The Aeronauts (2019)

aeronauts poster

In 1862, the idea of meteorology – the science of weather – was a laughable thing (as opposed to 2019, when it’s still largely laughable? Hmm). Scientist James Glaisher (Eddie Redmayne) is determined to prove otherwise, but to do so he needs the help of a hot air balloon pilot. In real life, this was Henry Coxwell, but the movie makers have decided to sex up the story (hah!) and so we have the fictional Amelia Rennes (Felicity Jones) instead.

The quest to ‘go higher than anyone before’ is portrayed, I believe, in real time – which I didn’t know at the time, but is interesting. Interspersed we have a lot of flashbacks, to Glaisher’s struggle to be taken seriously, Rennes’ tragic backstory, and the pair’s less than smooth path to their record breaking flight.

There is an interesting story here, however slight (two men float up for a couple hours – yes, scientifically important, but… hmm), but it isn’t really enough to make a whole movie out of, I think. So instead the filmmakers have crammed in fiction, and tried too hard to make drama out of very little – and as a result, rather missing the point. If they’d kept the focus, actually let the viewer ride along, it could have rivalled Gravity, perhaps?

Occasionally, the whole thing looks spectacular. The balloon adrift in a huge expanse of sky is ‘wow’. I liked the Victorian period details. I was very glad that we didn’t get some silly romance subplot. And… that’s about it, I’m afraid. I was quite frankly bored through most of it, with even the moments of high drama rather failing to lift the whole piece.

I don’t know what the point of this was, to be honest. A few pretty scenes, an impressive enough cast. But, just no, overall.

Released: 4th November 2019 (UK)
Viewed: 9th November 2019
Running time: 100 minutes
Rated: PG

My rating: 5/10

Ford v Ferrari (2019)

ford v ferrari poster

This is the story of two companies in bitter rivalry: the handcrafted, race-dominating Ferrari, against the mass-produced, reliable but deeply ‘unsexy’ Ford. There’s a personal rivalry, too, between Enzo Ferrari and Henry Ford II. But more than that it’s the tale of two other men: Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon), the first American to win the Le Mans 24-hour endurance race, and volatile engineering genius, Ken Miles (Christian Bale).

Both men share an obsession with cars and racing. Shelby’s career is cut short by health problems, whereas Miles is struggling to turn his racing brilliance into a family-supporting income, mainly due to his temper and obstinacy. He’s almost always right, of course.

When Ford decides its future depends on winning races, the two stories explosively collide!

I thought this movie looked interesting from the trailers, and was thus pretty pleased when it turned out to be the chosen title for Cineworld’s most recent secret screening. And I was more than pleasantly surprised at just how thoroughly I ended up enjoying it.

The biggest draw is the acting from the two leads. Damon does his usual laid-back, likeable everyman very well, with the added torment of no longer being able to do what he most loves. The character is perhaps played a little backseat to Bale’s (character’s) volatility, genius, and humorous mannerisms (“Giddy up” to a car??), but it’s the combination that makes the whole thing work. And the humour – did not expect to laugh so much

I don’t have a huge interest in racing, or cars, but the story is excellently put together. Objectively, there are a lot of flaws and reasons this shouldn’t work, but as the story unfolds, I was just sucked in. By the halfway point, I was oohing like mad at the purr of the engine. The emotional manipulation is perhaps a bit too predictable, and yet it still works. The 2½ hour running time flew past.

So yeah, recommended! It’s not just for racing fans, I knew nothing about Ken Miles or Le Mans going in (and quite frankly: what utter madness is driving for 24 hours?!), and while the story could be said to slip into cliche of true life biopics, it’s a gripping ride along the way.

Released: 15th November 2019
Viewed: 4th November 2019 (advanced screening)
Running time: 152 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 8/10

The Current War (2017)

current war poster

It was the starry cast that attracted me to this, rather than another retelling of the fight between Thomas Edison (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Nikola Tesla (Nicholas Hoult), which I thought I knew (enough) about. But this isn’t that fight, or rather, Tesla is only a bit-player, and the real ‘war’ is between inventor Edison and industrialist, George Westerhouse (Michael Shannon).

Both men want to bring electricity to widespread use. Edison, inventor of the lightbulb, first pushes his direct current (DC). Westerhouse buys patents from others, and cannot infringe on Edison’s creations, and so uses the more powerful alternating current (AC). However, Edison soon begins a slanging match, claiming AC is deadly – and look, here’s a horse being electrocuted to prove it (!).

The crux will come with the 1983 World Fair in Chicago, with both sides vying to light up the city. Only one can win. But, at what cost?

It seems odd that electricity, so staple a part of modern life, has really only been used as it is for a little over 100 years. It is intriguing seeing the technology’s start, but the film is just as much about the personal issues. Did Westerhouse feel slighted by a socially dismissive Edison? Both men are shown to be highly affected by their wives. Both have egos and a desire to be remembered, or to change the world for the better.

While interesting and enjoyable enough, I wouldn’t say this was the most gripping piece of cinema. The cast – also including Tom Holland, Matthew MacFadyen, Tuppence Middleton, and Katherine Waterston – is indeed fantastic, and it’s nice that the characters are given time to (no pun intended) shine.

It was also interesting that they pitted Edison against an industrialist. I’m not sure Tesla’s part in this isn’t vastly underplayed, right enough, so historically I’m still debating that, but dramatically the juxtaposition was played well. The movie does become about the light and dark (okay, okay, that pun is deliberate!) of each man’s soul, each facing their own principles and each feeling driven to act against those. With the actors involved, it is all done rather well.

However, it *is* kind of slow, and you know what’s going to happen, and… yeah, it was fine. Maybe save it for a rainy Sunday afternoon.

Released: 26th July 2019
Viewed: 26th July 2019
Running time: 107 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 7/10

PS: the movie was made and released at various film festivals in 2017 but due to the involvement of producer Harvey Weinstein, distangling that element saw everything  shelved until the current release schedule.

As You Wish – Cary Elwes

as you wish cover

“William Goldman once said about the movie business, ‘Nobody knows anything.'”

Along with many, many other people, The Princess Bride holds a special place in my heart. It’s a sweet, funny, action-packed, generally just lovely movie. It’s one of my go-to films when I need a pick me up. And who better to talk us through some of the behind the scenes, making of stories, than the dashing Westley himself, aka Cary Elwes?

Also known as one of the few Robin Hoods to actually speak in a proper English accent, it’s easy to hear Elwes’ gentle tones narrating the equally gentle tales of how wonderful making this movie was. Of course, he was a young actor near the start of his career back in the mid 1980s (TPB was released in 1987), so there’s also an element of an actor looking back at the ‘role that made him’. To be fair, he’s probably never managed anything living quite up to those highs again (even if I do get a little mental squee every time he pops up in a cameo somewhere!), so there’s a little bittersweetness to it.

There’s nothing shocking in this memoir. Like the movie, it’s a sweet kind of nostalgia, mostly told by Elwes but with regular snippets from many of the other cast members. How beautiful and kind Robin Wright was (and still is, I’m sure!), how funny Mel Smith was, how amazingly Andre the Giant lived.

There are a few background tales that will perhaps make some of the movie more impressive. The trouble it had getting made in the first place (inconceivable!), the astounding amount of training Elwes and Mandy Patinkin (Inigo Montoya) put in to be able to perform – yes, themselves! – that fight scene. And now I will have to go and rewatch it to see if I can notice the moment Count Rugen (Christopher Guest) actually knocks Westley unconscious, or the parts where he’s limping having badly broken his toe messing around.

In fact, making me want to rewatch the movie is another great thing about this book. And since, like all sensible people, I own a copy, it’s definitely a case of “As you wish” 🙂

(one downside: my eBook edition really doesn’t cope with the included photos, even when I opened in on my computer instead of my phone, which is a shame.)

eBook: 272 pages / 13 chapters
First published: 2014
Series: none
Read from 3rd  September 2018 – 16th February 2019

My rating: 8/10

First Man (2018)

first man poster

First Man is a biopic of astronaut, Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling), detailing his time with NASA and becoming the first human to walk on another planetary body. It’s at once a deeply personal story, and yet captures one of the most monumental human achievements of all time.

There was nothing easy about the ‘space race’. Hurling oneself out of Earth’s atmosphere, at the speeds required to escape gravity, would be terrifying enough at any time, but limited to 1950s/60s technology it becomes an exercise in ambition over common sense, it seems! Certainly, the American programme is fraught with accidents, often deadly, and the movie uses those to ramp up the tension levels and really pull on the audience’s emotions.

If anything, that need to constantly try to pull on the heartstrings is my only complaint about the movie. We’re shown a lot of Armstrong’s personal life, and in doing so it slants the whole achievement to being connected to the death of his daughter. Wouldn’t it be enough just for its own sake?

That said, the story is incredible and the performances are amazing. One complaint I heard was a dislike of how cold and distant Armstrong is portrayed – although, his living children have reportedly said this is the best representation they’ve seen on screen of their father. Personally, I found the personality very relatable: I do think men of that era would be cold rather than show emotions, and Neil was very much an engineer and physicist, given to logical thought.

I do wish the climatic events were allowed to be a little more wow. The film makers have gone for downplaying this absolutely remarkable thing, and given how in awe I am of the reality, the movie didn’t quite capture that for me.

Still. Wow. And the film’s not half bad either 😉

Released: 12th October 2018
Viewed: 9th November 2018
Running time: 141 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 9/10

Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

bohemian rhapsody poster

The first proper album I ever bought was Queen’s A Kind of Magic. I sort of remember the Live Aid concert (I was a little young!) which forms the framework for this bio-pic of, if not the band, certainly lead singer, Freddie Mercury.

I’m still struggling to completely have an opinion on the movie. I *loved* the 2+ hours in the cinema – I laughed, I sniffled, and I could not sit still with the fabulous music. Is it a good movie? I dunno, but it was fun. Is it an accurate biography? I have no idea – certainly the timelines are messed about a little for dramatic effect, but I have to assume that band mates and producers, Brian May and Roger Taylor, weren’t going to let anyone be too mean to the late, great Freddie.

Certainly it all starts well. Moving away from his parents’ traditional family life, Farouk Bulsara offers to replace the singer in Brian and Roger’s band. From the first moment, his showmanship starts to grow and we get a super-speed through Queen’s creation and rise to mega-stardom, with some nice scenes of certain songs being crafted.

The real focus of the plot, however, isn’t the band but the frontman. Freddie has to come to terms with fame, his family’s disapproval of his lifestyle choices, his sexuality, and how these things collide. Fame and fortune aren’t guards against loneliness. Adrift in his own life, he’s easy pickings for the unscrupulous. He does come across a little as a victim, with perhaps hints that the ‘scandalous’ lifestyle was more association and gossip than reality, which may or may not be true.

You can’t review Bohemian Rhapsody without heaping praise on Rami Malek. The climax of the movie – that Live Aid set – is played almost in full. As the camera pulls out over the massive audience, I actually wondered if the big screens at the side of the stage were playing the real footage, so spot-on is Malek’s physical performance.

Absolutely recommended. Make up your own mind on how well it all fits together, but you are guaranteed a foot-stompingly great soundtrack along the way.

Released: 24th October 2018
Viewed: 26th October 2018
Running time: 134 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 8.5/10

Victoria and Abdul (2017)

victoria and abdul poster

Everyone knows that Queen Victoria had a huge romance with hubby, Albert, and found a little relief from her loneliness following his death with ghillie, John Brown. In fact, Judi Dench played the monarch in the movie, Mrs Brown, showing us their friendship. It’s a nice touch, then, to have her back in the role for this next episode.

For the Queen’s golden jubilee, two men from India were rather randomly chosen to present the Empress of India with a token from her Indian subjects. The aging monarch took a shine to one of the men, Abdul (Ali Fazal) of the title, and recruited him first as a general servant, and then as a teacher – ‘Munshi’ – in the Urdu language, the Koran, and Indian culture in general. However, the rest of the court are far less keen on this ‘brown man’ taking a place so close to the elderly Queen, suspecting him of currying (hah hah!) favour, and her of losing her mental faculties.

One thing that shone through very well from the movie was a great grounding in making these unlikely events seem very plausible. Victoria was a willful woman, by all accounts, but also lonely and forced to maintain her regal duties well beyond the point where a quiet retirement would have been far kinder. As she dragged herself through her later years, the chance to relieve some of the boredom was presented in the form of an exotic young man who could fill her head with marvellous tales and new concepts.

There’s absolutely no faulting Dame Judi here, of course. She’s “willful and stubborn and overly attached to power” every beat of the way. Ali Fazal is charming as the young clerk, although I was ever so slightly ‘hmm’ about the way his character arc is portrayed – a flaw, I suspect, of being based on the man himself’s own journals. Still, it’s a lovely friendship, as much about age as class and culture.

I was pleasantly surprised by this movie. It was sweet and heartwarming, with enough bite from the Queen’s stubbornness in the face of her court, filled with a stellar supporting cast. It’s a lovely companion piece to 1997’s Mrs Brown, although its cosy Sunday afternoon vibe is a little let down by the inevitably slightly downbeat events at the end.

Released: 15th September 2017
Viewed: 28th September 2017
Running time: 112 minutes
Rated: PG

My rating: 7/10