DVD Review – McQueen: The Man and Le Mans

Not a compromiser ……

 

Director Gabriel Clarke, John McKenna

Certificate 15

Starring, as themselves, Steve McQueen, Niele Adams, Chad McQueen, Louise Edlind, Derek Bell, David Piper.

Released 5th June 2017

 

It’s a DVD cover that says it all in the title and the picture of the man himself.  The story behind Steve McQueen’s attempt to make a movie about motor racing is a documentary that’s partly about him and partly about the sport.  And it comes complete with McQueen’s trademark defiance, as demonstrated in the photograph.

In his own words, McQueen was “not a compromiser.”  By the time his passion project – a film based on Le Mans and its 24 hour race – was taking shape, he was already Hollywood’s number one star.  Movies like The Thomas Crown Affair and Bullitt had capitalised on his early successes and he could do no wrong. That, combined with his newly formed production company, meant that nobody was likely to say no to this new project, one that he envisaged would define his career but which turned out to be something entirely different.

McQueen: The Man and Le Mans is split in the same way as the title, partly focusing on the man himself and partly on the world famous 24 hour race.  The portrait of McQueen concentrates on the period when the film was being made, one that turned out to be an especially turbulent one.  Making the movie brought pressures of its own, but off the set his appetite for drink and women fractured his marriage: he always had company in his trailer, as one of the many talking heads remembers, with a very knowing look.  The aftermath of the Sharon Tate murders brought the unsettling revelation that he was on Charles Manson’s hit list.

At the same time, his movie was spiraling out of control.  McQueen had brought in director John Sturges – the two had worked together on The Great Escape and The Magnificent Seven – but the actor’s insistence of being more of a director himself caused tension.  There was no script, so the crew was filming acres of footage and, generally, “winging it”.  And John Frankenheimer had been first out of the blocks with a major film on motor racing with Grand Prix.  It starred James Garner who, coincidentally, lived in the apartment beneath McQueen’s.  As the documentary tells it, every night he would go out on the balcony and relieve himself on Garner’s plants down below.

After a change in producers and director, McQueen reduced to just acting and the arrival of a script, the film was eventually completed and released to mixed reviews.  McQueen didn’t attend the premiere.  Years later, it’s beloved, if not revered, by car fans, with the professional drivers involved in its making rating it as something special.  And there’s no escaping that the doc is an unapologetic justification for the star’s pet project.

The documentary may not be special, but it’s certainly more than watchable, welding the two sides of its story together almost seamlessly.  There are plenty of talking heads with their own memories and experiences, from McQueen’s first wife, Neile Adams, and son Chad, to drivers Derek Bell and David Piper.  They cut solitary figures, sat at a small table against a dark grey background, but  nothing distracts you from what they have to say.  And they are full of telling moments, perhaps the most touching involving Piper, who lost part of his leg in a crash during filming.  For the first time, he’s shown a letter from McQueen recommending that the proceeds from the premiere should go to help him and his family.  He’s visibly moved.

There’s plenty of archive footage, demonstrating the then ground breaking car mounted cameras advocated by McQueen, to recently discovered audio interviews with the actor.  It all adds up to a documentary with two distinct audiences, racing fans and movie fans.  Neither will be unhappy with it – and they’ll both learn something about each other’s favourite subject.

 

Verdict:                       3.5

 

McQueen: The Man and Le Mans is out now on DVD.

 

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Review – Pirates Of The Caribbean:Salazar’s Revenge

Yes, his revenge ……

 

Director Joachim Ronning, Espen Sandberg

Certificate 12A

Starring Johnny Depp, Javier Bardem, Geoffrey Rush, Brenton Thwaites, Kaya Scodelario

Released 26th May 2017

 

After directing the first three Pirates Of The Caribbean movies, Gore Verbinski decided to call it a day and went on to direct The Lone Ranger.  In the meantime, the franchise moved on to director Rob Marshall (Chicago and currently making Mary Poppins Returns) and now, for number five, it’s acquired the Norwegian duo of Ronning and Sandberg – and the latter is already signed up to direct number six as a solo gig.  Regardless of the title.

Neither of them have any Disney experience, or have ever made a film of this style, let alone profile, but they’ve done a decent job.  Perhaps theirs was the breath of fresh air that the franchise needed.  Let’s face it, by the time you get to number five, options are increasingly limited and the danger of getting stale and repetitive is seriously on the up.

This instalment starts with Depp’s anti-hero Jack Sparrow decidedly down on his luck, robbing a bank and dicing with death – as usual. None of which goes according to plan, but bigger trouble is looming on the horizon, in the see-through shape of Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem) and his ghost pirates, who are hell bent on killing everybody.  Number one on their list is Sparrow.  His only hope is to track down the Trident Of Poseidon, but to do that he has to work with headstrong sailor Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites) and astronomer Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario).  But he’ll do anything to save his neck in face of Salazar’s declared revenge.

Much is made out of the fact that Jack is down on his luck – he’s told it by a number of people.  And you start to wonder if the film is going to be more about Depp – accidentally or otherwise – than he would like it to be.  It doesn’t work out that way, but in his fifth turn in the role, Depp looks like he’s run out of steam – or perhaps good old fashioned interest.  This time round he’s hammy – not that he’s ever been subtle – and we’re so used to him playing this role over and over again (sometime in different guises) that it lessens the laughs.  Sadly the new directors couldn’t extend their fresh perspective to him because this is one very tired looking Sparrow.

His main adversary, Bardem’s Captain Salazar, is intent on making sure you pronounce his name properly, by overdoing his Spanish accent.    As a role, it’s no great stretch, but the way he’s been CGI’d, with most of the back of his head missing and his hair constantly blowing around like the Medusa’s snakes, is very effective.  His followers also have various parts missing although, strangely enough, their swords are all completely intact.  But the ghosts do have one weakness:  they can’t survive on land, disappearing into puffs of ash if their feet so much as touch the ground.  We only discover that when they pursue Sparrow onto a desert island.  Convenient!

And, yet again, we’re presented with another celebrity cameo.  David Beckham scored first – if you can call it that – with his appearance in Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword.  This time we’re treated to Paul McCartney – not that you won’t recognise him, even if he does look like he’s borrowed a spare set of Depp’s costume and his personal make-up artist.  He gets a decent clutch of lines, which he does his best with, and he doesn’t take his moment too seriously, which is just as well.

The film has some good set pieces – the attempt to execute Sparrow for one is well choreographed, clever and funny.  But, like so many other blockbusters at the moment, this one is over-reliant on CGI and doesn’t need to be.  Some good old fashioned action would have been just as much fun.  It’s also way too long – by half an hour at least.  The climax is drawn out and, even if you’ve enjoyed the film, you’re just waiting for it to be over.  By this stage, you’ve had enough.

Is Disney on to another winner?  In box office terms, yep, especially as it’s released for the Bank Holiday weekend.  It’s another pirates romp, it’s fresher than you might expect for number five and it’s reasonably entertaining.  But how much longer can the franchise continue?  While this is fun, there is the strong sense that Depp has more than had his day.  Perhaps the sub-heading for number six should be Sparrow’s Farewell.

 

Verdict:                       3

 

Pirates Of The Caribbean:Salazar’s Revenge is released on Friday, 26th May and reviewed on Talking Pictures on Thursday, 25 May.

DVD Review: Hacksaw Ridge

Real life hero …..

 

Director Mel Gibson

Certificate 15

Starring Andrew Garfield, Sam Worthington, Hugo Weaving, Teresa Palmer, Luke Bracey, Vince Vaughn

Released 22nd May 2017

 

A near ten minute standing ovation at Venice last year started the momentum that culminated in Oscar nominations and a couple of wins for Hacksaw Ridge, Mel Gibson’s first film as a director for ten years.   A lot of water – and events – had flowed under his personal bridge and this set the seal on his Hollywood re-habilitation.

It’s a true story of heroism, of Desmond Doss who, although he volunteered to serve in World War II, was a conscientious objector and refused to bear arms.  It nearly cost him his liberty, as he faced a court martial for disobeying orders but intervention from an unexpected source meant that he could still serve without bearing arms.  He became a medic and perhaps the most celebrated one in the American army, rescuing 75 men during the battle of Okinawa without firing a single shot.  And that number included several enemy soldiers.

Gibson’s essential directorial style hasn’t really changed much since Braveheart.  It’s still soft centred in a Hollywood kind of way, but Hacksaw Ridge is a film of the proverbial two halves and the second one shows something rather different.  The first part is pretty much devoted to Doss’s (Andrew Garfield) backstory – his upbringing and the influences that lead to his religious beliefs, plus the romance between him and his eventual wife, Dorothy (Teresa Palmer).  His home life, despite a strong religious conviction, is less than happy, with his World War I veteran father (Hugo Weaving) finding that the bottle doesn’t help him forget his traumas from that time.

Desmond, however, is determined to do his duty and signs up for the Army, but to be a medic.  Not that the Army is sympathetic or supportive.  He passes all his training with flying colours except for rifle competency, endures bullying from superior officers and fellow soldiers, yet stands his ground.  And, eventually he finds himself at one of the bloodiest battles of the War, rescuing 75 men without firing a shot.  He became the first conscientious objector to receive the Medal Of Honour.

As we move from his home life to his training, Gibson gives us hints – rather in the style of Paul Haggis – of what’s to come.  At one point, his sergeant (Vince Vaughn, playing against type) asks him if he can carry his own body weight.  Yep, that’ll come in useful later.  And he’s also pilloried for making a mess of tying one particular style of knot.  But what he’s tied will put in an appearance later on as well.  Let’s face it, Gibson isn’t going to waste time showing us this if it isn’t significant.

Once training is over, the film changes radically – in tone, appearance, style and impact.  We’re plunged into the battle scenes, which come as a massive shock after the softer focus we’ve enjoyed so far.  Now it’s all about the heat, blood and brutality of battle – chunks being shot out of soldiers, monstrous flame throwers turning men into blazing silhouettes and the wince making reality of maggots and rats among the corpses.  Gibson doesn’t spare our sensitivities here and it means the second half of the film is bang on target, emotionally and authentically.

It’s also where Doss comes into his own, as does Garfield’s performance.  Most of the American troops have retreated, but Desmond is like a man possessed.  Repeatedly uttering his mantra of “just one more”, he goes in search of injured comrades, reassuring them that he’ll “fix them up” and sending them down the line for medical treatment.  It’s a tense, involving climax and, by the time he leaves the battlefield, he’s near collapse himself from physical and mental exhaustion.  It’s also Garfield’s finest hour and the culmination of one of his best roles to date, the fulfilment of the promise he showed ten years ago in his breakthrough and BAFTA winning role in Boy A.

After his time in the wilderness, Gibson is most definitely back and those Oscar nods and wins confirmed it.  He’s made a film that’s part old-fashioned Hollywood, part powerful war drama – and very much anti-war.  Put the two together and what you have is a crowd pleaser, one with a stand-out performance from its leading man, a strong moral compass and some excellent action sequences.  And those positives are so good, you almost forget the negatives.

 

Verdict:                       3.5 – with an extra half for Garfield!

 

Hacksaw Ridge is released on DVD on Monday, 22 May 2017 and reviewed on Talking Pictures on Thursday, 25 May.

 

Talking Pictures on YouTube!

Almost two years since its launch on SoundCloud, Talking Pictures has spread its wings and lands this week for the first time on YouTube.  There’s been a few tweaks to the format – it’s a little shorter than before – but everything you expect from the show is still there: new releases at the cinema, DVDs, The Big Interview, the new top five at the British box office and the latest movie news headlines.

Except that, as well as finding in on SoundCloud and apps like TuneIn, you can listen on YouTube.  So check out the latest edition, with reviews of Mindhorn, Unlocked and The Journey and Orlando Bloom taking questions on Unlocked in The Big Interview.  You know what to do – listen, like, subscribe ……

 

Gemma Arterton – one of Their Finest on Talking Pictures

After a break for some seasonal chocolate, Talking Pictures is back this week with another stellar line-up.

British wartime drama, Their Finest, is in the spotlight, with its star, Gemma Arterton, answering the questions in The Big Interview.  Also out this week is modern day vampire story, The Transfiguration, and the film with the longest title – so far – this year.  The Happiest Day In The Life Of Olli Maki.

This week’s DVDs are based on true stories.  Tom Hanks takes the title role in Clint Eastwood’s Sully while Nate Parker writes, direct and stars in The Birth Of A Nation.

Plus there’s the new top five at the British box office and the latest movie news headlines.  All in 20 minutes!

Review: Fast And Furious 8

Look who’s back!

 

Directed by F Gary Gray

Certificate 12A

Starring Dwayne Johnson, Vin Diesel, Jason Statham, Charlize Theron, Michelle Rodriguez, Helen Mirren, Scott Eastwood.

Released on 12th April 2017

 

Hey, we all know what to expect from the Fast And Furious franchise – and it’s not plot or dialogue – but have we really reached number eight?  And is there any juice left in the tank.  Its latest director, F Gary Gray, seems hell bent on proving there is – so he’s not just thrown the kitchen sink at it, but just about anything else to hand, including a nuclear sub.

You might have read some recent media coverage about Dwayne Johnson and Vin Diesel having some sort of on-going feud.  I’m not going to speculate as to how true that is, but it makes a neat bit of publicity for this instalment, which sees Dom (Diesel) breaking away from his “family” and going rogue, under the influence of international terrorist Cypher (an ice blooded Charlize Theron).  And that means it’s down to the rest of the crew to bring him back to the fold, at any cost.

They have a bit of help as well. Jason Statham is back as Deckard, this time on the right side of the prison bars, and there’s new arrival Scott Eastwood who goes by the name of Little Nobody – Kurt Russell is Mr Nobody. Eastwood looks to be here to stay as he’s clearly intended as the replacement for the much missed Paul Walker, whose character Brian started out as a cop and proved to be more than a little adept at what the gang gets up to.  The set-up is the same for Eastwood, so not only have they used much the same storyline as before, they’ve picked an actor who isn’t exactly dissimilar to his predecessor.

It all gets off to a colourful start in Havana, with a race between Dom and local gangster Santos (Don Omar).  There is, of course, no doubting the outcome, it’s just a question of how the winner goes about crossing the finishing line first.  It’s as spectacular as you would expect – the usual car carnage – but that’s just the start.  Because there’s car chase heaped upon car chase, enough wreckage to keep the whole car insurance industry in business for years, explosions and plenty of bloodless violence.  There’s only one moment when somebody bites the dust that shows any sign of blood – and because of the nature of their particular death it has to.  Otherwise, it’s as sanitised as usual, both in terms of the violence and the language.

There was a point in the film where I was getting perilously close to thinking “not ANOTHER car chase!” and at that moment the antidote arrived.  It was Jason Statham, playing the hard man and winding up Dwayne Johnson like nobody’s business, but also giving The Rock a serious run for his money in the comedy stakes.  We all saw in Spy that he had comedy chops, but there he was sending up himself.  Here he’s just required to be funny – and he’s terrific.  His finest hour is decking at least 30-odd adversaries one handed: in the other hand is a baby carrier containing one insufferably cute gurgling tot.  Not that Johnson doesn’t show yet again that he has a neat line in comedy as well, only he does it earlier on.  Especially when he’s been coaching his teenage daughter’s soccer team – and has also taught them a haka, which scares the beejesus out of the opposition!

It’s preposterous.  It’s ridiculous.  And it’s massive slice of entertainment.  One that, thankfully, doesn’t take itself too seriously.  It daren’t.  It would look too silly for words.  You don’t watch a film like this for the acting, although Theron is good as the icy villain.  You can only assume that Helen Mirren isn’t taking herself seriously either as Mama Stath: she clearly wasted her money at the Dick Van Dyke School of Cockney Elocution.  And she only has a couple of scenes, so it’s not much more than a cameo.

It doesn’t matter too much if you’re not au fait with the rest of the series.  The moments that hark back to other episodes are so loudly telegraphed that they’re impossible to miss.  And it all goes to show that there’s plenty of juice left in the Fast and Furious tank.  It doesn’t look like running out of Diesel either.

 

Verdict:                     3.5

 

Fast And Furious 8 (USA title: The Fate Of The Furious) is out now.

 

Review: Kong, Skull Island

Looks familiar?

Looks familiar?

 

Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts

Certificate 12A

Starring Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L Jackson, John C Reilly, John Goodman and Toby Kebbell

Released on 10th March 2017

 

If the picture above looks familiar, then it should do.  It’s exactly what Jordan Vogt-Roberts had in mind in Kong:Skull Island and it’s just the first of many images that originally saw the light of day elsewhere.

Over the years, everybody’s favourite giant ape has moved around in time.  This time he’s pitched up in the 1970s as the Vietnam War draws to a close on the mainland.  An eccentric scientist believes he’s located the last unexplored island on Earth, containing secrets crucial to the human race and his expedition is approved.  So along with tracker, ex-army type Tom Hiddleston, and a military escort with Samuel L Jackson in charge, off he goes.  Except that the island in question is Skull Island, where Kong is in residence.

If you’re a fan of Kong and his previous incarnations, you’ll be looking for those familiar footprints.  Like his relationship with the girl.  He doesn’t abduct photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), but he does save her life.  Briefly.  And there’s definitely a connection between her and the ape.  Briefly.  It’s all part of Kong being sympathetic, protective of his territory, even if his methods seem brutal.  And there’s the obligatory run-in with aircraft.  On this tropical island, there’s no Empire State Building for him to climb, so he’s surrounded by a swarm of helicopters – and he swats them away without a second thought.

Director Vogt-Roberts picked up the characteristics of the Kong movies, presumably to keep the fans happy, but what won’t endear the film to them is that they very much take second place.  The ape’s relationship with Mason is under-developed, as is Kong’s more benevolent side in the general.  Instead of going deeper into his character, he immerses himself in a retro vibe, full of music and artefacts from the 70s, and constant references to other films.  There’s no Ride Of The Valkyrie to go with the helicopters in flight, but Deep Purple’s Paranoid is an acceptable second best.  There’s shades of M*A*S*H in the first view of the military with its tannoy announcements, a touch of Miss Saigon with Kong and the choppers silhouetted against the sunset.  And Predator rears its head as the expedition’s enemies pick them off one by one.  Sometimes we see it happen, others we just see spatters of blood.

Which makes for an adventure yarn in an exotic setting, but with limitations.  Kong is a fine creation, with his glowing red eyes, but the other monsters – christened Skull Crawlers by John C Reilly – are well below par and, worse still, bear a striking resemblance to the monsters in The Great Wall.  That’s no compliment.  And it’s not a film that demands much on the acting front, so Hiddleston and Larson don’t have much to do, except look good and look frightened on demand.  The likes of Samuel L as a crazy eyed senior soldier and John C Reilly as the film’s equivalent of Treasure Island’s Ben Gunn, stranded on the island since World War II, have much more fun, which rubs off on their performances.  Reilly’s especially.

Vogt-Roberts likes his slo-mo, panoramic shots and misty settings, so that monsters can emerge from apparently nowhere and cause havoc.  You get the distinct impression that he’s enjoying his move from TV to the big screen and the ending leaves the door just about open enough for a sequel.  He may get the chance to go it all over again.  But if he does, he’ll need to give the story and characters a lot more depth than here.  And that applies especially to Kong himself.

 

Verdict:                       3.5

 

Kong:Skull Island is released in cinemas on Friday, 10 March and reviewed on Talking Pictures on Thursday, 9 March.