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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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.

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.

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.

 

Finding Your Feet ****

Finding your feet is a lovely little film, in the English tradition of light domestic stories told with emotion and humour.

Full of British TV and Film stars, most notably Timothy Spall, Imelda Staunton, David Hayman, Celia Imrie, and Joanna Lumley.

It is produced and directed by even more of our great British talented people, including those behind the wonderful A Street Cat Named Bob just last year.

The plot encompasses loss in many forms and also survival from those losses.  It also features the best death scene ever, certainly the way I would like to go.

It is told with great kindness for the characters.  There are no big villains, although some are very cruel by their unthinking actions, eventually to be saved.

Happy endings for every character; a feeling of having been hugged for the audience.

I can imagine watching this film again at home over Christmas in front of a warm fire with cosy slippers and a nice glass of sherry.

A well earned 4 out of 5 stars.

The Shape Of Water ****

The Shape of Water is an adult fairy tale, of monsters and lovers, sacrifice and hatred.

We are taken to the post WW2 anti-communist paranoid America, coloured with a dark palate, giving an impression of an old gothic horror.

Emotions are all ramped up to the maximum with no time for nuance or subtlety.

Thankfully the plot moves quickly as a result and the 2 hour 3 minute duration flies as quickly.

This film is probably the director Guillermo Del Toro’s best work (I haven’t seen them all so cannot be certain).

The performances by actors Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer, Richard Jenkins and Doug Jones are all excellent.

I would particularly pick out Doug Jones who inhabits the central creature around which the story revolves. He brings the full range of emotions to his character without benefit of language, purely by his body language, which shines through his latex prosthetic body. (You may have seen him recently in Star Trek: Discovery, similarly cloaked in alien costume.)

As the story reached the ultimate and predictable conclusion, I felt this to have been a satisfying experience.

This will not be everybody’s cup of tea; indeed I resisted seeing it until after its Bafta success.

It is well worth 4 out of five stars.