Le Mans ’66 Review

I have been trying to find time to see this film for several weeks, and finally I managed to get to a showing this week. Going in I knew it was about Le Mans and how Ford tried to overcome Ferrari who had a stranglehold on the legendary 24 hour Le Mans race. 

First off, this film’s title is Le Mans ’66 in the UK, and its “Ford V Ferrari” in the US, who knows what it’s called in your local area if it’s not one of those titles. Weirdly, whilst both of those titles do relate to some parts of this film, it is not what the film’s about. This film is about two men, and their passion for motor sport driving their desire to make the best car they possibly could. Ford are represented as a necessary evil, the huge conglomerate that enabled this pipe dream to become a reality.

While Carroll Shelby is a pretty well-known name, I must admit I knew very little if anything about Ken Miles. Matt Damon plays Carroll Shelby, and he gives the best performance I have seen from him. He comes across as a man who is from the same background as Ken Miles but is now finding himself having to learn to cope in the suited-up hallways of the bureaucrats in power at big companies like Ford. His chemistry with Christian Bale in the role of Ken Miles is the fuel that keeps this film going.

At this point I think it’s hard to argue against the idea that Christian Bale is one of the best actors of all time. His career is littered with excellent performances and this is right up there with the best of them. Matt Damon is very good throughout this film, but Bale steals every scene and somehow, despite being a very recognisable actor, completely disappears and becomes Ken Miles. Early on the tone of the character is set and learning this story about the men behind the iconic Ford GT40, a car that made Ford cool.

The film clips along at a good pace, and it covers a lot of ground in its two and a half hour run time. All the characters in the film have their own dynamics with the main characters, and Bale’s dynamic with his son is one of the most believable and enjoyable Parent/child relationships I have seen in a while. Youngster Noah Jupe holds his own in scenes with these huge name actors, and in some scenes, there is real emotion being displayed and he is right there with them.

Le Mans ’66 may seem a bit unapproachable for people who have no interest in motor racing or cars at all, but this isn’t about that. This, like most great films, is about human connections and passion. We all have passion for something, and this film displays people who are devoted to something they really care about. On top of that, the interactions between all the people on screen feel real.

Director James Mangold was a name I knew of and didn’t think had top tier potential a few years ago. That is no longer the case as he has shown a new level of maturity as a film maker with this film following up the incredible Logan. He is showing he can pull some monster performances from hugely talented actors and package them in entertaining packages whilst also not shying away from sad and difficult topics.

I went into this film with quite high expectations, and it surpassed them. That is a rare thing, and credit to all involved for making Le Mans ’66 such a great time. My only gripes with the film are the run time, which does feel a little indulgent at over two and half hours with the story they were trying to tell. There is also one character who started to grate on me in a “Is this guy just a dick and nothing more” way, but not enough to really detract from the film overall. If you enjoy cinema at all, I have no doubt you will enjoy this film.

Good: Astounding performances all round, Bale driving straight into a very congested best actor race this year. Great dynamics with all characters and well-done racing scenes.

Bad: Not much, a one note brown nosing character and a run time that made me check my watch a few times.

9/10 – Add it to the Best Picture List already. 

 

Knives Out Review

Knives out is one of those rare occasions when I went in having no real expectation for the film. I knew it was a murder mystery directed by The Last Jedi’s Rian Johnson, and that Daniel Craig was in it. I love the idea of the genre, but I find it’s very rarely done well. 2017’s Murder on the Orient Express did it quite well, but that film missed the mark a little with me. 

First off, bravo to whoever managed to get such a talent packed cast. Christopher Plumber, Michael Shannon, Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis and Toni Collette are all key members of the cast and to get a group so talented together to play characters in a whodunit is a master stroke. Top of the bill is Daniel Craig, and he clearly loved playing this quirky role. The accent is a little bit jarring at first, but once I had adjusted my ears to his voice, I thought he smashed this role out of the park. I think for him these quirkier fun roles are what he wants to be doing, hence his reluctance to continue as Bond where he must be the straight man and can’t let that side of him out.

He doesn’t quite take the top spot performance wise for me though, that is reserved for the rising star of Ana de Armas. I checked on IMDB to see where I recognised her from, and she was in Blade Runner 2049 where I remembered enjoying what she did there. She is playing Norma Jean in the movie “Blonde” based on the real life of Marilyn Monroe next year, and if Knives Out is anything to go by, that film will be a fantastic watch. Her character is central to the events of this film, and in a film full of questionable people, she appears to be the one ray of shining light.

It’s very hard to go into any of the performances without venturing into spoiler territory, and this is one film that you do not want spoiled before you see it. I remember Murder of the Orient Express frustrating me because it was an impossible mystery to figure out without the exposition of Poirot, the detective. In Knives Out, you are quite brilliantly given every piece of evidence, every thread you need to knit together the answer. This is fantastic as it adds another element to the film, and I found myself actively looking around the scenes for clues.

I managed to piece together a large chunk of the mystery before it was revealed on screen, and whilst that gave me some satisfaction, at first, I felt a little disappointed. Thinking about it on the way home, I realised what I said above about everything being there, and that kind of being part of the fun of watching this film. You’re supposed to guess along and see how close you get. I am always looking for potential twists in any film, I don’t think that’s something everyone does, but it helped me to piece together some bits and bobs.

Director Rian Johnson got a lot of mixed reactions to his last film, which is to be expected with the things he attempted to do within the confines of a Star Wars film. Here he seems like he’s enjoyed the ability to craft his own story entirely and not have to pick up an already partially told story and carry it on. He strikes me as a film maker who perhaps suits doing his own thing better than jumping into a franchise like the Star Wars Saga films, and that’s from me, someone who enjoys The Last Jedi.

Knives Out is probably the best whodunit film I have seen, although I must confess, I haven’t seen a lot of them. It’s got a dark sense of humour which got me giggling a few times, and the mystery elements are all there to have fun with. There are a couple of the plot reveals that fall a little flat but that is possibly because they were telegraphed a little too much but overall, I really did enjoy this film.

Good: All the performances are great; it’s shot beautifully and piecing together the mystery is a great part of it.

Bad: A little too easy in parts to guess certain elements. Daniel Craig’s accent will put off someone I am sure.

9/10 – Whodunit? Rian Johnson did it. 

 

 

The Irishman Review

Martin Scorsese teams up with Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci to make a film that for many old school cinema and gangster movie fans will be the most anticipated film in decades. It certainly has the cast, and the extreme run time, of a Godfather wannabe, but can it deliver on all that potential?

I found myself going into this film with some trepidation regarding a few points. Would the de-aging technology employed throughout work seamlessly or would it be a jarring factor in the film? Could Scorsese pull a good performance from De Niro, a man who has largely cashed cheques for turning up over the last few years. He has done his part in a lot of films but rarely with the commitment he had back in the day. Would Al Pacino become a caricature of himself as this larger than life character in Jimmy Hoffa? Could Joe Pesci possibly still deliver the goods after nearly 21 years of doing very little in Hollywood?

Well quite incredibly, the answer to those concerns were all emphatically positive. The biggest compliment any special effect can receive is that you simply don’t notice it is there. That is the case for the majority of this film, and although there are a few scenes where it’s a little odd, it never threw me out of the movie. At one point there is a scene that highlights that whilst you can de-age someone’s face, you can’t de-age their movement, and the scene outside a greengrocer highlights it clear as day. Other than the odd moment here and there though, the film’s exorbitant run time is unobstructed by the technology, and this film simply wouldn’t be possible without it.

Robert De Niro is an incredibly recognisable man, but he disappears into this role in a way I haven’t seen him do for a long time. He is completely committed and gives a lot in his performance, but the nature of his character means he comes across as a reluctant protagonist. Al Pacino’s character is the charismatic, larger than life figure who chews scenery left and right, owning the role. Again, he is completely in on the role and working with Scorsese seems to have lit a fire in these two actors and brought incredible performances from them both.

The third headline name is one less known to my generation because he’s barely done anything since the late nineties. Joe Pesci plays a hugely respected mob boss who is pulling strings and has a finger in every pie around. He doesn’t do it by being the over the top Pitbull type like Pacino does, but instead invokes memories of Marlon Brando in The Godfather. He is quiet, thoughtful and deliberate. You get the feeling he is friendly to everyone until it doesn’t suit him to be friendly, and even then, he will order you to your death whilst sipping a glass of red and smoking.

There is a cavalcade of other actors involved, and to list them all would take forever, but I think it’s pretty obvious at this point that Scorsese gets gold out of everyone he works with. Best of the rest for me was Stephen Graham, who steals most scenes he is in. He plays a character cut from the same cloth as Pacino’s, but with different motivations. The actors and performances all make this movie incredibly watchable from moment to moment, and they need to be at this level to carry a movie this long.

The plot is a complex one, but essentially it is the life story of De Niro’s character Frank Sheeran, who was a real-life gangster back in the day. It spans 60 years of his life, thanks to the de-aging tech, and to me the film is split into two distinct themes. Most of the film is a good, maybe even great mob film, but it treads on ground very similar to what we have seen from these actors and this director before. That doesn’t take away from the fact that it’s entertaining, but it does mean you kind of know who these people are and how they’re going to interact quickly if you’re familiar with this style of film.

There is a lot of talking, broken up by occasional bouts of violence. The character relationships are dived into, particularly the three main actors I mentioned above, and Frank’s relationship to them is the main element we are focused on. He is fiercely loyal and has learned to do things a certain way, and that extends to his time with his family.

The scenes with his family are spread throughout the film and at first I thought it was just there to humanise him, which it does but when the film starts to slowly wind down to the end, certain things come back and I found the more I remembered about the film and thought about it, the more effective the ending become. The Irishman is a story about a man who lived his life in service of other people, at the expense of his own life in many ways.

In the final moments of the film, it hits you that he is trying to make amends for the way he lived, and although I don’t believe he regrets all of it, you certainly feel like he wishes something was different. When the film ends, the final shot felt abrupt to me, but that’s because I was so in, I wanted to know what was happening next and then it ends. But this started to be less odd the more I thought about it.

This is a great film, but as I have hinted at, the run time is excessive. At 3 hours and 30 minutes long, it is an ordeal to sit through. You must plan around it; you can’t just chuck this on one evening. This is the main issue I had with the film, every scene when you’re in it felt important, but quite a lot of them could be removed and the film doesn’t lose anything. Speaking to people about the film and discussing certain plot points, I realised they went nowhere, which is disappointing because in the moment I was interested in seeing where things went.

The Irishman doesn’t boldly go where man has not been before, but it goes back over the history of this genre and cherry picks the best actors, relights their passion for film and lets them go on a greatest hits tour of gangster movies. Goodfellas, Heat, Casino, The Godfather, Scarface, The Departed and more all give a little something to this film. It’s a film that’s made possible by the tech, and by the combined centuries of experience working together.

Whether Scorsese meant to or not, he has created the Avengers of gangster films, where all the previous films have contributed towards creating this one great, epic piece.

Good: The acting, seriously, these guys are masters in this genre, and they show why they’re the go to names. It sticks with you afterwards and for me personally, gave me a different perspective on some things.

Bad: Its offensively long, and a little bit of fat trimming here and there wouldn’t have hurt at all. It’s a little derivative but that’s not something that bothered me really.

9/10 – A love letter to a genre, written by the people who made it famous. 

 

Frozen 2 Review

Frozen 2 has finally arrived with the excitement of every Disney fan in the world on its shoulders. This sequel has huge pressure on it to deliver, and the impossible task of repeating the magic of the first one and trying to deliver another knock-out punch of a song like the first on provided. Does it manage that mammoth task? 

First off, the cast of the first returns and they’re all excellent again. Idina Menzel provides an unbelievably powerful voice in her solo songs that reminds you what made Let It Go such a huge hit. Elsa is once again the split protagonist with Kristen Bell’s Anna, who outdoes her own great performance in the first film to bring some great emotion to the film and if I had more of a heart it might have even been touching.

The star of this one, a little surprisingly to me, was Olaf. The Josh Gad voiced comedic relief hit me with nearly every joke he made, and he even had a touching scene that worked for me. I cannot be as full of praise for Kristoff though. I can’t put my finger on what, but something about his character just annoyed me throughout the film. To be honest, it’s the only real negative I have in the whole film, every time he came on screen I groaned. His bumbling buffoonery wore thin quickly with me and from then on, he just felt a bit out of place. They clearly didn’t have much for him to do relating to the main plot, and the story line he has which should feel important plays out like a meaningless side show that wasn’t needed.

So, I enjoyed three of the four main characters quite a bit, but what about the adventure they’re on. It’s a perfectly serviceable story, with some attempts at surprises that will work wonders with kids. The film just never quite got its hooks in me to the point where I was really into the story. The adventure they’re on is fun, but for me it felt telegraphed from miles away. I appreciate that films often give you some crumbs early on of where the plot is heading, but this gave me more than I needed. I was in with the initial tease of the plot, then it carried on and I was sure of the core story, and that doesn’t add to the fun of the experience for me.

A huge part of the first film is the music, it provided several songs that you were humming right out of the theatre. “Do you want to build a Snowman”, “Love is an open door” and of course “Let It Go” were all in my head for days afterwards, and this is one key area I think Frozen 2 falls a little short. Idina Menzel’s incredible vocals during Into the Unknown and Show Yourself are just as hair raising as ever, but they are missing that magic that Let It Go captured. I realise it’s essentially asking for Disney to capture lightning in a bottle twice in a row, but that’s the problem you give yourself with a sequel to Frozen.

Anna’s song “Some things never change” is a fun ride, and Olaf & song are both superior to their previous efforts, but nothing is there to reach “Do you want to build a snowman” or “Love is an open door” levels of catchy. A friend of mine made the point that the songs in this film are similar to something you would find on Broadway, and I have to agree with him, but for some reason that just didn’t work for me the same way it did for him.

One of the things I am confident in about Frozen 2, is that you will have a good time watching it. It’s got very little wrong, and it’s one of the most beautifully animated films ever, which is becoming par for the course with Disney & Pixar’s’ efforts each year. Every film in recent memory has added a new element to the Disney Animation bow, be that the realistic flowing hair from Tangled or the perfect water from Moana, and I genuinely look forward to just looking at each new Disney animation because of it.

The one element Pixar has consistently nailed in their films that Disney still misses for me, is being able to tell a story that is compelling to both children and their parents alike. Whilst most older generations will enjoy this film, I don’t think it’ll have you thinking about it for hours afterwards. As great as Tangled, Frozen 1 & 2 and Moana are, I couldn’t argue for any of them over Coco, or Up. That is the next step for these films in my opinion, and one I hope they make soon.

Frozen 2 is a good film, its biggest problem is the strength of the first film. Whilst it never reaches the heights of Frozen, it’s a worthy successor and one I think most people will enjoy seeing.

Good: Stunning animation, solid musical numbers, great voice acting across the board.

Bad: Telegraphed plot took away something, and no song quite hits the heights I wanted. Kristoff consistently annoyed me.

7/10 – Do you want to knock a dam down? 

 

Zombieland Double Tap Review

The first Zombieland was great fun and came out of nowhere. I remember seeing it and being completely surprised that I enjoyed it as much as I did. It was quirky, funny, and had the 4 main characters had great chemistry. It was also 2009, and by 2014 I had just naturally assumed there wasn’t going to be a sequel. However, 10 years later, we have the next part of the story and once again I am going in with absolutely no idea of what to expect. 

The core cast are all back, with Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin, who has noticeably grown up over the last 10 years while the other 3 look remarkably like how they did in the first one. It’s like they haven’t aged a day, but then Woody Harrelson has looked like he does now for as long as I have known of him, so I guess it makes sense. He’s one of those ageless people like Keanu Reeves.

Anyway, those four returns and seem to have not missed a beat. Their chemistry is once again the engine that keeps this film going. The banter back and forth between them all really does feel like a group that has been together for a long time so I would guess these four are friends outside of the camera as well. The newcomers to the cast add some new dimensions, and top of that list is Zoey Deutch who plays a ditzy, oblivious girl who has somehow survived this long. At first, I thought the character would become annoying very fast, but she does develop a little and is not just the idiot she first seems.

Rosario Dawson is the other newcomer and as always, she is great. She is immediately on the same wavelength as the rest of the group and her chemistry with Woody Harrelson adds a new dynamic to his character. I’ve talked about the cast so much because really, they’re the best thing about Zombieland Double Tap. Beyond them and some funny “Zombie Kill of the Year” bits, there isn’t much else here beyond some zombie killing.

The plot is fine, the action scenes are fine, and the special effects are great. That could kind of sum up this film unfortunately. There is no clever plot here, it’s basic and it serves its purpose of giving the characters a reason to go somewhere. Beyond that there is no intrigue or “what’s going to happen”. There is rarely a moment when you worry about any characters and when you do, it’s never for too long. The new Zombie types are fun, and the cleverly named T-800 (Zombieland’s main box office competition is the new Terminator) is an interesting idea, but they quickly become just another part of the horde.

The action scenes do have some fun moments, but there are only so many times a zombie being shot in the head is that entertaining. The film sets up a more interesting fight at the end, but then the finale happens a bit too quickly and there is no time for any cool action scenes. The last fight is practical, rather than entertaining, and even if there are some fun visuals a couple of times, my highlight of the films action was a cutaway skit to a guy murdering zombie in Italy.

What is odd about Zombieland Double Tap is that it doesn’t bring much new to the table, but still feels fun, fresh and enjoyable. It’s a movie we have had before, but the 10-year gap makes the reunion feel like more fun than if we had a sequel a couple of years later. It’s rare that comedy sequels made 10 years later work (see Zoolander 2) but somehow the formula of the first film still holds up in 2019. As much as I enjoyed watching this film, I can’t say I need another Zombieland anytime soon, so perhaps revisiting in another 10 years wouldn’t be such a bad idea.

It’s one of those films where your expectations need to be in the right place when you go in. Don’t expect a stunning sequel that surpasses the first, it doesn’t even try to be that. It’s an update on what’s happened to the characters you enjoyed first time. Like a postcard from someone you lost contact with, you will probably smile, laugh a little, and then forget about it all over again.

Good: Great chemistry between the cast with some laughs. Some laugh out loud moments that got me good.

Bad: Unambitious, very little original content, and unadventurous action scenes.

7/10 – Zombieland is Fine, and I think that’s what they were aiming for. 

 

Between Two Ferns Review

I don’t know how I had never heard of the Between Two Ferns show on YouTube before. If you don’t know what it is, it’s an interview show hosted by Zach Galifianakis, and he ask’s some of Hollywood’s biggest names some very insulting questions to hilarious effect. I discovered this all by watching the mockumentary about the making of the show “Between Two Ferns: The Movie” which is now on Netflix. 

I can honestly say I do not remember laughing as hard as this watching anything since maybe the Pink Panther movies when I was a child. Something about it just hit me exactly in the right way and I was laughing for most of the brisk hour and 22-minute run time. Zach is so good in this role, his ability to say the most absurd things and keep a completely straight face leads to some amazingly funny moments. He’s so good in the role, because he is playing himself. There is a lot of him in the role, but it’s just all dialled up to 11.

The 3 crew members he works with are a solid supporting cast and have moments to show they can deliver some great laughs too. They are never front and centre long enough for us to feel any real connection and even in the scenes when it seems like we are starting to build to that we get another joke that stops it developing. I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean the entire film rests on the audience being fans of Zach and his style.

The premise is that they must make ten episodes of the show on the road, and that leads to where the movie is at its best, the interviews. Zach’s deadpan face and the generally great job by the actors and actresses who play it straight as well really made me laugh. It’s juvenile at times but there is enough gold in these moments to warrant spending the time to watch the film.

The film’s structure is like a lot of similar sketches stitched together. Sewing together the interviews is the challenge the film faces, and it has moments where it struggles. The humour can be hit and miss in these sections. Whilst the highs don’t reach the same level as the interviews, the jokes that missed don’t really grind the film to a halt either. There is always another moment just around the corner. The film doesn’t let you dwell on an unfunny moment because you’re into the next moment, and this scatter gun approach works for the most part.

It’s only when I have stopped to really think about those moment in between the laughs that I’ve realised there are chunks of the movie where we are just waiting for the next laugh, it doesn’t have a narrative thread that is keeping you hooked that other mockumentaries like “American Vandal” have.

That would be a bigger problem were this a series of hour-long episodes like that is, but the shorter run time allows it to just be what it needs to be. A vehicle for Zach Galifianakis to make you laugh for a bit and remember not to take everything so seriously. I personally enjoyed it a lot, and I think a lot of my friends would love it. It’s not perfect but it does have some very good highs that make Between Two Ferns the Movie worth watching.

Good: If you like Zach’s comedic style, this will crack you up. I laughed throughout and the interviews are gold.

Bad: Scatter gun approach may not hit enough for some to think it’s worth the watch, but it really does depend on your sense of humour.

7/10 – Great fun and doesn’t overstay its welcome. 

 

El Camino Review

If you’re one of the few people who has not treated themselves to watching through Breaking Bad, I envy you more than most people in the world. The show is a stunning blend of excellent writing, great performances and twists that leave you desperate for more. Just over 6 years on from the end of the series, we are heading back to the moments after the series with Netflix’s El Camino.

It’s impossible to talk about this show without spoiling Breaking Bad massively, so please do yourself a favour and do not read on if you haven’t seen the show. Make the time for the 60 odd hours of Breaking Bad and enjoy the incredible ride before watching El Camino.

Onto El Camino itself, it’s a film that sneaked up on me and I am grateful for that. It was a nice treat to find it had dropped on Netflix over the weekend and I sat down to find out what exactly happened to Jesse after the events of the Breaking Bad Finale. The idea of dropping back into that world is tantalising, although I must confess, I was not sure we really needed any more to explain the aftermath.

El Camino picks up from the last time we saw Jesse in Breaking Bad, driving off from his captors and finally free. From there we see the events of the next day or so, interspersed with flashbacks to the previous times and the events of his captivity. It’s an interesting choice to go with for the film, but it fits very well with the style we grew to love with the original series. In fact, calling El Camino a film is a bit odd for me, as it does not feel like one.

This feels like its two bonus episodes of Breaking Bad showing what happened next. As such, I found it to be a bit of an odd experience watching along, as the first hour of the film crawls by at a snail’s pace. I know it’s a bad sign whenever I check a film run time, and when I saw I was only 45 minutes in, I was questioning whether it was worth me sticking with it.

I completely understand why Jesse is how he is, and what the motivations are for him. I just felt like this film was going to give me something a little bit new, whereas this feels very much like a couple of mid-season Breaking Bad episodes. The second half of the film was more enjoyable, and the outcome, even though it was telegraphed from the beginning of the film, feels like a satisfying place to end this story.

Perhaps this is a case of my expectations and what I wanted being too far from what we got, but by the end of El Camino I was very much done with the film. I love Aaron Paul in this role, and he is as great as he was in every episode of the show. Of course, seeing Jesse Pinkman and all the characters we see pop up through the film was fun, but one of the biggest feelings I had watching El Camino was that I now want to watch Breaking Bad again. Not because I loved El Camino, but because I of what I think it’s missing.

It’s not really a criticism, but the film falls apart when you analyse it as a standalone film. This is very much Breaking Bad season six condensed down to two hours, and for me that just didn’t work. At the same time as explaining what happened next, the film also goes into the past and shows Jesse’s time as a prisoner and his day out with his captor Todd. This extra leg work was all very breaking bad, and if this was an episode of the show, I would have eaten it up with no complaints. This isn’t supposed to be just another couple of episodes though, and that is where El Camino falls.

For all the good performances and the satisfaction of seeing where Jesse Pinkman ends up, El Camino just feels unnecessary. I am a huge Breaking Bad fan, but this just felt like filler episodes with a few fun scenes and a nice farewell. Watching this 6 years ago would have felt good, like a nice epilogue to the finale of the show. That epilogue has come 6 years too late for me, and whether that’s a fair criticism or not, that’s how I felt watching this film.

Good: Great performances, some incredible cinematography, trip back to the world of Breaking Bad.

Bad: Six years too late and it feels unnecessary because of it. Answers questions I didn’t care about anymore.

6/10 – Its more Breaking Bad so it’s not terrible. That’s all it is though.