so it ticks that box too. Like I said earlier, there is a feeling of compromise to this, like the story was edited for a younger audience but that isn't necessarily a bad thing and it certainly helped James Bowen's book reach out to a mass audience and rightfully become a best seller. If this was set in the US it would certainly have a glossier feel and maybe it's touch of grittiness (partly as it was filmed on location in a grey, drab London during November-December 2015) will harm it's box-office, but as a true life human drama of inspiration with a dash of charm and loads of character then do give it a try.
Swallows and Amazons (2016)
A pleasant, inoffensive and very British film for all ages
In a summer of mostly disappointing blockbusters, this small British film sneaked in without much fanfare and is probably one of the best family films of 2016 so far.
Yes it's a remake of the 1974 film but don't let that put you off. The story has been tightened up slightly to appeal to 21st century tastes and it's all the better for it. I'm not dissing the original but audiences have changed over the last 40+ years and this film is technically well made using modern techniques but with an involving old fashioned kids spy drama at the heart of it. The film is neither puerile nor patronising and it's script is involving but relatively easy to follow. Sure, there may be some questions left unanswered for the pedantic but considering it is a PG certificate intended to appease adults and pre-teens I think it did a good job at the pacing of the story and keeping it taut.
Modern filmmaking techniques on a story set in the 1930s don't always work but here they keep the visuals flowing smoothly without being obvious and the Lake District (or should that be North Yorkshire where most of it was supposedly filmed!) looks as pretty as ever. I also found all the acting unobtrusive and competent even though Harry Enfield seemed an unusual bit of casting. Kelly Macdonald did a fine job of playing the mother, a role played by Virginia McKenna in the original but to be honest the acting all round was solid if unshowy by the cast. So then, a well scripted, well acted and well directed small scale British film that will appeal to young and old alike (with no bad language of note). Admittedly there is a bit of fisticuffs towards the end and some mild threat as would befit a story involving foreign spies with guns, but it was all good PG rated fun. It felt about the right length too, which shows it wasn't boring or an editing mess.
On the whole I can't really think of a bad thing to say about this film. I felt it was at least the equal of the original, if not a slight improvement. Maybe the viewer should watch them back to back and make up your own mind. This film may not set the box office alight and it may struggle to get a cinema release outside of the UK due to it's small scale and strong British identity, but I suspect it will turn up regularly on television for many years to come.
X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)
I think the critics have been way too harsh in this case - It's actually rather good.
As you can probably gather I thought this was another very good addition to the X-Men franchise. Whilst it doesn't hit the heady heights of Days of Future Past it still is a really good watch and I fail to see why it has had a mixed press.
Firstly I found it to have a perfectly serviceable story, with Apocalypse and his followers recruiting the very vulnerable and angry Magneto as part of his plan to destroy civilisation and rebuild it in his image. Fassbender turns in another solid performance and you really feel his pain and confusion for the Erik/Magneto character. I also thought all the supporting cast were absolutely fine in their roles, and to me Evan Peters as Quicksilver really stole the scenes he was in and makes a fine addition to the cast. The same also goes to Tye Sheridan as Scott/Cyclops, whose back story is filled in better and with more depth than it was in the Wolverine origins film.
I see the critics have been moaning about having too many characters in the film, yet I actually think it was handled better than it was in the Captain America: Civil War film. In Apocalypse the large cast do actually have something to do and contribute to the story, whereas the Captain America film felt like some were shoe horned in, which I felt made that film feel bloated and repetitive whereas this one at least get the storyline moving. I felt that Civil War felt way too long because of all the story padding yet Apocalypse, whilst also a long film, kept my interest to the end (and yes there is a post credits scene that I suspect is setting up Wolverine 3). I should also add that Apocalypse, despite it's bleak story, does have some moments of humour and wit that went down well with the audience.
I also felt the surprise appearance of Wolverine fitted in nicely with the back story that we already know, particularly the one told in X Men 2 and the Origins film, nicely closing that particular characters story arc and fitting in perfectly with the circumstances surrounding his appearance in the very first X-Men film of 16 years ago. If this is to be Wolverines final appearance with the X-men then they have given him a lovely send off.
I did find some minor flaws with the film though, particularly with the visual appearance of some of the characters and how their ages don't compute when the first X-men film of 2000 is taken into account. However, asides from that I thoroughly enjoyed X-Men Apocalypse and thought it was a solid & worthy addition to the other X-Men films. The films had spectacle, action, laughs and carried on with the journeys of the characters we have got to know and love over the past sixteen years.
The Man on the Eiffel Tower (1950)
A flawed yet hugely interesting crime thriller
I found this film a real mixed bag. Firstly there is the jaunting use of colour. It has been well documented that the negative is long lost and only two 35mm film prints of varying quality are known to have survived (the DVD is made from the best elements combined from both these prints). The film print is still quite scratched and dark in places and could probably do with a proper digital restoration but at least it is watchable, if not as easy on the eye as technicolor is.
I'm not going to go into plot details as others have already done that but I did find the film starts off quite well before the plot starts to sag quite badly in the middle and gets overly complicated, although it does pick up again towards the end when Maigret's plan starts to come together leading to the action packed finale. Also, despite receiving a major credit, Wilfrid Hyde White is in the film for one scene only so its more of a cameo than anything else.
I found the dialogue to be hugely artificial at times making it sound like bad acting rather than decent actors trying to say some rather wooden lines. Yet Maigret himself is quite wonderfully acted by Charles Laughton who plays the role just right. Whereas some of the other characters seem very contrived, Maigret has a wonderful sense of humanity and believability as a middle aged, rather rotund detective who is actually smarter than he lets on. In fact Laughton's interpretation is not a million miles away from Michael Gambon's portrayal for television 40 years later. His sense of calm and intelligence, patiently waiting for his arrogant suspect to make a mistake, is reminiscent of Peter Ustinov's unruffled Hercule Poirot.
A final word should go to the production values. Shot on the streets of Paris this film is an interesting view of how post war Paris looked, showing both the beauty of the city and the damage from the war that had finished 4 years earlier. Burgess Meredith was asked to take over directing the film three days into filming and to be fair he does a decent job, keeping the camera moving when it needs to and ensuring the audience know this is not filmed on a backlot in Hollywood. The sound is also beautifully clear too, a hard job when you consider the amount of location work involved.
All in all this film falls short of being a genuine classic due to a muddled and flabby script, bad dialogue (in places) and some overacting by some of the supporting cast. However its still has a lot going for it and is well worth a watch for Laughtons performance alone.
A slight disappointment but might please the kids
The Horrible histories series is not only very educational but also good fun. However what works in a half hour TV show is a huge struggle to work in a feature film. Whilst there are some good gags in the script, a lot of them fall very flat too and in this respect I couldn't help but compare it being like a PG rated the 'League of Gentlemen's Apocalypse' from about a decade ago. The cast try hard but apart from Damian Lewis (who seems very comfortable in a classic Errol Flynn type role) the rest of the cast do sometimes overact, mugging at the camera slightly too much for my liking. It's a shame but not a surprise because the film cannot seem to decide if it is an extended episode or going for a Blackadder style take on history and the script reflects this, as it is neither one nor the other.
Like I said, there are a few good laughs for kids and adults alike but it could have done with a few more as well. The idea of the story, of Shakespeare's pre-fame career, is a novel one and could have been a Monty Python style film for kids but somehow this effort feels a bit flat despite the best efforts of the cast. In this respect some of the blame must go on the script which sometimes lacks in places. Maybe youngsters will like it, fart gags and all, and it does make good use of its locations and period detail but it was not memorable which is a shame. However I hope the Horrible Histories team do get the chance to make another better film as this is isn't a disaster, more of a near miss.
Painted Boats (1945)
Historically important view of a way of life now long gone
There isn't much of a plot to this slightly unusual but fascinating and quite well made film that is part documentary and part soap opera. However that isn't really the point here as the film has far more worth as a snapshot of life for those families who worked and lived on the British canals in the 1940s.
Whilst the film used (mostly) professional actors, the backdrop was real and utilised lots of location filming . As I said there isn't much of a story beyond the lives of a family who live and work on a canal barge and the world they live in. The story concerns the character Mary (Jenny Laird) and her love of life working the canals as generations before her have done. She is engaged to fellow bargee Ted Stoner who dreams of putting down roots and living in a house (unlike Mary). He hopes the army will call him up and offer him a way out and a trade even though he is is supposedly exempted from the draft as well as being illiterate. His younger brother Alf (Harry Fowler) finds life on the canal exciting yet his fractured education and that of others who live like him is also very prominently addressed.
Although there is a certain amount of a 'rose tinted' view of the lives of these gypsies of the river, the film doesn't shy away from the harsh realities of their life either, especially the scene where a contract is signed but the women in the scene cannot write their name so just sign it with an 'X'.
This film works as a glimpse of a way of life that existed for the best part of 200 years. However even in 1945 the film makers could see that the writing was on the wall for the bargee way of life. The importance of the railway network and the improvement of the roads and the rise of the HGV are all addressed. The second world war was probably the last hurrah for the canal network and those who worked on it for industrial reasons. In fact the war itself may very well have prolonged its importance and therefore its existence for a few extra years as trains were needed for things like troop transport and petrol was in short supply for road vehicles because of the war effort. However by the 1950s the wide scale commercial use of lorries, the nationalisation of the railways and the post war social changes in areas such as improved housing, education and healthcare all but effectively sounded the death knell for this way of life and by the end of the 1960s the canals were of little commercial importance anymore . In this respect the film offers us an invaluable look into the final few years of life on the canals and the people who worked them.
Woman in Gold (2015)
Why all the criticism?
I fail to understand the criticism levelled at this worthy legal drama, particularly Peter Bradshaw's scathing review for The Guardian newspaper.
Helen Mirren again turns in another good performance although the real surprise is Ryan Reynolds turn as her naïve but well meaning lawyer, in over his head (just as Matt Damon was in 1997's The Rainmaker) against the state of Austria.
That this is based on a true story seems to have been overlooked by the critics. The concept that Mirren's character was trying to retrieve a famous piece of art, a painting of her aunt, that was stolen by the Nazi's and ended up in a Viennese museum resonates as just a small piece of the injustices dealt to the Jews. That the museum refuses to hand it over by trying every excuse possible resulting in a David vs Goliath showdown and the animosity that gets built up just adds to the flavour.
Yes, maybe the story has been oversimplified for the purposes of the film, and that for the sake of the story 2 years is very conveniently squashed down into a few minutes, but this is still a decent legal drama with a human interest story (told partly in flashback). I certainly enjoyed the film and so did the audience.
Perhaps the critics didn't like it because it lacked any car chases, is fairly pedestrian in its pacing or that it demonises at least some of the Austrian people, for both being complicit in pre-war anti Semitism and the lack of acknowledgement to her plight. I cannot argue with these points but then again it isn't trying to be Schindlers List either. It was probably no coincidence that the vast majority of the audience was an older audience but there should always be a place in cinema for human interest stories too. This is a film about one woman's experience of what the Nazi's did to her, her family, her friends and her attempts to at least try and redress some of the injustices dealt to her. Maybe it won't win any Oscars but I would certainly recommend it for those who like old an fashioned drama based on a true story.