Not the 365 – Movie Round Up

13 Hours – The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (2016) Amazon Prime

On the whole, director Michael Bay is much maligned by proper film critics for his OTT productions, his objectifying of women, his use of offensive racial stereotypes as comedic relief;  extreme patriotism, juvenile humor, excessive product placement and (horror) oversaturation of gold and teal colour grading. I can’t argue with that but also none of that applies to this 13 Hours movie. A true story, the movie covers the attack on an American compound in Benghazi and  follows six members of the Annex Security Team who fought to defend it, after several waves of attacks by militants on September 11th 2012, the anniversary of the 9/11 attack on America, and during a visit by the US Ambassador to Libya. James Badge Dale, John Krasinski and Maz Martini are the main stars but there’s plenty of back up by Toby Stevens, Dominic Fumusa et al. There’s a goodly amount of build up and scene setting, the back stories of the main characters are given some love, and the action is superbly filmed, as you’d expect from Bay. There is controversy attached as the film portrays the CIA chief in charge of the security team telling them to ‘stand down’ when the poop hits the fan, and eventually they just go to help anyway. That was disputed by the real (unnamed) CIA chief but corroborated by members of the team and others. Also the Libyans were not exactly happy with the portrayal of their people, yet the movie does show the help the team get from the 17th Feb Martyrs Group.

Fraggle Rating ~ Another Rorkes Drift moment in US recent history, it’s told and acted well and we liked this as much as The Outpost from my last review.

The Meg (2018) It’s on Prime for rent but we have the bluray.

Due to the ongoing problems Phil is having with his eyes, we’ve moved the sofa nearer to the TV screen, so he has had to recalibrate the 11 speakers in the room in order to have the optimum sound for where you sit to watch the movie. Why am I telling you this? because after all the fannying on he then has to sit and listen to one of his familiar movies that has a dolby ATMOS soundtrack. Unfortunately he’s loaned them to a work pal and hasn’t seen him for 4 months to get them back. So when it came to Phil’s choice for Thursday movie night, he pulled out The Meg, starring Jason Statham which has a great ATMOS soundtrack. Directed by John Turteltaub and with a supporting cast including the wonderfully named Li Bingbing, Rainne Wilson, Ruby Rose and Winston Chao this is a pretty far fetched story about a pre-historic ginormicus shark called a megaladon. Set on an underwater research facility, Mano One, funded by billionaire Jack Morris (Wilson) and run by Dr. Minway Zhang (Chao) and his daughter Suyin (Bingbing). Statham plays Jonas Taylor a rescue diver who retired after an unpleasant experience where he lost 2 men. Because his ex-wife Lori (Jessica MacNamee) is the pilot of the downed sub, he is persuaded to join the Mano One as one of their subs has been bashed about by the meg and is in need of rescue, which only he can do. After that it’s lots of rescues, a burgeoning romance between Jonas and Suyin, a cute kid, Suyin’s daughter (Sophia Cai as Meiying), hostility from the onboard Doctor Heller (Robert Taylor) who blames Jonas for the previous disaster, a sad death or two, and a happy ending.

Fraggle rating ~ Yes it’s a ridiculous story, but it’s fun, and a different kind of rôle for Statham who usually martial arts his way around the screen, he’s actually really good in this, but sadly there’s only one scene where he has his shirt off. Critics bashed it mostly, but who cares about them, it made a shed load of money because it’s a great popcorn movie, and I’ll definitely be watching it’s sequel which is in the works, and will be directed by Ben Wheatley.

The Ice Road (2019) Netflix

If you see Liam Neeson headlining a movie you can be pretty sure there will be a fair amount of action, and The Ice Road is no exception, though more of a spectacle type of action than Neeson fighting his way through a plot. Well he is 69 yrs old, we can give him a break. Directed by Jonathon Hensley it is a bog standard story of corporate greed versus the little guy worker bees, but set in a diamond mine in Manitoba, which are accessed via ice roads. Neeson, plays Mike, a trucker and has a brother Gurty (Marcus Thomas), an Iraq war veteran soldier and excellent mechanic who suffers from PTSD & aphasia. They are fired from the hauling company they work for when Mike decks a bloke for calling Gurty a retard. When what appears to be a methane explosion happens at the diamond Mine, Ice Road truckers are needed to deliver well heads from Winnipeg up to the mine to free some trapped miners. Unfortunately it’s the just about the end of the season where the ice is safe enough to travel on and most of the truckers have gone home. Jim Goldenrod, another ice road trucker,(Lawrence Fishburn) agrees to run a rescue mission, and employs Mike & Gurty, he also gets another driver out of jail, Tantoo, a Native American girl (Amber Midthunder) whose brother is trapped in the mine along with the 25 others. They team up and set off with 3 wellheads in 3 different trucks, and an accompanying insurance risk assessment dude, Varnay (Benjamin Walker). They’ve got 30 hours before the miners run out of air. It becomes a very eventful journey, and I’ll say no more than that because that would spoil it for you.

Fraggle Rating ~ Not well liked by the critics, but Phil and I enjoyed it. I used to see the odd episodes on TV of the real Ice Road Truckers and it always fascinated me, so the movie gave me the same sort of feels, but with added drama. The script was a bit hokey in places admittedly and the baddie a bit unlikely, but the trucks are great and it was filmed on actual ice roads in Manitoba so the scenery was authentic. Not much in the way of backstories, and the action scenes are not ground~breaking, but on the whole it’s a serviceable action film for a Saturday night in.

The Foreigner (2017) Netflix

I’d always thought of Jackie Chan as a comedic martial arts guy from the couple of movies I’ve seen in the past, but the trailer for this movie didn’t look martial arty and had a plot dealing with a (hopefully fictional) new branch of the IRA, the ‘Authentic IRA’. Directed by Martin Campbell, it stars Chan playing Ngoc Minh Quan, a Nung Chinese man who runs a restaurant in London, but is also a former Vietnam War special forces operator. His daughter is killed by a bomb at the beginning of the movie, and the plot revolves around Quan finding out who killed her. Pierce Brosnan plays Liam Hennesey, a Sinn Féin politician in the Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland who was also in the Provisional IRA in his former years. I am stopping there as I don’t want to do spoilers, it’s worth going in without knowing too much. I will say there is a fair bit of martial art stuff from Chan, and a bit of McGuyver thrown in, but no comedy. I was letting Neeson off his action chops being 69, but Chan is 67 and he is still kicking ass, though hurting after it too. Chan definitely does not lack the gravitas to pull off the rôle of a broken hearted father, which surprised us, he is very good in this. Phil and I were complementing Pierce Brosnan on his authentic sounding Irish accent, then I found out he was born in Drogheda, County Louth in Ireland! 🙄 The supporting cast give good performances, Orla Brady as Hennesey’s Missis, Michael McElhatton as Hennesey’s head of security, (loved him as Roose Bolton in GOT) Ray Frearon escapes his mechanic’s job in Coronation Street to become Commander Richard Bromley, head of the Met’s Counter Terrorism Command.

Fraggle rating: top notch! A twisty, bracing, political action thriller!!

Not the 365 ~ Movie round up

My first on the list is The Evacuation (2015) also known as Come What May and En mai, fais ce qu’il te plaît;  a French war movie. In May 1940 the Germans invade Belgium and France. In the village of Lebucquière, the prefecture recommends that the whole village packs up and leaves to avoid being overrun by the Germans, and head for the south coast. Paul, (Olivier Gourmet) the headman of the village is in charge and leads the group, and tries to maintain order, whilst his wife Mado (Mathilde Seigner) plays music and tries to entertain the group of villagers. Prior to them leaving a German anti-nazi activist Hans (August Diehl) finds short-lived sanctuary in the village with his young son Max (Joshio Marlan). But Hans gets arrested when the kid accidentally speaks in German and someone reports them. Max is taken under the wing of Suzanne,(Alice Issaz) a young teacher, and she scouts the route the villagers are taking. Hans escapes accompanied by a Scottish officer, Percy, (Matthew Rhys) whose entire unit died under German bullets, and tries to be reunited with his son.

The actors do a great job, there’s lovely cinematography by Pierre Cottereau, and a great score by Ennio Morricone. Directed by Christian Cabon who loosely based it on his mother’s evacuation experiences. Yes there’s CGI planes & battles, some eye-popping plot co-incidences and some soapy dialogue here and there, but there’s also a duck, and a big feel good factor ending.

Fraggle rating: Well I enjoyed it immensley, it has to be said it’s not as harrowing as perhaps it should have been based on the reality of the displacement of 8 million French people, and as one critic put it –If you ever wanted to see a wartime movie that feels directed by a kinder, gentler Michael Bay “Come What May” is right up your alley. It plays like a more cultured—and very French—version of “Pearl Harbour”. But I’m OK with that! It’s on Amazon prime under The Evacuation title.

Our next movie is Hunter Killer (2018) directed by Donovan Marsh and starring Gerard Butler, Gary Oldman and Common (real name Lonnie Rashid Lynn), and the late Micheal Nyqvist in one of his final rôles. This is an action thriller involving American and Russian submarines, and has a dastardly Russian Admiral doing a Coup d’etat and capturing the Russian President and trying to start a war by torpedoing one of his own subs as well as an American one, the USS Tampa. Navy Seals under the command of Lieutenant Bill Beaman (Toby Stephens) are given the task of rescuing the Russian president whilst Commander Joe Glass,(Butler) commanding officer of USS Arkansas investigates the Tampa incident. Nyqvist plays Captain 2nd Rank Sergei Andropov, commanding officer of the damaged RFS Konek, Gary Oldman plays the warmongering Admiral Charles Donnegan, Common is in charge of the naval command centre as Rear Admiral John Fisk, and Linda Cardellini is Jayne Norquist an NSA security analyst.

Fraggle rating:- Butler and Oldman, both have made some great movies, and both some duds, and this one falls in between. Nothing new in this plot really, it’s a serviceable addition to the genre, but as I found it whilst looking for Hunt For Red October, I’d advise you to watch that one instead. Again on Amazon Prime.

Next up we have Liam Neeson in Honest Thief (2020). Directed by Mark Williams, Neeson plays Tom Dolan, an ex-marine who has been robbing banks without getting caught for 9 years but turns over a new leaf when he meets and falls in love with Annie Wilkins,(Kate Walsh) a psychology graduate student working at a storage unit facility. He wants to give himself up to the FBI, pay the money back, do a short jail sentence and then get on with his life. Enter two corrupt FBI agents Agent John Nivens (Jai Courtney) and his partner Agent Ramon Hall ( Anthony Ramos), who for want of a better phrase f**k him over with the money and hurt his lady. Robert Patrick and Jeffrey Donovan play good FBI Agents Sam Baker and Sean Meyers respectively. No spoilers but I bet you can guess the rest of what happens.

Fraggle Rating :- It’s nothing new really for Neeson who is making a mint out of playing old tough-guy goody/baddie ex marines finding and killing people etc, but he gives a committed performance, as do the others, and at just 90 minutes you could do a lot worse. Amazon prime.

Onwards ever onwards then. Page Eight (2011). A British thriller for a change, and done in a very British manner, which is to say, no action, we’re talking cerebral thrills here. Produced for the currently beleaguered BBC, and was written and directed by David Hare with an excellent cast in tow. Bill Nighy, the quintessential Englishman plays long serving MI5 officer Johnny Worricker caught up in a tangled thread of misinformation and lies induced by the British Prime Minister, Alec Beasley (Ralph Fiennes). Michael Gambon plays Johnny’s Director General who is also his good friend Benedict Baron, whilst Rachel Weiss does a good job of being Syrian activist Nancy Pierpan The cast are impeccable with Marthe Kellar, Holly Aird, Saskia Reeves and Judy Davies all bringing their A game. No spoilers at all for this, you need to go in cold.

Fraggle Rating:- This is a little gem of a political intrigue movie that you need to keep your wits about you to follow but is worth the time. Billy Nighy is just superb, the plot believable and the ending doesn’t disappoint. This one is on Netflix.

Last but not least we have The Man in the Hat (2020). Another British Film, ostensibly a ‘comedy’ but really it’s more ‘light-hearted’ than outright funny, it made me smile a few times but I also was WTH? a few times too. It stars Ciarán Hinds in the titular rôle, and is set in the beautiful South of France. It is the directorial debut of composer Stephen Warbeck and has a kind of plot, though ‘plot’ may be too strong a word. It starts out with The Man (Hinds) driving through the French countryside in a Fiat 500 (old style) with a photo of a woman in the passenger seat. Whilst having dinner al fresco one evening he sees 5 men get out of a Citroën CV and throw what looks like a wrapped up body into the harbour opposite. They see him looking and start walking towards him so he scarpers, and the rest of the movie is about his journey. Kind of like a road trip/chase movie through France, but a very slow one. There is very little dialogue, and what there is is French with subtitles and a lot of what happens doesn’t make much sense, but I think that’s kind of the point. Stephen Dillane plays The Damp Man, Sasha Hailes is The Woman, and there’s a few cameo’s dotted about of people I don’t recognise.

This is what Warbeck says about it “The Man in the Hat represents an everyday man character who reflects that we all experience lives full of peculiarities and unexplained encounters. But as the film progresses, this sense of unfamiliarity evaporates and becomes a ray of positive light. “He is a very solitary character,” Mr Warbeck explains. “During the film we know something tragic or sad is happening in his life but little by little with contact he is warming up and rediscovers warmth in relationships with other humans.”In a way, The Man in the Hat is like a little island who reaches out and starts to contact other people.” And Ciarán Hinds I think sums it up best : “This won’t take too much of your time. And you don’t need to be blown out of your seats; you can just be a human being and watch this little journey and feel things. It has its own heartbeat, unlike anything else”

Fraggle Rating:- I enjoyed the scenery and for me the car was the star. I didn’t mind the whimsical nature of it all and just enjoyed the scenery and music and acting, but Phil would have preferred a proper plot I think as he kept saying he had no idea what was going on. Back to Prime for this one.

That’s a wrap folks!

April 20th ~ Monday Movies

I will have to be succinct this week as I’ve watched 4 movies.

First up a joint choice by Phil & I was Rocketman (2019), a musical biopic of the early years of Elton John. You do not need to be a fan of John to enjoy this lavish production which has all the bells and whistles you’d expect of anything that Elton John is involved in. Directed with both sensitivity and gusto by Dexter Fletcher, who already had form with Bohemian Rhapsody, it stars Taron Egerton as Elton, and (in my mind at least, the under-rated) Jamie Bell as Bernie Taupin, who, if you are under that rock, wrote the lyrics to a lot of Elton’s classic songs. It covers Elton’s quite sad early life, with a distant father and somewhat incompetant mother played by Bryce Dallas Howard superbly, as a musical prodigy at the Royal Academy of Music, through meeting Taupin, rising up to become a star and descending into debauchery simultaneously. I really loved how they used Elton’s songs to illustrate the parts of his life and Taron Egerton sang them all so differently to the originals you really had to think about the lyrics in a different way than you did before if you know the songs well enough. Julian Day designed the flamboyent costumes Elton is known for and based them on the ones Elton has worn in the past albeit changing things up a little, theres a great montage in the end credits comparing John to Egerton in the movie that was fun to see. Creative license was taken with the timing or specifics of the real people or historical events depicted in the film, and some of the people depicted were not happy at how they were portrayed, even so, it’s a stunning movie visually, the acting is spot on, and there’s a good deal of laughter along the way.

Next up is Phil’s choice. Not having learned his lesson from Keanu Reeves in Johnny Mnemonic last week, he opted for Keanu in Constantine (2005) 10 years later. Directed by Francis Lawrence, Keanu plays Constantine (originally a D.C Comic character, though there’s little of that left in this movie) who can communicate with half-angels and half-demons in their true form. He excorcises demons back to hell in order to try and exonerate himself with God for having tried to commit suicide, and thereby enter heaven and not hell when he dies of terminal lung cancer. Rachel Weiss plays a detective, Angela who’s twin sister (which she also plays) was also psychic and apparently commits suicide when in a nuthouse, but Angela doesn’t believe it and ends up with Constantine to try and prove the demons got her. Oh blimey, that’ll do, it’s a right mess of a film with cool special effects, but a totally loony plot. Rachel Weiss I am sure regrets this one, she is better than this, as is Tilda Swinton who appears as the Angel Gabriel, and we can only forgive Shia LaBeouf as Constantine’s driver, because he was 19 at the time and probably took anything offered.

So onto my choice, and the first thing I came across on the Netflix film search was The Highwaymen (2019) which Netflix bought the rights to. Directed by John Lee Hancock. I am not sure if I’d read about it, but can’t remember doing so, and it was the combination of it starring Woody Harrelson , Kevin Costner and Kathy Bates that pulled me in. The movie turned out to be about two ex Texas Rangers, Frank Hamer and Manny Gault, who are asked to track down and apprehend Bonnie & Clyde (I am hoping even my people under the rock have heard of them!) by Governor Miriam Ferguson played by Kathy Bates. I’ve seen the Faye Dunaway/Warren Beatty movie, there’s songs about them, a TV mini series and they’ve become kind of folk heroes, a bit like Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid, but The Highwaymen puts that into perspective, showing Bonnie & Clyde to be remorseless killers discarding other peoples lives for their own gain. Of course the movie takes it’s own liberties with history, exaggerating B&C’s part in a jailbreak, and Bonnie’s ruthless shooting of policemen. The Manny Gault character is a composite, but Frank Hamer was a real guy, and this is his story really which holds reasonably true. From the beginning I was grabbed by the cinematography, (John Scwartzmann), the music which was gorgeous,(Thomas Newman) the authentic and beautiful costumes of Americans in the 1930’s (Daniel Orlandi) and all those fantastic antique cars provided by private collectors who always volunteer when a movie like this turns up. A 1934 Ford V-8, for B&C as in real life, and a 1934 Ford V 9 for the Rangers, which gets more disheveled as they do. Michael Corenblith the production designer travelled 18,000 miles with location scouts and drove himself another 12,000 to source the 1,600 miles of terrain covered by B&C and the Rangers, and it showed. Costner and Harrelson play well together I really enjoyed their relationship, although a couple of critics accuse Costner of being ‘dull’, but Hamer was a methodical thoughtful guy, so being sparkly doesn’t work with that. (Also one of the critics is a Stars Wars fan so… just sayin’) Kathy Bates had a small part but stole the scenes she was in. You never see the faces of B&C, not until when they are dead anyway and that was a good thing about the movie, you get glimpses of them and you see their car, but the movie is about the Rangers and not them. Of course they are ambushed and killed at the end, and the car with them in it is towed back to town, what happened next happened in real life, but that would be a spoiler I think so I’ll leave it at that. To me this was quite an exquisite piece of work, with everything coming together beautifully, the characters, the settings, the authentic costumes and cars and the music score.

Finally while Phil was at work yesterday I watched a movie recommended by Pete called Everlasting Moments (2008). I’d read his review ages ago and got myself a DVD of it, then neglected to watch it, but now I have and am so glad I did. Based on the true story of Maria Larsson, a Finn living in Sweden played by Maria Heiskanan, the movie is gently and respectfully directed by Jan Troell. Starting in 1907 this Swedish movie follows the life of Maria, narrated by her eldest daughter Maja. Maria is married to Sigge, (Mikael Persbrandt) a conflicted character, sometimes charming, often quite dense, a womaniser, and prone to using violence on his wife and children when he is drunk or upset. Maria has won a camera in a lottery, which she takes to a photography shop owned by Sebastian Pederson (Jesper Christensen) ostensibly to sell. However he shows her how to use it, gives her some plates and developing equipment, and takes the camera as payment but allows her to use it. Photography changes Maria’s life, she is good at it, and Pederson is impressed. They slowly develop a bittersweet relationship but within the constraints of their circumstances. I won’t go on and spoil this, as a Swedish movie with subtitles there’s a chance not many people reading this will have seen it, but I would urge you to seek it out. It is beautifully filmed, the cinematography by Troell and Mischa Gavrjusjov evokes the era authentically, the slight sepia toning and thoughtful lighting invoking photographs of the time, and the acting is superb. Maria and Sigge are portrayed with so much depth by the two lead actors, and as they are unknown actors it is easy to believe in them. The supporting characters are just as good, in particular Christensen showing in his face and eyes what can’t be said of his feelings for Maria, and both Nellie Almgren and Callin Öhrvall playing the younger and older Maja, watching her parents volatile relationship and wanting Maria to leave the Dad.

Thanks for the heads up Pete, so glad I saw it.