Movie Review ~ Early Man


The Facts
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Synopsis: Set at the dawn of time, when prehistoric creatures and woolly mammoths roamed the earth, Early Man tells the story of Dug, along with sidekick Hognob as they unite his tribe against a mighty enemy Lord Nooth and his Bronze Age City to save their home.

Stars: Eddie Redmayne, Tom Hiddleston, Maisie Williams, Timothy Spall

Director: Nick Park

Rated: PG

Running Length: 89 minutes

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review: With all due respect to our prehistoric ancestors, I’ve always found movies about the dawn of man to be a bit of a drag. In films like the prologue of 2001: A Space Odyssey to One Million Years B.C. to 10,000 B.C. to The Croods, there’s only so far my imagination can take me before I’m wondering when technology will find its way into the lives of primitive man. That may help explain why I wasn’t thrilling to the notion of spending an hour and a half with the cavemen and women brought to stop-motion life in Early Man.

I’ve been a fan of Aardman Animations since their Wallace and Gromit days and they’ve continued to churn out quality work for the past several decades. They’ve brought the barnyard to life in Chicken Run and the Shaun the Sheep Movie and snagged an Oscar nomination for their work on The Pirates! Band of Misfits in 2012. While their latest effort is packed with jokes on top of jokes and is another wonderful use of the stop-motion technique, it falls far short of the overall entertainment package Aardman has come to be known for.

Early Man is set at the tail end of the Stone Age and introduces us to the tribe led by Chief Bobnar (Timothy Spall, Mr. Turner). Hunting rabbits as a group and going about their daily lives without much disruption seems like the long-term plan for all but young Dug (Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl) dreams of something more. Instead of the mammoth mammoth hunt he years for, he gets a taste of the future when Lord Nooth (Tom Hiddleston, Muppets Most Wanted) and his Bronze Age army tries to take over their land.

When Dug mistakenly hitches a ride back with Nooth’s troops he gets an eyeful. The crude stone utensils, clothes, and housing he’s used to give way to the latest in advanced design. Then there’s the stadium which houses the popular football (aka soccer for us Americans) games and it’s when he accidentally finds himself on the field and under Nooth’s glare that Dug proposes a challenge. If he and his tribe can beat the best players Nooth has to offer, Nooth will vacate the land. If they lose, they’ll be a nomadic tribe without even the most basic creature comforts they were used to.

The bulk of the film has Dug getting his team in gear with the help of a could-be love interest named Goona. As expected, the rag-tag members of this football party start without a prayer but (spoiler alert!) get good enough to take on Nooth’s ace team. It’s a disappointingly predictable affair with many of the standard lessons learned along the way. There are ample bits of comedy and visual sight gags but its low impact laughter if you think about it.

Director Nick Park could have trimmed the movie by a good ten minutes, truncating some of the characters more repetitive tics and eliminating a few of them all together. I kept waiting for something to inspire as well as entertain but Park and company just can’t get out of the deep valley of familiarity they’ve found themselves in. If there’s a strong positive for the movie, it’s that it’s as family friendly as they get. While adult audiences have had a spotty run in theaters lately, with Paddington 2, Peter Rabbit, and now Early Man, families looking to spend some time at the theaters have at least three decent options.

Movie Review ~ Mr. Turner

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The Facts:

Synopsis: An exploration of the last quarter century of the great, if eccentric, British painter J.M.W. Turner’s life.

Stars: Timothy Spall, Ruth Sheen, Martin Savage, Lesley Manville, Karl Johnson, Paul Jesson, Dorothy Atkinson,Marion Bailey, Sandy Foster, Amy Dawson, Richard Bremmer

Director: Mike Leigh

Rated: R

Running Length: 150 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review: The more movies I see I realize that I’m developing a real shine to the “Watch Me” kind of film experience. What I mean by that is that I much prefer a director to have some faith in the audience and allow us to be taken in not by telegraphed scenes that are necessarily easy to discern meaning from but by plots/characters/moments that require a little extra attention to be paid. As opposed to the “Show Me” kind of style, the “Watch Me” director has faith in the material and, though it may cater to a specific crowd, it’s not always made for a ridged target audience.

That being said, let me start off my review of Mr. Turner by saying that the thing I like most about director Mike Leigh is that he’s not a “Show Me” kind of director. Leigh has historically given his work a lot of slack, allowing them to mosey forth instead of speed ahead. Let me also say that Mr. Turner is very worthy of its four Oscar nominations for Dick Pope’s Cinematography, the Production Design from Suzie Davies & Charlotte Watts, Jacqueline’s Durran’s Costume Design, and Gary Yershon’s Original Score. All artistically sound and playing perfectly into the historic drama based on the life of artist J.M.W. Turner.

But good heavens, the film is tedious. The old saying about watching paint dry has never been more true (or literal) as in Mr. Turner.

Now look, I’m not one to turn my nose up at long period pieces nor would I begrudge any who would…but Leigh’s languid film surely is paced just as deliberately as the director intended but it’s a murder on the backside unless you have the benefit of taking in Mr. Turner from the comfort of your own lounge chair.

Had Leigh’s direction been less artful or Timothy Spall’s performance been conveyed with the smallest hint of artifice, this would be the stuff of tortuous college lecture halls — but coupled with the aforementioned worthy production team there’s a beauty to the proceedings, giving it quite a lot of purpose even when there’s not a lot of vested interest.

Aside from Spall, there’s splendid performances from Dorothy Atkinson as Turner’s long-suffering maid and Marion Bailey as a widow that provides a bit of spark to Turner’s later years. These are the scenes that carry the movie forward, bridges between more than a few interminable passages of watch-checking.

Whatever portrait this review may have painted for Mr. Turner, make no mistake that it’s a glorious looking film…but time is of the essence and beauty, like a great painting, can only be stared at for so long.

The Silver Bullet ~ Mr. Turner

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Synopsis: An exploration of the last quarter century of the great, if eccentric, British painter J.M.W. Turner’s life.

Release Date: December 19, 2014

Thoughts: I tend to forget how much I enjoy the work of writer/director Mike Leigh. A filmmaker interested in the unconventional life, he’s provided great roles for some of our most dependable actors over the years. From exploring the class system in Secrets & Lies to his bouncy biopic of Gilbert and Sullivan in Topsy-Turvy, Leigh’s films are long but rarely feel like you’ve been seated more than a few minutes. His newest picture features the always dependable Timothy Spall (Room on the Broom) as painter J.M.W. Turner, a landscape artist known as ‘the painter of light’ during the Romantic period. Sounds like stodgy stuff but in Leigh’s hands I wouldn’t be surprised to see this lauded as one of the better pictures of the year.