Movie Review ~ Fisherman’s Friends


The Facts
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Synopsis: A fast living, cynical London music executive heads to a remote Cornish village on a stag weekend where he’s pranked by his boss into trying to sign a group of shanty singing fishermen.

Stars: Daniel Mays, James Purefoy, David Hayman, Dave Johns, Sam Swainsbury, Tuppence Middleton, Noel Clarke, Christian Brassington, Maggie Steed, Jade Anouka, Meadow Nobrega

Director: Chris Foggin

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 112 minutes

TMMM Score: (4/10)

Review: I’ve mentioned several times over the last few months that being cooped up inside and kept away from the bigger budgeted bombastic films in theaters has allowed me greater opportunity to enjoy smaller fare.  It’s been grand having no excuse to miss tiny features that could have been overlooked in weeks when the latest franchise film was gearing up for release and being offered the kind of gems I was used to discovering long after they’d found their way onto streaming platforms.  With that, I’ve also noticed the slightest loosening up of the critical approach at times, being a little too eager to overlook rough corners or treacly plot points in keeping with the spirit of positivity.

It’s movies like Fisherman’s Friends that help bring me back to reality though, films that remind you that even the best intentions have consequences and it’s perfectly ok to throw back what the cinematic sea giveth. The dam started to break with Military Wives which pushed the limits of how much forced saccharine an audience can handle but the filmmakers behind the similar true-life story found in Fisherman’s Friends run their boat ashore early on and never can get back in the water.  Though it wants to have that cheeky charm that kept The Full Monty or Calendar Girls feeling so fresh, it winds up smelling like catch of the day that’s sat in the sun too long.

On a bachelor weekend in the tiny seaside town of Port Isaac, London-based Danny (Daniel Mays, 1917) and his fellow music exec mates don’t make the best first impression on Jim (James Purefoy, John Carter), his daughter Alwyn (Tuppence Middleton, Downton Abbey), and the rest of the hard-working blue collar townspeople that frequent the local watering hole.  Loud and obnoxious, the stag party does minimal damage to the Cornish town and is about to wrap up their weekend when they hear the weekly performance of the town fishermen singing shanties by the seashore.  As a joke, his boss (a member of the bro weekend) convinces Danny he wants to sign the group to their record label and quickly leaves him stranded to figure out how to talk a bunch of gruff sea-goers into becoming the next boy band.

As you can likely guess if you’ve ever seen any movie that carried the “feel-good” label, the longer Danny stays in Port Isaac, the more he gets to know the townspeople as greater than just their prickly exterior and the less they see him as a posh snob.  Friendships are formed among unlikely comrades, romance blooms between individuals that once couldn’t stand each other, and loyalties are royally tested in a neat and tidy (if arguably overlong) package.  The triumvirate of screenwriters is made up of Nick Moorcroft, Meg Leonard and Piers Ashworth and none can help director Chris Foggin find the right key that would help the movie play a tune we haven’t heard numerous times before.

The biggest issue I had with the film is that maybe I found the group severely lacking in charm.  The first time the men raise their voices in song, the crowd onscreen seems to love it but I was left scratching my head wondering what all the fuss was about.  Not for nothing but there are a handful of scenes featuring others having the same reaction I did.  The ribald and raunchy old tyme ditties are good for a laugh but they wear thin quickly and fade from memory even faster.  I never connected with why Danny is so obsessed with pursuing them into the limelight.  It’s like hearing about a great dancer with fabulous technique only to watch someone gamely get through the Electric Slide without injuring themselves.

If the IMDb pages are to be believed, a sequel is planned for March 2021 but with the pandemic who knows if that has thrown things out of whack.  I’d have been more in favor of a documentary about the real men involved with the group instead of this hokey-pokey dramatization that sells whatever charisma they had short.  As a Sunday watch while completing the 1,000 piece puzzle that’s been gathering dust on your table, Fisherman’s Friends might be good background noise but as the main event selection for an evening’s entertainment,  you’ll be better off dropping anchor somewhere else.

Movie Review ~ Radioactive


The Facts
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Synopsis: The story of pioneering scientist Marie Curie through her extraordinary life and her enduring legacies – the passionate partnerships, her shining scientific breakthroughs, and the darker consequences that followed.

Stars: Rosamund Pike, Anya Taylor-Joy, Aneurin Barnard, Sam Riley, Simon Russell Beale, Jonathan Aris

Director: Marjane Satrapi

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 103 minutes

TMMM Score: (5.5/10)

Review:  With the increasing convenience of streaming services available to the general public, it has become much easier to tell stories at a pace that’s entirely up to the filmmaker.  Gone are the days where writers, directors, and stars are tied to having to decide between a two-and-a-half-hour movie or a two night miniseries.  Now there’s the limited series that can run anywhere between three and twelve episodes, giving the space that’s needed if a life, a legacy, an event won’t fit into the same old standard package.

Releasing on Amazon Prime after debuting at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2019, Radioactive is an odd case of a film recounting a life that feels shortchanged.  Though it has an admirable cast, a talented director, and focuses on a source and subject that hasn’t been explored in this kind of narrative detail before, you leave the movie without any deeper understanding.  Sure, you may glean some Jeopardy! factoids about the advances Marie Curie brought forth but it’s nothing that speaks to any kind of emotional resonance it appears the filmmakers were attempting to uncover.

Before watching Radioactive it’s sad to say my only exposure to Marie Curie on film was in the much-maligned but cult favorite Young Einstein from 1988.  Aside from that supporting role, Curie was a brief topic in my history classes with the Polish scientist living in Paris being given credit for her discovery of the elements polonium and radium and her development of the theory of radioactivity alongside her husband Pierre.  Her work earned her not one but two Nobel prizes, the first woman to ever win the award and the only female to ever win it a second time.  Modern medicine and general science effectively owes its practice to her pioneering efforts.

Much of director Marjane Satrapi’s film covers these breakthroughs and even flashes forward decades in time to the lasting effects (good and bad) of Curie’s work.  Basing the film off of Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout by Lauren Redniss, screenwriter Jack Thorne (How I Live Now) hits all the necessary milestones with a workmanlike efficiency and a kind of rote necessity.  This has the effect of shading some of the make or break moments as less urgent and more like another day at the office for the Curies instead of the gigantic scientific innovations they were.  Surely the Curies were more multi-dimensional than Thorne’s screenplay makes them out to be and not the drones going through the emotional touchstones of the ups and downs of being married partners that also worked together.

Things get even more rocky when the action shifts from science to Marie’s personal life.  As Marie, Rosamund Pike (Jack Reacher) is the right choice for the role, I think, but isn’t served well by Thorne’s sedate dialogue.  You can sometimes feel Pike itching to roll her eyes at the words she has to utter, especially when Curie moves from celebrated physicist to pariah almost overnight thanks to a relationship scandal.  Viewed now, you almost want to throw something at the screen for the way the brilliant woman is thrown to the wolves but then again the historical context bears remembering.  It’s once Marie starts to suffer the effects from being so close to the radium that Pike gets down to her acting business and Satrapi lets her leading lady be looser with the material.  Working with a fine but not memorable Sam Reilly (Sometimes Always Never) as her husband, Pike starts to take control of the movie rather forcefully, so much so that the last forty minutes of Radioactive are downright compelling.  It only makes you wish the previous sixty minutes were as good as the final act when Marie was tackling her last battle alongside her daughter (Anya Taylor-Joy, Split) who would soon after have a Nobel Prize of her own.

In the end, I was left wondering if Radioactive wouldn’t have worked better like the recent Netflix limited series Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker.  In four episodes totaling a little over three hours, the history of another important female was told and felt like a thorough examination that didn’t cut corners.  Clocking in at barely over ninety minutes, Radioactive feels like it needed more time to get under Marie’s skin and certainly with the cast and creative team Satrapi assembled (the haunting music from Evgueni & Sacha Galperine who also worked on the score for 2019 Oscar nominee Corpus Christi is right on the money) it would have truly glowed bright.

Movie Review ~ The Rental (2020)


The Facts
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Synopsis: Two couples on an oceanside getaway grow suspicious that the host of their seemingly perfect rental house may be spying on them. Before long, what should have been a celebratory weekend trip turns into something far more sinister.

Stars: Alison Brie, Dan Stevens, Jeremy Allen White, Sheila Vand, Toby Huss

Director: Dave Franco

Rated: R

Running Length: 89 minutes

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review:  I love to travel but I’m kinda weird about it.  Here’s the thing, when I go on vacation I want to feel like I’m away from home and want the place I stay to feel special and not like…well, my home.  That’s why I’ve always found the Airbnb craze to be a little whack-a-doo because who would want to stay in a person’s house (or even a place someone else decorated or, shudder, put their bare feet on the pillows?) when you could get pampered at a hotel for sometimes half the cost?  I know that for large parties it may work out better but there’s just something a little creepy to me about the entire set-up.  After watching The Rental, I’m even more convinced I’m right to be worried.

The first feature film directed by Dave Franco (The Disaster Artist), The Rental could have easily gone in another direction that was more cliché and expected and that would have been a gigantic and exasperating disappointment.  Thankfully, Dave seems to have learned from the strange misfires his older brother James made as both a director and star and kept his debut tight.  He also wisely hasn’t made it more difficult on himself by starring in the film as well but instead remains behind the camera as director and co-writer with indie favorite Joe Swanberg (You’re Next) who knows his way around these types of slow-dread genre films.  The result should have audiences ready to check-in and hunker down for a corker of a chiller.

Excited for a weekend away from their busy city lives, Charlie (Dan Stevens, Lucy in the Sky), his wife Michelle (Alison Brie, The Five-Year Engagement), his brother Josh (Jeremy Allen White, Viena and the Fantomes) and Josh’s girlfriend/Charlie’s business partner Mina (Sheila Vand, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot) book a beach house in the woods that’s just secluded enough to help them unwind  and party without disruption.  Things get off to a jittery start when Mina, who is Middle Eastern, requests to book the house and is denied but Charlie, who is white, is accepted immediately.  Arriving to find the owner (Toby Huss, Halloween) affable at first but vague when questioned about the perceived racism in the booking snafu, the foursome shake off any lingering bad feelings and try to enjoy their first night at the spacious house.

The calm doesn’t last long though as a night of partying leads to the first of a number of secrets that are eventually exposed, along with a danger that none of them could have ever predicted.  Situations go from bad to worse when a split-second decision changes the course of their weekend plans from a fun retreat with family/friends to a downward spiral of mayhem.  As miscommunication, distrust, fear, and anger start to take hold of the group, what starts as a weekend to relax quickly devolves into a surprisingly effective fight for survival stemming from a mystery they are racing to unravel.  To reveal more would not be playing fair and Franco/Swanberg largely stick to realistic developments that rely on spur of the moment choices and their devastatingly quick consequences.

I was genuinely impressed with the acumen Franco shows for maneuvering his small troupe of actors around and the way he works with Swanberg to keep us on our toes throughout.  The twists and turns presented in The Rental are often unpredictable and you’ll lose valuable time the more you try to figure out what’s happening or where the action will go next.  Leaving little room for extra fat to weigh things down, the 80 or so minutes are free from the normal pitfalls of first time filmmaking, suggesting again that Franco has been paying attention when he’s been on sets these past years as an actor.

Frustrating though they all may be at times and not without blame for much of what happens during this weekend from hell, the characters are all appealing in some fashion.  I’m usually not a fan of Brie (Franco’s real life wife) but she’s quite fun here and despite a slow start where her character is a bit more passive than we’re used to seeing from Brie she revs up and gets a few good zingers in during the second half.  Every time Stevens pops up in a movie my partner notes that ever since he left Downton Abbey the actor seems totally averse to speaking in his native UK accent and here again he’s not wholly successful in showing off his elocution.  Stevens hasn’t quite found his footing, post-Downton and while he’s been well-reviewed in a number of films he continues to come up lacking for me…but in The Rental that cool from a distance feel actually works for his often compromised pseudo-nice guy.  As Charlie’s screw-up brother, White is fine in a role that gradually gets aggravating but it’s Vand’s commanding presence that is the real find here.  Taking the role as serious as it needs to be, Vand handles some character developments and choices that could be poison with an unusual amount of grace, keeping us oddly on her side.

Franco has said the idea for The Rental came from his caution about staying in an Airbnb property and his trepidation shows with an end product that’s drenched in paranoia.  Building to a sharp sting around the halfway mark before rising to a spine-tingling crescendo that’s sustained through the credits, The Rental is a four-star winner for the weary traveler wary of where they lay their head at night.