Just Been Watching…(115)

Alien Covenant (2017)

***No spoilers***

I loved the original ‘Alien’ (1979). Then along came ‘Aliens’, seven years later. Still good, more action, but in my opinion it wasn’t as breathtakingly original at the first film. Well it couldn’t be, I know that. We had already seen the ‘monster’.

‘Alien 3’ (1992), and ‘Alien Resurrection’ (1997) looked to be in danger of milking the franchise, proving that you can have too much of a good thing.
(They even mixed things up, with ‘Alien versus Predator’, in 2004)

Then along came ‘Prometheus’, in 2012. This had more story, less terror, and some interesting ideas. The critics panned it, and the fans didn’t much like it either.

But I LOVED it.

When they made a sequel to ‘Prometheus five years later, I was sniffy about it.
I didn’t go to see it, and thought they had started that ‘milking’ all over again.

This week it was on TV, and I thought ‘Why not? It won’t cost me anything’.

In the film, the huge spaceship ‘Covenant’ is on a mission to take settlers to a distant planet that will support human life. There are thousands of them in ‘hyper-sleep’ for the seven year journey, and the ship is being controlled by ‘Mother’, an artificial intelligence. Helped by ‘Walter, an android life form that stays awake to undertake routine duties. They are on a one-way trip to establish a new colony, far from Earth.

A radio signal disrupts the ship’s systems, and the crew have to wake up, and deal with it. They discover it is emanating from an unknown planet, much closer than their destination. A planet that can support human life. The inexperienced Captain decides to investigate, and thing begin to go very wrong once the landing team arrives.

This is very much a sequel to ‘Prometheus’, featuring answers to things that happened at the end of the previous film. Yet it also stands alone, if you haven’t seen that film. It’s an ‘Alien’ film, so you can expect to see the familiar acid-blooded monsters that always turn up. You also get to see a lot more about those very large ‘humanoids’ from ‘Prometheus’ too.

With no spoilers, that’s about it. Some people die, some live, and there are lots of ‘WTF?’ moments involving the terrifying Alien monsters. If you have seen any of the films, you more or less know what to expect, with not that much of a twist this time. And no Sigourney Weaver, either. Michael Fassbender does well, playing identical androids. One is evil, the other kind. He acts with enough nuance that we always know which one we are watching.

If you liked ‘Prometheus’, (or was that just me?) you might want to know what happened next.

I did, and I really enjoyed this sequel too.

Here’s a trailer.

Film Review: ‘1917’

‘1917’ (2019)
***No spoilers***

It is not often that I get to see a current film that has just been released in the cinema. But I thought this WW1 epic from Sam Mendes warranted a trip into town to see it on the big screen.

Sadly, my local 3-screen cinema decided to show the film in Screen 3, the smallest one they have. I complained to the ticket lady, saying it should be on Screen One, with has a conventional big-screen experience. She advised me that they were still showing ‘Frozen 2’ on that screen, as ‘It is more popular than war films’.

I suppose that’s what I get for living in Norfolk!

‘1917’ is a war film, set during the latter half of WW1. It has attracted much critical acclaim, and hundreds of positive reviews. I have seen it described as ‘The best war film ever made’, and also ‘A Masterpiece’. For me, it was neither of those. But it is still an excellent film, and well-worth seeing.

The main reason I say that is because the film is shot in an unusual way, and also contains some powerful imagery that will stay in your mind. For those of us used to seeing WW1 films that show huge sweeping frontal attacks, or the effect of shelling on terrified combatants, Mendes offers something different.

Two junior-ranking soldiers are tasked with an incredibly difficult mission. They must get through the abandoned enemy trenches, and past a town still occupied by the Germans. Near that town is a wood, where a British regiment is waiting to attack. That attack must be cancelled, as they are walking into a trap, and will be massacred. There is a reason why one of the soldiers has been chosen. His older brother is serving with the doomed regiment, and that will give him the incentive to get the job done.

From that point on, we follow the journey of the two young men. We do this in a way that makes us feel we are there. The camera is close in on the leads. Face to face, just behind them, or off to the side. It really does feel at times as if you are a ‘third soldier’, as you experience everything in what feels like real time, in one take.

It wasn’t filmed in one take, or in real time, but seamless editing and great camera angles provide that impression for 90% of the film. One of my old friends suggested that this made it feel like a video game. I know what he means. If you have ever played a ‘first-person shooter’ game, it might feel like that. But it wasn’t so for me, and I just felt that it immersed the viewer in the action in a good way.

Concentrating first on the positives, I have to say that historical authenticity was very good indeed. Equipment, uniforms, weapons, all seemed accurate. The reconstruction of the trenches was superbly done, especially the way the film showed how much better the Germans were at constructing more solid and safer trench systems on their side of the line. Special effects are few, but well-done where they are used. Rotting corpses in shell-craters, the decaying carcasses of dead horses, and the tangled mess of the barbed wire. All totally convincing.

The star of the film is the landscape. The war-torn countryside of France, the blackened tree stumps, the desolation of the mud-filled No-Man’s Land, contrasted by the green and pleasnt fields beyond the area being fought over. Definitely the best I have ever seen on screen. A ruined French town, illuminated at night by flares that float slowly to the ground. A burning building making a sound like rushing water. All superb. This film is a treat for the eyes, and a directorial triumph.

Full marks for the casting too. The young male leads are played by George McKay and the fresh-faced Dean-Charles Chapman. McKay is particularly good, and obviously has a great future. Then there are the ‘big names’. Well-known British actors who are more than happy to have just a few minutes on screen. Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Mark Strong, Andrew Scott, Daniel Mays, Richard Maddern, and many more. Each one makes the very best of their short scene, and leaves their own mark on the film overall.

So, on to what I was less impressed by.

Despite some wonderful, often eye-popping visuals, and a soundtrack that suited the film perfectly, I just didn’t believe the story. The whole concept of the plot felt contrived, and the fact that one of the soldiers is hoping to save his own brother felt unnecessarily sentimental to me. And that aspect was overplayed throughout, in my opinion. It felt as if Mendes had decided we needed something extra to make us interested in the film, and for us to be suitably invested in the characters. Well, I didn’t. It would have worked for me without that rather obvious sentimentality.

But that’s all. Just that one gripe.

This is a great film in most respects, with a dynamic cast all delivering, and the ‘one-take feel’ alone makes it worth watching.

If you are interested in films about WW1, I will add some links at the end.
Meanwhile, here’s a trailer for ‘1917’.

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0058263/
https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0050825/
https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0020629/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regeneration_(1997_film)
https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1418646/
https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0022787/

Just Been Watching… (114)

The Limehouse Golem (2016)

I watched this film on the BBC, and it is also available on Amazon.

***No spoilers***

Adapted from the novel by Peter Ackroyd, this film is set in Victorian London, in the 1880s. Think of those films about the real ‘Jack The Ripper’ murders you might have seen, and you get the idea. However, Ackroyd is a distinguished and wonderful writer, and he brings that era to the screen in fascinating detail, with convincing performances from a dedicated cast.

With a series of brutal and unconnected murders causing uproar in one of London’s poorest districts, Inspector Kildare (Bill Nighy) is brought in to take over the case. He is not expected to be able to cope, and is merely a scapegoat for Scotland Yard to blame when he fails. He soon discovers a connection with a woman on trial for poisoning her husband, (Olivia Cooke) and with the assistance of Constable Flood (Daniel Mays) he starts to look closely at all the suspects for the heinous crimes.

Where this story scored for me was in the introduction of real people into the fictional killings. The famous Music Hall entertainer, Dan Leno, once the highest paid person in Britain, features heavily throughout. He is played by Douglas Booth, with real flair. Other suspects include Karl Marx, the writer of Das Kapital and The Communist Manifesto. He was actually living in London at the time, and is woven into the story.

The tale unfolds in a series of flashbacks and ‘fantasy’ sequences, as we see inside the mind of the troubled detective. We also follow the life of the poisoning suspect, Lizzie Cree, and her unfaithful husband, John. Most of the film is set in a Music Hall, where many of the characters work. This allows for a very interesting insight into the entertainment of the time, along with the way that social classes mixed in such establishments. With no spoilers, I cannot go into detail. But this film had me gripped, and wanting to know the identity of the murderer.

That is revealed right at the end, in a wonderful twist that I didn’t suspect. And I love twists!

I should add a warning that the murders are shown in some graphic detail, with lots of blood. There are some sexual references, and minor nudity, but nothing unsuitable for TV viewing in the 21st century. If you like your murder mysteries set in the past, and enjoy films with an old-fashioned feel, then this is one for you.

It has had mixed reviews, but I would suggest ignoring those. This film brings a cast of mostly British character actors all at the top of their game. In addition to those mentioned, there is the reliable Eddie Marsan as the theatre manager, and Henry Goodman as Karl Marx.

I really enjoyed the atmosphere, and the performances.
This trailer gives a good feel of the film.

Retro Review: Apocalypse Now (1979)

People have written books about this film, and even made documentary films about it. The behind-the-scenes events have become the stuff of legend, including the difficult behaviour of its star, Marlon Brando. This updating of the novel ‘Heart of Darkness’ has inspired academic articles, and decades of debate and discussion.

But this is just my own opinion of it as a film, and my memory of seeing it at the cinema when it was released.

Forty years ago. Can you believe that? I have never seen the film since, and yet I can recall most of it from memory, and play certain scenes out in my head with no effort whatsoever.

As far as I am concerned, that is the mark of a film that exceeded all expectations, and can well deserve to be called a cinematic masterpiece.

This was also the first time I can remember hearing a soundtrack in ‘Surround-Sound’, at a Central London cinema. The opening scene of the sound of helicopters over the view of a spinning ceiling fan was so effective, most of us turned around in our seats, and looked around the cinema. It really did feel as if a helicopter was circling above our heads.

The film had hardly started, and I was already overwhelmed.

In case you have never seen the film, I won’t just keep writing about scenes, and will add no plot spoilers. And if you have never seen it, I suggest you rectify that at the earliest opportunity.

You will know the names of many of the cast members. Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando, Frederick Forrest, Robert Duvall, (in a memorable role) Harrison Ford, Scott Glenn, Lawrence Fishburne, and Dennis Hopper. This is a film about the Vietnam War that goes far beyond that conflict, examining what war does to ordinary men, and how far they can sink into the abyss.

The cinematography is superb. Direction by Francis Ford Coppola is just right, and the casting near-perfect too. It is an experience that transcends a normal evening at the cinema. It gets inside you, and makes you think. And your conclusions are often far from comfortable.

Much has been said about this film. It was attacked on release by some critics, claiming that it was an indulgence by Coppola, a film-maker well-known for such indulgence. It famously ran well over budget, and some of the stars gave interviews about the difficulties they encountered during its making. You can read all that, and you can watch the documentaries. If you want to.

Or you could just watch this amazing film.
Because it is absolutely fantastic.

Just Been Watching…(113)

The Irishman (2019)

***Historical events, so spoilers do not apply***

The first thing I am going to say is that this is going to be an exceptionally positive review
Make no mistake, I ABSOLUTELY LOVED THIS FILM!

I saw this on Netflix, and it is not currently available elsewhere.

Director: Martin Scorsese.
Cast;
Robert De Niro as Frank Sheeran
Al Pacino as Jimmy Hoffa
Joe Pesci as Russell Bufalino
Ray Romano as Bill Bufalino
Bobby Cannavale as Skinny Razor
Anna Paquin as Peggy Sheeran
Lucy Gallina as young Peggy
Stephen Graham as Anthony “Tony Pro” Provenzano
Harvey Keitel as Angelo Bruno
Steven Van Zandt as Jerry Vale

Look at that cast! And that is just the headliners. Everyone else is great too.

I will start this review with one word, ‘RESTRAINT’.

Joe Pesci is restrained. Older, less hysterical, more composed. And no cackling.
Pacino, known best lately for shouting rather than acting is also less hysterical. Hardly any shouting at all. (Well, a bit)
De Niro is suitably restrained too, and also narrates the story, told in flashback/flash forward. He is ‘The Irishman’.

In fact, everyone is restrained, and the film is all the better for that.

If you liked ‘Casino’, you should like this too.
If you liked ‘Goodfellas’, you should like this too.
If you liked ‘Mean Streets’, you should like this too.
If you liked ‘JFK’, you should like this too.

Alright, what’s it about?

Jimmy Hoffa was the charismatic leader of the Teamsters’ Union in America. (Truck drivers) The union had so much money in contributions and pension funds, that it helped to bankroll the Mafia in the 1950s. Hoffa became a famous personality, and also a famous gangster, due to his Mob associations. He ‘disappeared’ in 1975, and to this day his whereabouts are officially unknown, although he was declared dead in 1982. Irishman Frank Sheehan is a truck driver, and ex-WW2 soldier. One day, he happens to meet a mob figure by chance, when his truck breaks down. That gangster is Russell Buffalino, (Pesci) and he takes a liking to the man, bringing him into the organisation. Petty theft leads to becoming a mob hitman, and then Hoffa’s right-hand man and bodyguard.

Meanwhile, the mob is unhappy with JFK, who has not honoured his pledge to get them back the gambling joints in Cuba, and harassed by his brother Bobby, who is the Attorney General. Nobody trusts anyone, and as time goes on, many leading Mob figures are ‘disappeared’, and Hoffa is getting out of control. When the Mafia chooses Provenzano over Hoffa, events come to a head, and something has to give.

This is conventional gangster fare. Families, wives, girlfriends, divided loyalties, and lots of people ending up dead. Politics, betrayal, and lack of trust.

But this film is just WONDERFUL!

Locations, settings, costumes, music, (even that is by Robbie Robertson, who used to be in The Band) and a flawless feel of time and place.

Before you say it, yes we have seen many similar films before.
And yes, it is long, (three hours and twenty-five minutes) but that length worked for me.

If you didn’t like ‘Goodfellas’, you are not going to like this.
If you don’t like gangster/Mafia films, you are not going to like this.

So if that’s the case, my advice is don’t watch it, then you won’t have to complain later.

For me, it was five stars. With bells on, and an airhorn sounding, as well as a choir in the background.

Can you tell I liked it?

Here’s a trailer.

If Only They Were This Good at Brexit

This is the post that announced my quiz award on Chandler Swain’s blog.

CHANDLER SWAIN REVIEWS

NEWS FLASH FROM ENGLAND:In an atmosphere of revelry rivaling that of both VE Day and anytime Kenneth Branagh leaves the country, the people of Beetley are celebrating the success of local Ollie owner and the only resident of the town to have personally flashed a rude gesture at Benjamin Disraeli, Grouchy Pete. in his landmark victory in cracking the Enigma Code that is the Classic Film Images Photo Quiz.

Brexit Stalls as Parliament Investigates Suspicious Security Breach From Beetley; Dog Will Testify

In a move that has stunned NATO and forced an admission from French President Emmanuel Macron that Parisians are indeed “annoying”, an ancient Beetley native known only by the alias Pete (which in the Welsh dialect means either “angry Rainman” or “Ollie’s burden” depending on how many whiskey shots you have consumed), has solved what has been called by prominent scholars at the ivy…

View original post 197 more words

Finally Cracked it!

For more years than I care to remember, I have attempted Chandler Swain’s notoriously difficult 25-question film quiz. His challenges are themed, and incredibly hard. They have given me genuine headaches in the past, and the often dark stills he uses have made my eyes ache too.

Until today, I tried my best. But I think my previous best score was 22/25. And that was on a ‘good day’.

Imagine my delight, to receive this notification today, after so many years.

Yes! I got 25/25, for the first time ever!

Strange how something so apparently insignificant can make a wet Friday come alive!

If you feel up to the challenge, or just want to read about films that he has seen, so you don’t have to watch them, then visit his unparalleled blog via this link.
https://chandlerswainreviews.wordpress.com/

Be prepared to be entertained!

(I won’t be adding his ‘award’ to this blog. I am far too self-effacing for that)