Film Review: This Beautiful Fantastic

Simon Aboud’s sophomore picture This Beautiful Fantastic is amiable but forgettable. The film paints a twee picture, which provides decent escapism.

Bella Brown is a library assistant who dreams of being a children’s author. In her real life, she must contend with a cantankerous old neighbour and his dispute with her garden, whilst falling for a library patron…

Writer and director Simon Aboud produces a film which is heavy on the whimsy with This Beautiful Fantastic. Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amélie seems to have been an inspiration for the filmmaker, although this movie lacks the charisma of the 2001 film. That is not to say This Beautiful Fantastic is beyond redemption, but merely that it lacks impact.

Aboud’s film is easy watching. It is the sort of movie to watch on a rainy day; one that does not require any real investment. As such, it does the trick. Bella is an interesting enough protagonist. She is boundlessly twee, but warm enough to gain the audience’s sympathy. Alfie makes a good initial antagonist.

There are a number of strands at play in This Beautiful Fantastic, nearly all of which relate to Bella. There is the overarching theme of her desired career, which is paired with her mundane job and three main relationship strands. Some of these are more interesting than others. The burgeoning friendship between Bella and Alfie has some nice scenes. Nevertheless, the scenes with the protagonist and Billy are not as entertaining, probably because the latter is not fleshed out sufficiently. The scenes between Vernon and Alfie feature the film’s best dialogue.

Jessica Brown Findlay delivers a good performance as Bella, but it is Tom Wilkinson who really shines as Alfie. Andrew Scott and Jeremy Irvine are also decent in supporting roles. Aboud paints an old-fashioned portrait of North London with this film; it is pretty, but feels far removed from reality.

This Beautiful Fantastic is the perfect film for viewer who want short, sweet and non-comital viewing.

This Beautiful Fantastic will be available to watch on Digital Download from 5th March 2018 and can be bought here.

Film Review: The Woman in Black: Angel of Death

The Woman in Black: Angel of Death

Sequel The Woman in Black: Angel of Death shifts action to the surrounds of World War II, although supernatural trickery remains intact.

During World War II a group of young children are evacuated out of London. Under the care of their teachers, the children are taken to stay at Eel Marsh House, where they are not alone…

The Woman in Black: Angel of Death retains the setting of the first film, based on Susan Hill’s novel. What changes are the characters and the period. The World War II setting works well both as a catalyst for the plot, and as a eerie setting. The house remains the same, albeit with the further decay that the change in era would bring.

In the same way as 2011’s The Awakening, The Woman in Black: Angel of Death uses the devastation of war as a backdrop for the supernatural horror that occurs. The prevalence of death and destruction seems like an apt climate for ghostly occurrences.

Like its predecessor The Woman in Black, director Tom Harper’s film constructs tension by showcasing unusual activity slowly to begin with, building to a near crescendo for the finale. The scares are typical of the supernatural genre, with little to surprise in terms of style.

The plot of The Woman in Black: Angel of Death is fairly predictable in terms of its shifts and outcomes. Characters in this instalment are more ready to believe in the unexplained than in other films of this ilk; a welcome change. However the main characters are rather one-dimensional in their backgrounds and development. Phoebe Fox certainly looks the part as protagonist Eve, whilst Jeremy Irvine is decent as Harry.

The Woman in Black: Angel of Death will satisfy those looking for run of the mill supernatural scares, but does not elevate itself above this. Sufficiently entertaining, but an unoriginal watch.

Film Review: The Railway Man

The Railway Man

Drama The Railway Man is a well executed true story which boasts great performances from its cast.

Eric Lomax was one of many of Allied prisoners of war forced to work on the construction of the Thai/Burma railway during World War II. Years later, Eric’s experiences still haunt him…

Based on a true story, director Jonathan Teplitzky’s The Railway Man is highly effective at conveying the trauma of war and its after effects, even decades later. Teplitzky’s depiction of more emotional moments has enough restraint to never appear melodramatic.

The narrative of The Railway Man is an amble rather than a swift jaunt. here is a lull in the middle, but the film recovers from this. The Railway Man is a bit of a slow burner, but still suitably engaging.

It is a few key scenes in The Railway Man which offer drama and tension. Without these scenes, the film would not have worked. The flashbacks, as well as the film’s climax, are engrossing.

What is most thought provoking in The Railway Man is its final act. The film’s conclusion generates a tension which makes it compelling. Given the emotions at play, it is easy to imagine the film having a different outcome. However, The Railway Man ends on a reflective note, which is satisfying.

Cinematography in The Railway Man is great. There is some superb composition from cinematographer Garry Phillips. Sound design in the film is also particularly effective.

Colin Firth offers a solid performance as the older Eric Lomax. Hiroyuki Sanada is also great as Nagase. It is Jeremy Irvine however who is most convincing in his role as the younger Lomax. Nicole Kidman fails to emote successfully thanks to her lack of expression.

The Railway Man presents an important story, balancing historical representation with a very human angle.

Film Review: Great Expectations

Director Mike Newall offers a faithful adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic with Great Expectations.

Orphan Pip lives with his sister and her blacksmith husband. Pip’s humble upbringing is altered irrevocably when a mysterious benefactor wants to make him a gentlemen…

 Mike Newall’s version of Great Expectations is a traditional period drama. The film remains faithful to Dickens’ classic. All the main aspects of the novel are included in this film adaptation. Some minor elements are omitted, presumably because of time constraints and pacing. However, this does not alter the overall narrative. It is a lot more faithful than the recent BBC television adaptation of Dickens’ novel.

There are quite a few characters and strands in Great Expectations. Screenwriter David Nicholls manages to balance these out, without omitting important elements or making the film feel weighed down. Despite a running time of over two hours, Great Expectations never feels overlong, or slacking in its pace.

Newall’s film is beautifully shot. Great Expectations is visually sumptuous, making the most of its locations and sets. Similarly, costumes in the film are excellent. The film is styled very much like a traditional period piece; there is a lavishness to the look of Great Expectations.

Casting in this adaptation is spot on. Ralph Fiennes makes a fine Magwitch, while Jason Flemyng’s Joe tallies with the novel. Jeremy Irvine and Holliday Grainger offer good performances as the adult Pip and Estella. Helena Bonham Carter is perfectly cast as Miss Havisham. Bonham Carter encapsulates the character with an entirely believable performance.

Great Expectations is escapist drama for the winter season. Traditional and sumptuous.

Film Review: War Horse

War Horse is a saccharine tale that comes across as most old fashioned. Those who buy into it will be charmed, although others may not be as impressed.

After his father buys Joey, Albert Narracott decides to train the horse to plough, despite the animal’s unsuitability. The pair have a bond, and Albert is distraught when Joey is sold to the calvary at the outbreak of World War I. Albert enlists, and travels throughout Europe as a soldier, taking a different path to Joey…

At almost two and a half hours, War Horse‘s running time is really felt at times during the course of the film. Due to the film’s sentimentality, it seems as if certain sections run a little too long. War Horse is by no means painful viewing, but it would have been more enjoyable with a shorter run time.

The dominant theme of friendship and companionship is unmistakably earnest. However, the theme veers into schmaltzy territory, which can become exasperating for viewers who do not buy into the film. Although War Horse appears to be a tear-jerker from the trailer, it does not quite tug at the heart strings as expected. Instead, the film tells a nice story, rather than an overly emotional one. Nice is in fact a good word to describe the film, with all the positive and negative connotations the term holds.

War Horse is a visually sumptuous film. The orange-bathed lighting in final shots is rather gratuitous, but scenery is finely captured otherwise. There is a handful of amazing shots, which really exhibit Steven Spielberg’s directing talent. Despite the war setting, there is little actual violence depicted on screen.

Performances in the film vary. Jeremy Irvine is a suitable lead as Albert, while Tom Hiddleston delivers a fine performance as Captain Nicholls. Playing German boy Gunther, David Kross’ accent is patchy. Praise should be given to the animal trainers who have done a fantastic job with Joey and the other horses.

War Horse will be dull to some and immensely satisfying to others. Those who are aware of the premise of the film should have few surprises.

The Empire Big Screen Diaries – Day 3

Like the protagonist on an epic quest in a sword and sorcery film, I embarked on the final day of Empire Big Screen. First order of business was the Paramount Showcase. After a brief video animating the company’s biggest films, a series of trailers were shown. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol was followed by Paranormal Activity 3 and Like Crazy. After this, a featurette on Cowboys and Aliens was screened, introduced by Jon Favreau (on video). We also got to see a short clip of the Footloose remake, and the trailer for The Devil Inside (which was highly reminiscent of last year’s The Last Exorcism). Two clips of the Shrek spin-off Puss in Boots were then screened. Te footage was great; the film looks as if it will be very funny. To round things off, footage of The Adventures of Tin Tin was screened with a message from producer Peter Jackson and director Steven Spielberg. The clips looked good, but I always think humans in CG-animation look weird.

After a brief interlude, the Lionsgate Showcase began. After the trailer for A Dangerous Method was shown, we got to see footage from Ralph Fiennes’ Coriolanus. Set in the modern day but with the original Shakespearean dialogue, the film looks interesting if a little unusual. The showcase was rounded up by four trailers – 50/50, Abduction, Warrior and Conan the Barbarian.

Seizing the opportunity for a proper lunch break, we headed to Armadillo (again). My fish burger was nice, but I felt bad that we didn’t leave a proper tip. In fairness, it was all the change we had, but apologies to Armadillo staff.

The Disney Showcase was the final one of the weekend. Real Steel was first up, with director Shawn Levy on stage to talk about the film. He also gave away tickets to the premiere, but asked the most difficult question ever. Needless to say, I did not know the answer. Two clips were then screened; the film looks like fairly standard family fare. Andrew Stanton then introduced John Carter and footage from the film was screened. Finally, Steven Spielberg (by video) introduced some footage of his upcoming film War Horse. What struck me more than anything was that Spielberg seems to have some hand in directing or producing many of the films discussed this weekend. He may have even a hand producing this post. Human star of the film Jeremy Irvine then came on stage to discuss making War Horse.

After hanging out in the press room for a bit (Jeremy Irvine was being interviewed there, talent-spotters!), it was time for The Muppets! Director of The Muppets James Bobin and star Kermit the Frog were interviewed live via satelite. I was told that the Muppets were originally meant to appear in person. Maybe it is just as well this did not happen, as I may have got kicked out for running up on stage and hugging Kermit. The interview was a lot of fun, and the clip screened involved Kermit singing a song. It almost brought a tear to the eye…

After all that excitement, it was time for the Conan the Barbarian premiere. Jason Momoa was present to introduce the film, shown at the biggest screen at the O2 Cineworld. The film was pretty disappointing itself (review to follow).

After the very last visit to the press room, I went to the secret screening. Cineworld tried to rob me blind with their popcorn prices, after which I settled down to watch the film. Before it started, I asked the gentleman next to me if he knew what the film was (I did by this point). When he answered “Cowboys and Aliens” I was perplexed, and thought he was joking until he showed me his ticket. I was in the wrong screen. After cursing my stupidity, I ran next door and luckily the trailers were still on. I then settled down to watch The Debt, a very good thriller (review to follow). And that concluded Empire Big Screen; the film was good way to end a busy but exciting weekend.

Many thanks to Empire and Romley Davies for having me, plus all the lovely people who made the weekend so much fun (you know who you are!).