The Greatest Showman


Viewed – 14 February 2018  Cinema

I can’t say I was particularly enthused at the prospect of seeing this, despite rave opinions from people I know who had been.  I have a bit of an uneasy relationship with musicals, and they have to be particularly good to win me over.  This based on true events depiction, has Hugh Jackman as P.T. Barnum, a man who rose from nothing to become one of the pioneers of show business as we know it.

greatestshowman

I can’t say I was particularly familiar with the story but as soon as this started, I was transfixed.  Jackman, who of course I mostly associate with Wolverine, is a revelation as Barnum and commands the screen with total, Hollywood magnetism and presence.  His rags-to-riches story whilst somewhat clichéd is classic stuff and made me think of Charles Dickens books along with Rogers & Hammerstein musicals of yesteryear.  You know – back when Hollywood did it right.  Add at times breath-taking choreography and several stunning set pieces, with grand set design, colourful costumes and eye-catching cinematography and this was a real treat for the senses.  The songs, if at times a little ‘samey’ are foot-tapping and enjoyable, aided by larger-than-life performances from also Zac Efron and Michelle Williams and a plethora of colourful characters … and well, sometimes it’s overwhelming but never boring.

The movie seems to stumble a little in a plot device with a famed Opera Singer and although essential to the story, takes things in a direction that isn’t quite as much fun … but then comes back again to deliver a great feel good ending that left me wanting to stand up and applaud.  This movie’s been a bit snubbed by the Oscars and that’s a shame as really, a night out at the movies doesn’t get much better than this.  Essential.

Verdict:  5 /5

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Wind River


Viewed – 13 February 2018  online-rental

I’m easily attracted to a movie when it stars someone I’m especially appealed by.  So with this starring two actors I am increasingly impressed with, namely Hurt Locker’s Jeremy Renner and Avengers: Age of Ultron’s Elizabeth Olson … this was a no-brainer.

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Renner plays a hunter and expert-tracker living on a wintery Indian reservation where some years previous a teenage girl died under mysterious circumstances.  As he was married to the mother of said girl at the time, he feels personally involved when a similar death occurs when a young girl’s body is found.   With the possibility of the death being a homicide the local Sheriff call in the FBI in the form of a rookie female agent played by Olsen and soon she’s teamed up with Renner to figure out just what happened.

This realistic and gritty drama has strong turns across the board and a solid mystery that kept me gripped.  The backdrop of Native American racial issues and paranoia whilst not that unique was engrossing also.   Add to this some striking cinematography and hard-hitting revelations and action in the final act and I came away rather impressed.  If you’re after a thought-provoking, non-Hollywood-glossed evening’s entertainment this will surely satisfy and if anything further cemented the growing reputations of it’s leads.  Recommended.

Verdict:  4 /5

Lost In Translation


Viewed – 03 February 2018  Blu-ray

I’d hazard a guess that Scarlett Johansson transformed from acclaimed actress into genuine Hollywood star in this much loved 2003 comedy-drama.  She continues to be one of my go-to actresses, but I always look back on this with fondness and well, I’m not sure if she’s ever been as good since … at least not in what I’ve watched.

Lost In Translation

She plays Charlotte, a woman visiting Japan with her photographer husband (Giovanni Ribisi) who more often than not finds herself abandoned in the hotel where she’s staying, frequenting the bar and occasionally meeting up with friends … but ultimately ‘alone’.  At the same time, a former Hollywood actor now doing whisky commercials, Bob (Bill Murray) finds himself similarly lonely in a foreign country, feeling out of place amongst the locales whilst trying to figure out his place in life.  So the two catch each other’s eyes and gradually form a friendship, that gently turns into a strong bond.

I really like this movie.  It treats it’s characters intelligently, doesn’t ‘go there’ but you kind of end up thinking (wishing?) it would, and every step of the way director Sofia Coppola (The Virgin Suicides) makes you really believe in the friendship whilst also making the backdrop of Japan a character in it’s own right.  It’s funny in a gentle, heart-warming way, Murray is fantastically under-stated, and Johansson is just simply gorgeous.  The movie develops what should be a forbidden love story but still makes you fall in love with it (at least it did me).  I especially liked how freeing their friendship became, trapped and unhappy when apart, free-spirited when together … and it’s infectious.  At times the sheer wackiness of Japan is a tad clichéd and well, I’m not entirely sure why Scarlett is shown walking around in her underwear so much (even if I’m not complaining), and for such an otherwise easy going general-viewing movie, that bit in the strip club is just out of place.   Nit-picks because along with very genuine performances and such a charming, whimsical ‘vibe’ topped off with that heart-breaking yet strangely feel-good ending … this remains in a class of it’s own.

The limited edition steelbook I picked up has the movie in decent shape.  It’s not the most eye-popping of visual presentations due to it’s very natural photography … yet Coppola’s classy direction still made this viewer feel ‘there’ and I very much enjoyed being in the company of two of my favourite actors.  Sound, presented in 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio whilst gentle, with carefully chosen, mood-enhancing music cues (and a great Karaoke scene) has clear dialogue and overall suits the relaxed feel of this movie.  Extras consist of deleted scenes, behind the scenes footage, an interview with Murray and Sofia Coppola and a music video.  The lack of a commentary is disappointing but otherwise this isn’t too shabby.

Verdict:

(the movie) 5 /5

(the Blu-ray)  3.5 /5

Pet Sematary


Viewed – 23 January 2017  Blu-ray

I seem to be doing a Stephen King season lately with my viewing, and with this fondly remembered entry from 1989 I was very excited to check it out again.  It tells the tale of a family who move into a house located near a busy main road where truckers drive seemingly with no awareness of their surroundings.  A kindly, elderly neighbour (the late Fred Gwynne) befriends the family and soon tells them about the aforementioned Pet Cemetery, a place where for decades children have gone to bury their pets.  However something sinister lies beyond the cemetery, that of a sacred Indian burial ground – and we all know they’re never good places.

Pet Sematary

I was surprised how well I remembered this adaptation and it certainly has a slightly goofy charm along with it’s intriguing concept.  Acting is serviceable and a little cheesy in places (especially Fred Gwynne not that far removed from his turn as Herman Munster in The Munsters TV series).  Yet it certainly has it’s moments; the child actors especially stealing the show, with the stand out being toddler Gage who turns rather iconic in later scenes.  Also it’s got effectively freaky flashbacks / dream sequences that send shivers (creepy sister ‘zelda’) and a few solid set pieces with effective gore.  Yet the movie didn’t entirely get under my skin, not helped by questionable motivations of certain characters (despite warnings and shit-going-down) which ruins the movie’s second half.  Yet for one of those 80s horrors that has for some reason always stayed in my mind … I still had fun with this.

The Blu-ray, part of a ‘premium collection’ boasts a very detailed and vibrant picture that I wasn’t expecting.  Sound is delivered in the original 2.0 stereo or a very effective and immersive 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio (just hear those trucks shake the room).  Extras aren’t exactly plentiful but we do get a commentary from director Mary Lambert as well as welcome featurettes on the making of as well as Stephen King himself.  The set also boasts a nice slip case and art cards.

Verdict:

(the movie)  3 /5

(the Blu-ray)  4 /5

IT


Viewed – 19 January 2017  Blu-ray

Stephen King has always been a great writer of children characters, often portrayed as outsiders and free of that Hollywood cuteness we often see.  They’re relatable and often complex on a par with their adult counterparts.  This latest adaptation, a sort of remake of the 1990 two part TV movie and a closer interpretation of King’s book has a group of school kids all seemingly haunted by visions of the same creepy clown.  It begins with the disappearance of one kid’s younger brother and soon these kids find themselves thrown together to face an evil that has lurked in the town for decades.

IT

Although at first a scary movie in typical sense, with an over-bearing orchestral score and a reliance on jump-scares, this thankfully focuses on character for the most part and presented this viewer with children to really care about and rout for.  There’s overly-vicious bullies seemingly out to beat up any nerdy kid for no apparent reason, and parental supervision is either completely absent or abusive.  So demonic clown Pennywise is free to lure in his next victim and only the ‘losers club’ can do anything about it.  Bill Skarsgård, at first a strange casting for the role previously filled by genre favourite Tim Curry … is a revelation; creepy, unpredictable and mischievous, whilst at times genuinely frightening.  The way the movie has Pennywise playing of certain kids fears is well done even if that ‘hair in plug hole’ sequence seemed plucked from another movie.   With that said, the movie isn’t afraid to go for the jugular and some of the violence is pretty brutal even when aimed at children (that opening scene).  So I was impressed at how this movie simply went for it, wasn’t trying to tame itself for a wider audience and piled on the scares and gore to full effect.  It’s also surprisingly effective as a coming-of-age story, leaving quite an emotional impact on me towards the end.  The young cast also do a great job, especially Sophia Lillis (looking like a younger Elizabeth Olson) and Jaeden Lieberher.

Director Andrés Muschietti (Mama) has delivered a thrilling and freakily effective experience that’s despite a few clichés is well cast and left this viewer thirsty for more.  Let’s just hope ‘chapter two’ isn’t the let down the second half of the original movie was.

Verdict:  4 /5