I don’t mean to brag but (cough) THE DRAGON LOYALTY AWARD (cough) (cough)

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Originally I wondered what the hell this was? I thought it was a chain letter. My war with spammers isn’t great. Sorry Mr. Russel D’Silva. Now I’ve looked into it. I’m happy to have been nominated for the Dragon Loyalty Award. I’m glad to know my rants are not a complete load of tripe. I’m still getting used to all this. It’s only taken me two years. Gulp.

I would like to thank Russel D’Silva for the nomination and recommend that people check out his blog. It’s actually pretty pretty good. Keep up the good work my son!

Here’s the link to this legend’s blog:

http://cinesolace.wordpress.com/

So here are the rules for winning the “Dragon’s Loyalty Award”

STEP 1) Include the award’s logo in a post or on your blog. (CHECK! DRAGONS!)

STEP 2) Link to the person who nominated you (LOOK ABOVE. CHECK!)

STEP 3) Nominate five or more bloggers of your choice.

STEP 4) Link your nominees to the post and comment on their blogs, letting them know they have been nominated.

Ah, nominees. There’s the rub. Hmmm . . . let me think. I have read a lot of posts in my time. So many legendary quotes and rants.

As Russel rightly said; it would be weird to nominate the blogger who nominated you. So after much deliberation (I keep starting sentences with so!), please find below  my nominees for the Dragon Loyalty Award . . .

We need a trumpet call. Sorry about the quality but you get the picture . . .

I nominate:

http://timsfilmreviews.com/

http://writerlovesmovies.com/

https://kennyfreeland.wordpress.com/

https://notyourrolemodel.wordpress.com/

http://screenkickermovies.com/

http://peggyatthemovies.com/

I’m sorry if I missed anybody. I would be here forever if I could recall everybody. To those who I did nominate, THANK YOU for the support, the banter and your awesome blogs.

Your reviews have always got me talking out loud. Even in public when no one has a clue and there I am screaming, “YES! I know, right?!”. Hence the title . . . That Mad Movie Ranter.

Right enough corny sentiment! Good job, guys!

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THE WOMAN IN GOLD REVIEW

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The Woman in Gold or was it dark blue? Either way, go see it.

Maria Altmann (Helen Mirren), an octogenarian Jewish refugee, takes on the Austrian government to recover artwork she believes rightfully belongs to her family.

FINALLY! I’ve managed to hit a run of good films. YES!

Mirren was superb. A perfect leading lady. Ryan Reynolds was also excellent. It was good to see him play a more subdued role. A normal guy fighting against the ruthless and contradictory Austrian legal system (Or the big guy).

I’m used to watching Reynolds play the same old obnoxious fast talking douche bag archetype. It was a breath of fresh air. Some proper acting from a talented actor (I knew he could. Just check out Buried for proof).

My only niggle was that you could tell the guy doesn’t wear glasses. You’ll know what I mean when you see it. If not, my four eyed brethren will understand.

They were a great pairing. I found the pace dipped a little in parts but it still keep me hooked. The set up took a little too much time to get going but I was distracted by the enigmatic duo as we delve into Maria’s past.

The film isn’t just about a painting. I’m no art lover but I wasn’t impressed by the actual art piece for all it’s controversy. BUT the story behind this cultural icon is something else. An icon that was stolen by the Nazis and never returned to the rightful owner.

Through a series of flashbacks and narration by Mirren, we soon discover the true origins of the renowned Gustav Klimt’s iconic painting of Maria’s aunt, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I. The flashback sequences were riveting, engaging and upsetting.

The treatment of the Jews was handled delicately. We watch as Jews are forced to clean pavements with acid. Shopkeepers made to close their stores and mark JEW on their doors. The public humiliation by bystanders as their locks are cut off by Nazis.

You soon understand why Maria is so adamant not to go back. A place she vowed never to return. Max Irons (The Riot Club) and Tatiana Maslany were also very good.

It was great to see Maslany getting a meatier role on the big screen after her award winning turn in the HIGHLY recommended sleeper hit TV series Orphan Black. She played young Maria brilliantly.

I couldn’t believe how quick the majority of the Austrian community turned against one another. Giving Maria’s family up without hesitation to the Nazis. A good portion of them had attended her wedding only a few days before.

The pace soon picks up as the film flicks back and forth from the past to the present (Well, 90s). The legalities and clauses appeared a little technical but were soon explained. The only problem was once it was explained, I couldn’t believe the difficulty that the pair had to endure just to get a case together.

Stalling tactics from the conniving Austrian officials as they throw ridiculous loopholes and rolls of red tape. It was never about the money for Maria. It was about doing what was right. For family and remembrance.

Maria was even prepared to let the museum keep the portrait but only if they admitted fault. But the officials couldn’t even do that.

It was intriguing watching Randol’s (Reynolds) transformation; a struggling lawyer who took on a case originally for a quick buck. However, the journey he takes with Maria changes everything. His breakdown after visiting the cemetery and Jewish memorials that commemorated his own ancestors really hit home.

The flashbacks, after a nail biting street chase and tense encounter with border patrol, seemed to end a little abruptly. Obviously, it caught up with the present but it would have been nice to know what happened to Maria’s husband after spending a good chunk of time watching him flee from Austria. A passing comment about him from Maria felt a little flat.

The flashbacks did re-appear in the closing minutes and brought a tear as Maria finally opens about the last conversation she had with her parents. A heartbreaking moment between Maria (Maslany) and her father (Allan Corduner) made sure there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

The supporting cast were good, if a little restricted. Katie Holmes played Randol’s wife well. But her character wasn’t really integral to the story and was very much in the background. The only roles she seems to get these days.

Daniel Bruhl was very good as the news journalist desperate to help Maria and Randol. Providing useful advice on the by-laws and using all the contacts at his disposal. It’s great to see him appearing in more mainstream Hollywood flicks. I’ve been a fan since Goodbye Lenin!

Charles Dance (Game of Thrones) had the easiest role going as Randol’s boss. The only thing that stood out for him was his commendable American accent!

The closing trial scenes were not as dramatic as I expected. I anticipated a grand trial with relentless closing arguments not a formal affair with the verdict riding on three art officials in a convention room. But the end result was still uplifting and the closing credits revealed some facts that surprised me.

Despite my little niggles, I still found The Woman in Gold a brilliantly acted and and engaging biopic that is definitely worth your time.

3.5/5

CHILD 44 REVIEW

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Tipped to be the biggest flop of 2015. An unjustified tag line may be undeserved but this clunky affair still leaves a lot to be desired.

A disgraced member of the military police (Hardy) investigates a series of nasty child murders during the Stalin-era Soviet Union.

Tom Hardy was superb. A powerhouse performance. He carried the film and was the only actor to deliver a convincing accent and keep in character.

The opening 30 minutes zipped along. If anything a little too quickly. We watch Hardy’s Leo Demidov climbing through the ranks from an orphan on the run to a decorated war veteran.

I expected more of a relationship between Hardy and Mark Lewis Jones’ Tortoise (Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World) but it didn’t really surmount to anything. He takes Leo in as a surrogate son but as soon as we are caught up to date, his character is pushed into the background. A shame.

Joel Kinnaman was actually quite impressive. He played the green eyed Vasili very well. A coward forever lurking in Leo’s shadow. A nutter hell bent on taking his anger on those beneath him.

His punishment on a family of farmers for hiding a suspected fugitive was relentless. However, there was a highly comical and OTT cornfield punch up between Hardy and Jason Clarke (Dawn of the Planet of The Apes) that killed the tension and suspense.

BUT an interesting development soon put things on the right track as Leo’s wife (Noomi Rapace) is accused of giving secrets to the British embassy.

For the first hour, I kept thinking to myself; “Where does the child killer story come into this?” It felt like a different film. Two story lines meshed into one and neither really came off.

I was more interested in Leo’s exile after refusing to give up his wife. Noomi Rapace and Hardy reunite yet again after their pairing in The Drop. They had good chemistry and certainly kept things watchable.

The exile sequence was compelling. I was happy to see more of that factory town situation. Leo reduced to the equivalent of a PCSO. While Rapace’s Raisa, a fully qualified teacher, is purposely made a cleaner at the school.

I was intrigued with the Stalin ideology that was enforced in the 50s. “There is no murder in paradise”. The deluded belief that no one kills in Soviet Russia was baffling. Those who opposed any ideals were removed either temporarily to these slum towns or permanently.

The child killer subplot finally arrives and it was interesting (To begin with). The killer sneaking around the tracks like Jack the Ripper. A cloak and cane being the only things we see as each child is picked off one by one. BUT it soon became a mindless walk through with terrible red herrings. It was sloppily put together and didn’t fit in.

The spluttering pace did test me. At a whopping 137 minutes, the film dragged. It seemed to be a case of all or nothing. In one scene we have an exhilarating escape attempt on a train as the couple evade capture. The next; mindless exposition. Boring forensic information delivered with no conviction or interest.

The killer is revealed to the audience too early on which kills any tension. And when we finally get the answers, I was left wanting. The film suggested that there was a bigger conspiracy at play with Leo being stopped at every possible opportunity. Was the killer within their own ranks? Oh no.

The conspiracy was that Vasili wanted Leo’s position and was jealous that his wife was not with him instead. That’s it. Leo had so many opportunities to dispose of Vasili and he refused. By the end, you were yelling, “Get rid!”. Foolish.

Gary Oldman didn’t make much of an impression at all. A talented actor reduced to an unmemorable role. He also seemed to forget he was Russian. His accent dipping in and out. It didn’t help that his character was built up to be a crucial figure in the case. But he was non-existent. Merely threatening Leo to stay out of his way and then allowing to do as he pleased.

While Leo was pursuing the killer, Oldman’s General Nesterov was just consoling the grieving families. And then he disappeared. Only popping back up in the closing credits to explain what he did after this daunting case. Not a lot afterwards, either. A waste of an actor.

I had to agree with someone that said the cast were doing their best Borat impressions. It was incredibly off-putting. But that’s Hollywood for you. Fares Fares (Zero Dark Thirty) was the biggest culprit. Terrible. Paddy Considine did as well as he could with the role but he didn’t really get to shine until the closing act.

After a lumbering middle act, the last 20 minutes was suspenseful, intense and ridiculously violent. Hardy goes through more soldiers than Rambo. His mud wrestling battle with a foe was unbelievably hilarious.

And as the film came to its abrupt close, there were plot points that just left me scratching my head. People being bumped off left, right and centre and without any real explanation or reason.

A wasted opportunity. When I last checked the box office records, Child 44 had taken $600,000 a $35 million budget.

A little harsh. It wasn’t all bad. But they took a gamble with a huge ensemble that didn’t deliver with a premise that was half baked. And penciling it in during the Avengers release was a big mistake.

Clunky, overlong, hammy. This may have been adapted from a best selling novel but I’m not certainly venturing out to my local book shop to purchase a copy.

The cons outweighed the suspenseful action sequences and charisma of the talented Mr Hardy.

2.5/5

FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD REVIEW

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An engaging and brilliantly acted drama.

In Victorian England, the independent and headstrong Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan) attracts three very different suitors: Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts), a sheep farmer; Frank Troy (Tom Strurridge), a reckless Sergeant; and William Boldwood (Michael Sheen) a prosperous and mature bachelor.

I’m not normally one for period dramas but somehow this one managed to keep my attention.

I haven’t read the classic novel nor have I seen the 1967 feature with Julie Christie so I can’t make comparisons.

Carey Mulligan was superb as Bathsheba (Such a strange name). Perfectly cast as the strong willed heroine. A different kind of beauty but still a pretty young lady.

A woman desperate not to be another man’s property. Defying type and “social standing” to be her own person.

The opening act may have been slow burning but I was happy to watch the blossoming romance between Gabriel and Bathsheba.

Matthias Schoenarts delivered a very good performance. I know people were sceptical about having a Belgian as the farm hand in something that should have been a quintessentially English affair but I thought he was charismatic and had fantastic chemistry with Mulligan.

By comparison, his performance in A Little Chaos was quite wooden.

As well as dealing with the ever-growing suitors, Bathsheba inherits her uncle’s farm and is determined to restore the place to its former glories. Her dealings in the markets and with her staff made for good viewing. Resourceful and resilient, but vulnerable and anxious.

Sheen delivered a fine turn as the strange and brooding Mr Boldwood. Hell, we even got a little sing song between him and Mulligan.

I knew Mulligan could sing after her turn in Shame but it was certainly unexpected from the Sheenster.

Tom Sturridge (The Boat That Rocked) played the slick solider Frank Troy well. A slimy charmster if ever there was one.

I couldn’t help but question why Bathsheba would be interested in such a tool.

Troy was certainly enigmatic and a sweet talker but his behaviour was so volatile. Their forest fling was a strange encounter. His OTT sword swinging foreplay was a little comical for me. It killed the brewing tension between them.

BUT I understood that the action was supposed to display a sense of danger and excitement that the other suitors weren’t offering.

Is that all they do in the countryside? Shear sheep and marriage, apparently.

It was obvious that the proposals would happen. But the timing was certainly unexpected. Boldwood’s proposal was too sudden.

Sparked by a Valentine card that Bathsheba had sent as a joke. His sudden infatuation and obsession with her seemed a little disjointed. Ridiculously extravagant in one exchange, then nothing the next.

Yet somehow you still felt sorry for the middle aged extrovert.

The cast couldn’t be faltered. Their performances were flawless and I actually cared what happened to the characters.

Each suitor offering something different for Bathsheba. Security, love and danger. But all to a woman who never promised anything and already expressed that she did not want to be “tamed”.

Every time I felt my interest dipping or the pace lulling, there would be a new development or twist that kept me going. Not that my interest dipped that much, to be honest.

A merciless sheepdog with a flock certainly delivered a unexpected cliffhanger.

Charlotte Bruus Christensen’s cinematography was superb. Despite its beautifully shot idyllic backdrop, horror and grief can still strike the countryside.

The only critique I can make about the casting was Juno Temple. She didn’t make as much of an impact as I expected. The role was still important to the story line but anyone could have played her.

The ending may have been a little predictable but I still came out smiling and impressed. Don’t say that often enough.

It was easygoing, engaging and wonderfully acted. One of the better films out there.

Highly recommend.

4/5

THE SECOND BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL REVIEW

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These old dogs need to learn some new tricks if there’s going to be another one.

As the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel has only a single remaining vacancy – posing a rooming predicament for two fresh arrivals – Sonny (Dev Patel) pursues his expansionist dream of opening a second hotel.

Now, I loved the first film. It was fun, easy going, a charming little affair with a fantastic cast. When I heard that there was going to be another, I was excited. Hardly surprised after the reception the original received.

However, this outing seemed to suffer from the dreaded sequelitis. The charm offensive just about pulled it off to make it watchable. BUT I was left wanting more. A phrase I’m using far too often lately.

The opening didn’t really build my hopes up as Patel’s Sonny and Dame Maggie Smith’s Muriel barter with a boardroom of corporate drones about financing the Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

Smith’s rambling and raving about how Americans never serve tea properly didn’t really deliver the laughs. If anything, it annoyed the hell out of me and was dreadfully clichéd.

Look, I’m English. (What?!) Tea has always been a recurring joke but come on, we’re better than that! I still had a little guilty chuckle but when the gag kept popping up; it soon died of death.

Patel played Sonny well. But I found him a lot more irritating this time round. However, what did keep me watching was Sonny and Muriel’s relationship. A surrogate mother/son dynamic that made for hilarious and heart-warming viewing.

I felt Ronald Pickup and Diana Hardcastle’s story line was a little too silly. I was interested in Norman and Carol’s relationship as the pair struggle to adapt to a monogamous lifestyle after playing the field for so long.

BUT all I got was a subplot that was taken out of a bad Carry On film with a drunken conversation between Norman and a taxi driver unwittingly setting up a “hit” on his partner.

I only really got some enjoyment or drama out of the pair in the closing moments. BUT it was resolved far too quickly for my liking. A shame.

Bill Nighy. A comedy legend and a talented actor in my eyes. Disappointing. He just seemed to dither and normally it worked to his advantage but I found myself getting bored of him. The whole tour gag with a young Indian lad feeding him information with a dodgy wireless ear piece has been done time and time again.

His subplot only got interesting when Penelope Wilton made a surprise appearance to upset the apple cart.

It was a surprise that Douglas (Nighy) and Evelyn’s (Dench) characters were still courting and not properly together. Inevitably a spanner is thrown in the works as Evelyn is given an opportunity to work again.

This is where it killed things for me. Dench’s absence was missed. Merely reprieved with little scenes in which we see her and a market trader bartering and dealing with the local community.

Celia Imrie’s love triangle story line was a little nothingy. Her inevitable brewing romance with the chauffeur that drove her to the two men she was seeing was predictable but easygoing.

However, she seemed to be pushed further into the background. If not for a memorable quote upon Gere’s arrival, “God have mercy on my ovaries”, I wouldn’t have known she was there.

Patel’s business venture ambitions and impending wedding certainly spiced things. Sonny’s best friend’s questionable friendship with his fiancee certainly ignited some much needed tension and drama into the mix. BUT to the same old infuriating and predictable results.

While we’re talking about predictable; the red herring hotel inspector subplot was naff. Richard Gere did his best and played the mystery man well BUT it was all so hokey. Sonny “pimping” out his mother to try and improve his review got the odd chuckle. BUT Tamsin Grieg and her shady American accent just didn’t work.

Hardly spoilerific but what was the purpose of David Strathairn’s role? He had the easiest job going. A waste of an incredibly talented actor.

It wasn’t all bad. Maggie Smith was on fine form as usual. Her sniping and complaining delivered the better moments. One perfect example being when Evelyn shares some wonderful advice with her and she simply looks at her, baffled and asks; “I’m sorry. Were you talking to me?” Priceless.

The ending certainly left things open and wasn’t without a few surprises (Don’t worry. No spoilers). And dare I say, I had a little tear.

I was able to walk out with a cheeky little grin after seeing the geriatric icons jumping up and down at the wedding reception without a care in the world.

BUT it just didn’t carry it off as well as the first. A film I went in expecting nothing and was rewarded with much more.

Maybe I went in with too high an expectation this time. It was certainly watchable and there were laughs to be had, “Why die here? When I can die . . . there”.

A mixed bag of spice and naff tobacco for me. Tobacco being the stodgy story lines.

2.5/5