Ok, let’s get the full disclosure out of the way first, I have not read the book Swallows and Amazons and I have never seen any of the previous adaptations of the story so this will be a very fresh perspective that I will be giving to this film and I am going to be judging it completely on its own merits. I would severely welcome anyone who has seen any of the previous adaptations or read the book, their opinion on this film. I would love to get an idea of what people who enjoyed the story think of it.
Swallows and Amazons is a trailer that I saw quite a lot, which let’s face it, when you go to the cinema as much as I do, you are going to see the same trailers, quite a lot. To be honest, it looked just like your standard British Summer film that everyone is going to feel good about and you are probably going to end up seeing it at Christmas because BBC will be showing it and there’s nothing else on except some weird Ant and Dec special which you won’t watch, because everyone in the room isn’t drunk enough yet to watch!! This was getting quite a bit of a buzz I was getting some interesting critical response to it and there wasn’t much else out this week, except the David Brent movie, and I am not really a fan of The Office, and thankfully this film won the vote. Anyone who wants my opinion on David Brent: Life on the Road, check my next review where I will give my brief thoughts on it there.
The other thing that made me feel this film was worth a watch was that there was a very good cast list for this film, including Harry Enfield, Rafe Spall, Andrew Scott, Kelly Macdonald, this is a cast that basically says ‘give me a BAFTA nomination’.
The film has been directed by Phillippa Lowthorpe in her feature film debut as a director, having only previously directed TV work, including several episodes of Call The Midwife and its 2012 Christmas special. The screenplay has been written by Andrea Gibb, her first screenplay in 10 years but I haven’t actually seen Nina’s Heavenly Delight or Dear Frankie, so I don’t really have an opinion of her writing. It is rather clear that she is using this as her comeback since she has also not been an actress for 10 years either. Now if this is a good adaptation, what it should do, is, take someone like me who has no experience of the story and make me want to go out and learn more and read the book to see the differences, a bad adaptation will turn you off completely to the story. So, let me give you my thoughts on how I think Swallows and Amazons did.
If you are unfamiliar with the plot of Swallows and Amazons like I am I will give you a brief plot summary. Set in Summer of 1935, Mrs Walker (played by Kelly Macdonald) takes her children John, Roger, Susan and Tatty (played by Dane Hughes, Bobby McCulloch, Orla Hill and Teddie-Rose Malleson-Allen respectively) on holiday to the Lake District. The four wish to sail to an Island and after the housekeeper Mr Jackson (played by Harry Enfield) lends them his boat The Swallow, they sail there for a camping trip. They are confronted there by a pair of pirates called The Amazons (played by Hannah Jayne Thorp and Seren Hawkes) and war over the ownership of the Island. Meanwhile they are also coming into conflict with a mysterious owner of a houseboat, named Captain Flint (played by Rafe Spall) who is being pursued by a mysterious man (played by Andrew Scott). What is the secret behind Captain Flint? And how will this Summer affect their lives overall?
The answer to that question is simple, none, none whatsoever, but I will get into more detail about that later.
I am going to start off by putting this straight. I think Swallows and Amazons has an audience. It’s just not me. I would actually recommend you go and see the film if you are at all curious because I think there is an audience for this film, it just isn’t me. I actually think this is a pretty bad film, but then if it is a loyal adaptation then I think it’s a pretty poor source material as well. But again, that’s probably my personal taste. If you are aware of my personal tastes and have similar to me, then you probably won’t like this film either.
Anyone who read my review of ‘When Marnie Was There’ will remember I described it as being that genre of that ‘one unforgettable Summer film’, you know the ones I am on about, a film where a character goes away for the Summer and it changes their life. Another example can include that episode of the Simpsons, Summer of 4 featuring 2, or another theatrical release, which I recommend, The Way Way Back, bit shout out to Elspeth Bromeley for recommending that film, it’s actually very good. You know what all those films have in common, which this film doesn’t have, character development! I am not joking, there is zero character development in this film. All the characters feel like they start the film in exactly the same way they end the film and that is a big problem for me because it led to the biggest problem I had with the film. I found it dull and boring. This is one of the most boring films I have watched all year, I was completely on auto pilot in the cinema.
I am not surprised that the woman who has directed this, has not done any theatrical work as it doesn’t play theatrically at all. It feels more like a 2 or 3 part mini-series that would play on the BBC. The comparison not being entirely inapt due to the fact that this is a BBC film’s production. The film’s other problem is that is has no international appeal. It will certainly get a European release because it is being distributed by Studio Canal and apparently there is a planned US release, but there is no official release date at this time, probably due to the BBC having trouble finding a distributor for the film at this point. Even so, I don’t think it will play very well in America because it is simply too British in a sense. Yes, I will go with that one, it is simply too English in every sense of the word. When I asked Dr Buchan about this Swallows and Amazons she described is as being one of the most middle class things she had ever seen in her life and I think that is absolutely right. This film is so genteel that it doesn’t risk doing anything really exciting because it so does not want to offend its audience.
The film is clearly aimed at a family market probably a similar audience to that which watched The Chronicles of Narnia films, however, I can see kids being bored by this film and I don’t think there’s that much even for the adults, because this isn’t the sort of film that will make you feel nostalgic. It might have worked if it was an audience that grew up in the time period, which is why the last film came out in the 1970’s and would have had that effect, but I don’t think it’s going to instill nostalgia in anyone. That being said there were quite a few older women and at least one granddad with his grandson in the theatre when I went to see it, so I might not be entirely off.
Let’s get into the other sub-plot. The Rafe Spall sub-plot. I say Rafe Spall rather than his character name because he doesn’t feel like he is playing much of a character in this film and giving him a very unconvincing fake moustache isn’t exactly throwing me off! His whole thing is a spy thriller edge with Andrew Scott’s character trying to acquire the information out of him and bring him back alive. I am certain this is something that has been bought over from the book but that doesn’t change the fact that it feels incredibly out of place and out of tone with the rest of the film. I was watching a bunch of kids sailing across a river, why the hell was I suddenly watching Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy! Not to mention this whole thing feels like a sub plot for most of the film with the exception of the final act, and even then when it finally comes back into play it feel rather abrupt and unnecessary. I made a point that there was no character development and I was right, these characters are so bland and forgettable, there is nothing to them. You can do these sort of half narrative structured films just darting back and forth between plots, Studio Ghibli does this very successfully, see films like Kiki’s Delivery Service for example, but the point is, with that film Kiki was a nice, likeable engaging character and the side characters were fun and interesting, so we liked to spend a few days in their lives. These characters, however, are so dull and genteel that if I were stuck with them at a Wedding, I would look for any excuse to move to another table. I felt like I was watching someone’s old holiday video that they were all really proud of, and you are begging for it to end because you don’t care about their holiday!!! It’s just weird. The kids don’t develop much throughout the entire film. There is the whole thing that this is their first holiday without their father being there but he becomes a massive misnomer throughout the rest of the film with the exception of the fact that one of the kids losing the older brother’s knife that his father gave him. ( It was a different time people, you could give your kids knives then). That also proves that the source material hasn’t aged very well, in the sense of, this is the type of film I would see in the 1960’s, unsurprisingly the last major adaptation was out in the 1970’s which would also fit the audience for this film. It is also clear that quite a bit has been cut from the source material.
Now Swallows and Amazons is not a long book in a relative sense, it comes in at just over 500 pages long, but the film last 1hr 46mins. That shows, because the pacing in this film is horrendous at points, especially at the beginning where there is a ton of rushed exposition. There are also several aspects of the film that are built up, but don’t really go on for long and a lot of scenes feel like they should go on for a lot longer and I get a sense that they tried to half adapt the source material. A fine example of this is the Carnival that takes place part way through the film which was foreshown at the beginning of the film but is a minor blotch on everything by the end of the film, we barely see anything of it and I am pretty sure lots of scenes of the Carnival were cut from the final product. I would say that several character feel rather under-developed, but that would imply that there was an attempt to develop them in the first place. We never get much sense of the community, we never get sense of the environment and the entire things just feels really under whelming. This feels like the kind of film and book you would be given at school, because an out of touch English teacher thought it was a great work, when actually it is incredibly irrelevant. There is no conflict really in the film so much. The whole rivalry between The Swallows and the Amazons is sorted really quickly, the kids are never really in that much peril, even in the final act and the whole thing raps up pretty quickly and efficiently, there are very little ramifications for anything that actually happens in the film and the whole thing left me feeling hollow and like I had wasted my entire afternoon. I could have watched more episodes of Fairy Tail, what am I doing in a cinema, paying to watch this pretentious rubbish?
I’d like to talk about the performances, but frankly I don’t think it’s really worth talking about, there aren’t many good ones in there. I suppose Rafe Spall is at least trying his best and I will admit Jessica Hynes and Harry Enfield really get into their roles, but they are well talented comedians, so that is not surprising. The kids are really bad actors, none of them are giving very good performances, but then again, their parts are poorly written so maybe then it’s not entirely their fault. Kelly Macdonald is trying her best, but again she is not given much to do and she feels like a misnomer throughout the entire film. I feel so sorry for Andrew Scott,he is a genuinely talented actor, but with the exception of ‘Pride’ everything he has done since Sherlock has been one disaster after another. Take my advice mate, either make sure Moriarty comes back to life in the next season of Sherlock, though I don’t see how that would happen, or for the love of god, fire your agent, they are not giving you good advice. You are a very talented actor man! I want to like you.
Now that I have all the dull performances out of the way, let’s get into the cinematography. I actually think this film would have been much better animated because at least then we would have got some interesting visuals, as it stands, this film doesn’t really look great, it doesn’t even look like a movie. It looks like it should have been on TV at Christmas in 3 episodes, 1 Christmas day, 1 Boxing day and the last one New Year’s Eve. You probably could even do it in two episodes, I still would have given up after the first. It’s a shame too, because when BBC films put their minds to it, it can take TV production crews and make them look theatrical, even talented film makers can really do that. Alfred Hitchcock famously shot Psycho with a TV crew, mainly because Universal Studios didn’t believe in the project and basically did it to cut costs, funny how things work out. While there is great care taken with some of the shots and they are trying to make the Lake District look good, it just feels like they are trying way too hard to make some of these scenes look more exciting than they really are. I found some of the editing in this film really bizarre as well. If there is one positive I can take from the film, it’s that the production design looks like it fits the time period. This looks like it takes place in the 1930’s and the costume design is pretty good and I wouldn’t mind seeing it being nominated for a BAFTA in that category, that being said, though, I wouldn’t like it to win because several films have had much better costume designs this year.
Last, but not least, I would like to say that the film’s score is pretty good. The overall music score is decent and it fits the tone of the film pretty well. But, sadly, that will not save it.
This is one of the dullest films I have seen in 2016, it is so boring. It’s pretentious, it’s under-developed and I am really annoyed that this has such a high score on rotten tomatoes. It is clearly an example of the critics liking the pretentious movie to feel like they are better than us. Oh, don’t lie, you know it happens. The characters are under-developed, the performances are not that great and there is very little conflict, it feels so boring and genteel that it will not offend anyone, at the same time it will not excite anyone. I do think there is an audience for it but they should have marketed this more as a film for an older audience, in a similar way that The Best Marigold Hotel was because I don’t think this will play too well for kids, despite the fact that all the trailers and adverts I saw before this film, were all aimed at children. I am surprised the film has a US date and I will be interested to see how it plays when it gets out there but frankly I really don’t care to ever see this film again. Really, this was so BORING. Feel free to like it though.
Despite the fact that there has been quite a bit of time since the release of Suicide Squad and Swallows and Amazons, I actually didn’t see that much in the intervening time period. I have 4 films to talk about, The Shallows, Pete’s Dragon, Nerve and The Little Prince.
The Shallows. How do I put this, I think many critics have summed it up pretty well by saying it’s basically 127hrs meets Jaws. It’s actually not a bad Shark movie all things considered. There are some decent shots, the CGI of the Shark looks pretty good and Blake Reilly tries her best with the material she is given. Though, there is a lot of bullshit and dumb moments that I didn’t buy into and despite the fact that the film runs at a brisk 127 minutes, it still felt very padded and felt like it could have been done in an hour. I can still kind of recommend it. The early portions feel like the writers and directors did their research on shark behavior, it’s just too bad that in the latter half it basically becomes another movie monster. Stick with it though because it has the most hilarious Shark death ever.
Pete’s Dragon. Disney’s latest live action remake of one of their classic animated films. Now I don’t think this is better than Jungle Book which I have previously reviewed, but like Jungle Book I did think I preferred this to the original movie. However, that doesn’t mean to say I completely loved the film. I just thought it was ok. The big problem is that it is way too predictable and gives you no surprises whatsoever. It kind of feels like one of those environmental films I watched in the 1990’s where even then I knew exactly where it was going, not helped by the fact that Karl Urban plays a really unsubtle villain. I will say though, the CGI of the dragon is very good and the relationship between the boy and the Dragon is the best part of the film, so it’s worth a watch if you have got kids.
Nerve. I was genuinely excited to see this film because it has a very interesting concept and it’s rather interesting that it has coincidentally come out around a similar time that Pokemon Go has become popular, though obviously that is a complete coincidence. Nerve is a great film, provided you don’t think about it in any way whatsoever. The second you do, this is so stupid. The whole point of the film is that it never explains half of what is going on, so as a result we have little or no idea. It’s also really unsubtle in its whole commentary on young people’s use of the internet, including YouTube, GEO cashing and trolling and Facebook. The whole concept of being forced to do dares online for money is actually an interesting idea, but they never really expand upon it and there are a couple of moments which are way too far-fetched and as a result sink the movie. I will say the ending, despite being incredibly abrupt and anti-climatic and didn’t answer half the lingering questions I had left over was at least a lot better than the messages from Friend Request and the god awful Unfriended. But it still did not work and this film annoyed the hell out of me because too many people gave this film a pass. No, it’s a bad film, really stupid and I am going to go against the critical consensus on this one, this is probably one where everyone else likes it and I think it is rubbish for 2016.
The Little Prince. This is a French animated film developed by Netflix that unfortunately has not received a theatrical release over here yet, so if you want to see this you will have to have a Netflix account. I mainly watched this because a lot of the sites are predicting which way the Oscars will go suggests that this film will receive an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature, and I wouldn’t be upset if it did. I actually think so far, this has been the best film of August because it was a really nice, charming movie. It has a lovely blend of really good computer generated 3D and beautiful stop motion animation. Honestly this is like a really lovely blend of Pixar, The Nightmare Before Christmas and Studio Ghibli. The cast are terrific, the English dub cast are terrific too and I kind of liked the message of the film even if it is hammered in a bit too much. Also I think the film is a little too long. There are 40 minutes added on that could easily have been done in 20 and feels like a completely different film and I would be lying if I said that didn’t bother me. As family films go I really recommend it if you have a Netflix account. It’s worth a watch.
“So what were your thoughts on Swallows and Amazons or any of the films I have mentioned today. Did you agree with me? Please leave a comment, I welcome all opinions, I am especially interested to hear if you have Swallows and Amazons and your comments about it.”
So, what’s next on the agenda. It’s going to be on Thursday next week because I am in Europe on business again. Make sure you join me on 1 September where I will be giving my thoughts on The Purge Election Year. Also, if you are a fan of The Office I will be giving my brief thoughts on Life On The Road, also Kevin Spacey’s Nine Lives and Lights Out.
Thanks for reading my review, I hoped you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. Yes I am aware that Nine lives has 7% on rotten tomatoes, that’s why I am seeing it, I need to know if it’s really that bad.
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