First Man *****

I have been waiting for this film since it was first announced because the subject, Neil Armstrong, was one of my boyhood heroes.  I booked for the first day, but an unforeseeable circumstance prevented my getting to see it.  On the second occasion, the gridlocked town centre delayed the bus service so much that I gave up and returned home.

Third time lucky then. Made it!

Was it worth the effort?

Heaving a great sigh of relief, I can report it most certainly was.

This film is a biography of Neil and his family from the birth of his first child to his return from the Moon.

The story is skilfully crafted and gives a good insight into the stress of family life when one member is involved in a dangerous occupation.

A lot of the focus is therefore on the lives of Neil’s wife, Janet, and their three children.  There is also focus on Neil’s second family, the cadre of astronauts on the Gemini and Apollo missions.

We see an interesting movement in Neil’s priorities between these families over time and the effects this has on the other people involved.

The training for the eventual Moon mission is created with stunning effects and skilful tension building.

I was quite familiar with his story, especially the major steps on his journey to the Moon, but the director still managed to raise my heartbeat and relief over and over again.

By the end of the film, I felt choked up, exhausted and exhilarated, all at the same time.

I think this film is fully deserving of the 5 stars I am giving it.

I hope you agree.

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Johnny English Strikes Again ****

Rowan Atkinson returns as his Bondesque character Johnny English for the third time.

I think it is fairly safe to say that the many fans of Johnny English and his sidekick “Bough” will welcome it with open arms and rapturous laughter.  And why not!

It has all the silly slapstick comedy of the previous outings plus an excellent supporting cast and a well-written script.

Rowan Atkinson plays English totally straight laced, in the same manner as Capt. Blackadder, being totally oblivious to the ridiculousness of the situation.

This is Atkinson at his very best.

Ben Miller returns as Bough and Emma Thompson as the Prime Minister.

Many other well known faces appear for cameo rolls and all appear to have been having a great time.

The only downside is that a high degree of predictability runs through the whole story.  This has not helped by the numerous spoiler contained in the trailers shown on TV.

Because of this I can only give it 4 stars out of five.

The Happytime Murders ****

The Happytime Murders is a somewhat weird movie.

Putting Muppet style characters into real life Los Angeles and making them portray recognisable character types, familiar in so many previous genres.

However, be warned that one type of film this is not.  This is not a film for children!!!

Imagine a ‘Blaxploitation’ movie from the ‘70s, add a police procedural with a comedy buddy story and you have this film.

Such a mix with human actors alone would be strange, but with puppets basically taking the underclass character roles works rather well.

The script is tightly written, full of humour and pathos.  The human actors play their parts straight down the line.  The puppets, created by the Henson studios, have realistic bodies and can be seen walking, running and engaging in other activities in a totally realistic way.

The humour ranges from laugh out loud to schoolchild sniggering and comes in large amounts.

All this together makes for a very enjoyable adult, guilty pleasure type experience.

Although I enjoyed this film, I know it wont be for every taste, I give it 4 stars out of five.

 

The Equalizer 2 *****

The Equalizer 2 is the first time Denzel Washington has ever made a sequel movie, having never received a script that held up the quality of the first incarnation.  This indicates to me that he had confidence that the script, director and production of this film would at least be as good, if not better that the first.

Was he right?

With a big sigh of relief, yes he was.

This is a brilliant thriller, with twists and turns, plots and intrigue, to satisfy this actor’s fan.  A bad or even poor Denzel Washington film is very hard to think of.  I failed while writing this review.

The opening scene is worthy of a Bond, not for the action (of which there is plenty) but for the surprise and cleverness.  This continues through the film to the very last scene.

I have often complained about the lack of originality in sequels but that is not a problem here.  We get a good understanding of the man, his history and his moral compass.  All this while restores good into the world for the weak and some measure of revenge for him-self.

I loved this film, physically excited and emotionally delighted throughout. The full 5 stars out of five and fingers crossed for another instalment from The Equalizer.

Mission: Impossible – Fallout ****

First I must apologise for the break in my blog posts during the last few weeks.

In the battle between the incredible weather and the dominance of tedious franchise movies, my garden won.

That being said, my first trip back is to another franchise film, Mission Impossible Fallout.

Fans of this franchise or just of Tom Cruise will not be disappointed.

The first scene echoes the original TV series beautifully, for those old enough to remember.

This sets off the usual series of chases, mass slaughter of bystanders and villains and double or triple crossing conspiracies.

No complex plot twists to be found in the style of Le Carré.

Just continuous, adrenaline pumping, action and mindless violence. It made me smile and wince several times, but left without really caring about the story or characters.

It does push the courage of Mr Cruise who, while filming in London, broke his ankle.  This scene is still used in the film and it is amazing he could still run, if only for a couple of steps.

This is a well-crafted film of this type in all respects except for originality.

For that reason I can only give it 4 out of five stars.

Robin Hood *****

Summer in Guildford has officially started (in my diary at least) with the start of the Guildford Shakespeare Companies Open-Air Season.

The first of their two productions is Robin Hood, a retelling of the legend in period costume and modern language, for all the family.

I attended the Saturday matinee performance at the lovely, wild sanctuary in Racks Close, located of Quarry Street.  This is actually part of the original quarry from which the Guildford Castle stone was mined, now long neglected but revived for the second time by the GSC.

Robin Hood is the latest in a series of family friendly non-Shakespeare productions.  Previous hits have included, Alice in Wonderland and The Legend of King Arthur.  This was visibly succeeding as the audience with me had a very high proportion of children. This created a fun atmosphere throughout the play.

The action opens with a minstrel interacting with the audience as he sang a ballad about our hero. Then he is interrupted by the arrival of the Sheriff with all the evil intent of the best pantomime villains.

Hissing and booing as appropriate, the audience was captivated by the evil threats and the challenging insults from our wandering minstrel.

And so the play continues in high quality pantomime mode, with specially written songs enlivening the cast and audience alike.

I will not name any of the cast in particular because this was full of very good actors, both young and old, all of whom deserve credit.  (See linked # on blog page for list).

I recommend purchasing the programme, which covers both plays in the season, and putting it away safely for future reference.  I believe many new stars are making their earliest performances in this play and it may become a collector’s item.

As so often, I award the full 5 out of five stars to this GSC production.

Looking forward to the next play, Love’s Labour’s Lost, at the Collage of Law, St Catherine’s, next month.

Book Club *****

What a relief!  I have been losing my enthusiasm for the interminable action, sci-fi, crime and violence filled films that now dominate our cinema screens.

Book Club is the antidote. It brings a really nice, gentle, funny, well-written story, with actors at the top of their craft, delivering a satisfying and enjoyable couple of hours entertainment.

This story is about four adult women friends and the consequences of their latest book club selection.

It is told with great humour and sympathy.  Reflective and uplifting, I found myself truly inspired by the end of the tale.

The four lead actors, Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen and Mary Steenburgen are well supported by a male cast of supporting stars including Andy Garcia, Craig T Nelson, Don Johnson and Richard Dreyfuss to name but a few.

I think there are few adults who have lived a life that will not find something to smile about in this great, human sized, drama.

It won’t win any Oscars or break box office records but, it does get 5 stars out of five from this grateful audience member.