Tag Archives: London

Steamboy (2004): February Blind Spot

Director: Katsuhiro Ôtomo; Main Cast (Voices): Anne SuzukiMasane TsukayamaKatsuo NakamuraManami KonishiKiyoshi Kodama;

steamboy

I must confess I found this film a little underwhelming. This is the first feature film by Otomo after his unforgettable masterpiece Akira. There are more that fifteen years between the two movies and they couldn’t be more different story wise, however they both have a boy as central character around which everything revolves. In this film Otomo goes steampunk, setting his tale in England, 1860 circa, or, more accurately, in an alternative version of it.

Young Rey Steam (Suzuki) is a gifted inventor as his father Edward (Tsukayama) and his grandfather Lloyd (Nakamura). They are all skilled engineers and have great dedication to their work. Edward and Lloyd are pursuing their research in America since they couldn’t get appropriate funding in England to achieve their goals (apparently brain drain is a problem even in sci-fi anime). They manage to design a new device called “steam ball” (not the most creative or inspired of names, I must say), which contains highly pressurized vapor of a particular type of water, and revolutionise the current state of technology. Rey receives one of these new devices in England and a mad chase ensues. The warmongering and greedy Americans want to utilise it for evil purposes while Rey and his grandfather and the British Empire have more peaceful uses in mind… well at least Rey and grandpa do, the Brits want to prosper and maintain their supremacy (my my, who would have guessed!).  The theme of technology employed in the service of mankind’s self-destruction is not a new one and applied better by Miyazaki in a few of his films. Howl’s Moving Castle, that also came out in 2004, uses magic as metaphor but it’s the same concept. In this film sadly most the characters are one-dimensional, little more than stereotypes, leaving the viewer too detached to really care what happens to them. In addition, suspension of disbelief needs to be put in high gear (pun intended) to be able to follow the story and enjoy all the complex, imaginative and original machines and inventions.

What I find very engaging is that the pace of this film never slow down. There is a lot of camera action that I’ve never seen in an anime before. Instead of quick edits, some scenes are panned, zoomed, or rotated with incredible accuracy, as if they were actually filmed rather than being drawn. This is the strongest suit of the film since the story feels rehashed and the characters are not particularly endearing. Ingenious —6/10

This is my second post in the Blind Spot Series 2016, a blogathon organised by Ryan at The Matinee

blindspotseries2016

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Legend

Director: Brian Helgeland; Main Cast: Tom Hardy, Emily Browning, Taron EgertonChristopher EcclestonColin MorganDavid Thewlis;

legend2015

I had such high hopes when I walked into the cinema: London in the sixties, identical twins played by Tom Hardy, gangsters building a criminal empire in the East End… what more can a girl ask for? I was expecting Goodfellas with tea, crumpets and cockney accents but no dice, most of my dreams crushed and burned by the end of the film. The story is about the rise and fall of notorious Ronnie and Reggie Krays, how they started as street thugs, then became crime lords and finally got their just deserts. In order to better wrap up my head around this really mixed bag of a film I’ll break down my review in three parts.

The good: firstly and foremost, Tom Hardy. He’s brilliant. His portrayal of both Reggie and Ronnie is subtle, powerful and effective. With the help of a pair of glasses, some make-up and a perpetual frown, Hardy brings Ronnie to life, the most volatile and violent of the two.  No glasses, soulful eyes and something between a smile and a smirk, Hardy becomes Reggie, the sensible and (occasionally) sensitive twin. I haven’t seen an actor being this convincing at playing twins since Jeremy Irons in Dead Ringers.  The second item on the plus column is the recreation of the locales and the feel of the period: East End and a touch of swinging London. Thirdly, Taron Egerton proves his skills as Ronnie’s boy toy, he is one to look out for. Didn’t I also mention Tom Hardy? I though I did.

The bad: the story is told from Frances Shea’s (Browning) point of view, Reggie’s girlfriend/wife. The excessive voice-over and the outsider’s (to the criminal world) perspective does not work well, keep the focus of the story too much on the personal side. For a gangster movie about famously vicious people, there’s very little carnage with the exception of a couple of lackluster confrontations. The film lacks verve and charisma, which is a pity considering the possibilities given by the source material. In addition, the viewer is supposed to sympathise with Frances but that doesn’t work very well either, Browning’s solid performance notwithstanding.

The ugly: Chazz Palminteri’s face. The plastic surgery has turned it into a wax mask and he lost his presence and menace as Italian mobster (and his ability to move his facial features).

Bland —5/10

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Mr Selfridge (season 1)

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Main Cast: Jeremy PivenFrances O’ConnorAisling LoftusGrégory FitoussiTrystan GravelleAmanda AbbingtonTom Goodman-HillKatherine KellySamuel WestZoë Tapper;

Harry Selfridge (Piven),  visionary American tycoon, moves with his family to London in 1908, to open a high-end department store. Based on the book Shopping, Seduction & Mr Selfridge by Lindy Woodhead and written by Andrew Davis (Pride and Prejudice, Wives and Daughters among his works), it follows not only the struggles and successes of  the titular character but it gives us insights on his employees, friends and family. Using a well-tested formula of upstair/downstair, we navigate through both high society and working class worlds, with a little dose of what goes on in between. As an outsider in the upper crust of London, Selfridge needs a sort of sponsor or patron to be accepted and, thanks to friend and journalist Frank Edwards (West), he finds just that in Lady Mae (Kelly). Her shrewd and calculated moves help Harry greatly and set him and his store on the path of success. What I found particularly interesting are his publicity stunts using the celebrities of the time (a pilot, an explorer, Arthur Conan Doyle, a renown ballerina) and his idea to enlist a famous showgirl, Ellen Love (Tapper) as “the spirit of Selfridge” (an ante litteram celebrity endorsement). As it can be foreseen from the beginning, matters will end up quite entangled between Ms Love and Mr Selfridge. Among Harry’s family, the focus is mostly on his wife Rose (O’Connor) who is reserved, sensible and with an independent streak that will lead to a surprise. On the employee front, the attention is on: the ingénue Agnes Towler (Loftus), shop girl with big dreams and a lot of determination; Henri Leclair (Fitoussi), French genius designer, who creates artful tableaux for the windows of the store; Victor Colleano (Gravelle), waiter with a talent for cooking; Mr Groove (Goodman-Hill), chief of staff and capable right hand of the boss, and Miss Mardle (Abbington), head of the accessory department who seems a little too controlled for her own good. At the beginning I found Piven’s performance a bit grating, even over the top, but then I realised it was just his take on the character when he finally started to show more nuances. I must say: kudos! Occasionally, however, I wished for a witty one-liner of the Dowager Countess of Grantham or a caustic comment from Lady Mary to jazz up a scene. Other times I ended up thinking: “Carson would find this rather unseemly”.  Still, the story has a good pace and the cast works well. The costumes, the sets and the production design are splendid, they add indeed charm to each episode but at times they feel like one of Henri’s store windows: beautiful but distant. My overall impression is that Mr Selfridge is to Downton Abbey as Elizabeth Gaskell is to Jane Austen. Nonetheless a good fix for period drama withdrawal. Pleasant —6.5/10

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Fleming: the Man who would be Bond (TV mini-series)

Main Cast: Dominic CooperLara PulverAnna ChancellorSamuel WestAnnabelle Wallis;

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This four-episodes mini-series stars Dominic Cooper as legendary 007 writer Ian Fleming, and his real life spy exploits that influenced the Bond novels… well, a fictionalized version anyway. He is the second son from an affluent and well-connected family, always outshone in his widowed mother’s eye by his big brother Peter. It’s 1939 and Nazi Germany is on a rampage in Europe, Peter is doing his duty for King and Country while Ian hankers for something better in London, working at a job he clearly hates and giving into debauchery. To prove to his family and friends that he’s worth his salt, he enlists as a Navy Intelligence officer, putting to good use his undeniable skills of spinning tales and giving lies the ring of truth, along with his knowledge of German and European high society mores. His new boss Admiral Godfrey (West) and second officer Monday (Chancellor) are initially bemused by his brash attitude and unconventional ideas and methods, and they seem the blueprint for M and Miss Moneypenny or the other way around, who knows how much of this story is fiction. However Ian gets his way most of the times and he’s more successful than not in his job as “spy”. He also has a rather complicated love life, having a girlfriend, Muriel (Wallis), and an affair with a married woman, Ann (Pulver). The story is overall intriguing and Cooper pulls the suave persona off quite well, the dynamic with the other characters is quite  convincing: playful banter with Monday, respectful/antagonising behaviour with Godfrey, torrid passion with Ann and idealised love with Muriel. The settings and cinematography are rich and colourful, glamour and danger dosed just right and there are plenty of homages and references to our favorite spy and his escapades. Entertaining and alluring. —7/10

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