Gifted (2017)

Frank Adler (Chris Evans) is guardian to his niece, Mary (McKenna Grace), who just happens to be a mathematical prodigy. Theirs is a really lovely relationship: they clearly dote on each other, he talks to her like a person, and she is clearly flourishing in the laid-back parenting.

However, when Mary turns seven with no friends her own age, Frank decides it’s time she socialises with other school kids. Despite warnings, she’s unable to cover up her genius and soon the attentions of the authorities and her previously absent grandmother are threatening to break the duo apart.

This is a very gentle, sweet kind of a movie, told in a very gentle kind of a way. I was really impressed by the handling of the court case: no shouting and screaming, as would be Hollywood-norm, just two adults (Frank and his mother, played by Lindsay Duncan) trying to do what’s best, and capable of having a rational if bittersweet conversation from either side of the argument.

Which isn’t to say there’s no tension in this movie – there certainly is, it’s just done in a matter-of-fact, low-key way that I found really refreshing. The story unfolds with layers of revelation that you might not even notice as such, as they’re just ‘life’, not shoved in your face.

I was just as impressed with the acting. Mckenna Grace is a rare thing: a genuinely gifted (as an actor, I make no claims for her real life maths skills!) youngster who provides zero irritation factor. And if you think Chris Evans is nothing but bulked-up superhero fodder, his gentle portrayal of a brother, uncle, son, and human being in his own right might surprise you – the character of Frank, too. Heck, I didn’t even mind that he doesn’t take his shirt off! ūüėČ

I wasn’t exactly raring to go see this movie, but as it worked out I am really glad that I did. I’m guessing it’s not going to set the box office on fire, but it’s an impressively mature and sensitively-told story that will reward viewers willing to let go of the need for fireworks.

Released: 16th June 2017 (UK)
Viewed: 12th June 2017 (preview)
Running time: 101 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 8/10


Triple 9 (2016)

Every now and then I get to attend a ‘secret screening’ – an advanced screening of a movie where we don’t know¬†what it is until the BFFC rating screen appears. Speculation is rife ahead of this, and while I think¬†Triple 9 is a decent movie, that kind of build up just killed the whole thing for me – thankfully it wasn’t¬†The Witcher (or¬†Grimsby) but¬†half the audience reacted with, “What?”

What indeed. 999 is the UK emergency (ie 911) number, but in the States it’s the code for ‘officer down’, and also – apparently – drop everything and come running, all ye fellow cops. Cos that ain’t ever going to be a bad idea, right?

The problem I had with this movie was the pace. It is s-l-o-w, and I just wasn’t in the mood for that. Building tension, okay, alright, but… sheesh. So we have some criminals, and some dirty cops, and some other bloke(s), and then there’s the Russian mob (wait, what?) and some weird family stuff, and… yeah o_O

The tension ratchets up as the movie goes along, but the title if nothing else really signposts where we’re heading. And while the amazing cast – Chiwetel Ejiofor, Casey Affleck (really turning into his big bro!), Anthony Mackie, Kate Winslet (oy, that hair!!), and really just every character a big name – all do very very well, overall I just wasn’t, well, thrilled.

And thus we have a weekend of a pretty bad movie that entertained me, and a pretty decent movie that didn’t quite. Go figure.

Released: 19th February 2016
Viewed: 6th February 2016 (advanced screening)
Running time: 115 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 6.5/10 – probably deserves the 7, but it was a little slow

In the Heart of the Sea (2015)

Herman Melville’s masterpiece,¬†Moby Dick, or The Whale, was inspired by real events. This movie purports to tell that tale: of a real whaling ship, the Essex,¬†destroyed by a whale – but¬†also the desperate struggle for survival by the crew following the incident, adrift a thousand miles from¬†home.

To my shame, I have never read¬†Moby Dick¬†(I did pick up a free eBook version last night after viewing this movie, though!) so I’m not sure how much more the film has to offer if you’re familiar with the book the events are said to inspire. Still, I really liked the concept of¬†the framing tale: that of Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) visiting the last survivor of the Essex‘s demise, who has never before told the real events of that fateful journey.

It’s a slight shame that the survivor is a cabin boy, and therefore should have no insight whatsoever into half of the events he proceeds to tell: the relationship between Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth) and his wife, for instance, or how the¬†Essex‘s owners back out on a previous promise to make¬†Chase captain, only to hire him as first mate to an unseasoned son of a rich shipping family.

At this point, however, my interest was piqued: we have all the set up of a great psychological drama between the experienced first mate and the privileged but untried captain. And yes, the hints of this are thrown up again and again throughout the rest of the story, but… hmm.

That becomes my view of the whole thing, to be honest: ‘hmm’. There is a lot of drama to work with here, and yet it somehow¬†failed to really hit home. I felt I should have been gripping my seat with terror when the whale attacks, and my jaw hitting the floor at the big ‘reveal’ of what survival may entail. I can only¬†suggest that the ‘shocking’ events¬†were so obvious that they lost most of their impact, perhaps?

In the Heart of the Sea is by no means a bad movie. It’s¬†been made with care¬†and often looks gorgeous – well, it would have, if not for the dire attempt at 3D! The camera angles are… often interesting (eg following down a length of rope, through a glass bottle, etc), but¬†whether that’s a plus or minus depends on the individual viewer.

The actors were obviously hugely committed, reportedly undertaking 500-calorie a day diets to achieve the emaciated survivor look – so it’s a shame the accents are all over the place! I’d suggest the writing or editing (or both) isn’t helpful to any of the cast, with no role save that of Chase being remotely¬†memorable:¬†too many came across as “Let’s mention the tragic backstory and/or psychological issues –¬†bring them up again a few times – and then largely have them be irrelevant.”

Overall, I can’t recommend this, but nor will I trash it.¬†Ironically given the title, I really couldn’t figure out the ‘heart’ of this movie, which manages to mash up psychological drama and sweeping adventure, and make nowhere near enough of either.

Released: 26th December 2015
Viewed: 16th December 2015 (advanced, ‘secret’ screening)
Running time: 122 minutes
Rated: 12A- theme/pace unlikely to suit kids of any age

My rating: 5/10