Molly’s Game


Viewed – 15 May 2018  online-rental

The true story of a former Olympic class skier who went onto run the worlds most exclusive, high stakes poker game, attracting celebrity names along with the interest of the FBI in the process.  Jessica Chastain plays Molly as an ambitious, if initially naive woman who see’s a chance for fortune and infamy after an accident ended her hopes of becoming a skiing champion. 

mollys-game

Initially this movie had a feel of the Scorsese hit The Wolf Of Wall Street with it’s regular person rising to riches through not-entirely-legal activities, but director Aaron Sorkin lacks the flair to truly pull it off.  Instead we get a simple tale of someone getting way out of their depth fast and failing to check one’s ego at the door.  Molly throughout is a rather unsympathetic character and even when she turns to Lawyer Idris Elba who tries every trick in the book to reduce the heat on her back, that lust for power and credit for herself constantly wins out.  Chastain is gorgeous and pretty damn sexy despite a flawed character and the movie knows it, showcasing her obvious ‘charms’ every chance it gets – which is all the time.  Thankfully a back story involving an effective, if clichéd pushy-father-under-loved daughter relationship at least gives Molly some depth.  Yet Idris Elba’s questionable American accent fails to showcase Sorkin’s complex but brilliantly written dialogue the way I’m guessing the director intended. 

Overall this is a fascinating true story but lacks a degree of sensationalism that may have upped the entertainment, due to a reliance on discretion when having the opportunity to name drop any famous faces (player x for anyone interested, was rumoured to be Toby Maguire).  So from what I hear this remains somewhat a missed opportunity compared to the more warts and all book the movie is based on.

Verdict:  3 /5

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The Huntsman: Winter’s War


Viewed – 21 April 2016  Cinema

Following some controversy over Kristen Stewart and the director of Snow White and the Huntsman, this sequel has languished in development with us not really knowing what we were getting.  Turns out a sort of origin tale and a sort of follow up, with mixed results.  Chris Hemsworth returns as the charismatic Huntsman whose growing love for fellow warrior Sara (Jessica Chastain) quickly catches the eye of bitter Freya, the sister of Charlize Theron’s Ravenna who has now turned Ice Queen following the death of her child and forbids the land from experiencing love.

The Huntsman

Despite lacking the scope of the actually very good Snow White and the Hunstman, and possibly on a smaller budget – this is still an entertaining ride.  Hemsworth is again charismatic even if his (Scottish?) accent is pretty bad.  The same can also be said for Chastain who makes for a bad-ass warrior woman but strays awkwardly between Irish Emily Bluntand Scottish.  Thankfully then their love affair and the rivalry between Emily Blunt’s Ice Queen and Theron’s Ravenna are all handled well and make up for what is otherwise quite simple fantasy fair.  The action, especially some awesome fight choreography is exciting, and we also get a couple of Dwarfs in the form of Nick Frost and Rob Brydon who makes for perfect comedy support as does a scene-stealing Sheridan Smith.

Considering how much the character is mentioned, the lack of an appearance by Snow White seemed odd (even if recast).  Also I’d have liked some larger-scale battles and a few more creatures and effects going on … but what we have instead is a focused tale of love and manipulation and rivalry that I thought worked a treat.  Perhaps dial one’s expectations back a tad, considering how spoilt we have been with Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings etc. and you should still get a kick out of this.

Verdict:  3 /5

The Martian


Viewed – 01 March 2016  Blu-ray

There seems to have been a bit of a trend in recent years for quality science fiction, or more literally quality space travel movies.  I think it began with Doug Jones’ acclaimed ‘Moon’ and then followed through with Gravity and then Interstellar.  Hollywood seems to have fallen in love with the great vastness of space again, and I have fallen in love along with them.  So this latest effort was high on my must see list.

the martian

Matt Damon plays astronaut Mark Watney who following an expedition to Mars, is left unknowingly behind by his crew following a freak sand storm.  With everyone thinking he is dead and a memorial back home, Watney has to learn how to survive on an alien planet until he can find out a way of communicating and hopefully getting rescued.  Based on the book by Andy Wier and directed by genre heavy-weight Ridley Scott, this is a gripping concept as we watch Damon put all his scientific knowhow to the test and learn to adapt to a harsh environment.  Back home Nasa and its myriad of boffins are also trying to figure out a way to save their man, headed by Jeff Daniels and supported by Kristina Wiig and Sean Bean amongst various other familiar faces.  Oh and the crew that left Watney jessica-chastain-the-martianbehind get the always watchable Jessica Chastian as their commander.  It’s clear to me this was a bit of a labour of love and is choc-full of detail and science terminology (even days are referred to a sol 1 and sol 2 etc).  Yet beyond some of the realism and authenticity the movie also finds room for well judged humour.  We also get a strongly potent emotional thread that builds and gets pretty heart-breaking.  Everyone here is on very good form but it’s obviously Damon’s show and he is simply superb…charismatic in the face of adversity and also very believable.  He’d have been my tip for Best Actor at the Oscars but sadly it wasn’t to be.

In addition to such a solid, layered performance however is excellent direction from Scott, who aided by cinematographer Dariusz Wolski, proves again he’s a master at capturing the perfect look and feel for Science Fiction, and redeems himself after the muddled Prometheus.  Some of the shots and vistas and photography here are jaw-dropping.  Honestly, there is very little I can say negative about this one apart from hey, where were Mark Watney’s parents??  And the first act is a trifle slow, but that’s some serious nit-picking.  If you are fascinated by space travel or are just attracted to decent human survival dramas, not unlike The Revenant I’ll add … then you have to see this.

Verdict:  5 /5

Crimson Peak


Viewed – 22 October 2015  Cinema

I had been looking forward to this gothic horror / romance for a while and it was one of my most anticipated movies of the year.  Director Guillermo Del Toro had become one of my go-to directors in recent years, especially for his two Hellboy movies and the seminal masterpiece that is Pan’s Labyrinth.  So anything with him at the helm seemed guaranteed for success.  However my expectations were set a little lower after the stunning looking but disappointing Pacific Rim.

Crimson Peak

This follows the period-set story of Edith (Mia Wasikowska) whose father is a big shot and attracts the attention of mysterious clay miner (?) Thomas (Tom Hiddelston) out to raise money for an invention but needs Edith’s father’s backing.  Yet Edith’s father doesn’t like the look of him or Thomas’s creepy sister, Lucille (Jessica Chastain).  Yet intent on swaying the man, Thomas sets out to win the heart of Edith after muscling his way into a ball put on for the local dignitaries.  Very Pride and Prejudice so far you may think.  However following a turn of events I won’t spoil, Edith is whisked off by Thomas & Lucille, to an ancient creepy old house with more than it’s share of ghouls and ghosts, and so Edith must unravell a mystery surrounding the house and the brother and sister who have come into her life.

crimsonFor a start, this is one of the most breath-taking visual treats I’ve had at the cinema in a long time.  Every shot and camera angle and corridor, room and costume is a work of art – it really is a gothic visual masterpiece.  How then, you might ask can the movie be so uninvolving and lacking in depth or personality?  The performances are decent (especially Hiddleston) but with a plodding script, zero chemistry between Thomas and Edith despite their insistence on being in love and scenes I’m sure were meant to be scary or disturbing, much of this just came off as ‘meh’.  It goes as far as how the characters react to stuff, like Edith witnessing some grotesque legless creature coming out of the floor and crawling after her down a corridor – only for Edith to look puzzled and run away.  Yeah, I see that sort of thing every day!  What doesn’t help either is that the ghosts seem overly CGI – Del Toro is known for pioneering some amazing creature designs over the years and has used prosthetic make up to brilliant effect (Pan’s Labyrinth’s awesome Pale Man).  These sequences just didn’t have the same impact.  Add to this the eventual reveal and point of the whole story coming off as ‘…is that it?’ – and I just came away feeling deflated.  From early word I’d read I hadn’t expected a full on horror, but did hope for characters I would care about and a story that pulled me in – but beyond the obvious artistry of the visuals, this did anything but.  I have a feeling a second viewing may fair better, but as it stands this was disappointing.

Verdict:  3 /5

Insterstellar


Viewed – 08 August 2015  Blu-ray

Something is wrong with our planet, the fuel or food supplies are drying up and everyone is acting like the place is doomed.  Farmer and former astronaut Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) lives a quiet existence on a farm with his son and daughter, until following stories of a ghost in his daughter’s bedroom, Cooper discovers a communication signal hidden in the dust and various books falling from the shelves.  The strange anomaly leads them to follow co-ordinates one night that leads them to a secret underground NASA base.  Headed by Michael Caine, that’s where Cooper is then given the opportunity to return to space on a mission that just may be the answer to mankind’s future.

Insterstellar 1

Give it to director Christopher Nolan for tackling big ideas.  No stranger to presenting bold concepts to the viewer, as we saw in the dreamscape epic Inception, and this sci-fi drama is no different.  We get black holes, deep space, other dimensions and strange new worlds.  Yes McConoughey is boldly going where no man has gone before, and I was fully along for the ride.  He is supported well by Anne Hathaway as a scientist and fellow astronaut, and the ideas at play here were particularly fascinating, borrowing to a large extent from Stanley Kubrick’s seminal 2001: A Space Odyssey but throwing in enoughInsterstellar 2 personality and visionary-wonder to stand on it’s own.  This is a stunning looking movie, Nolan using his various locations and his love of I-Max to wonderful effect, and various scenes just swept me up in their sheer majesty (the tidal wave…the ice planet etc.).  This is helped no end of course by Hans Zimmer’s at times intense and sweeping score.  Trust me watch this on a decent sized screen in surround sound and you’ll be blown away.

I can’t say I understood it all, and it get’s rather mind-boggling towards the end – in a good way.  Yet with a strong, emotional performance from McConoughey and good turns from Caine and also Jessica Chastain who turns up half way through, I really got a kick out of this.  It’s long at over two and a half hours, but it’s profound questions on humanity, love and life needed time to breathe, and so I can’t say I was bored one bit.  One of my ‘movies of the year’ without doubt.

Verdict:  5 /5