King of Thieves (2018)

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Starring a handful of British talents and directed by the man behind the moving ‘The Theory of Everything’, you’d think this film based on a massive heist in the diamond district of London would be better than it actually turns out to be.

After a personal tragedy, Brian Reader (Michael Caine) is roped back into the underworld of robberies. He brings a team together of former thieves and brings an alarm specialist and new face into the fold, in the shape of Basil (Charlie Cox). The six elderly gentlemen plan to break into a vault in Hatton Garden, which holds over £200 million in diamonds, cash and gold.

This is 100% one of those movies that fits into the mould of the real story being more interesting than the film itself. It’s such a shame because this could have been an interesting look into the men that committed this crime but it descends into a rough and often unfunny thread of bickering and gruff London blokes cracking nasty comments. ‘King of Thieves’ definitely outlives its early charm and whilst there are some doses of alright comedy, they are few and far between a heist that arrives too soon and isn’t as exciting as it deserved to be.

There are elements within the robbery which are playful and work on the humour revolving around their senior years and a couple of stronger moments utilise on the tension of them in the act and the possibility of being caught. A Tchaikovsky backed sequence of thieving is a stand out snippet with ‘Whiplash’ levels of editing and a burst of diamond hungry energy. This and the quality of the performers involved don’t outweigh the overly long run-time and a film that doesn’t seem to know what angle it’s going for.

James Marsh directs a bunch of recognisable faces and there certainly seems to be a gentle chemistry between them, the first stages of this film are breezy but then it goes on and on in a way where stylistic choices of gangsters in the past flit into proceedings, grey army treachery bogs down a script laden with tiresome expletives and a police-heavy third act which isn’t as riveting or tense as, again it deserved to be.

Benjamin Wallfisch’s music, at points echoes the bouncy yet dramatic score which BBC’s ‘Hustle’ used so well and in fact this film does have some of the pre-swindling set up and snappy edits of the con itself, which mirrors the lighthearted entertainment of the Adrian Lester TV series but it doesn’t keep to this warmness. That would be fine if the eventual darker notes and masculine aggression weren’t so mishandled, becoming cringey character traits losing all the charm of the film.

‘King of Thieves’ may have acting royalty involved from Caine to Jim Broadbent but that doesn’t keep its crown from slipping away from meaty real events into a doddery, average retelling.

5.5/10

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Trumbo (2016)

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By the books but still fascinating, this biographical drama tells us about a man that some may know but plenty won’t have. I like films…a lot but I’m ashamed to say I hadn’t heard of Dalton Trumbo and the prejudices he was put through. This is a good looking film with a proper good lead but it’s not always engaging.

Screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) is a well voiced member of the Communist Party of the USA along with 9 other writers. Though it being 1949 and Russia no longer an ally thanks to threats of Cold War, Trumbo is soon blacklisted and imprisoned for his stance though that won’t stop him writing some of the most loved movies of the classic Hollywood era.

John McNamara has a lot of history with television writing and producing and perhaps that’s why this feature feels or rather, sounds like a TV movie. It has all those elements as we follow Trumbo in the beginning, see his political views, watch him interact in jail and then flourish even when he should be waning thanks to his blacklisted status. It’s an interesting film to a point, mostly in learning about this incredible man but it’s never grand or romantic or captivating like ‘Spartacus’ or ‘Roman Holiday’ are. This work about Dalton Trumbo doesn’t ring like a cinematic gem, more a small screen network filler.

Jay Roach directs this drama well, the centre focus is of course on Trumbo and how he behaves which is at a point great because it connects us to him but even when they attempt to show his flaws, they’re never fully formed making him too pushed onto us. It’s not like they’re showing one side of the story as we all know about Communism but we don’t all know about that when located in the Hollywood industry. Sadly we never really see the truth of Trumbo’s defending of brutal ideals as everyone on his side is painted as innocent. Of course I never knew what he said or what other figures never said, e.g. the case of Edward G. Robinson, but I looked into the people of this movie because of how easily likable they made the Communist side which is a little too simple.

Roach does give this film a good twist of lightness even amongst the darkness of Trumbo’s forced secretive writings. There is a spectacle involved as we see him journey to typing Oscar winning movies and how that effects people on either side of the party he belongs to. But for me the strongest element of the movie isn’t the factual elements needed to be told but the charisma and heart located in the acting department.

Bryan Cranston embodies the hunched writer with moustached aptitude, he is the true decorative trophy on this film’s mantelpiece. Cranston does great things in making you look past the uneven tone of the film and the televisual atmosphere it presents because he has energy, a spark of wit and talent just like the real life Trumbo. Michael Stuhlbarg shines as Edward G. Robinson, looking the part and giving dramatical urgency in his call up to reveal damning (if inaccurate) truths about who he knows. Diane Lane is the sturdy rock of this film, always being there even when she fears the man she loves is turning. Lane deserves more credit because though she’s not always on screen she keeps the family image believable. Louis C.K is smart and funny as the light balance to Trumbo’s persona though weirdly he’s a fictional character which doesn’t help in making this film feel less terrestrial. Elle Fanning steps in as the grown up daughter in a moment that really stuns as to how someone so short and different to Fanning grew to become Fanning but that moment aside she is a bright face to this starry cast and she notably displays the same motivation and active behaviour of Trumbo. Helen Mirren wavers in her accent, sounding British from time to time but she never drops in being the bitchy headline writing queen and almost steals the show with her ever-changing hats.

So, where the poster quote from Deadline reads that this is “one of the year’s must-see pictures”, I’d say that it’s only recommendable for people that admire the cinema and behind the scenes talent that produced the sparkle of Hollywood of old, otherwise it’s a film with great acting but a pedestrian TV vibe.

6/10

Dad’s Army (2016)

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Don’t Panic…this movie remake of the well loved and still well shown TV sitcom isn’t as bad as some reviews may be saying. At least, I enjoyed the quaint nature and rather twee approach it had, granted the comedy never takes off and the stars listed feel under used but aside from this and its predictability, it’s nevertheless a fine call to attention for the appreciated BBC show.

In 1944 Walmington-on-Sea, the Home Guard led by blustering Captain Mainwaring (Toby Jones) may finally get the chance to prove themselves as fit and necessary men for the war. MI5 believe the Germans have a spy in the midst of this seaside resort and hope that the Captain and his army can find the sneaky culprit and save the day.

Taking on such a popular and adored sitcom from the hallowed halls of British television is no mean feat and director Oliver Parker has his work cut out for him just by using the name and trying to tread in the much respected footsteps taken by the likes of Arthur Lowe, Clive Dunn and John Laurie. He does have a background in tackling British brands of the past, with ‘St. Trinian’s’ and’ Johnny English Reborn’ to his name. This feels the same as the latter with a big sweeping feel to the piece but not much behind it. It looks good and we see more of the town, the people and even Germany but without the needed ingredients of substance or point to make us wish to see that.

I kind of agree with a lot of online views stating that this film is pointless. It’s not like anyone massively called out for this movie to be rolled into production, the show is always on air and will always be remembered so having a whole new bunch of faces and a now bigger set piece cinema scaled vision to the characters and location feels forced and unwanted. On the other hand, I am happy to see it get the silver screen treatment because it heightens on drama and doesn’t tarnish ‘Dad’s Army’, in fact this feels like a weak yet satisfying salute to the original.

Of course throughout this 2016 release, watching Jones or Bill Nighy comes with a set of expectations and it’s odd seeing them try to look and act in a similar fashion to the actors from the TV show. There’s a strained factor at times with some of the jokes or skewed references to the show, as if they know we’re hopeful to hear catchphrases ring out for us to enjoy. Also the story about a spy is boringly approached being obvious, the set-ups the Home Guard face are never subtle and maybe things get a little to historically serious for these bumbling older men to handle. It’s fun in the show seeing them verge on doing something but never really finding their place to help the war efforts.

Comedy wise; there are some good laugh out loud moments from the Carry On style word play and general innuendo or the prat falling movements from Mainwaring. The scene in a cottage as he and Wilson hope to win the admiration and passion of new figure Rose Winters is really well done. There’s a weird yet humorous angle in Pike’s attempt to be dashing like a cinematic idol and the lucid thoughts of German looks invading the usually placid town are over the top but played greatly.

Toby Jones looks the part and really steals the film when squinting his eyes and looking like a puffy Churchill. Bill Nighy isn’t a great Wilson being more like he is in rom-coms with the usual Nighy snort and swagger. Michael Gambon delights as the dim-witted yet cheery Godfrey. Catherine Zeta-Jones looks like she’s enjoying her turn as the new character, lapping up the irony of us knowing her part and the men in uniform not having a clue. Daniel Mays with swindler voice and all is a fine casting choice for the scheming wise-cracking Walker. Blake Harrison is goofy, lanky, kind and molly-coddled to almost Ian Lavender levels. Tom Courtenay is perhaps the closest to his tube character after Jones, his movements and voice being near uncanny. Bill Paterson gives fun barrel shot dead pan tones to his turn as Scottish Frazer. It’s also good to see a whole new army come in as the females show up to help in a large way, this plus a couple of cameos make it a fine ensemble piece just not as magical as they could have been.

There’s no fraud on show here as this movie is clearly trying to be a solid love letter to the television sitcom but it doesn’t fully succeed. There is comedy, there is imitation and there’s a good aim at being bigger but the tame factor cannot be denied.

5.5/10

 

The Escort (2015)

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Hardly racy but very cheesy, this 2015 movie about sex, addiction and relationships is tame on every level and though it doesn’t harm the senses to watch, it isn’t exactly a thrilling one to sit through either. It has some relatively funny moments in it and the two main stars pull off their pained characters with a sly wink that makes it alright.

Late twenties Mitch (Michael Doneger) lives alone, becomes out of work and is super keen on a Tinder like sex app. He crosses paths with high end escort Victoria/Natalie (Lyndsy Fonseca) who becomes a muse of his as he tries to gain a new journalist position. She too finds use in him as a helpful presence in case her clients turn on her, through this their connection grows.

For a movie squarely honed in on sex and addictive behaviour, this movie is more than fairly weak. I know it doesn’t need to be hardcore or explicit but even the story itself about chasing women over a mobile dating app and escort servicing is done limply. It’s not even saved by being at the other end of the spectrum and appearing classy. It’s just slap bang in the middle and all rather pedestrian with cheesy plot elements leading the way.

Written by main actor Doneger and Brandon A. Cohen, this screenplay slides along nicely and has some funny moments but it’s all so predictable. It fills the romantic genre criteria so easily and doesn’t even seem to try and be bold or different. It’s an easy watch, it’s engaging to a degree and the comedic elements do help it in places but apart from that it’s an underwhelming movie that could have been something to get your teeth into. I know it’s romantic but having a darker line blurring into the plot may have aided the film more.

Kyle Klutz captures some shots with finesse within the movie, the wall where they meet at a car park is shot with a wide lens and far away giving it decorative scope that jumped out as a cool frame. The nighttime scenes are neat also. Director Will Slocombe doesn’t really tackle the subject matter of the film, it’s filmed nicely and each scenes fits well in the place it arrives but there’s no fantastic touch to his directing.

The comedy touches save the film from being something that you’d hope to never see. From intruding bathroom attendants to pot smoking dads, the movie has a sarcastic and dry edge to it at times that does raise a smile even if the serious side of proceedings does little more than follow a basic step by step guide of movie rules. It’s most definitely formulaic but at least it doesn’t fail at following rules otherwise that would be hilariously awful.

Lyndsy Fonseca is a delight to watch, assured, ballsy and fun when she needs to be, she does light up the screen as the confident yet slightly cracked escort. It is a character you can buy into as no doubt there’s thousands of women just like her that would behave in the same way. Fonseca 100% sells the self selling Natalie. Michael Doneger is a likable enough lead and has enough vulnerability to his wayward ways that you don’t hate him. I prefer the interest of Natalie’s story to his though. Bruce Campbell rocks up as astrological believing dad to Michael and steals the scenes with the fact it’s Bruce Campbell!

This is a movie that I wouldn’t recommend but I wouldn’t flick away if it happened to come on a distant TV channel on a rainy day. It’s easy to watch and has some interesting characters sold really well by good actors.

5.5/10

Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa (2013)

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An exercise in cracking physical humour teamed with witty lines, this character comedy showcases a fully formed and well treated move from TV icon to big screen feature. Along with ‘We’re the Millers’ this stood out as the finer comedies of 2013 and in fact this is the better of the pair.

Norwich radio station, North Norfolk Digital is being taken over by a modern and multinational group and will be re-branded as ‘Shape’. In this change one DJ could be axed and with a push from Alan Partridge (Steve Coogan) it lands with Irish Pat Farrell (Colm Meaney) being sacked. Pat then takes people hostage and Alan is the only one to stand up and serve as medium to the situation giving him desired attention but can he stop Pat’s mental breakdown?

As a longtime Partridge fan there’s plenty in here to approve of and for the newcomers there’s a nice level of comedy and general introduction to the tomfoolery of Partridge’s persona to bring you in suitably. I fit in between these two categories, not an aficionado of ‘Mid-morning Matters’ but I’ve seen pieces of his shows and know of his character enough. The film is a great balance for both camps and is broad enough to keep fresh Partridge peeps happy and quick on the Alan amazement to put smiles on the long time fans.

The Gibbons, Coogan, Armando Iannuucci and Peter Baynham collaborate on a wonderful and witty script that causes laugh out loud moments in a crazy trip of stupidity and fame craving. The character isn’t played around with or lost and though it’s taken to movie stretches, it’s never outlandish or striving to be more dramatic because of its new medium, this is why it most certainly succeeds. Perhaps the more subtle humour of the show is ridden for cinema but it works for this tale.

Being a Norwich citizen myself may also help a lot and provide more laughs in seeing our fine city being sent up but also being captured on screen in a few shots. It could easily have been studio based or filmed elsewhere but the film does a favour for keeping it local. The Norfolk setting is so quaint and tiny that it gives the movie another funnier edge based around this hostage scenario. Hollywood in the flats.

An outstanding tour de force of talent in mixing radio music and jingles with bonkers behaviour, the plot is perfectly structured and works so well with the soundtrack. Visuals play their part as they very well should in a comedy film, from shotgun holders to make-shift sporrans the film has all comedic angles covered, apart from the lesser of that genre; drag which gladly it skips, unlike the dreadful Mrs Brown which sadly made more money in its opening weekend than this clever funny film achieved in its entire run. Sad face.

Steve Coogan is a fantastic actor in making Alan someone you should dislike someone you love. The slapstick is never over the top but enough to demonstrate the sheer comedic timing Coogan can provide. It’s a quick and silly role that Coogan eats up and devours in every scene, giving the film its ruddy gifted siege face bonkers majestic wonder. Tim Key serves as great fool material in trying to keep up with Partridge. Colm Meaney is someone you root for even if he’s the one causing the problems.

I take great pleasure in saying this film is the way you want it to be: enjoyable, smart, silly, pleasing to old and new audiences and a gag filled comedy to watch over and over.

8/10

The Equalizer (2014)

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It may have a slow opening with ample space to breathe into the life of Denzel Washington’s character but don’t let this kind of too long beginning fool you, as when Washington becomes the man he’s been hiding then you’re in for a whirlwind of loud noises and brutal dispatches.

A friendly and extremely kind yet precise and ordered man by the name of McCall or Bob (Denzel Washington) has a job and a collection of literary classics to read but it’s clear there’s something deeper concerning his background. It takes the harsh female beating of diner chum and nighttime call girl Teri (Chloe Grace Moretz) for this clinical and efficient side of Bob’s to surface. Though by getting involved in the prostitution circle Teri was trapped in, Bob now has to keep one step ahead of some imposing Russian gangsters led by Teddy (Marton Csokas) and become the man people rely on, the Equalizer.

I’ve never seen the TV show, only ever heard of it, so I have no idea how close to the series this sticks apart from casting Denzel is a stark opposite to the original but he’s Denzel so he’s fantastic. If this movie, by employing a reasonable amount of slo-mo and defined extreme close ups resembles the style of the show then kudos and if not then they’ve mastered a stylish and crystal clear method to tell this action thriller story. Either way they win. Of course, not seeing the show from the 1980’s I don’t know if this plot in any way takes ideas or elements from an episode or episodes plural. It’s a good enough plot though even if it does fall back on the expected Russian vs American cliche. There’s a lot in the film to suspend your disbelief at too, let the awesome mind and tactics of McCall/Bob wash over you and you’ll mightily enjoy it, otherwise you may not.

The music was a stand out quality for me, that may or may not be because of the booming impact IMAX speakers have, but it certainly keeps up that edge of grungy suspenseful darkness which works in favour of the impending circle of Russian mobsters and the way in which McCall can flip in a matter of seconds between normal civilian to hard nosed killer. There were at least a few moments that got me sitting upright and only part of that is down to the newly installed stiff chairs in the screen. Be it extremely loud gunfights or bangs or nail biting scenes of tension this film does deliver on those points.

It’s a heck of a vehicle for demonstrating how tension can be done right, especially in the final climax between McCall and a host of Russian baddies. The closed and near pitch black setting of a B&Q style home depot store lets the tension settle into your skin like an unshakable rash of nerves. It might be like an adult version of ‘Home Alone’ but there’s no denying that the ways people die in this scene and the film in general are pretty dark and bloody.

I think it’s up there as one of the better films to come out this year, it may have a Hollywood ending, it may not be thought inducing or subtle but it’s tense and racks up the revenge thriller reading to a number not identifiable on the dial. It’s obvious there’s a set up for sequels and that excites me because seeing what other insane ways this Equalizer can come up with to get even and serve justice like a real life Batman gives scope for more action and thrills. Some people might think it’s too long which I sort of agree with and others may think it’s too violent but it works for this character and the seedy world he got himself thrown into. A solid film that sells more so because of Washington as a star.

Denzel Washington is pure badass in this film. It helps that he can demonstrate that nice guy next door vibe to really display the differences in mode his character has. The OCD angle to set up the past he had and the way he can deal with situations is acted lightly and well, pushing aside the sometime annoying CGI zooms and pans from his eyes to the room around him as he sees a way to come out on top. When he really does kick into gear and becomes the Equalizer he sells it completely, he’s even scary at times in the bold and brutal way he goes about offing people in his way. Chloe Grace Moretz of course has a top billing thanks to her status but she’s not in it much at all though in the very little screentime she gets she proves what a diverse talented actress she is. The big bad played Csokas is brooding and dominant in his crash course to find out who McCall is and stop him. It’s a steely almost inhuman look he possesses throughout and you never know how he’s going to react so top acting from him.

I found it entertaining, delightfully violent to help the story along, it was a little too slow and long at times and of course it takes a lot to swallow but damn it, get a glass of water and swallow that pill of disbelief because it’s worth it. Kick-ass, almost non stop and tense to the last.

7/10