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.

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.

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.

Deadpool 2 ***

The foul-mouthed, super-sarcastic, hero returns in Deadpool 2.

We are given more of the same knowing banter with the audience and ultra violent, consequence free action that seemed so fresh the first time around.

Being unencumbered by not having to tell an origin story, it is straight into the mayhem that has become routine in most of this genre of movie.

This is lightened by the wit and wisdom of the moral free hero.

It is still frequently funny with plenty of ‘did he just say that’ moments to make the film enjoyable but not to the level of the original film.

Sadly the originality of the character now turns predicable and, at times, very strained.

It you enjoyed the first outing, you will probably enjoy this, but not for the first time viewer I am sorry to say.

Down to just 3 stars out of five.

The Guernsey Literature and Potato Peel Pie Society ****

The Guernsey Literature and Potato Peel Pie Society is an absolutely charming love story.

It is set just after WWII in London and on the Channel isle of Guernsey, with flash backs to the German occupation period.

Featuring a plethora of fine British/Dutch/American acting talent, the story is told at a gentle pace, focusing on the tensions caused between natives and occupiers and the after effects in peacetime.

The story arrives at its inevitable and predictable conclusion, which is nonetheless, very satisfying.

Lily James gives a warm and believable portrayal, which leads the story.  She plays a young author and survivor of the London Blitz, struggling at times with PTSD.

The story could have degenerated into a sentimental tale but avoids this fate with careful measures of humour and grit to balance the sugar.

My only regret about the film is that it was not shot on the island.  Due to financial reasons, it was filmed in the beautiful county of Devon. Anybody expecting to see lovely St Peter Port will have to settle for a very different English fishing village. That is a minor point, but a distraction if you know the locations.

I recommend this for anybody with a love of our history and the tradition of British filmmaking.

At the time of writing, this film is showing at the Odeon for this week, and will undoubtedly moves to the Silverscreen performances in a few weeks.

I award it 4 out of five stars.

 

The Leisure Seeker ***

If you have seen the trailer for The Leisure Seeker, you may have been misled into thinking this is a light comedy about two seniors travelling America.  It is not.

There are comedic moments but at its heart this is a story of fighting against age and its inevitable final destination.

Played by the almost unrecognisable Dame Helen Mirren and the unmistakable Donald Sutherland, the two protagonists embark on a final search for lost memories and lives.

The story is uncomfortable to watch at times as it plunges into the dark pool of dementia, exposing long forgotten and unknown truths about their perfect marriage.

This may have a limited audience but should be seen for the remarkable performances of both actors. Sadly it is let down by the contrived humour and a weak supporting cast.

Just about earns its 3 out of five stars.

Tomb Raider

This is the re-launch of the Tomb Raider franchise with a new, fit for 21st century, Lara Croft.

Gone are the pneumatic charms of the video game Lara, or the superwoman Angelina Jolie.

We now have a hero in the mould of GoT’s Arya Stark or Star Wars Rey.

Alicia Vikander’s performance alone raises this from just another high adventure into the story of a real human being struggling with circumstances that would defeat most of us.

Unfortunately, she is surrounded by cardboard cut-out friends and villains who add nothing unique to the story.

Tomb 1

I enjoyed the early scenes, shot in and around London and Hong Kong, that were beautiful, exciting and totally believable. The later scenes descend in the now over familiar CGI scenery and perils. These could have been from any number of similar films and require a great effort of imagination to accept.

I am sure that this film will appeal to the less jaded cinema audiences, especially young women, who have traditionally been underserved in such dramas.

For that reason I have raised my assessment to give this film 4 out of five stars.