REVIEW: GOOD OMENS

Michael Sheen and David Tennant in Good Omens (2019)

Starring

David Tennant (Mary Queen of Scots)
Michael Sheen (Passengers)
Anna Maxwell Martin (Motherland)
Jon Hamm (Baby Driver)
Josie Lawrence (Humans)
Lourdes Faberes (Knightfall)
Adria Arjona (Life of The Party)
Michael McKean (This Is Spinal Tap)
Jack Whitehall (Bad Education)
Miranda Richardson (Sleepy Hollow)
Mireille Enos (Hanna TV)
Yusuf Gatewood (The Originals)
Brian Cox (Rise of TPOA)
Reece Shearsmith (Stag)
Nina Sosanya (Marcella)
Ned Dennehy (Peaky Blinders)
Ariyon Bakare (Rogue One)
Frances McDormand (Fargo)
Derek Jacobi (Gladiator)
Benedict Cumberbatch (The Grinch)
Steve Pemberton (Psychoville)
Mark Gatiss (Game of Thrones)
Nick Offerman (The Lego Movie 2)
Daniel Mays (The Bank Job)
Sian Brooke (Sherlock)
Simon Merrells (Legends of Tomorrow)
Susan Brown (Game of Thrones)
Paul Kaye (Anna and the Apocalypse)
David Morrissey (The Walking Dead)

Michael Sheen and David Tennant in Good Omens (2019)Once upon a time, Good Omens was considered unadaptable. Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s sprawling, 400-page fantasy novel was notorious within the film and TV industries. Screenwriters turned their noses up at the project, and various attempts over the years to bring page to screen ended in disappointment. However, an adaptation of the unadaptable proved to be Pratchett’s last request to his co-author before he died in 2015, and Gaiman set about writing the screenplay for what would become an epic six-part BBC/Amazon co-production.Michael Sheen and David Tennant in Good Omens (2019)So first things first: was the unadaptable, well, adaptable, after all? The short answer is, yes. Gaiman — also showrunner on the series — has pulled off a colourful, quirky, funny, poignant (although not entirely flawless) feat. One might even suspect there’s been a spot of divine (or devilish) intervention… The true triumph is the casting. Michael Sheen shines (quite literally, in some scenes) as the angel Aziraphale, a celestial field agent who teams up with his opposite number, the stylish demon Crowley — played with a Bill Nighy-esque swagger by David Tennant — in order to prevent Armageddon.Michael Sheen and David Tennant in Good Omens (2019)It’s this pairing that proves to be the beating heart of the series. Crowley and Aziraphale have been on Earth since the very beginning, and in their own ways they’ve both “gone native”. Aziraphale owns a Soho bookshop, and likes gravlax salmon with dill sauce. Crowley drives a pristine 1926 Bentley and listens to Queen. They’ve formed a professional agreement not to meddle in each other’s affairs, and in their spare time they’ve enjoyed a series of rather nice clandestine lunches. Every time either actor appears onscreen, you can almost hear the costume department’s (and fandom’s) squeals of joy. David Tennant in snakeskin boots! Michael Sheen with artfully tousled bleached hair! A tartan bow tie! Tennant also sports appropriately flame-red hair (not in the books, but worth it for Doctor Who fans’ realisation that the Tenth Doctor finally got his wish) that frequently changes style. In one particularly memorable moment during episode one, Crowley disguises himself as a bobbed-haired nanny, a Satanic crossover between Nanny McPhee and Mrs Doubtfire.good-omensHe and Aziraphale have a teasing, love/hate relationship that fans of the book have shipped for almost two decades. Gaiman has since promised that “the TV series gets deeper into Crowley and Aziraphale’s relationship,” and some viewers will be hoping that that will translate into a burgeoning romance. Certainly in episode one, Aziraphale seems rather overexcited at the prospect of he and Crowley becoming joint “godfathers” to the infant Antichrist, whose arrival on Earth threatens to catalyse the apocalypse. Gabriel has bright purple irises in the series, a nod to Elizabeth Taylor’s legendary lilac eyes according to the show’s companion book, The Nice and Accurate Good Omens TV Companion. However, as anyone who’s worn thick coloured lenses for Halloween and lived to tell the tale will know, the effect is rather distracting and painful to look at, as are Crowley’s reptilian yellow eyes (thankfully hidden away under trendy shades for much of the show). Gabriel barely appears in the book, and he’s a welcome and much-needed addition to the series: someone to put the proverbial heat on Aziraphale.Michael Sheen and David Tennant in Good Omens (2019)Various sets are also new for the TV show: Heaven is now a vast corporate headquarters, while Hell resembles an overcrowded basement office. A rather gloomier version of The IT Crowd, if you will. Some of the show’s special effects can feel a bit hammy (think Russell T Davies-era Doctor Who with a couple of rubber frogs thrown in), but the scene depicting the entrances to both Heaven and Hell features a pretty cool bit of cinematography, including a mirror effect and an upside-down Tennant. However, despite the addition of characters like Gabriel, much of the show remains doggedly faithful to the books. Reams of dialogue are almost word-for-word during episode one, to the extent that there are certain moments and scenes where one feels that the show’s pace has been sacrificed in favour of preserving the ‘voice’ of the book. Of course, it’s understandable given the circumstances — Gaiman has spoken about the pressure to protect Pratchett’s narrative creations in his absence. For example, he made sure that one of Pratchett’s characters, the 17th century witch Agnes Nutter, remained in the show despite calls to replace her (and an expensive, explosive period shoot) with a series of woodcuts.good-omens-key-art-600x314In Agnes’s case, it makes sense to preserve her: her spookily accurate prophecies drive much of the plot and predict the present-day apocalypse. But there are chunks of God’s narration (voiced by Oscar-winner Frances McDormand) that feel a bit laboured. Some sections, like the bit about demons’ talents for “lurking” around graveyards, must have read well on the page in that distinctive Terry/Neil voice, but in reality they fall rather flat — much like a certain angel’s misguided attempts to pull a rabbit out of a top hat at a children’s birthday party. At the end of the day, however (and according to Agnes Nutter, there aren’t many more days left), the series is a love letter to the book, combining Gaiman and Pratchett’s brilliant characterisation and quippy jokes with vivid, gorgeous sets and memorable costumes.

 

 

REVIEW: FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD

Starring

Carey Mulligan (Drive)
Matthias Schoenaerts (Red Sparrow)
Michael Sheen (Passengers)
Tom Sturridge (On The Road)
Juno Temple (The Dark Knight Rises)
Jessica Barden (Penny Dreadful)
Sam Phillips (The Syndicate)

Matthias Schoenaerts and Carey Mulligan in Far from the Madding Crowd (2015)The film is set in about 1870 in Britain. While Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan) is working on her aunt’s farm in Dorset, she meets a neighbouring farmer, Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts). As they get to know one another, he proposes, but the headstrong Bathsheba declines, saying she is too independent. One night a new sheepdog chases Gabriel’s entire flock off a cliff. After settling his debts, he is penniless, and leaves in search of work. In contrast, Bathsheba inherits a farm from her uncle and leaves to take charge of it.Matthias Schoenaerts and Juno Temple in Far from the Madding Crowd (2015)While at a fair trying to find employment, Gabriel sees recruiting officers. A girl, Fanny Robin, points out one of the soldiers, Sergeant Frank Troy, her sweetheart. She suggests Gabriel seek employment at a farm in Weatherbury. Gabriel arrives to find several buildings on fire and saves the barn from destruction. At dawn the next day he is introduced to the farm’s new mistress, Bathsheba, who hires him as a shepherd. In the meantime, Fanny goes to the wrong church for her wedding and Troy, apparently jilted, is devastated.Michael Sheen and Carey Mulligan in Far from the Madding Crowd (2015)While in town trading her seed, Bathsheba sees her neighbour William Boldwood (Michael Sheen), a prosperous and mature bachelor. Bathsheba sends Boldwood a Valentine as a joke, and he, both offended and intrigued, soon proposes marriage. Bathsheba delays giving him a final answer, and Gabriel admonishes her for toying with Boldwood’s affections. She is stung by his criticism, and fires him, but the next day, given a crisis with the sheep that only he can manage, she goes after him and successfully persuades him to return.Matthias Schoenaerts and Carey Mulligan in Far from the Madding Crowd (2015)One night while out walking, Bathsheba meets Frank Troy, who expresses admiration for her; the next day he returns to help with the harvest. He flirts with Bathsheba and arranges a secret meeting. At their rendezvous in the woods, he shows off his swordplay, telling her not to flinch as he swings his sword around her head and body. He embraces her passionately and Bathsheba is left in a daze. Gabriel warns her against Troy, but she elopes with him. Returning to the farm, the newly married couple celebrate with all the workers and Troy begins to show his worse side. When Gabriel seeks help to protect the hayricks from an approaching storm, Troy, belligerent and drunk, refuses to take him seriously. Gabriel single-handedly tries to cover the harvest with tarpaulins and Bathsheba, ashamed of Frank’s drunken behaviour, comes out into the stormy weather to help. Chastened, she tells Gabriel that she was a fool to fall prey to Frank’s flattery.Tom Sturridge and Carey Mulligan in Far from the Madding Crowd (2015)One day in town, Troy sees Fanny begging. She tells him of her error on their wedding day, and reveals that she is pregnant. He sends her to the workhouse while promising to take care of her. When he asks Bathsheba for £20, she refuses, having become annoyed at his gambling. Fanny and her baby die in childbirth; their coffin is delivered to Bathsheba’s farm, Fanny’s last known address. The words “Fanny Robin and child” are on the coffin, but Gabriel surreptitiously erases “and child” while bringing it in. Bathsheba recognises Fanny’s name, notices the erasure, opens the coffin, and discovers the mother and baby within. When Troy returns, he bends over the coffin and kisses Fanny’s lips. When Bathsheba protests, he responds that even in death Fanny means more to him than Bathsheba ever could. In grief he goes to the beach, where he strips off his uniform and swims far into the ocean; everyone believes he has drowned.Far from the Madding Crowd (2015)Left with Frank’s gambling debts, Bathsheba worries she may lose the farm. Boldwood offers to buy it and merge it with his property, offering Gabriel a position as bailiff, and again proposes marriage. Bathsheba agrees to consider his offer. On the eve of the Christmas party he plans to throw, Boldwood tells Gabriel that he is aware of the Gabriel’s feelings for Bathsheba, and shows Gabriel the engagement ring he plans to offer her. At the party, Boldwood graciously invites Gabriel and Bathsheba to dance together; she again asks Gabriel what she should do, and he answers that she should “Do what is right”. Leaving the dance, she discovers Troy, outside, alive and well. Having been rescued from drowning, he has faked his death for some weeks. He demands money from Bathsheba, claiming it was unfair that he gave up his profession and now lives off nothing while she has money and a house. Frank grabs her roughly, screaming that she is still his wife and must obey him. Enraged, Boldwood emerges from the house and kills Frank with a single blast from his rifle, for which he is promptly imprisoned. Gabriel reassures Bathsheba her that if it’s any consolation Boldwood is bound to be spared his life, for acting in a ‘crime of passion’.Tom Sturridge and Carey Mulligan in Far from the Madding Crowd (2015)Some time later, Gabriel announces that since the farm is now secure, he’ll be emigrating to America in four days time. As he leaves on foot early in the morning, Bathsheba chases after him on horseback and begs him not to leave, thanking him for all he’s done for her, and always believing in her. Gabriel tells her, if only she would accept his love, then asks her if she would agree were he to propose again. Bathsheba smiles and tells him he needs ask but once more. Gabriel kisses her passionately in response, and they walk back hand in handCarey Mulligan in Far from the Madding Crowd (2015)Far from the Madding Crowd, a well respected novel with an adaptation already to its name, hasn’t got much new ground to cover. This 2015 film, starring Carey Mulligan, upholds the book’s reputation. Bathsheba (Mulligan) is a headstrong farm owner who meets three possible suiters in a short space of time; Gabriel the farmer, William the nobleman and Frank the soldier. All bear distinctive qualities. All wish Bathsheba to marry them the moment they lay eyes on her. FftMC favours one man over the rest. We’re smitten before even given the chance to decide. Mulligan’s the charismatic, leading lady, making decisions that come at a price. Schoenaerts, Sturridge and Sheen add flavour to this period drama, their personalities and dialogue capturing what action cannot.

REVIEW: TIMELINE

CAST

Paul Walker (Into The Blue)
Frances O’Connor (A.I.)
Gerard Butler (300)
Billy Connolly (The Man Who Sued God)
David Thewlis (The Theory of Everything)
Anna Friel (Pushing Daisies)
Neal McDonough (Arrow)
Michael Sheen (Underworld)
Marton Csokas (Xena)
Rossif Sutherland (Reign)
Patrick Sabongui (The Flash)

Matt Craven (Sharp Objects)
Amy Sloan (The Heartbreak Kid)

MV5BMjE5MDYzMTQ5NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwNjUzMzE3._V1_A directorial effort from Richard Donner (“Goonies”) is an adaptation of the Michael Crichton novel, where a machine that allows items (or even people) to be faxed from one place to another. Unfortunately, instead of sending things across the room or down the street, the wormhole has sent the objects back in time – to 1357 in Castlegard, France – right before a war is about to begin. Professor Edward Johnston (Billy Connolly) is revealed to have been the test subjec”, and is stuck in the past. It’s up to his son Chris (Paul Walker), Kate Erickson (Frances O’Connor), Andre Marek (Gerard Butler), Francois Nolastnamegiven(Rossif Sutherland) and a couple of soldiers to save the professor.

I do appreciate that the film’s big action scenes seem to have been done without the aid of much in the way of effects, but with character development running so low and performances so average (not to mention dialogue being weak), it’s difficult to be that involved with any of it.

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Timeline does have a moment or two (the bigger action sequences are technically well-staged) and a several moments that are so goofy as to be entertaining, but the film’s 116-minute running time is mainly good for pondering the kind of picture that could have been if more care had been taken with casting and the screenplay.