Eddie Redmayne

The Aeronauts

09/11/19

This ‘inspired by a true story’ film is pitched as a family-friendly affair in the trailer, but actually plays more like a hair-raising tale of (literally) high adventure. It’s based around a genuine hot air balloon ascent made in 1862 by two men, but here, one of the men has been replaced by fictional female balloonist, Amelia Rennes (Felicity Jones). It has to be said that her character is one of the best elements in this production and anyway, women have been callously written out of the history books so often, it’s actually refreshing to witness one actually being written into it.

Meteorologist James Glaisher (Eddie Redmayne) has a burning ambition to venture higher than any man has done before, mainly because he fervently believes it will advance the fledgling science of weather prediction. Glaisher seeks out ‘the widow Rennes,’ a woman still in mourning for her husband, who died in an earlier balloon ascent. He somehow manages to persuade her to be his pilot, though he is quietly appalled by all the carnival razzmatazz she brings to the public launch.

Once up in the air, the film settles into a series of alarming and genuinely vertiginous escapades as the duo battle storms, winds and freezing temperatures. There are some stunning ariel shots and occasional flashbacks to the couple’s respective stories – Glaisher trying to come to terms with the advancing senility that is overtaking his father, Arthur (Tom Courtenay), and Rennes dwelling on that earlier ascent which cost her so dearly. While the action scenes are enough to put me right on the edge of my seat, the flashbacks are rather less successful and I’m particularly disappointed to see brilliant character actors like Anne Reid and Tim McInnery given so little to do.

A couple of questions I can’t help but ponder after seeing this. When balloonists throw stuff out of the gondola in order to ‘lose weight,’ what happens to those unfortunates who happen to be wandering around thousands of feet below them? And, if Glaisher went through such hell advancing the science of weather prediction, why do I find myself walking to the cinema through a rainstorm that completely failed to show up on my weather app?

The Aeronauts is certainly worth seeing, not least for Jones’ delightfully gritty  performance in the lead role. But don’t expect to see the jolly, easygoing film promised by the trailer. This is made of sterner stuff and those who suffer from vertigo might just decide to give this one a wide berth.

3.9 stars

Philip Caveney

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

21/11/18

One thing is certain: this film will have its fans. Enthusiastic, excited fans, thrilled to be offered further insights into their beloved Potterverse. It’s sure to do well: even the Wednesday evening showing we’re at is sold out, and there’s not a kid in sight.

But that’s fine, because this isn’t really a kids’ film (although lots of them will love it too). This is squarely aimed at twenty-somethings: young adults who’ve grown up with the magical world existing alongside their own. This is a film for those grown-ups who know if they’re a Ravenclaw and proudly wear their house colours; who form the queues outside the now ubiquitous ‘Boy Wizard’ shops; who know so much about Rowling’s realm that they’re not bewildered by the huge cast of characters, nor by the casual references to familial relationships. This film is for them, and they are vast in number.

But it’s not for me. I’m not exactly a nay-sayer: I loved the first three Harry Potter books, and thought the others were okay. I quite liked the films too. I understand why they’re popular. But this latest instalment of the Fantastic Beasts spin-off is a step too far for the casual viewer, and it fails to work as a film in its own right.

I wasn’t keen on the last one, but at least it stuck to its remit: it was definitely about the beasts. This time, they’re peripheral; instead, we’re stuck in a world of dull politicking, with clumsy parallels to the rise of the far right. It’s worthy but hardly insightful, and it’s lacking any lightness or sparkle. It just doesn’t feel very magical at all.

Redmayne plays Eddie Redmayne very well; he’s had a lot of practice. He’s up to his usual schtick: all downcast eyes and vulnerability. I’d like to see him trying something else – and I’d like to see Newt develop too. Otherwise, the acting is pretty good, but no one has enough to do: Jude Law is wasted as young Dumbledore. Queenie (Alison Sudol) was my favourite character in the last movie, but she’s far more muted here, and less engaging as a result.

It all looks splendid, of course: the detail is stunning and the world well-realised. But it’s a boring story, with too many people and not enough animals. Enough already. Potter’s legacy should be better than this.

3 stars

Susan Singfield

Early Man

27/01/18

If the film industry ever handed out awards for sheer determination, Nick Park and his animation team would surely be first in line to pick up a gong. Give these people an unlimited supply of plasticine and several years in which to manipulate it and they’ll invariably come up with something eminently watchable. That said, it’s many years since the likes of The Wrong Trousers first brought Park to widespread attention and there’s something dispiritingly familiar about Early Man. Furthermore, set it alongside the jaw dropping spectacle of Coco and you begin to sense the limitations of the medium. Plasticine, when all is said and done, can only stretch so far…

Early Man opens in Manchester in the ‘pre pleistocene’ era as cavemen slug it out alongside a couple of warring dinosaurs. (This, of course, is an affectionate tribute to the work of pioneer animator Ray Harryhausen – apparently One Million Years BC was the film that first inspired a young Nick Park to experiment with a movie camera.) A sudden meteor strike eliminates the remaining dinosaurs and inadvertently inspires the surviving cavemen to invent the game of football.

Many eons later, we are introduced to a tribe of Stone Age warriors living in the fertile valley created by the meteor strike. Led by the cautious Bobnar (Timothy Spall), the tribe spends much of its time hunting rabbits, but plucky, snaggle-toothed youngster Dug (Eddie Redmayne) has loftier ambitions. Why not hunt mammoths, he reasons? There’s a lot more meat on them. Bobnar, however, is reluctant to accept any form of change.

But change soon arrives anyway, in the shape of a tribe of bronze age conquerors, led by Lord Nooth (Tom Hiddleston sporting an ‘Allo ‘Allo-style French accent). He wishes to mine the valley for it’s rich bronze deposits and Bobnar’s tribe soon find themselves banished to the volcanic badlands – but not before Dug has been kidnapped and taken to Lord Nooth’s stronghold. Here, he discovers that this technologically advanced civilisation is addicted to two things – capitalism and football, a game that Dug’s tribe have somehow managed to forget over the years. In a desperate bid to save his homeland, Dug challenges Nooth’s resident team – Real Bronzio – to a football match. If Dug’s tribe wins they get to stay in their beloved valley. If they lose, they will be condemned to work in the bronze mines until they die… so, no pressure there.

Okay, it’s a promising concept and Park manages to exploit it skilfully enough, finding much humour in the telling, even if some of the jokes are so old they might have originated in the Stone Age themselves. The tribe’s smaller roles are filled by a stellar cast of voice artists and Park supplies all the requisite grunts for Dug’s porcine sidekick, Hognob. If, like me, you don’t care a jot for soccer, don’t despair, it’s not going to spoil your enjoyment of this quirky and typically charming story one little bit. But you may find yourself wondering, as I did, where Park goes from here. A pre-film trailer announcing that Shaun the Sheep is a mere year away doesn’t exactly fill me with anticipation… and we’ve been hearing for a long time that a new Wallace and Gromit is still in the pipeline, despite the death of Peter Sallis.

But wouldn’t it be great to see Nick Park try something completely different? Something totally unexpected? Meanwhile, Early Man offers an enjoyable couple of hours at the cinema, even if there are no real surprises on offer.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

19/11/16

Question: how do you turn a rather slim World Book Day volume into not one, not three, but five big movies? Answer. Ring up JK Rowling. She has elaborated extensively on said slim volume to create a wizarding tale set, not in the familiar confines of Hogwarts, but in New York city in the year 1926. The more cynical amongst us will be tempted to dub this with an alternative title – Newt Scamander and the Cow of Cash – but to give the film its due, it is undoubtedly a serious attempt to step away from the path already trodden and for that, at least, it should be applauded; and the attention to detail that’s been applied to the creation of the wizard world is truly impressive. But the ranks of parents accompanied by bewildered looking youngsters as the credits rolled on the afternoon show we attended, spoke volumes. Despite that 12A certificate, this is not a film for the very young, simply because there’s no child protagonist here to fully engage their attention.

Instead we have English wizard Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) arriving in New York city carrying a magical case of strange creatures with him and it’s no great surprise when some of those creatures escape and start running amok in the (beautifully recreated) city. These range from tiny, cute and obsessed with stealing shiny things, to large, rhinoceros-like and ready to mate with something (seriously – you need to prepare yourself for Scamander’s mating dance). Newt soon falls under the watchful gaze of ministry of magic jobs worth, Tina (Katherine Waterston) and things take a more complicated turn when ‘No-Maj’  (the American term for a Muggle) Kowalski (Dan Fogle) inadvertently ends up with the wrong suitcase. Much hilarity ensues, and many landmark buildings are spectacularly destroyed…

Which is all well and good, but it has to be said that something in this mix doesn’t quite work. The resulting film is neither fish nor fowl. Surely, the parade of beautifully rendered CGI creatures are aimed at children, while the human characters behave in a manner that’s more appropriate for their parents – but because neither aspect fully coheres with the other, both sides of the audience are somehow left wanting. Don’t get me wrong. There’s plenty here to enjoy, not least the delightful Queenie (Alison Sudal, channeling her inner Marilyn Monroe) and Fogle’s winning turn as the poor schlep who finds himself suddenly immersed in a world of wizarding is good too. Redmayne rather overdoes it as Scamander – sure, he’s meant to be shy and introverted but he gurns his way through this first film and I can only hope that he’ll dial it down a bit for episodes 2,3,4 and 5. Whether I’ll be watching any of them is another matter.The major villain here is Graves (Colin Farrell), a powerful wizard with a hidden agenda, but he really doesn’t have all that much to do and seems a poor exchange for the villainous Voldemort.

A lot of money and huge amounts of technical skill has clearly been lavished on this project – and it’s by no means the worst thing you’ll see this year – but for me at least, it fails to live up to its famous progenitor. And I can’t help thinking – how are they going to string this out for another four movies?

3.8 stars

Philip Caveney

The Danish Girl

01/01/15

The Danish Girl tells the true story of 1920s landscape artist Einar Wegener, and his transformation into Lili Elbe, the woman he always knew he was supposed to be. Eddie Redmayne stars as the transgender pioneer, but it is Alicia Vikander, as Gerda (Einar’s wife), who really steals the show.

This is a good movie, with a lot of heart. The central relationship and its emotional complexities are explored unflinchingly, and the characters are nuanced and sometimes difficult. Gerda’s bond with Lili is especially dichotomous, as Lili’s emergence serves both to undermine her marriage and elevate her art (Gerda’s portraits of Lili ensure her success as an artist).

It’s beautifully shot: all gorgeous landscape or cityscape, costumes and décor. There isn’t a drab corner in this film, and maybe that’s the reason why it doesn’t quite reach the heights it could; it’s all a little too pretty, even the ugly stuff.

And there is, or should be, a lot of ugly stuff. Lili was one of the first people to undergo sex reassignment surgery – and the consequences were brutal. There need to be some darker elements to make this really clear.

There’s no denying Eddie Redmayne’s skill in depicting both Einar and Lili, but the performance is a little too mannered for my taste. His portrayal of femininity is somewhat overdone: too arch, too simpering, too coy. Maybe this was true of Lili Elbe herself, but it feels a little old-fashioned for a contemporary audience, as if the telling itself has snagged somehow on the very question of gender constructs it purports to explore.

But these are quibbles. It’s an important story, and a very watchable film.

4 stars

Susan Singfield

The Theory of Everything

MV5BMTAwMTU4MDA3NDNeQTJeQWpwZ15BbWU4MDk4NTMxNTIx._V1_SX214_AL_

6/1/15

After the tragic tale of Alan Turing as portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game, prepare to be totally devastated by the almost equally tragic tale of Professor Stephen Hawking. Even if this story has a more uplifting conclusion, (Hawking winds up as a National hero rather than being chemically castrated) there’s still plenty to weep over along the way so be prepared and take along a good supply of tissues.

Based on the book my Hawking’s ex-wife, Jane, the story begins in 1963, where a vigorous young Stephen (Eddie Redmayne) is studying his craft at Cambridge University. The period detail is quite nicely captured, though this is a 1960s where (apparently) nobody smokes a cigarette and where a firework display looks decidedly better than the dismal pyrotechnics I remember from my own youth. But these are minor niggles. After a chance meeting at a pub, Stephen connects with Jane (a radiant Felicity Jones) and after a little uncertainty, they become lovers. But tragedy waits in the wings when after a fall, Stephen is diagnosed with motor neurone disease and told that he has two years to live. Cue the tears.

The remainder of the story is how the couple triumphed against all odds, managing to become parents three times over and how Stephen came to write the most successful book that nobody actually read. It’s also essentially about how Jane sacrificed so much in order to be Stephen’s full time carer. If you were worried that it would be all hearts and flowers, don’t despair, because there’s a fairly sour conclusion to this real life tale that’ll get the old tear ducts flowing all over again. A host of solid performers struggle to make themselves visible in minor roles (poor Emily Watson barely gets a look in) but this film belongs entirely to its lead actors. Redmayne is frankly astonishing, managing to inhabit Hawking’s tricky persona with ease and never losing sight of the man’s innate dignity, but it’s Jones who is the real revelation here, portraying Jane as a woman determinedly maintaining her English Rose composure whilst clearly displaying every inner torment through those soulful eyes. It’s surely a performance worthy of Mr Oscar when the time comes around.

The Theory of Everything is more than just another tearjerker. It’s stylishly done and comes complete with two superb performances fitted as standard. Just don’t forget to take that box of Kleenex!

4.6 stars

Philip Caveney