*NEW* EDDIE THE EAGLE REVIEW *NEW*

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Easy going feel good fun.

The story of Eddie Edwards (Taron Egerton), the notoriously tenacious British underdog ski jumper who charmed the world at the 1988 Winter Olympics.

“Eddie, you are NOT an athlete!”

I should have seen this coming from the producers of Kingsman: The Secret Service.

The silly opening got things going with a resilient young Eddie determined to achieve his dreams of reaching the Olympics. You had to admire the little lad for trying to do every known sport to man and failing terribly. Tumbling over obstacles, smacking himself in the face with shot puts, launching javelins through his dad’s window.

I was a little worried (at first) that Taron Egerton’s impression would make Eddie the Eagle look a bit simple. Especially with all the face pulling. BUT it wasn’t long before the bumbling oaf soon won me over. Another impressive turn from the Kingsman star. Definitely one to watch for the future.

I loved the 70/80s soundtrack. Belting some absolute tunes. BUT I didn’t love it as much as the supporting cast attached to this!

“And where do you think you’re going? I’m off to the Olympics Mum!”

Jo Hartley (This is England) was brilliant as Eddie’s mum. Forever supporting the poor lad and giving him belief when everybody else told him to give up (Including his dad!). Keith Allen was hilarious as Eddie’s exasperated father. Tired of watching him fluff up and not taking to the family trade of plastering.

Tim McInnerny (Blackadder) played the dastardly Dustin Target with aplomb. The snobby head official of the British Winter Olympics Commission who went out of his way to stop Eddie entering. Raising the bar that much higher every time he achieved the impossible.

The panning and landscape shots of the ski slopes gave me vertigo watching! Things did get a little repetitive as we watched Eddie crash and burn again and again. There was only so many times I could wince at Egerton’s CGI’d body fumbling and bumbling down the hill.

BUT you were still rooting for the clutz as he faced constant criticism. He was snubbed and ridiculed by the competing Norwegian Winter Olympic team. Even the prolific Finnish winter skier Matti Nykanen refused to give the Eagle an autograph.

However, once Hugh Jackman’s drunken and disgruntled former Olympian Bronson Peary came into the fold, I was sold. Egerton and Jackman were a fantastic duo. They worked really well together.

Jackman was a nutter. His OTT cheesy ski jump introduction did take the biscuit. BUT his crazy motivational speeches had me in stitches. I won’t think of Bo Derek in the same way. That’s all I’m saying.

The middle act did drag in parts as we had to wait for the reluctant drunk to fight Edwards’ bumbling charm and offer his services. Even if we’ve seen the underdog spiel time and time again (With the endless training montages), I still enjoyed watching this dysfunctional duo try and do the impossible.

I could feel myself getting engaged into the story as he overcame every obstacle that was thrown at him. I didn’t realise some of the facts and records that Eddie actually broke. The first British ski jumper since 1929?! He broke records just by qualifying! Unbelievable. I felt a little bad after only really remembering him as a novelty act and a bit of joke.

It probably didn’t help that I saw him recently in that horrific Olympic show Splash! on ITV just before watching this film. Writers Sean Macaulay and Simon Kelton did bring that up as tempers flared between Peary and Edwards with that ever-increasing bar raising that much higher.

BUT the Eagle really didn’t care because he set out to achieve what he wanted. To become an Olympian. He came last in everything and yet kept breaking records for Britain. Mental!

The finale was cheesy BUT heartwarming and uplifting. The story may have been exaggerated BUT despite all its silly moments, this fun little biopic delivered one of the best messages going: “Don’t give up. If you have believe and determination, anything is possible and don’t sell yourself short”.

It wasn’t without its imperfections. The pace meandered along and Christopher Walken was wasted in his minute cameo BUT this was a real feelgood film and with a brilliant cast and some good humour, I think this one is worth your time.

3.5/5

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SPOOKS: THE GREATER GOOD REVIEW

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One of the best British dramas takes to the silver screen? Was it needed? Did it succeed? Or should the BBC have let old dogs lie?

I won’t hide my bias. I am a huge Spooks fan. It came around the same time as 24, managed to stand its own, and became one of my favourite TV shows. But very much like 24, it was never afraid to wipe out main characters, deliver twists and turns every week, tense cliffhangers and nail biting cryptic dialogue between fellow spies and high ranking officials.

It may have lost the battle with 24 but certainly lasted the war. 24 stumbled at series 6 and never really recovered. It improved. While Spooks only really tested me at Series 8 of a 10 series run!

The last two series did feel like old hat. What was hard hitting soon became predictable and a retread of stronger story lines from earlier series. I guess there is only so much you can do with a spy drama. But the final series delivered a heartbreaking and satisfying finale.

Four years after the hit series came to a close, we have a movie. A close that was long overdue as the show seemed to be heading down the road of mediocrity. A fitting ending that wrapped things up but subtly suggested that a return wasn’t out of the question.

So here we are. Did I sigh? Denounce the movie gods? Nope. I felt excited. My love for Spooks not quite over and after watching this film . . . I can firmly say it’s still not.

The opening sequence set the tone. Tension bubbling on the back burner. Even if I found the dialogue a little flat and cliched. Spies ironically playing the game ‘I Spy’ while the “cocky” CIA operatives chat up the only British totty (Tuppence Middleton) in the surveillance squad.

However, my little niggles were soon pushed to the back of my head (momentarily) by the introduction of one of my TV icons, head of MI5 security services, Harry Pearce (Peter Firth).

As soon as Firth entered the scene, the fan boy excitement was back. Offering a pillow to a systems analyst who had time to rest his feet on his desk.

It wasn’t long before something was afoot and we were thrown straight into the action as a terrorist (Elyes Gabel) escapes custody during a routine handover.

Racy, tense and very much in the style of the Bourne films. But let’s not forget Spooks were there first! They even threw in the infamous TV title sequence.

I will emphasize that the pace really is put on the back burner. It seemed to chug along after a promising opening and Pearce facing termination after making a judgement call.

The bureaucratic sniping and dealing with the “red tape” spiel did feel like the Spooks of old. Unfortunately, that meant it was dreadfully predictable. However, that was all relieved by some cracking performances from some old faces (Oh yes) and a lot of new ones.

Tim McInnerny (Blackadder) was superb as Mace. Just as callous and manipulative as ever. The introduction of David Harewood (Homeland) and Jennifer Ehle (Zero Dark Thirty) was a mixed bag for me. Harewood played the uptight Warrender perfectly. A weaselly two faced mediator desperate to keep both agencies at bay.

The only cast member that annoyed me was Jennifer Ehle. Normally I don’t mind her but what the hell was her accent supposed to be? Her twang (even though she was meant to be English) really grated against me. It was like she was trying to do an impression of the Queen. Terrible.

Disgraced, Pearce must look to the only person who can help him. The agent who he removed from MI5. Cue . . . No, not Matthew Macfadyen! I know. Gutted, too.

It’s only Jon Snow, of course. Kit Harington literally hits the ground running making a memorable entrance into the mix. Smashing through a cafe window to escape some Russians. Never found out why he was running? A passing comment would have been nice after an entry like that.

Harington was very good. The sulky scorned spy role suited him and he worked well with Firth. Their relationship may have been a little cliched (and strikingly similar to Kingsmen) as Pearce knew his father who died in a botched operation.

BUT it was still interesting to see their already fractious bond tested to the max. And yes, Harrington’s character knows nottthhinggg. One for the Game of Thrones fans.

Harington was the much needed catalyst to jump start this spluttering slow burner. Once he begins Borune-ing the place up in a dangerous game of cat and mouse, I was hooked.

The airport rendezvous with Pearce was superb. Tense, suspenseful and every thing that won me over with Spooks the first time round. The numerous drop off points, the items of clothing with cryptic cards and the time frames. Brilliant.

At it’s best, it’s tense, dramatic with the odd shocker. But at it’s worst, it’s a little predictable and slow. The problem with Spooks is that you always know there is a bigger play. And the cogs are always turning. You can call things before they happen. That’s the problem after 10 series. It does kill the tension and some of the bigger reveals.

Firth was excellent as HP. Despite being integral to the plot, he does seem to be pushed into the background. A little disappointing. Harington’s Holloway is always at the forefront. Not a problem as he proves to be a worthy addition to the Spooks set.

However, Firth still gets his moment to shine and when he does, it’s great. After all the sorrow and tough decisions the man has to make, you really hope that there can be some solace for him.

I don’t think it’s a must for people who haven’t seen Spooks. There are a lot of new faces. When the old ones appear, you get the picture. I won’t say who, Spooks fans. Don’t worry. But there isn’t as many as I hoped.

And Guppy from Casualty has come a long way. Game of Thrones, A Most Violent Year and now this? He was brilliant as the maniacal Qasim. His American accent was impeccable. Take lessons, Ms Ehle. Tuppence Middleton showed potential. I just wish her character wasn’t so bland. But then again Spooks fans, who will ever top Ros?

The film may have been patchy but the last 20 minutes still had me trying to connect the dots. Even if some twists worked and others didn’t, the closing scenes still got me. And Firth stole the show, allowing HP to show a little vulnerability. Cracking his cold demeanour for a one moment before shaking it off and vanishing like a ghost. A spook. Proving once again why his character will always be one of my favourites.

The ending may have been ambiguous but it confirmed one thing for me. I’m still not quite ready to let Spooks go just yet. The film format certainly didn’t kill the franchise. If anything, it has given me hope. A few tweaks on the plot and pacing and I’m happy for it to continue. Cue freeze frame. Black and white.

3.5/5

Also did anyone else feel the title made you want to do this?

A LITTLE CHAOS REVIEW

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Sorry, Mr Rickman. Your debut needed a little more chaos. A stellar cast fails to hide what is a dreadfully slow and meandering affair.

10 points from Slytherin!

Two talented landscape artists become romantically entangled while building a garden in King Louis XIV’s palace at Versailles.

I really wanted to like this but I was left wanting more by the time the credits rolled.

Period pieces are not my strong suit. But that’s not to say, I don’t enjoy them. I didn’t mind Downton Abbey (when it first came out). Remains of the Day and Sense and Sensibility (featuring Ms Winslet and Mr Rickman) were simply brilliant.

It made sense that Rickman would invest his directorial debut in a periodic love story. It’s just a shame that beneath its beautifully shot surface, there wasn’t much going on.

The rather bizarre opening didn’t really get things going or set the tone properly. It felt like something out of Blackadder. Louis’ youngest son announcing that he had soiled himself. A mistress ready to tear off her clothes to please her king in front of the children. No joke. This happened.

It took a little while to get to the point. The point being Louis’s eccentric behaviour. He cues his own family members for applause after every little soliloquy. His speech about finding Heaven in a garden was well done if a little pretentious. His defense being that the Garden of Eden was where it all began for humanity.

I can remember from my old History lessons on the extravagance and financial ruin that Louis XIV went through to achieve this perfection. I expected to see this issue looked at or maybe even confronted. BUT tragically not. All we have is a couple of stiff upper lipped lords simply quibble that the King is spending beyond his means. That’s it.

Kate Winslet was very good and certainly carried the film. A strong leading woman if ever there was one.

A self-made woman renowned for her unique gardening designs and passion for chaos. We are fed little tidbits of her past. Figures running in the background, children laughing. Flickering images in dreams that soon get really annoying as the film continues to meander along. The supernatural element had my interest piqued.

Matthias Schoenaerts keeps popping up in films lately. With Far From The Madding Crowd due at your local cinema shortly, I’m getting fed up of seeing him but with performances like this, I can see why he keeps stealing all the parts.

Charismatic yet moody with a mysterious demeanour. He even has a little sing song!

His character, Andre Le Notre is a meticulous and stubborn garden designer renowned across France. It’s not long before he clashes with Winslet’s strong willed madame. His order and perfection disrupted by her random chaotic selection. Inevitably sparks fly.

The pair have good chemistry and certainly played the parts well. BUT in between the inevitable romance plot, there isn’t much else on offer. Merely moments.

Helen McCrory has been a favourite of mine for some time. Her turn in Peaky Blinders being a particular highlight. She played the manipulative house wife to perfection. Scowling and nasty one moment. Sleeping around with any man she can to bait a reaction from Notre’s frustrated gardener. Vulnerable and regretful the next.

I wanted a little more stoke thrown into the fire between her and Schoenaerts. Their fractious relationship had potential. The marriage merely a business arrangement.

Her jealousy of his brewing relationship with Winslet’s Sabine could have been so much more. It soon builds up to a tense sabotage attempt. However, the post-confrontation was well done but a little anti-climactic. Schoenaerts merely shares some harsh truths and walks away. Alas.

Stanley Tucci was superb as the scene stealing Duc D’Orleans. He instantly made an impression and injected a much needed frenetic energy to the incredibly serious leads. Overtly camp and funny. Not enough of his character. He made more of an impact in five minutes than most of his counterparts.

It was understandable that Rickman would take a step back on the acting front by taking a smaller role but when he did appear, he was brilliant.

I really wanted to see more of the King and Sabine’s relationship.  A humourous introduction between Sabine and the King as she mistook him for a normal gardener was just what the doctor ordered. Winslet and Rickman were fantastic together and it made for engaging viewing.

Rupert Penry Jones made an memorable cameo poncing about and educating Winslet’s befuddled madame of the inner workings of the French society rings. However, once he disappears, you suddenly realise how unnecessary his character actually was. So much so that IMDb have decided not to give him an acting credit. Bizarre. A silly role for a talented actor.

The pace didn’t justify the means. It tested me at times. We finally discover why Sabine lives alone and is working in France in a dramatic five minute reveal BUT it just wasn’t enough.

There were good moments and the cast certainly delivered with their performances. Ellen Kuras’ cinematography was superb. The closing panning shot of the Versailles garden landscape was a feast for the eyes alone.

But with so many films out there, this felt like nothing more than a periodic love story of Ground Force. I feel this one will soon fade into the back of people’s memories quicker than it entered.

Shame.

2/5

*THROWBACK REVIEW* BELLE

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Pride and Racial Prejudice or Frownton Abbey. A stellar British cast uplifts a syrupy biopic that you’d expect to see on ITV. 12 Years A Slave, this ain’t. It’s certainly watchable and zips along but it doesn’t really make full use of the cast or the subject matter and inevitably leads to the same old predictable schmaltzy finale.

So what’s it all about? Inspired by the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). The illegitimate mixed race daughter of a Royal Navy captain is raised by her aristocratic great-uncle Lord Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson) and wife (Emily Watson).

Belle’s lineage affords her certain privileges, yet the colour of her skin prevents her from fully participating in the traditions of her social standing. However, she soon falls for an idealistic young vicar’s son (Sam Reid – The Riot Club) bent on change who, with her help, shapes Lord Mansfield’s role as Lord Chief Justice to end slavery in England.

Well, at least gets the ball rolling . . . sort of, kinda.

The beautiful Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Touch) takes the fold and delivers a strong performance. One to watch for the future. Matthew Goode (Stoker/The Good Wife) applies enough charisma to make a memorable impression as Captain Sir John Lindsay, who plucks an orphaned Belle from poverty and much worse. A shame that he is only in the film for five minutes before departing on a long voyage.

To be honest, anyone could have played him. Penelope Wilton (Downton Abbey) seems to be typecast of late as the uptight old prune of an aunt but if she delivers the goods, does it matter? To me, just a bit.

Even Tom Felton is playing a Victorian Draco Malfoy, complete with “mudblood” attitude in tow. Don’t get me wrong, he plays the slick toothed snob to perfection. As does James Norton (or Tommy from the highly acclaimed BBC TV series Happy Valley) as Felton’s smug brother and partner in crime.

They are both the weasel-y twins (What?) as they try and weave their way into Belle’s fortune. Miranda Richardson (Blackadder) is also brilliant as their conniving matriarch. Emily Watson plays her part well, even if her character is completely unnecessary.

Merely, a commentator sitting on the side lines. Commentary that is self-explanatory as, to be honest, there is not a lot going on. The beautiful Sarah Gadon (Dracula Untold) is making an impression. She plays the dibby cousin Elizabeth well. You do feel for her character as she appears to be used as pawn in a game of rich chess or left lingering in the shadow of the “exotic beauty”.

I appreciate the concept and direction the film took. This is a completely different story to 12 Years A Slave that deals with the issue of race within the aristocracy. The fact that Belle was awarded the stature and position of any rich member of power and is unable to use it, says it all.

However, it all feels a little petty in comparison to the visceral gritty torture that Solomon endured. He was beaten, whipped and hung. Belle was made to eat in a separate room to the rest of the family and was perceived merely as an exhibition piece, an exotic jewel, nothing more.

Tom Wilkinson is fantastic as Lord Mansfield whose position is compromised in between fulfilling the law. The law that does not treat any person of colour with respect or even see them as people.

He works well with Mbatha-Raw which allows for some heartfelt moments. After the initial introduction and set up in an easy going half hour, the film seems to be happy to tend with the mundane gossip of petty rich Victorian folk while the inevitable romance blossoms between Belle and John Davinier (Reid). The awkward exchanges, the subtle glances and turning aways. Check, check. All there.

It all feels like by the end it is merely ticking the boxes for all the clichés of a period drama. Any chance of making statements are crushed by an inevitable corny love story. The finale is merely a revelatory court case with the verdict relying on Mansfield’s overriding decision.

A decision that is so obvious and unbelievably predictable that all the grandiose speeches mean nothing. I expected so much more.

It’s well-acted, easy going but doesn’t seem to be sure on whether to be a hard-hitting drama or a slow burning love story.

If you’re a period drama fan, then you’ll love this but it brings nothing new to the genre. Weaker episodes of Downton Abbey have done a better job (There’s never been a weak episode of Downton? That’s scandalous!)

If you’re already going in making comparisons and expecting 12 Years A Slave, then . . . watch 12 Years A Slave. Such a shame. Not bad but not great.

2.5/5