Mark Huffam

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Alien: Covenant Review

Very Good

Master filmmaker Ridley Scott is back to continue the story 10 years after the events of 2012's Prometheus. And while this film carries on with the bigger themes about creation and identity, at its heart it actually has much more in common with the film in which he kicked off the franchise, 1979's Alien. Yes, this is a horror movie. It's slickly made and packed with engaging characters, and it gets gruesomely scary too.

The setting is somewhere in space in 2104, as the colonising ship Covenant carries a few thousand sleeping earthlings to a new world, tended to by the android Walter (Michael Fassbender). Then a space flare awakens the 15-person crew, and they hear a rogue radio transmission from a nearby planet that's eerily perfect for colonisation. Captain Oran (Billy Crudup) thinks it's worth checking out, potentially shaving seven years off their journey. First officer Daniels (Katherine Waterston) isn't so sure. But off they go, exploring the spectacular mountainous terrain, where they find a crashed ship and a city populated only by the Prometheus' android David (also Fassbender) and some creepy, acid-salivating creatures that he has something to do with.

The plot plays out like a slasher movie, as the crew members are picked off one by one, starting with the ones we don't know and building up to the starrier cast members. Each main actor gets to invest some back-story into his or her role, establishing relationships and personality quirks that hold the interest. Waterston is clearly the protagonist from the start, grieving over the death of her husband (James Franco in video clips) and showing natural leadership skills. Crudup is the impulsive captain who mellows into someone much more intriguing as the story progresses. And McBride has the other standout role as a tenacious pilot. But of course it's Fassbender who walks off with the film, excelling in scenes in which Walter and David engage in a kind of twisted bromance with nasty sibling-rivalry undertones.

Continue reading: Alien: Covenant Review

The Journey (2017) Review

Very Good

A fictionalised account of real events, this drama is reminiscent of Peter Morgan's work in The Queen or Frost/Nixon. Even though screenwriter Colin Bateman (Murphy's Law) aims more for entertainment value than pointed character drama, the film is solidly gripping, drawing plenty of brittle humour and complex emotion out of the story.

It's set in 2006, as peace talks about Ireland are taking place in St. Andrews. Prime Minister Tony Blair (Toby Stephens) is trying to orchestrate a meeting between mortal enemies Ian Paisley (Timothy Spall) and Martin McGuinness (Colm Meaney). But there's a hitch when Ian needs to return to Belfast for his 59th wedding anniversary party. In a surprise move, Martin insists on accompanying Ian, citing protocol as a reason. Seeing his chance, MI5 expert Harry (John Hurt) puts a plan in motion for them to travel to Edinburgh together to catch the flight, planting a cheerful young spy (Freddie Highmore) as their driver. The question is whether he can manipulate their journey and cause them to start talking.

As the ice between these stubborn men begins to thaw, the script contrives to push them together with things like a petrol stop, a flat tyre, an injured deer on the roadside and a time-wasting detour through the woods that's intended to break their silence. The two actors have a great time maintaining their bluster through all of this. Spall gives Paisley an imperious attitude that has cleverly wry undercurrents. His rant at a shop clerk about a declined credit card is delivered with biblical proportions. And Meaney has some heart-stopping moments of his own. Both actors clearly relish the snaky, engaging dialogue as they quietly reveal the real men beneath the tough public personae. By contrast, Highmore seems eerily charisma-free as their driver, but there's more fun to be had from Hurt, Stephens and others as hapless officials watching on hidden cameras.

Continue reading: The Journey (2017) Review

The Martian Review

Excellent

Just as people began to write off veteran director Ridley Scott after a series of merely OK movies, the 77-year-old casually releases his most entertaining film in years. This sci-fi adventure is lithe, humorous, thrilling and genuinely moving. In other words, it's one of Scott's best films, mixing eye-catching visuals with a story that resonates with both emotion and deeper meaning. And it's also a lot of fun.

In the very near future, the first manned mission to Mars is caught off guard by a sudden storm. With their ship in danger, Commander Lewis (Jessica Chastain) orders the crew to evacuate, but in the chaos botanist Watney (Matt Damon) is knocked away and presumed dead. As Lewis and her team (Michael Pena, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan and Aksel Hennie) begin the long trek back to Earth, Watney wakes up alone on Mars and understands that he will need to survive until the next mission arrives in four years' time. But his habitat is only designed to last for 30 days, so he has a lot of work to do. Eventually, he thinks of a way to get a message back home to Nasa, letting them know he's alive. Now the experts (including Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sean Bean and Kristen Wiig) must figure out a way to rescue him before he runs out of food and water.

The story plays out on three fronts: with Watney using his expertise to survive, Lewis and her crew on their long journey back home, and the Nasa officials mounting a rescue mission. All three plot-strands are riveting, using convincing science to explore the conundrum while cranking up the emotional urgency of the situation. Intriguingly, the script never gives Watney a family back on Earth to sentimentalise things; the film simply doesn't need that. And Damon more than holds the audience's sympathy. He's funny, smart, tenacious and thoroughly identifiable, the kind of person we wish we would be in the same situation.

Continue reading: The Martian Review

Exodus: Gods And Kings Review


Good

Aside from impressive 21st century digital effects, this new take on the Moses story pales in comparison to Cecil B. DeMille's iconic 1956 version, The Ten Commandments, which is far more resonant and intensely dramatic. Biblical epics are tricky to get right, and Ridley Scott certainly knows how to make them look and feel terrific (see Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven), but his films are generally about the spectacle rather than the human emotion. So this version of the biblical story will only appeal to viewers who have never seen a better one.

It's set in 1300 BC, when the Israelites have been in captivity in Egypt for 400 years. Now rumours of liberation are circling, centring on Moses (Christian Bale), the adopted son of Pharaoh Seti (John Turturro), raised as a brother alongside the future Pharaoh Ramses (Joel Edgerton). When it emerges that Moses is actually a Hebrew, he is sent into exile in the desert, where he finds a new calling as a shepherd and marries his new boss' sexy daughter Sefora (Maria Valverde). Moses also has a run-in with the Jewish God, who appears in the form of a young boy (Isaac Andrews), challenging Moses to free the Israelites. As Moses attempts to spark a slave revolt, God sends seven horrific plagues to convince Ramses to let his people go.

The script struggles to have its cake and eat it too, finding rational explanations for the plagues and miracles while still maintaining God's supernatural intervention. It's a rather odd mix that demonstrates just how compromised the movie is: it's a big blockbuster rather than a story about people. Several elements work well, such as depicting God as a boy, although the screenplay never manages to make much of the female characters. And only Ben Mendelsohn manages to inject any proper personality as the weaselly overseer of the slaves. Bale and Edgerton both catch the complexity of their characters' situations, privilege mixed with personal revelations. But Scott is more interested in parting the Red Sea than taking them anywhere very interesting.

Continue reading: Exodus: Gods And Kings Review

Killing Bono Review


Good
Based on a true story, this film vividly captures the frustrating randomness of fame. The sharp and funny characters are nicely played, but the plot gets lost along the way, spinning in circles and trying too hard to ramp up the action.

In late-70s Dublin, brothers Neil and Ivan (Barnes and Sheehan) form a band called The Undertakers, creating a friendly rivalry with their friends Paul, David, Larry and Adam (McCann, Mark Griffin, Sean Doyle and David Tudor), who form The Hype. Then The Hype changes its name to U2 and becomes the biggest band in the world. Over the years, Neil's bull-headed attitude scuppers every chance he and Ivan get, even when they find minor fame in London with the help of manager/girlfriend Gloria (Ritter). he also indebts them to an Irish gangster (Townsend).

Continue reading: Killing Bono Review

Cherrybomb Review


OK
With stylish camerawork and editing, the filmmakers liven up what is otherwise a strangely tame look at teen obsessions with sex and drugs. Some strong performances add a sense of angst, but it's never very convincing.

In Belfast, Malachy (Grint) is a responsible young guy working in the Titanic Leisure Centre, where he catches his 16-year-old colleague Donna (Quinn) having an affair with their boss Crilly (Nesbitt). Malachy is as sex-obsessed as the next guy, but his best friend Luke (Sheehan) is trouble: lively, charismatic and danger-loving. And real problems emerge when Malachy falls for Michelle (Nixon), Crilly's maneating daughter. Especially when Luke goes after her as well.

Continue reading: Cherrybomb Review

Goal II: Living The Dream Review


Weak
As its name implies, Goal II is a sequel, but what you may not know is that it is actually the second part of what will likely be the only European soccer trilogy ever filmed. In this episode, young Mexican-American soccer genius Santiago Munes (Kuno Becker), having made it from LA to one of Britain's top "football" clubs in Goal I, now gets to "live the dream" as a world-famous soccer star.

No sooner is he Britain's brand new sensation than Santi is traded away to the Valhalla of European soccer, Real Madrid. He's happy to go, even if it means putting stress on his relationship with his British fiancée Roz (Anna Friel). Whisked off to Spain, he finds himself sharing a locker room with Beckham, Ronaldinho, Zidane (all appearing as themselves), and Gavin Harris (Alessandro Nivola), an old-time and rapidly aging British soccer star who shows Santi what this world of Ferraris, mansions, and bosomy Spanish sluts is all about. The painfully sincere Santi is wide-eyed but virtuous and only gets into trouble when photographers catch him in what they mistakenly believe to be naughty acts. After seeing the photos herself, poor Roz is bereft in rainy Newcastle.

Continue reading: Goal II: Living The Dream Review

Thunderbirds Review


Weak
Kids who are relatively new to movies and unfamiliar with cynicism will love Thunderbirds, Jonathan Frakes' live-action take on the cult 1960s puppets and rockets show. Kids are bound to love the fast pace and broad characters as the kid cast triumphs over evil adults and get rewarded by the cool ones.

The reason why I can't recommend Thunderbirds is common in mediocre kids' fare: It offers nothing for the adults playing chaperone, who will be flat-out bored. Frakes and his screenwriters make no attempt to entertain anyone over the age of 13, unless you find stuttering and bad teeth uproarious. If ever there was a movie meant for DVD, this is it. Mom can pay the bills or read a book in the living room, as the kids argue over how cool it would be to ride one of the Thunderbirds.

Continue reading: Thunderbirds Review

Captain Corelli's Mandolin Review


Good
Captain Corelli's Mandolin is one of those films that most people can't in good conscience say they hate. In the tradition of films like Waking Ned Devine and Cinema Paradiso, it's a sweet but flawed wartime romance with enough gorgeous scenery and quaint villagers to choke a horse. It innocuously celebrates the triumph of true love, exalts the rise of an everyman hero, toasts art's ability to eclipse the horrors of life, and at times is even a visual feast (Miramax should charge the Greek tourist board royalties).

Adapted from the best-selling novel by Louis de Bernieres, the story begins in 1941. Dr. Iannis (John Hurt) and his lovely daughter Pelagia (Penélope Cruz) live on the idyllic Greek isle of Cephallonia, where Pelagia is betrothed to fisherman Mandras (Christian Bale) who's eager to prove his mettle in the growing war in Europe. He goes off to fight for Greece against the Italians; in the meantime, the Italians invade his home island. But these Italians aren't scary, Mussolini types; they're jolly, good-natured and even kind. According to them, Italians are best at "eating, singing, and making love," which the filmmakers set out to prove to no end in this movie. Let's put it this way: Puccini gets some serious screen time.

Continue reading: Captain Corelli's Mandolin Review

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Mark Huffam Movies

Alien: Covenant Movie Review

Alien: Covenant Movie Review

Master filmmaker Ridley Scott is back to continue the story 10 years after the events...

The Journey (2017) Movie Review

The Journey (2017) Movie Review

A fictionalised account of real events, this drama is reminiscent of Peter Morgan's work in...

The Martian Movie Review

The Martian Movie Review

Just as people began to write off veteran director Ridley Scott after a series of...

Exodus: Gods and Kings Movie Review

Exodus: Gods and Kings Movie Review

Aside from impressive 21st century digital effects, this new take on the Moses story pales...

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Killing Bono Movie Review

Killing Bono Movie Review

Based on a true story, this film vividly captures the frustrating randomness of fame. The...

Cherrybomb Movie Review

Cherrybomb Movie Review

With stylish camerawork and editing, the filmmakers liven up what is otherwise a strangely tame...

Thunderbirds Movie Review

Thunderbirds Movie Review

Kids who are relatively new to movies and unfamiliar with cynicism will love Thunderbirds, Jonathan...

Captain Corelli's Mandolin Movie Review

Captain Corelli's Mandolin Movie Review

Captain Corelli's Mandolin is one of those films that most people can't in good conscience...

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