THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI

Some People Just Can’t Read The Signs

Director
Martin McDonagh

Starring
Frances McDormand
Sam Rockwell
Woody Harrelson
Caleb Landry Jones



In the small town of Ebbing, Missouri, Mildred Hayes [McDormand] has suffered the loss of her young daughter who was raped, murdered and burnt. Months have passed with no luck from the local law enforcement, so she decides to take matters into her own hands and pays to have posters erected on three neglected billboards on a largely unused road. The posters are very simplistic in their message and call out the Chief of Police Bill Willoughby [Harrelson] for his lack of progress. This stubborn refusal to let the matter go and continually shame the police department continues and escalates while the town is swayed back and forth between with whom to side.

As a huge fan of McDonagh’s work (both brothers for that matter) I was bitterly disappointed by Martin McDonagh’s previous release, Seven Psychopaths. It was far from poorly crafted, it merely suffered from a chaotic, meandering plot and lack of clear vision; like the jumbled drunken nightmares of a pensive writer. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri not only rectifies that, it improves on the extremely enjoyable theatrical-feeling In Bruges and is quite easily Martin McDonagh’s most narratively focused cinematic work. It wastes no time getting the story going and characters established then unfolds and escalates magnificently while maintaining its gripping pacing. In truth, the whole thing is very reminiscent of a very sweary Coen brothers feature. A fact enhanced by the mournful score that hangs tensely, reminding me of Carter Burwell’s work. Only for me to discover, as the credits rolled, that it was Burwell who scored the film.

Staying with the Coen comparison for a second, a key element to this film’s success is an incredibly strong script being brought to life by absolutely spectacular central performances. Since the mid-90s it’s been apparent that Frances McDormand is an exceptional talent, able to switch between comedic and dramatic tones with grace and ease, without betraying the character. Her role as Mildred Hayes is a great example of this, vengeful, driven, committed, uncompromising and resolute but also completely fragile and tender at times. What’s more, she’s not a caricature; she is more complex than a ranting unstoppable monster. This is best reflected by the fact that her fiery rage is halted in its tracks when she confronts people at their weakest. From her ex-husband, to the rash Dixon, to the Chief and his wife – when she realises that someone is hurting to the degree that it doesn’t bring her closer to identifying her daughter’s killer, compassion kicks in and she deals with the individual at hand humanely. It’s this relatability that reminds us that this woman is in immense pain and trying to resolve the problem, which is why the film’s closing line of dialogue is absolutely perfect – but obviously I can’t discuss that at length yet.

In addition to McDormand’s powerful lead performance, the supporting cast are wonderful. The film clearly addresses a lot of contemporary social concerns from lack of faith in policing, the generational evolution of the Southern States, the way investigations are treated when they are in the public eye, public opinion/bias fuelled by the media and victim blaming. But it’s much more complex than a town of simple backward individuals against a saintly figure, Mildred is flawed but the townsfolk are equally multiform in their capacity for good and bad. The focus of Mildred’s fury is the Chief of police, Bill Willoughby and initially he comes off as a well-meaning family man but Mildred makes valid points that more could be done if the proper motivation as applied. Willoughby complicates matters for the audience as he is dealing with his own plights, so we shift the villainous role to the impetuous Officer Jason Dixon who is rude, lazy, violent and racist. But as the film progresses, we start to understand why Dixon is the way he is and he then becomes a sympathetic character. This rolling search for a true villain is very much the embodiment of Mildred’s quest. We, the audience, are rooting for Mildred so are desperately seeking an opposing antagonistic force but as we learn that the characters presented are merely average people, we lash out to the next obvious target. Finally this absence hits its peak when we realise that we too are looking for closure, that we want Mildred or the police or someone to find the man responsible for all this grief, pain and madness and to bring him to justice – arguably by any means – but this may be an absolute impossibility. And the key take away from this whole observation is that without a clear villain the absurdity of revenge is revealed, that no present action can change the past but for more on that thread, see my highlighted scene below.

**this paragraph is one big spoiler from start to finish**
Earlier I mentioned the ability for Mildred to ease off when people are at their weakest and that the characters introduced are more layered than simply good and bad. This rotational alignment is summed up rather neatly by a visiting priest who says “The town were behind you when Angela died, they’re not behind you on this.” It’s also very interestingly addressed with the man Dixon fingers for Angela’s murder. For those who have seen the film, Dixon is fired from his job by his new commanding officer and suffers humiliation and defeat as well as physical harm. He regains the audience’s respect by overhearing an individual in a bar boasting about committing a crime that matches the details of Angela’s death. In his own way, he gets into a fight and collects a DNA sample from the individual to be cross-referenced against the DNA found on Angela’s corpse. From a point of narrative closure, we feel like justice is ready to be delivered and the story can be neatly wrapped up. Especially as the man responsible also intimidated Mildred earlier in the film. Yet, with complete frankness, the new Chief explains that the man has a perfect alibi. The characters reject it, the audience reject it and we’re back to square one. What initially feels convenient but necessary to serve a redemptive arc is suddenly taken from us but sets up the absolute perfect crushing finale. Dixon relays to Mildred that the man he found wasn’t responsible but he’s responsible for something and they can both take out their frustrations on him, safe in the knowledge that “he had it coming.” Thus they pack up their car and head to his home address. Before the film closes, both characters express that they aren’t sure about killing the man but they’ll make their mind up on the way. This is the most fitting ending one could expect. Any climactic showdown would bring us no satisfaction and serve only to drag the story to a middling conclusion. The added complication of the fact this man is in the army adds another layer of possible complication; maybe he’s guilty, maybe he isn’t, maybe he’s just boasting, maybe he acts out as PTSD from military service. We can’t know for certain therefore the characters can’t know for certain. As a moral conundrum it’s wonderful and in typical McDonagh fashion the story doesn’t end, we just collectively stop paying attention.

The thing that pleases me the most about these releases are the strong morally complex characters, absence of simple conclusions and hilarious predicaments with an incredibly moving undertone. And with every passing feature McDonagh gets better and better, from the direction, the writing, editing and even down to the people he chooses to work with again and again. As such, I eagerly look forward to his next release, as should we all.


Release Date:
12th January 2018

The Scene To Look Out For:
I mentioned the absurdity of revenge and how little it resolves, the turning point for Mildred, when she starts to get an inkling that there’s a possibility that all of this is in vain, is in the form of a flashback. Her son, furious with her, reveals that he wasn’t aware of the full details of his sister’s death, that he couldn’t bring himself to read the police report but Mildred’s posters lay it out in a twenty foot font. Mildred then sits in her late daughter’s room and we see a very amusing and honest family scene where mother and daughter fight over a simple triviality like borrowing a car. This leads to a tense exchange resulting in Angela screaming, “I will walk and you know what, I hope I get raped on the way home!” to which Mildred furiously barks back, “I hope you get raped too!” We then cut to the cold empty room and the excruciating regret that hangs over the audience could not be any more real or palpable.

Notable Characters:
Just for his arc alone, I love Sam Rockwell’s character. It takes an actor of extreme ability to drive you to hate someone, then elevate that to slight sympathy before eventually arriving at genuine support.

Highlighted Quote:
“If you get rid of all the cops with vaguely racist leanings you’ll have.. three cops left. Who’ll hate all the fags. So what are you gonna do?”

In A Few Words:
“Another masterful release from McDonagh rife with his trademark wit, humour and emotional poignance”

Total Score:

5/5

THE DISASTER ARTIST

The Madness Behind The Making Of The Room

Director
James Franco

Starring
Dave Franco
James Franco



Greg Sestero [D Franco] is a late teens actor living in San Francisco desperate to get into the world of film, theatre and/or television but is so timid that he simply cannot perform to an acceptable level. While at an acting class he encounters an extremely confident, subtly enigmatic individual whose unorthodox methods and performances inspire the young actor. Approaching the man, he befriends the bizarre, heavily accented Tommy Wiseau [J Franco] but learns so very little about him. A strange friendship forms and Tommy suggests they go to LA to make it big in Hollywood. Greg dismisses this as fantasy but Tommy reveals that he has an apartment in Los Angeles and thus they both travel across the State to make their fame and fortune. After a series of dead-ends, Greg gives Tommy the idea to make and fund their own film. As production begins, Greg discovers that Tommy isn’t the auteur he once believed and the fact he knows so little about his supposed friend drives a significant wedge between them and their fledgling feature film.

Full disclosure, I resent The Room for existing. Furthermore, I resent its success in spite of its ineptitude and that enjoyment is primarily drawn from its shambolic and rambling execution. I will openly admit, that’s a very bitter and selfish response but as a creative I despise that there are so many neglected releases on various levels and this does not deserve the wealth of money, time and fan devotion that it has spawned over the years. Were I to review The Room, I would say it is functional in spite of itself but barely so with plot threads that go nowhere, painful performances and a baffling method of execution in terms of how it was shot. Of course, there are plenty of laughably bad films but this one riles me because it feels like a combination of undeserved attention and effectively laughing at the expense of the mentally disabled.

As far as the positives are concerned, The Disaster Artist is a very well directed, well performed release which is a perfectly suited project for Franco. Strangely, Franco shares a surprising amount of artistic qualities as Tommy; from his desire to tell a profoundly personal story, to his need to create things in spite of what the audience and producers believe will sell. And before anyone highlights that one is an established Hollywood name, I would note that both The Room and many of Franco’s own productions were made for a similar amount of money. Case in point, this film’s budget was “only” three million dollars more than that of The Room; which, admittedly, is a nice reassurance that you can throw as much money at a project as you like but without the skill, vision and sense to make something coherent, you’ll only end up with nonsense. If anything, I would be curious to know Franco’s reasoning for taking on this project. He excels with it but I wonder if that stems from a projected kinship, much in the same way that Tim Burton’s Ed Wood was both an analysis and a bit of a love letter to the bizarre filming methods of Plan 9 From Outer Space’s erratic director.

As stated, James Franco performs amazingly. You would be hard-pressed to find someone who would be willing to state that what Franco brings to the screen is anything other than an unabashed, honest human portrayal of a very eccentric caricature of an individual. Outside of this role, the supporting cast are all pleasing to one degree or another. Dave Franco’s zeal and enthusiasm as Greg feels real, as does his wooden inability to really connect with the parts he’s given. Everyone else, thanks to the chaotic nature of The Room’s toxic production, is a conveyor belt of cameos and strong comedic supporting roles which enhance the film without completely taking you out of the moment – because at the end of the day, the character of Tommy is so bizarre that the narrative content feels like it couldn’t possibly be real. But the fact that it is real raises an interesting query: is it absolutely necessary to have seen The Room to enjoy the release? Frankly no and that is a huge commendation to Franco and his direction; that we as an audience are given such insight into a release that you never have to watch to understand. And for those that would disagree, there are a few side-by-side comparison shots from the imitation and the genuine article. But even then, it’s an example of comfortable filmmaking that never says anything but acts as a good send-up, reflection and companion piece. Subsequently, the bulk of its audience is going to be fans of The Room and filmmakers or industry professionals and that’s where the problems really set in.

Ultimately, a self-indulgent look behind the scenes is as amusing as a holiday anecdote – narratively speaking it holds merit but it is mostly enjoyed by those directly affected or able to relate “You know how the traffic in Rome is, right? Oh, you’ve never been, well don’t worry about it” etc. This is why really great films like The Player rarely do well outside of the usual film circuit because it’s rife with in-jokes and predicaments that don’t often translate well for a standard audience. I completely appreciate how baffling that sounds as 95% of the cinematic stories people watch have next to nothing in common with their daily lives but it’s a pattern that holds. Curiously, there is a key exception to this trend and it’s the ratio of optimism and joy to cynicism and catty elitism. So films about making movies at any cost for the love of it, things like Brigsby Bear, Me And Earl And The Dying Girl, Be Kind Rewind and, to an extent, Cinema Paradiso, are celebrations of the art-form and audiences do not need a familiarity with the process. The Disaster Artist, on the other hand, is literally about how the industry works and how a film should and shouldn’t be made and at its centre is an enigma of a man so trying to ascertain what is conventional, normal and expected for a film set is tricky at the best of times.

Finally we have the film’s biggest downfall. The movie opens on talking-head soundbite interviews from established and successful actors and directors. They all describe The Room as a magnificently bizarre release that shouldn’t work but is engrossing and absurd yet boasts a cult following and has enjoyed over a decade of sold out screenings. This made me uncomfortable. Maybe this is merely projection but as the film progresses you can’t help the feeling that the jokes are very straightforward (certainly to anyone who is familiar with The Room) and there is a derisive, condescending mockery because while we can all laugh at the madness of this shoot, the jokes are being told by people already know have succeeded in the industry. Don’t get me wrong, the film isn’t intentionally cruel, I genuinely don’t think this was made with deliberate malice but there’s a subterranean unpleasantness. Most of the time I feel the same way about able-bodied actors playing “brave” roles of someone with a disability. I find this especially stupid as there are so many non-able-bodied individuals who could bring that performance out. But I digress. Wiseau is a mystery. No one knows if he is eccentric or genuinely psychologically scarred. To take the bonkers trough of a film that he produced and reproducing it while pointing at its creator saying, “Isn’t this crazy!? That’s not how it’s done! He thinks he’s Hitchcock, what an idiot.” comes off as exploitative and taking advantage. The only defence for which is that he says it’s fine and everyone got paid.

And yet, The Disaster Artist could be a lot worse. It’s an interesting biopic and tries its best to give a message of hope in the way the film closes and with little lines and exchanges because despite what people think, it’s very difficult to know whether a film will be spectacular or a horrendous failure; one only need hear Tom Hardy talking about Mad Max: Fury Road to see that. So when one of the actors is quizzed on why she drives fifteen miles for a bit part in what is slowly being revealed as a crappy movie helmed by a manic director, she responds, “Even the worst day on a movie set is better than the best day anywhere else.” And that is the most honest and genuine reason any film should ever be made.


Release Date:
8th December 2017

The Scene To Look Out For:
As The Room is screened for the first time to a packed cinema, the reactions from the audience are spectacular. Most notably for how a series of whispers quickly erupts into fits of laughter and ridicule. Initially we laugh along with the shoddily made story but as the actors involved show confusion, fear and shame, you can’t help but feel the laughter turning surprisingly painful. This is all down to subtle sound and editing work along with the performances but it’s just really great cinema. Although, for a creative, a public premiere is one of the most daunting and terrifying things to do and all I could feel was the creeping concern that all filmmakers are just as mad as Tommy; the difference is some succeed.

Notable Characters:
Without a doubt, James Franco’s performance is masterful and captivating for its soulful oddness. But something needs to be said of the straight-man, the eager and misled Greg played by Dave Franco. Nowhere is his twisted devotion and innocence more painful to watch than the scene wherein he asks Tommy for a day off shooting to appear in a potentially important supporting role for the TV series, Malcolm In The Middle; a role which requires him to have a full beard. Naturally, Tommy refuses and Greg is forced to choose between productions. From there we cut to his beard being shaved in line with the film’s schedule and any opportunity he may have had falling away from him. Anyone performing next to an extremely bold, ostentatious role has their work cut out for them and Dave Franco did a stellar job. Having said that, his beard looked fucking awful. Just.. just awful.

Highlighted Quote:
“Just because you want it, doesn’t mean it’s going to happen. It’s one in a million, even if you have Brando’s talent”

In A Few Words:
“While this is a wonderful companion piece to one of the most overrated bad films ever made, it’s far from the breath-taking release it’s being heralded as”

Total Score:

3/5

JUSTICE LEAGUE

You Can’t Save The World Alone

Director
Zack Snyder

Starring
Ben Affleck
Gal Gadot
Ezra Miller
Jason Momoa
Ray Fisher
Henry Cavill



Following the events of Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice, Bruce Wayne (aka Batman played by Ben Affleck) has set out assembling super-powered individuals to combat an impending threat that he believes is on its way. At the same time we learn about Steppenwolf [Ciaran Hinds], an ancient alien general with an army of parademon soldiers, who has sensed the presence of the mother box (an intergalactic item split into three which has the power to overwrite the world’s design) and mounts an offensive to recover it. Steppenwolf’s arrival convinces Wonder Woman [Gadot] and Atlantean prince Aquaman [Momoa] to join the fight while the younger two heroes – Flash [Miller] and Cyborg [Fisher] – tag along for personal reasons of wanting to belong and saving his father respectively. Feeling their best efforts may not be enough, Batman believes they can use one of the devices to resurrect the deceased Superman [Cavill].

I wrote a very gushy love-letter of a review for 2012’s Avengers but I stand by that review and maintain that for all its flaws, what was achieved was a cinematic first; a stepping stone to be built upon and improved. I also penned a very hesitant and disappointed review for its sequel Avengers: Age Of Ultron, noting how the elements that didn’t work in the first film were magnified and a discordant feeling ran throughout. Justice League, for many reasons, feels like Age Of Ultron’s step-sibling, in that it gets a lot right with some solid performances and seems to have figured out where it’s going but is let down by a wealth of problems, nasty CGI, terrible music and identity baggage. But I’ll get back to that later.

For those who don’t know, this has always been a troubled release and it comes across in every single scene of this release. Tonally speaking we have Zack Snyder’s dark brooding take on the DC universe intercut with Joss Whedon’s light-hearted (and admittedly quite dated) jollity but unlike a project that has been scrapped and built from the ground up, this is a Frankenstein’s monster of a cobbling; patching together bits and pieces and presenting them as an unconvincingly intentional whole. If you can imagine cooking a roast chicken with all the trimmings but changing your mind mid-meal and making a pizza instead with the same ingredients, that’s what we’ve ended up with and it is very telling. Reshoots are fairly commonplace in big budget features but you’re not supposed to notice the differences. Sometimes it’s a shot or two, other times an additional scene but the stitching between the extra content should hopefully be largely seamless. Frustratingly, that’s less achievable when one of your leads has a moustache that he contractually cannot shave, so a CGI jaw and lips are generated and my God they work as clear signposts for the new material. Staying with the CGI for a second, this has been one of the most expensive films ever produced and the visual effects are frankly disgraceful. To the degree that the computer generated orcs from Lord Of The Rings look better than Steppenwolf and his battle scenes – and that technology is 16 years old! Steppenwolf invades Themyscira and Atlantis respectively and these assault scenes have some truly ugly visuals. The Amazons look, sound, move and feel nothing like the ones from Wonder Woman, Themyscira is presented as drab and lifeless and the fight between their army and the alien warmonger is laughably uninventive. But it’s a damn sight better than Atlantis, which dispatches a contingent of three or four people; subsequently the whole encounter lasts all of two minutes but holy hell those two minutes are a mess of murky figures, water particles, bubbles and indecipherable surroundings.

But let’s take a minute to discuss one of the key components of this release: the league members. First up is the weakest feature, Henry Cavill’s Superman. I stood up for Cavill in his first appearance believing it was possible that with the right script and director he could be taught how to be a good Superman. Unfortunately, with every passing release, he and his CGI jaw feel less and less appropriate. Everything about this film betrays the “show, don’t tell” mindset and steadily drums in that Superman is the best of us, that he makes the world a better place and is the glue that holds everything together; a fact which does not connect to the character we have seen in the previous films. In fact, if he was this Christopher Reeve-esque charmer his resurrected change of tone would have worked infinitely better. And while there are brief moments that prompt the slightest upturn from the corner of your mouth, they’re just as quickly replaced with a furrowed brow when you remember it doesn’t fit this actor or his performance; like seeing Tommy Lee Jones being warm and really friendly to kids – it doesn’t seem to work. And even if you make peace with Superman’s return and integration to the group, how would anyone go about explaining Clark returning from the dead? Superman I get but Kent? Next up is Batman. Affleck is still a great Batman and his scenes in Gotham are incredibly reminiscent of the popular Arkham video games. There’s also a great “Bat” moment when Batman exclaims “The world needs Superman” which is countered with, “What does Clark need? Maybe he’s at peace” to which Wayne responds, “He’ll get over it.” I could easily see that being a scene lifted from a Justice League cartoon with Kevin Conroy uttering those words. And yet the lack of franchise awareness means Bruce’s search for the league fails to align with the Luthor/Waller files already established. In one scene, wherein Wayne is trying to recruit Aquaman, he sees the three sections of the mother box scrawled on a wall but from the dialogue we are left with the impression that he simply doesn’t realise Arthur Curry is the Aquaman – which we know to be bullshit because Lex Luthor had video surveillance with Curry conveniently gurning for the camera. Equally, while Affleck continues to be one of the standout reasons to watch these films, he’s blatantly bored and desperate for a way out. Speaking of standout, Gal Gadot returns from (let’s be honest) the only successful DCEU film and stands out as the true leader of the group. As previously mentioned, everything that is said about Superman is displayed in Wonder Woman; there is no justifiable reason why she isn’t in charge or the most powerful individual.

Moving on to the new initiates, first up we have the Flash/Barry Allen played by Ezra Miller. He has already briefly appeared in BvS in a baffling cameo and Suicide Squad in another tiny cameo but this is his first extended on-screen performance. In truth, Miller is a great Flash and brings some much need lightness to the whole endeavour. Admittedly, sometimes it gets very sporadic and a little too chaotic (not to mention he comes off more like the third Flash, Wally West, than Barry Allen) but all-in-all the humour, levity, youthful exuberance, zeal and unprepared rookie-ness is a welcome distinct personality to the group. Having said that there were a few moments which were clear victims of late punch-up and added scenes that conflicted with what had already been shot. Silly things like Barry telling Bruce Wayne that saying “he’s fast” is an oversimplification but then explaining that he’s dubbed the thing that gives him his power the speed force – surely the greater oversimplification. Then there’s the nice moment when Barry freaks out before battle but this doesn’t alert the parademons who smell fear from seemingly miles away. Yet all of that melts away with simple moments like Barry’s panicked face as he runs around the recently resurrected Superman to catch him off guard, only to see the Kryptonian following him with his eyes at super-speed. I might go on record and say the film is worth watching for that bit alone. The other new young recruit is Cyborg/Victor Stone. Jettisoning classic team members, Cyborg is a contemporary addition who is an attempt to address both diversity and the changing world of technology and annoyingly this film fumbles with both. Fisher is criminally underused and despite his monotone style is extremely interesting but shelved constantly. So little is known about Cyborg that it was only after I watched the film that I learned his cybernetic body was constructed after a car crash (rather than the comic origin of a lab accident). I mean, this is a teenager who everyone thinks is dead and is infused with an alien technology, it should deal with coming of age drama, racial issues, identity crises, isolation, torment, self destruction, paranoia and overcoming fear but all we get is a strangely confident sounding young man who is dealing with his circumstances surprisingly well. Finally, we have Jason Momoa’s Aquaman. While I’m not a fan of Momoa as a person or all the “yee-haw, my man, alright” 80s pro-wrestler bullshit, there were a few moments that showed true promise. Aquaman became something of a joke for a while but the comics shifted and reminded readers of the kind of hero Aquaman could be – specifically an emotionally distant and complicated one. Snyder’s take on that was to cast Momoa and present a confident, abrasive, arrogant, self-centred jerk but strangely, that works. He may not be the Aquaman fans want but he’s a great reflection of our times. If we look at other superhero releases it’s hard to think of one that embodies Trump-voting Middle America so succinctly. In a way the Atlanteans, with their misguided isolationist motives and resentment but deep-seated decency (I’m sure it’s buried under there somewhere), presents something of a relatable scene, where good people are bitter and angry but too arrogant to realise their views are part of the problem. As such, Aquaman has the potential, with a really clever script and whip-smart director, to be a fascinating character study. But that’s very much wishful thinking. It is much more likely that we will get more of the same forceful bro-behaviour and misogynistic overtones with a weak plot about a throne that no one cares about – but it’s all speculation because, much like Cyborg, even with scant exposition I know so very little about this iteration of Aquaman. On the plus side we finally got a look at some Green Lanterns but this just adds further irritation as the Green Lantern Corps is a intergalactic police force, where were they during all this potentially world ending stuff?

At the start of this review I mentioned a link between this feature and Avengers: Age Of Ulton. With Whedon taking command of a wildly listing vessel, he’s defaulted to his last directing job and pulled several elements from there. This ranges from little things like feeling the need to follow one family throughout a chaotic battle that would be impossible for them to survive (it’s stupid when Michael Bay does it and it’s stupid here) to conversations in the batcave with the group bickering amongst themselves that feel eerily similar in content, setting and direction to those on the helicarrier in the first Avengers film. I find this rather hysterical as all of the mistakes made in this DCEU have been fallout of the steadfast and stubborn refusal to simply adopt the formula that Marvel proved to be both effective and profitable, only to end up with a feature indicative of one of the Disney-owned studio’s weaker efforts. What’s more, Whedon chose to ditch the established musical accompaniment and supposedly “give the fans what they want.” Personally, I really enjoyed Hans Zimmer’s triumphant soaring take on the Superman theme. I am very much a firm believer that exceptional music can elevate a mediocre performance or film and that score is a prime example; it had all the upbeat notes with an air of sullen modernity that inspired and chilled. On the other hand, his Wonder Woman guitar wailing theme seemed rather ridiculous and out of place but was salvaged in her standalone release and is referenced neatly here. Everything else is in the bin and Danny Elfman’s 80s Batman theme has been revived along with a few out-of-place notes from John Williams’ 1970s Superman theme. Everything else however is largely background and non-existent. Listening to the isolated soundtrack, nothing about it has any personality or presence. It borrows heavily from the melodies and movements we expect from a superhero piece but lacks the originality or uniqueness to stand out as anything memorable or meaningful. Admittedly, I doubt this is directly Elfman’s fault and think the work of hold music is to blame once again; leaching recognised themes from other films that the director effectively cuts the film to and presents it to the composer saying, “make it sound like this.”

But unlike Age Of Ultron, Justice League could have been so much worse. With all the chaos behind the scenes and a horrendously flimsy yet bizarrely convoluted premise, it’s amazing how much was actually salvaged. With all the issues of tone, direction, flow and sense to one side, the flaw that brings me the most grief is the soft-rebooty lack of continuity. Honestly, did no one making these movies watch the previous instalments? We go from Man Of Steel to Batman v Superman and the world and characters portrayed change but insist to the audience that what was presented in the first film was received by the on-screen population as counterintuitive to common sense. Then Batman v Superman gave way to Suicide Squad and the established rules and attitudes are abandoned and contradicted once more. Most recently we watched Wonder Woman take everything from the first three films and practically disregard it – a move which proved a major improvement – and now we’re at a film that physically can’t exist with these other established stories. As a small example, Steppenwolf sets up shop in some unnamed Russian location but when a huge bionic dome is erected and a red inferno conjured out of nothing, the world didn’t notice? I moaned about the absence of a Green Lantern member but no one thinks to send in the Suicide Squad or something (obviously I’m joking, those guys are useless)? But even in BvS, Doomsday was birthed and a nuke was launched within the hour!

If I was to travel back in time and explain to my former self that the “upcoming” Man Of Steel prompts a sea of chaos, panic and disaster to the extent that we have witnessed, I would have a hard time explaining my final statement that for all its failings, Justice League is ok. Not terrible, not good but ok. But with that minor positivity to one side I would like to illustrate all the problems with the DCEU with two prescient quotes from Jurassic Park. The first is, “I’ll tell you the problem with the scientific power that you’re using here, it didn’t require any discipline to attain it. You read what others had done and you took the next step. You didn’t earn the knowledge for yourselves so you don’t take any responsibility for it. You stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as you could and before you even knew what you had you patented it and packaged it and slapped on a plastic lunchbox and now you’re selling it, you want to sell it.” And while that poignantly rattles around your head, the second quote highlights why DC keep making these mistakes. I have no doubt that with every passing poorly reviewed, moderately financially acceptable, polarising release some executive says, “You’re right, you’re absolutely right…I can see that now. Now, the next time everything’s correctable…Next time it’ll be flawless. When we have control–” Rather than learning from their mistakes they plough on ahead, assuming a few random tweaks will rectify what has been done whereas every alteration adds more confusion. In the space of one year we experienced a shift from Batman v Superman being dubbed too dark and desperate to force a connected universe, to Justice League which crowbars a lighter tone but comes off flippant and without consequence and on top of that, DC/WB announce the films that follow won’t need to tie in to a larger universe. This destructive, poorly planned out, reactionary style of running a universe is frankly unsustainable but at least we are getting closer to something pleasing.


Release Date:
17th November 2017

The Scene To Look Out For:
Interestingly, I rather liked the title sequence. Over the credits we are shown a despondent, bitterly divided world in desperate need of saving. A people lost and without hope. That, depressingly, is a very relatable sight for contemporary audiences. From the thug arrested for assaulting the livelihood of the head-scarf wearing shop owner and her child to the homeless man staring into the distance with a cardboard sign that simply states “I tried.” Presenting a dark world in desperate need of Superman is wonderful.. but it also feels completely at odds with what we know of the character. At no point have we seen Superman do a great deal of heroic feats or earn that mass influence over people, so as much as it works wonderfully, it does not really belong in this film.

Notable Characters:
There is a janitor working at STAR labs. His name is Howard apparently and he’s played by Anthony Wise. What’s so special about this man? Simple, he’s a fucking mystery. In a film flush with disconnected developments, scene tampering, dropped cast, deleted footage and constant adjustments, he is the most fascinating. A character who should just be a badly written extra is elevated to a point of fascination thanks to two very small issues. Howard is on first name terms with the head scientist, joking about the time he’s leaving off work and offering his condolences for the loss of his family. Nothing especially out of the ordinary there. At that moment, however, I noticed that for some reason, his ID badge has a completely different face on it, that of an older man with white hair and prominent facial hair. Very unusual but I just assumed it may be a future development, some infiltrator or criminal element, possibly an unintroduced agent of the main villain. And yet he isn’t. Later we cut back to the janitor, somehow still mopping THE EXACT SAME section of flooring and his ID badge now reflects his face. What does that mean!? Are we to believe that the role was recast and Anthony Wise was used? Or that they simply didn’t have the right prop on that day but needed to film regardless. It’s amazing! Seriously, the janitor’s changing ID badge is possibly the biggest mystery of this film; more so than what happened to the mother box, does BvS’ dream sequence mean anything, why were the Amazons imprisoned on their island and why neither ancient race gave a shit about the return of Steppenwolf combined. Who are you Howard? I see you. I’m keeping my eye on you.

Highlighted Quote:
“Children, I work with children”

In A Few Words:
“A bipolar feature that is constantly at war with itself but comes out pleasingly average – which DC/WB should count as a win”

Total Score:

3/5

THE DEATH OF STALIN

The Fight For Leadership Begins

Director
Armando Iannucci

Starring
Steve Buscemi
Simon Russell Beale
Jeffrey Tambor
Jason Isaacs



1953, the Soviet Union is ruthlessly ruled by Joseph Stalin and his cronies. Anyone who falls out of favour or challenges the establishment is arrested, tortured and executed. For those at the top, there is an impression of luxury and frivolity but the truth of the matter is that the alliances are loose; no one is trusted and everyone operates under the constant fear of falling out of Stalin’s favour and appearing on a list that will seal their fate. Following a stroke, Stalin is left in a paralytic state while his closest officials run around to secure their own position. While the events closely mirror what we know about the genuine history of the event, this adaptation of the French graphic novel, La Mort De Staline, hilariously and crassly illustrates the scheming, conniving and treachery that was rife during the chaos.

In terms of absurdist caricatures negotiating deadly serious developments, a lot of Iannucci’s work feels reminiscent of Dr Strangelove; for that reason, I am a very big fan. I will openly admit this style of comedy is definitely not for everyone but with its mix of a historical setting, political underhandedness and foul-mouthed deliveries, it’s my absolute favourite type of comedic narrative. One of the film’s real achievements is establishing the tone of the comedy of fear. What is presented to us was a very real and horrifying existence that many had to endure, wherein family members turned on one another, few were trusted and seemingly no one was safe. To then take that level of paranoia and intense distrust and repurpose it into farce is simply wonderful. Nowhere is this better established than the opening sequence. To highlight Stalin’s vice-like grip on the nation, we witness a concerto played over the radio. The theatre director receives a phone call mid-performance from Stalin himself and told he wants a recording of the performance. Realising that the concert went out live and that no such recording exists, the director panics, detaining as many of the audience as possible before getting people off the streets and making everyone sit through the same piece again. While witnessing the absurdity of rearranging the concerto we are shown citizens being routinely and mercilessly rounded up for detention or execution.

What’s more, there is an (one would assume intentional) undercurrent reflection of modern politics. With everything that’s taken place in the shambolic government currently running this country (the UK) and similarly with others across the world, this tale of underhand dealings, betrayal and political mobilisation serves to satirise and ridicule what we are all currently at the mercy of, as both a highlight of the cyclical nature of vacuums of leadership and a warning from the past.

Aside from the keen writing and performances – which stand out as the backbone of this feature – The Death Of Stalin is also exceptionally well crafted. Unlike a lot of comedies, which thrive on brightly lit sets to ensure maximum control in case of improvised hilarity, this film is presented like a standard high-budget period drama. The locations are lavish and resplendent, the costumes are fitting for the period and reflect the character in question, all of the props feel period appropriate while being garnished with faux-Cyrillic Russian lettering and the cinematography that presents it all is rich, dynamic and beautiful. On top of that, the direction is masterfully handled and the editing is sharp and clean throughout.

But as stated, this film thrives because of the combination of the brilliant dialogue and uproarious performances. With a host of largely British acting talent, each character is simultaneously amusing and ridiculous. Buscemi is magnificent as the neurotic but politically savvy Khrushchev, Tambor plays the feeble and easily led Malenkov effortlessly, Michael Palin’s turn as the quixotic almost lackadaisical Molotov is greatly entertaining and all the lower-rung manipulators enter and exit with the weight of their station without over-emphasising their arrival or departure. As a few standouts, I particularly enjoyed Beale’s genuinely menacing portrayal of head of the NKVD Lavrentiy Beria; the level of historical detail on display is impressive without stifling the audience and his presence and manoeuvring are a joy to watch. In a very different performance, Jason Isaacs’ arrival is perfectly timed. Having spent so long with meticulous, cross-talking politicians, General Zhukov’s introduction and domination of events – with his no nonsense attitude and minimal tolerance for the machinations of politics – is a welcome change-up and serves as a nice reminder of the savagery and ruthlessness of senior military personnel who survived both the events of World War II and Stalin’s purges.

But as much as I adore this film, there is a glaring issue. Drawing from real events ensures a lack of closure and a void where a neat ending should exist, subsequently, much like In The Loop the film simply peters out rather than distinctly ending. Granted there are events which solidify a resolution but not enough to really deliver a satisfying conclusion for most audiences. As stated before, this ties into the other issue which is that this film is not for everyone. The comedy is particularly unique and in-line with a distinct style that doesn’t suit the bulk majority of cinemagoers but the fact this film doesn’t try to accommodate the mainstream pleases me. Rather than trying to spread itself thin in an attempt to be a tick-box exercise, The Death Of Stalin sets out to tell a story in its own fashion and doesn’t overly care for people getting lost in the process; for that, I highly commend it.


Release Date:
20th October 2017

The Scene To Look Out For:
Several real-life parallels are utilised as comic developments which serve to highlight the ludicrousness of how Stalin ran the Soviet Union. Thus something which should be common sense is only revelatory at the worst possible moment. Case in point, Stalin didn’t trust doctors so had the most talented or knowledgeable ones tortured, exiled or killed. Subsequently, when he needed medical assistance, there were very few options to draw on. This, amusingly, comes as a bit of a shock to the Politburo who fumble wildly trying to assemble doctors who are either beyond their prime, inexperienced or inept.

Notable Characters:
Rather than highlight one performance, I think it would be better to note that this cast works as an impressive ensemble. With pleasing chemistry and noteworthy individual portrayals, each actor shines in their own right but works superbly with their co-stars. This is evident fairly early on in a specific wonderful diatribe on the mad and incompetent scramble for power. Once Stalin’s unconscious body is discovered, each member of the Politburo arrives and proffers their sympathies at the calamity that has happened but it’s evident their lament is almost entirely for show. Each one arrives wailing and beating their chests while looking around “the boss'” office for anything that can assist their ascension. The best way this is illustrated is a very simple running gag involving the puddle of urine that Stalin is lying in. Every character runs to cradle the fallen leader but the second their knees reach the piss soaking into the rug, they hesitate, pull away and reassess how to approach him. It’s such a simple touch but it shows how in tune each actor is with those they are sharing screen time with.

Highlighted Quote:
“You’re not old! You’re not even a person; you’re a testicle! You’re mostly hair!!”

In A Few Words:
“A brilliantly witty and savage takedown of both a rather manic event in history and the contemporary political theatre”

Total Score:

5/5

BLADE RUNNER 2049

30 Years Later

Director
Denis Villeneuve

Starring
Ryan Gosling
Ana De Armas
Sylvia Hoeks
Harrison Ford



Thirty years after the events in Blade Runner, the Earth has suffered a massive blackout and seemingly all digital data is erased. Lifting the world out of chaos is the Wallace company (Wallace being played by Jared Leto) who buyout the tarnished Tyrell replicant brand and start production anew, creating docile, obedient androids. This renaissance allows mankind to prosper once more and life continues with synthetic people immersed and integrated into everyday society. Older Nexus models, however, are still hunted down by a division of the LAPD called Blade Runners. The story follows one such cop, a replicant named K [Gosling] who, in uncovering a thirty year old skeleton, unearths a revelation that could upset the natural order.

Much like its predecessor, Blade Runner 2049 is visually breath-taking, an absolutely stunning and captivating feast for the senses that is designed to consume and overwhelm in its grandiosity and beautiful horror. Rife with plenty of noir nods, the story is methodically and masterfully paced, taking its time to unfold, allowing the actors, sets and developments to seemingly naturally speak for themselves rather than rushing to conclusions and reiterating developments with the zeal of flogging a dead horse. The whole thing is a truly hyper-stylistic dream, evocative of the works of Tarsem Singh. The majority of this lavishness comes down to the wonderful production design, which feels like a natural progression within the universe established by the original. Both high-tech and lo-fi this movie shows a world that we saw before which has moved on but retains its uniqueness and identity. The two most recent examples that I can think of are Star Wars: The Force Awakens and, oddly, Alien: Isolation. While a lot of sound work gives way to visuals, being the oft-neglected lesser sibling, this is far from the case here. Much like Villeneuve’s Sicario and Arrival the sound design is exceptionally powerful and the music is fittingly intense and tribal. But I’m not just praising it for being loud and ominous, it’s just as clever and wonderful in its subtlety; the use of Peter And The Wolf is particularly brilliant.

Blade Runner 2049 is very much carried on Gosling’s shoulders with a sea of interesting short supporting roles and is a sublime lesson in minimalist acting. As far as K’s case goes, the content is very straightforward but so much is offered with the slightest facial contortion. As for the aforementioned supporting roles, they are not only perfectly cast but perfectly managed. No one is over or underused; call-backs are rewarding but restrained and new characters serve a world-building purpose outside of just expositing. Ana De Armas is absolutely crushing as the innocent AI Joi, Robin Wright exudes control marvellously as the career cop who understands the benefits and necessities of replicants, Sylvia Hoeks’ Luv is a fascinating character who will no doubt be studied for years to come in her devotion and twisted emotional programming and the absurdity of Wallace plays perfectly into Leto’s hands, allowing him to be a weirdy-beardy while still having a grounded place as a megalomaniacal CEO. Having said all that I’m not entirely sure why Gaff became Colonel Sanders but I appreciated the cameo all the same. The most interesting addition is that, despite featuring so heavily in the trailer, Harrison Ford is merely a footnote, he features in all of four or five scenes and while he plays an integral role, the story doesn’t hinge on his presence to be a success. Which is a tricky thing to note as the narrative effectively does. I’ll expand on this conflict between logic and emotion later but the strange paradox between making something a necessity but not treating it as one is mind boggling.

Being a Blade Runner film, aside from hitting the right aesthetic notes, success is dependent upon thematic discussion points and Blade Runner 2049 is rife with complex issues that one could analyse for months. Picking up the mantle from the first film, shots of eyes and eye related devices are prevalent throughout but building on that, this film relishes in showing us the reverse, focusing on voyeuristically staring at the back of people’s heads. Whether in close up or tracking from a distance, the back of character’s heads seems to play equal importance to the focus on eyeballs. Another present theme is the inherent attitude to evolved slavery and racism; initially starting off by drawing an intense and impressive comparison between slavery and machines before showing us literal child slave labour highlighting the cyclical nature of abuse and how, even with an alternative, the vulnerable will always be exploited.

One of the other key themes which carries over from the original is the continuing discussion about the varying levels of AI and consciousness, the debate about what is real, what is experience and what does it mean to be alive? Reflecting our own times and technological progression, the film adds another layer to the argument in the form of Joi. Much in the way that replicants were created to assist mankind as an imitation, the machines (through Wallace’s company) then create a limited conscious entity, devoid of physical form. Taking an android being – in the form of K – and giving him an effectively less developed, innocent version of himself – Joi – to interact with and essentially teach, gives the narrative another clever opportunity to address the nature of existence and living; somewhat reminiscent of elements present in recent releases like Ex Machina and Her. On top of that they manage to do the “Whoopi kiss” from Ghost but it’s done so very well. I’m sure the technique is an extremely simple one but synching up performances like that is genuinely masterful from each level of the filmmaking process. Additionally, while holograms were present in the original, the inclusion of the Las Vegas holograms, performing on a loop for all eternity, illustrates the idea of immortality, the idea that like all legends you can be owned and preserved for all time; your form is merely a pattern which can be replicated and fitted to whatever the user desires. Again, very fitting considering how many actors are being de-aged and recreated with CGI in a fair amount of contemporary high-budget releases.

**Several spoiler-heavy plot points are addressed toward the end of the paragraph**
Despite everything, I should point out that this isn’t a perfect film; glorious sequel and beautiful storytelling but imperfect. Admittedly, my first gripe is a minimal one and it’s that the clues were well-presented so I figured out the ending early in the film. Secondly the narrative closure is negated for emotional closure. So coming back to what I said earlier – about the paradox between what is presented and what is required being somehow both present and absent – this movie ends perfectly yet there are so many unresolved issues; not too dissimilar to how Sicario closed. What happened to Wallace, does his story and quest for the next level of replicant just continue? Is there any fallout to the events that took place at the LAPD – again, which can be tracked back to Wallace? Who placed the incinerator memory in K? Was this an accident/intentional/a cry for help? Even if it was a case of merely drawing from personal experience and real life, why did Ana Stelline react in the way she did? Speaking of Ana, does she know what she is or of her significance? And then there’s Freysa’s replicant army, the disgruntled workforce poised to upset the balance and lead a revolution. What about them? As stated, the intensity of the emotional close gives us a satisfying conclusion to the extent that these other elements simply become inconsequential background static, irrelevant to the personal revelations. And while that’s all well and good it leaves an unpleasant lingering, like a tinnitus whine in the eardrum because as much as I can accept that we don’t need answers to appreciate what has unfolded at the end of this film, it leaves the door open for a lot of (potentially) very poorly handled sequels. But this remains to be seen.

Much like the original, Blade Runner 2049, with its slow narrative, bold visuals and complex themes, is not going to please everyone – but equally it doesn’t try to. Too many sequels forget what made the original good and try to cast a wider net to capture a bigger audience. Sticking to what works and furthering the natural evolution of the story should be the staple of any sequel but it’s a bit of a strange rarity. In doing so, this instalment is easily better than the original – largely as it didn’t need three attempts to get it right – but simultaneously while a sequel can improve upon a story no end, it cannot surpass what came before because it needs the original to exist; to use a technological comparison, any upgraded computer owes its existence to its progenitor. But to put all of that to one side for a second, striking a balance between mainstream developments and high art subtext, Blade Runner 2049 is a worthy companion which was more than worth the wait.


Release Date:
6th October 2017

The Scene To Look Out For:
**Spoilers throughout**
The entire film shifts in effectively two looks and it highlights how absolutely every element of this film is firing on all cylinders. Wanting to discern if an implanted memory in his head is real or not, K visits Dr Ana Stelline, who has an ability to craft the best memories. Owing to a fragile immune system, she lives in a dome and creates histories and backstories based on fabrication, designed to evoke an emotional response linked to a moral core. K allows Ana to see the memory and she ascertains it is real, triggering a violent emotional response from K. It’s maybe a few minutes long but absolutely everything at work in this film, from the nature of perception, cages, prisoners, slaves, reality, falsehoods, life, death, consciousness and experience, is present in this scene. The acting is patient and deceptive in its significance, highlighting the wealth that can be conveyed with such subtlety. I also particularly liked that the construction of memories bears a lot of similarities to the construction of film – the device Dr Stelline uses even looks like a sort of telephoto lens.

Notable Characters:
Several sections of the film deal with the idea of experiencing existence on a physical level. One of the most overt ways this is done is a character holding up their hand and watching as the world simply happens to and around them; rain, snow , bees, all manner of tactile items to define what is real. While Blade Runner toyed with the idea of perceptions of the world, it never really explored the inception of those perceptions. Enter Joi. Joi is such a beautifully naïve and emotional character who experiences the world with childlike wonder and innocence; an innocence which K, who is either programmed to be as cynical as humanity or has simply adopted it over time, both enjoys and very possibly envies. This can get irritating but De Armas portrays the character so spectacularly that she is this delightful, impossible being that is both diverse and unique.

Highlighted Quote:
“The world is built on a wall, it separates mankind. Tell the world there’s no wall and you get chaos. Or a slaughter”

In A Few Words:
“Simple in its nature, intricate in its execution, this is a prime example of one of the greatest sequels of all time”

Total Score:

5/5

KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE

Suited And Booted

Director
Matthew Vaughn

Starring
Taron Egerton
Julianne Moore
Colin Firth
Mark Strong
Pedro Pascal



A year after the events in Kingsman: The Secret Service, Eggsy is operating under his former mentor’s codename, Galahad and continues to covertly protect the realm. Before the film has even has a chance to fade out the film’s title, events kick off with the arrival of Charlie Hesketh – a former Kingsman initiate who failed to graduate – who survived the events of the first film and is out for revenge against Eggsy [Egerton] for a new superior: Poppy Adams [Moore], a drug baroness in self-imposed exile from her home land of the United States. Feeling the Kingsman are a direct threat to her operation, Poppy launches a surprise attack and wipes out the entire order and all of their hideouts. The only ones who survive are Strong and Merlin [Strong], who enact an old protocol which takes them to a mysterious agency in Kentucky.

Much like its predecessor, any criticisms one has about these films can easily be directed to any James Bond feature; from the sexism to the suspension of disbelief, if you let one slide but not the other, that seems a touch unreasonable. Having said that, this film really does let itself down all too frequently and what should have been another action-packed, tongue-in-cheek romp is left a bloated, uninspired pile of mediocrity. The acting tiers are separated rather clearly between those that have committed to the heightened absurdity of the story (people like Egerton, Pascal, Strong and to a certain extent Jeff Bridges) and those who are largely phoning it in (which would be Firth, Moore, Halle Berry, etc). Essentially, the more established they are, the less they seemed to give a shit. But it’s hard to blame them as the script this time round misses the mark by offering a lukewarm villain, a fairly tame world-threatening dilemma and a complete lack of suspense or pacing. From the introduction of underutilised characters to the deaths of returning ones (I was genuinely expecting Roxy to make a surprise appearance as the film went on but then I realised they just killed her off outright) the whole thing felt eerily reminiscent of GI Joe: Retaliation – I know I’ve received a lot of flak for my positive review of GI Joe: Rise Of Cobra in the past but the change in tone from silly toy box action to semi-serious vengeance arc was incredibly odd; at least Kingsman: The Golden Circle had the common sense not to kill off the main character.

Aside from the regular super-spy lampooning, there are a few elements that take this film far away from what made Kingsman: The Secret Service a tolerable success, rather than the colourful stupid mess that it advertised itself as. The first and strangest one is the return of Harry. Bringing back Colin Firth was a decent move and offered a genuine emotional device for Eggsy, they also managed to explain it away rather well thanks to the fantastical sci-fi tech their established universe could arguably have. No problem there. The weird element is that they address how such an extreme and violent cognitive experience could have a severe impact on the victim; specifically in this case, memory loss which then leads into PTSD. Adding that level of realism (if that’s the right word) should work for this film, grounding it in some semblance of reality and offering Firth an actual reason to come back and play the same character with a deeper spin. Regrettably, it never exactly clicks and ends up feeling like a drastic tonal shift which fails to achieve the desired effect. Then we have the Statesman. I’m a little torn when it comes to the American sister-operation as it feels extremely underused but to be fair this is a Kingsman sequel so the restraint is appreciated.

Speaking of restraint, we need to talk about Elton John. In her Cambodian lair, Poppy has turned an ancient ruin into her own slice of America and with it a theatre with one hostage performer: Elton John. As a throwaway gag, that in of itself works fine. What doesn’t is that this cameo massively overplays its hand and brings him back multiple times. More than that, Elton John is effectively a supporting character. I would go so far as to posit that he has more screen time than Halle Berry or Channing Tatum. Having said that, for one bright glorious moment, it works perfectly: one of Poppy’s robotic security dogs is about to attack Harry but Elton John’s grinning mug enters from screen right to the tune of Rocket Man. It really shouldn’t be funny but it really is. Everything around it is horse-piss but that one shot was great.

In spite of the wildly erratic acting standards (between phoning-it-in and trying pretty hard) and the paint-by-numbers story, this film is pretty serviceable on a technical level. There’s plenty of the same comic book action/physics/direction which gives the film a certain flare and style but admittedly, it might be a little excessive and the film becomes heavily reliant on it at times without ever replicating the Church scene from the first one. Which, let’s face it, is what everyone involved was hoping to recreate. The visual effects were decent enough but when they dipped into displeasing territory, they were incredibly noticeable and off-putting. Equally, the sound design was perfectly fitting and Henry Jackman’s score still stands out as praiseworthy, memorable and distinctive.

Like a lot of flat sequels, this feature feels like a missed opportunity, an exercise in repetition that failed to capture whatever spark that made the original special. If you’re a fan of the first, it may play off as a passable story but on its own merit, it’s hardly making waves.


Release Date:
22nd September 2017

The Scene To Look Out For:
There are both a few scenes that stand out because they are one improvement away from being great, a few scenes that don’t exactly work and a few that are genuinely really entertaining. I’m not going to talk about any of them because the only talking point in this film is the fingering scene. In order to trace Charlie’s location, Eggsy has to place a tracker on Charlie’s girlfriend. Apparently the only way to get the device to activate is to make contact with a mucus membrane. Now, I appreciate this whole scenario is supposed to address the whole “I have to sleep with this woman for king and country” nonsense but it’s still pretty stupid. It’s hardly new, in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me a tracer is placed up Fat Bastard’s arse but there’s something about the way this is filmed which feels like it’s primary objective was to be as titillating and shocking as possible. Now, as an adult, I was far from shocked. I’ve seen all manner of films which present sexual encounters in many different ways but it’s so uncomfortably bad that it just feels cheap and unnecessary; which, in a film with cannibalism, excessive swearing and an anal callback by Elton John, is saying something.

Notable Characters:
Without saying too much, I liked Pascal’s character, Whiskey. The character motivation was commendable but I can’t highlight the performance as it never really paid off or delivered in a satisfying way. Subsequently I have to go with my regular choice Mark Strong. I really like Strong as an actor, I think he’s wonderful and very rarely disappoints. Funny, witty and great timing; all of which makes his “arc” even more frustrating.

Highlighted Quote:
“My momma always told me we get our manners from the British. Ain’t that a pity, y’all didn’t keep none for yourselves”

In A Few Words:
“A disappointing departure from a surprise success, which could easily be fixed in a further sequel but the question is, should it be?”

Total Score:

2/5

DUNKIRK

When 400,000 Men Couldn’t Get Home. Home Came To Them.

Director
Christopher Nolan

Starring
Fionn Whitehead
Mark Rylance
Tom Hardy



The D-Day landings are extremely well known to modern audiences thanks to works like Saving Private Ryan and a host of video games. The battle of Dunkirk, however, is less well-known outside of Britain. Before the German occupied beaches of Normandy could be stormed, the British forces withdrew from mainland Europe, leaving the French to hold off the Nazi invaders before retreating to southern France. To this day it remains a point of friction and shame between Britain and France, like an regurgitated quarrel between lovers. Subsequently, it has been referenced a fair few times but rarely depicted with such sharp focus.

The story is very interestingly divided into three separate elements covering land, sea and air. The land section covers the four hundred thousand British troops stranded on the beach, waiting for evacuation and takes place over the course of a week. From the very outset we follow Tommy [Whitehead], a young British soldier as he does whatever it takes to get aboard a ship bound for England. With very little dialogue, introductions or exposition, the majority of his story cycles through a host of faces and an array of failed attempts to escape. The second segment introduces a civilian contingent of vessels, mobilised by the navy and details the day-long trip to and from French shores. The only sailor we really get to know is Mr. Dawson [Rylance], a weekend sailor with his son and friend. Their story largely takes place away from the beach and mostly in the British Channel as they try to save men from downed ships. The third element depicts the hour-long air-battle as a spitfire squadron provide cover for the passing ships and men on the beach. In order to maintain tension, all of these events are rather cleverly depicted simultaneously, in a broken narrative that bounces back and forth between the respective timelines.

If anything, Dunkirk is expertly constructed and magnificently paced. A perspective-heavy tale of desperation and resolve, evenly divided between land, air and sea with no false heroics or oversentimentality, just a very frank, unglorified tale of humiliation and shame paraded honestly. This is where Dunkirk really shines. The politics are irrelevant, the who and the why of these men are irrelevant, all that matters is if they will survive. In this regard, it’s a very candid look at war, where men are neither heroes nor cowards, they are simply human and the consequences of their actions will be carried with them for the rest of their lives. A lot of this comes from the emotionally yet surprisingly distant acting. Most of the roles are devoid of bombastic personality or distinctive features, favouring simple blank canvases for the audience to project onto. Paired with bleak, haunting visuals and absolutely superb and terrifying sound design, it’s very easy to immerse yourself in this replicated world. I will also admit that Hans Zimmer’s score is skin-crawlingly tense but at times wasn’t sure if he was the most appropriate choice for composer. Competent and fitting but does not mirror the bold nature of the visual storytelling structure.

But while it’s easy to praise this film for its surface level achievements, something feels profoundly off about the whole feature. Watching a classic like The Longest Day there is a moment where Sean Connery’s character arrives on the beach and shouts, “Come on out you dirty slobs! Flanagan’s back!” No one needed to explain the significance of this to a 1962 audience because the Second World War was still very fresh in the public’s memory. But for a 2017 audience, certain events and where they take place on a timeline of events can be disorientating. While the film should be commended for not deviating from the battle to form a wider picture, a lot of the placement is lost; this is made doubly disorientating when cutting back between shots taking place in the middle of the night and those taking place in broad daylight with the only thing linking the timing of the two being the brief presence of Cillian Murphy’s character in both. On top of that, the insistence of telling a contained snapshot ensures a vague lack of close or climax as we are aware the war rolls on for several years after these events. The victory is a hollow one. But is this enough to label this movie as bad? No. Oddly, despite being a very well made film, I still didn’t like it. I didn’t like the fleeting representation of the French, nor did I care for the nigglingly sterility of the combat or somewhat repetitive nature and that lack of closure. But in spite of all that Dunkirk’s honesty wins you over. In a time when certain western countries are choking on nationalistic nonsense, this is a brutally straightforward portrayal of human survival without weighing itself down with scope, politics or far-reaching fallout. The only thing that matters is getting off that beach alive and in bringing that representation to a contemporary audience, this film performs marvellously. But that’s assuming you can overlook the minor frustrations and are not taken in by the hype that this is “the greatest war film ever made” because, frankly, it isn’t.


Release Date:
21st July 2017

The Scene To Look Out For:
Without a doubt there are many defining moments in this film – almost to its detriment in that you end up with a loosely connected series of vignettes. The one that sticks with me is the torpedo attack on a British naval destroyer. The speed and chaos of the engagement is such that it’s over as soon as it starts and the panic is truly horrifying.

Notable Characters:
As stated previously, the performances are very functional and subdued. No one gets overly emotional and death is commonplace. There is a beautiful malaise that washes over the soldiers and robs them of extreme highs or lows. Of course there are moments of erratic panic and shouting but they are never what one would expect from a war film. Too often we have time for eloquent monologues, cursed screams at the sky or noble sacrifices but none of that exists here, there are just unnamed men who form little connection with one another – acutely aware that the person beside them may be dead in the next few minutes. The use of unknowns is brilliantly done and the majority of the cast perform with such harmony that no one really stands out above anyone else. This is probably one of the biggest compliments I can pay this film. From newcomers to veterans, nobody chews the scenery or stands out as inadequate and no one pushes to the fore demanding the spotlight. Subsequently, this is an ensemble highlight and before anyone points out Harry Styles’ presence is in this film, I would suggest you re-read what I’ve just written because that goes for him too.

Highlighted Quote:
“Survival’s not fair”

In A Few Words:
“A wonderfully crafted portrayal of war, if a little overhyped”

Total Score:

4/5

WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES

For Freedom. For Family. For The Planet.

Director
Matt Reeves

Starring
Andy Serkis
Woody Harrelson
Karin Konoval
Amiah Miller



A good fifteen years ago, the concept of a sequel surpassing its predecessor was something of a rarity. Then films like Toy Story 3 and Captain America: The Winter Soldier started to emerge and it became evident that sequels don’t have to be cheap add-ons, they can be deep continuations of a particular journey. But what the Planet Of The Apes prequels have managed to do is particularly unique in that they have started off with a surprising foundation and built on it to produce one of the finest, most emotionally rewarding film trilogies that genuinely represents all oppressed peoples.

Following the events of Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes, the human forces have become increasingly desperate giving rise to a militant force called Alpha Omega, led by the mysterious but determined Colonel McCullough [Harrelson]. The colonel orders an all-out offensive to eradicate the ape forces, with the assistance of desperate and fearful apes who are dubbed “donkey” to distinguish them from the opposing force. Despite the fact most humans believe the enigmatic ape leader Caesar [Serkis] is dead, he reveals himself very much alive and wants only to end the war. This message is ignored and an attack on Caesar’s home leads him to resolve that they need to migrate across a vast desert to safety. But not before Caesar tracks down the Colonel and reaps revenge. Accompanied by a small unit of loyal followers, Caesar encounters a mute girl, Nova [Miller], who is entering the next stage of the disease’s effect prompting the orang-utan Maurice [Konoval] to take her under his wing, arguing that she will die alone.

Anyone can start a story but few know how to end it – and while I fully expect another (maybe lesser) Apes film to rear its head eventually and will openly acknowledge that the 1968 original is technically the next film in the sequence, this single character arc is one of the most satisfying and rounded serial conclusions I’ve watched; taking simple, contained, narrative-driven stories and making us perversely invest in the obliteration of our own species. Curiously, the root of this success is Matt Reeves himself, who is living proof of the things you can accomplish when you put passionate people in charge of IP projects. From the subtle parallels with the original film such as the whipping, scarecrow crucifixes and Michael Giacchino’s tribal score to the continuation of themes and internal conflicts from the first two films, this bridge evokes a real sense of familial belonging and transition.

The further we delve into these prequels the more we step away from humanity as a force for good; as fear and hatred take over, no longer are the noble individuals the majority. No more is that evident than in this instalment which portrays the majority of the survivors as hot headed, destructive and steadfast in the confidence of their actions, rather than just a rogue handful. Which, of course, is the logical conclusion for these prequels; in order to have some sort of pleasing conclusion, the audience need to feel somewhat uplifted and we can’t be doing that if our on-screen manifestation is destroyed.. unless, through a process of transference, we sympathise or heavily identify with the qualities of the apes and come to the drawn conclusion that mankind deserves to be wiped out. But in order to do that, we require a mean son-of-a-bitch for a bad guy but one who still retains some semblance of integrity so we respect him as an adversary. Harrelson’s Colonel McCullough does that in the best way, mirroring performances like Pharaoh and Colonel Kurtz; this is a man who believes so clearly in his righteousness, that he is willing to sacrifice everything to protect that concept. The irony of all this is that the detainment centre that the Colonel oversees is brought to life with animalistic roars and acts of barbarism from the soldiers. The only real hope for humanity comes in the form of a simple, caring girl named Nova who is struck by the next stage of this disease but retains her better nature despite the inability to speak, highlighting the softer side and potential for good that exists within us. On the other side, we have the apes. Caesar has evolved from his humble origins and is now a revolutionary of mythic proportions to both sides of the conflict and yet, at his centre, he simply wants to be left alone to thrive. On a deeper level, Caesar is haunted by the actions of his friend-turned-rival Koba illustrating an internal conflict that all great leaders struggle with – the burden of office and the fallout of the decisions made for the greater good. Maurice continues to be a mainstay powerhouse of reason and emotion, as does Rocket, elevating the characters from their simple beginnings as “the orang-utan one and the one that used to run the enclosure that beat up Caesar” from the first film. Watching this release, there’s a distinct link between something like The Ten Commandments, pitting two forces against one another and how the destruction of one is not the direct fault of the other. Equally, it imbues legendary and mythical status on its lead, transforming Caesar into a character which would be revered as an almost godlike being to those whom he liberated. What I’m trying to get at here is that none of this would be possible if it weren’t for the incredibly clever script and superb combination of live-action performances and digital artwork, which allow you to forget that none of this is real.

The film is, however, not perfect but the flaws are so minuscule that they can be quite easily dismissed. For example, the human characters aren’t as developed as the ape characters, bar a few select individuals and there is a questionable amount of peripheral sign language reading. But in light of what has been accomplished, these are arguably petty observations.

All I can do to summarise is rinse and repeat what I’ve already said earlier in this review in throughout the bulk of my Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes review: this is a truly impressive achievement with visually stunning imagery and absolutely gut-wrenching performances at its core. The direction, editing, writing and cinematography are working in harmony and produce a tale which cuts through you in a way that a) only science fiction can and b) no one would expect a Planet Of The Apes prequel could.


Release Date:
14th July 2017

The Scene To Look Out For:
**Spoilers within**
I have two scenes to highlight today, for very different reasons. The first is the frustrations shared between Bad Ape, Maurice, Rocket and Nova who communicate with a mixture of broken sign language, English and gestures. On the one hand you have Nova who understands but has trouble conveying anything, Maurice and Rocket who communicate with sign language and Bad Ape who can only speak English. It’s a wonderful illustration and example of how “people” with a common goal can overcome an inability to express themselves without confusion and produce a common dialogue. The second thing to highlight is the character arc of Red the donkey and Preacher. Preacher is spared by Caesar in an attempt to show the humans that they are not savages. While Preacher experiences some sort of struggle, he still chooses to turn his weapon on Caesar by the end of the film. Whereas Red, the gorilla who has conspired with the humans and acted as Caesar’s direct torturer, chooses to intervene and save Caesar’s life at the expense of his own. Showing a human character as irredeemable but an ape that can reform and atone is a bold move but one that this release does masterfully.

Notable Characters:
Steve Zahn’s appearance as Bad Ape offers a lot of levity that has been missing from these films. Endearing, innocent and funny, he brings a sense of amusement that Dawn in particular did not have and with all the darkness and finality of the narrative, this light touch is exactly what was needed, without ever veering too much into farce or stupidity.

Highlighted Quote:
“Even in his primitive gaze, I felt love… I pulled the trigger. It purified me”

In A Few Words:
“An astounding achievement and one which ensures the legacy of this Planet Of The Apes prequel trilogy may surpass even the original feature”

Total Score:

5/5

SPIDER-MAN HOMECOMING

Swinging Into Action This Summer

Director
Jon Watts

Starring
Tom Holland
Michael Keaton
Robert Downey Jnr



After the battle of New York depicted in The Avengers, demolition contractor Adrian Toomes [Keaton] invests a great deal of money to restore the city to a working state. Thanks to Tony Stark [Downey Jnr] “giving back to the people,” Toomes loses his contract when a private company turn up to safely dispose of the debris. Bitter about being shunned and losing out when the men he’s hired need work the most, Toomes decides to establish an illegal organisation, salvaging elements from various superhero battles and repurposing them to be sold on the black market. Several years later, we are given a brief re-treading of the events of Captain America: Civil War from Peter Parker’s [Holland] aka Spider-Man’s perspective, before detailing the life and exploits of the frustrated teenager who wants nothing more than to help people and impress his idol Tony Stark. Despite operating under the radar for so long, Peter stumbles across Toomes’ operation when more and more elaborate tools and weapons make their way to his neighbourhood and the two find themselves becoming entangled in each other’s affairs.

Much like Spider-Man 2, one of the huge contributory factors to this film’s success is the strength of the lead hero and villain. On the one hand, we finally have a great Peter Parker/Spidey combo performance that embodies not only the core values and principles of the character but genuinely feels like pretty much every iteration in the comics boiled down to one compelling portrayal. Altruistic, honourable and ultimately very real, there’s something relatable to this young man’s struggle but most importantly the film doesn’t forget that Parker is essentially still a boy and showing him weak, afraid and emotionally vulnerable was an incredibly wise move. Additionally, having the good sense to step away from the origin and regurgitate lines about “great power and great responsibility,” also frees up a lot of time to actually explore this individual as a human being rather than a list of powers or rehash of old territory. On the other side we have a truly threatening and interesting villain, who is equally strangely relatable, in the form of Toomes/the Vulture. Keaton perfectly draws on a sense of embittered abandonment that many people have felt over the last decade, left behind by governments, society and in this case, heroes. One of Marvel’s greatest drawbacks is the lack of development and disposability of its villains but Keaton brings a malevolence and self-deceit that combines to create some sort of justification for his actions. We also have a handful of really funny grab-bag fellow classmates that feel real to the extent that we’re not utterly traumatised by the bullying nor frowning at the apparent age issues of people pushing thirty acting half their age. I’d say Aunt May could have had a bit more of a presence but this version is far from poor, if anything I’ve never liked the idea that a fifteen year old’s aunt needs to be well into her 80’s and a frail physical manifestation of the bloody 1950s. Having said that, she’s still underused. Last thing I’ll say is that Tony Stark is the fucking worst. Setting aside how cool it is that Spider-Man featured in Civil War, a fifty year old man recruiting a teenager to a fight is frankly insane and then to go one step further and force lessons on him like an absentee father is astonishing. I mean, the film openly acknowledges that Stark has no idea how to be a parent or mentor and defaults to acting like his own father, not to mention Peter actively saying nothing bad would have happened if Stark had just listened to him in the first place (a staple of all decent kid/teenager stories)… but still, more evidence is a spoilt man-baby and terrible human being. One last point about the characters before moving on, I get the feeling this series will make the same mistake of having so many people knowing or discovering Peter’s secret identity. No matter how clever, it weakens the point of the secret identity in the first place but that remains to be seen.

The first and most noticeable difference between this film and other Spider-Man films – even other Marvel films – is the tone. After over a decade of dark and gritty post-9/11 releases we’re getting back to the stage where these stories can have a serious focus but still feel quintessentially bright and fun. More so than that, there is a distinct separation from the other Marvel films by keeping the narrative centred on the life and priorities of a child. As with the comics, so many kids watch these superhero films and think, “I want to be like Thor or Batman” but Spider-Man has the unique ability to prompt kids to think, “That is me!” in a Harry Potter sort of way. Subsequently what we end up with is a refreshingly kid/family friendly film with legitimate street-level superhero antics that doesn’t talk down to kids or ostracise adults. The best embodiment of this John Hughes-esque attitude is when Spider-Man interrogates a criminal, played by Donald Glover, which illustrates the teen’s innocence, naivety and eagerness to prove himself.

One can’t watch contemporary franchise features without questioning or at least addressing the big picture; in this case, the MCU at large. Much like Ant-Man this film exists on the peripheral to the main releases without being so far disconnected that it feels like the various TV series. This affords it the opportunity to revel in a very different setting with very different stakes. For an audience, this is the breath of fresh air or palate cleanser that one needs amid the heady galactic escapades and dour political machinations of the other stories but Sony’s track record and ridiculous plans thus far feel like this could be a great launch that continually flounders without the heavy guiding hand of Marvel. Hopefully that won’t be the case and the established foundations will be enough to build an exciting set of releases around but with the film closing on dialogue about groups of villains teaming up to combat the menace of Spider-Man, it would be all too easy to fall into old habits.

Initially I walked out of the cinema feeling like this was a 3/5 due to some glaring issue that I couldn’t quite put my finger on; the story was good, the acting was great, the technical aspects were more than competent. I wrestled with what it might be before realising that the biggest problems are things that the narrative isn’t directly responsible for; specifically the spoiler-happy marketing and the weight of the Spider-Man movies that came before it. Marketing is and has always been an unfortunate necessity and it seems the more prominent a release, the lazier and safer the marketing becomes. This means the trailers give away all the key developments and the best shots while the posters are insultingly poor collages of brandable material without any consideration for composition, pleasing aesthetic or creativity. But again, that’s not the fault of the film. There’s also the fact that this is the sixth Spider-Man feature released in this century and so much has been covered that whenever things deviate or feel missing they become irksome. No mention of the words “Uncle Ben,” no Daily Bugle, no Gwen Stacey or Mary Jane Watson, some will like this version of May, some won’t. What we end up with is the X-Men problem. There have been so many little changes and variations over the years that you can’t help but feel something is missing or at least sense a distraction; key components that worked better in previous releases or are improved upon here. But once again, that’s not the fault of the film. All in all, this is a great release and a very enjoyable superhero adventure that fills the gap left in a lot of contemporary superhero films, i.e. patrolling the streets and saving people. Where the franchise goes from here, who knows but as it stands, fans will be hard-pressed to slate this film.. although, admittedly, they’ve had more than enough chances to get it right so that’s not really saying much.


Release Date:
7th July 2017

The Scene To Look Out For:
Not since 2002’s Spider-Man have we seen a Spider-Man film about the titular character continuously having fun with his self-imposed calling. The best example of this takes place in the early scenes which detail Peter’s extracurricular stint performing services for the citizens of his borough. He zips around the city stopping petty criminal acts but the most amusing part is when he interrupts a carjacking, setting off the car’s alarm. Before leaving the individual explains that it’s his car and Peter nervously apologises but is suddenly beset by several neighbours who chastise the hero for various reasons, reiterating that the individual owns the car. It’s chaotic, funny and very indicative of city life which has been missing from these films.

Notable Characters:
Peter’s suit having unlockable abilities made a great deal of sense and was used wonderfully. One of the key components to this is the introduction of KAREN, a JARVIS-esque artificial intelligence that adds a lot of levity and gives someone for Peter to quip to and talk about his problems with, without resorting to excessive monologuing or an unnecessarily sprawling wave of confidents. The hiring of Jennifer Connelly, the wife of the voice of the voice of JARVIS was also particularly amusing and logical; not to mention the fact that Connelly gives a wonderful rendition of such a simplistic role.

Highlighted Quote:
“Thank you Captain. I’m pretty sure he’s a war criminal now.. but whatever, the state says I have to show you these videos”

In A Few Words:
“A fun, breezy feature that finally gives younger generations a hero they can genuinely relate to as well as aspire to”

Total Score:

4/5

TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT

For One World To Live, The Other Must Die

Director
Michael Bay

Starring
Mark Wahlberg
Laura Haddock
Anthony Hopkins
Isabela Moner



Years after the events of Transformers: Age Of Extinction, Cade Yeager [Wahlberg] is wanted by the law, as are every faction of Transformer, constantly hunted by the newly formed Transformer Reaction Force or TRF. Seeing it as his mission to protect the Autobots and defecting Decepticons, Cade sets up in a junk yard and assisting the robotic allies when he can. On one particularly scouting mission, he comes across Izabella, an orphan from the battle of Chicago (depicted two films ago) and an ancient Transformer who gives him a talisman. This alien artefact attaches itself to Cade and he is charged with a mission to find the staff of Merlin, which is actually Cybertronian technology. At the same time we are introduced to Professor Viviane Wembly [Haddock] who is kidnapped by her car (a hidden Transformer, obviously) and brought to the castle of Earl Edmund Burton [Hopkins] who has something very revealing inside into the secret history of the Transformers and the Earth itself.

Reviewing these films is a genuine chore; nothing about them really changes or evolves yet we are expected to critique them uniquely, when in truth copying and pasting would be just as sufficient. Seriously, how are these big bombastic films so boring and somehow so fucking successful? Things like Independence Day were undeniably dumb but they had intense spectacle and charm. The only similarity here is that Transformers is dumb, which is a genuinely painful thing to write because as much as this franchise is and always was promotional material for toys, it has the potential for an interesting story – but not in its current form and certainly not under Bay’s direction. Speaking of which, with this being Michael Bay’s last outing in the Transformers universe, there is a genuinely apparent attempt to give a bit of cohesion, closure and significance to all five of these movies – what with the Witwiccan line of succession and a laughable connection to essentially every famous or influential figure from history being aware of or complicit with Transformers – but it feels as dismissive and tacked on as every other plot development in this film; something to be wheeled out then flung in a ditch for something else to take its place.

Not wanting to break form with this fifth instalment, the key focus is still on the human characters. Cade’s once oh-so-important daughter is now absent because she’s in college and he’s a fugitive, so he’s just hanging out on Native American reservation territory, occasionally scouring the ruins of Chicago for parts and newly arrived transformers. Wahlberg continues to deliver as much zeal and enthusiasm as the previous film, in that he’s giving a reasonably energetic performance but there’s no heart behind any of it. Haddock does the best she can with her defiant, intelligent, hoity Oxbridge type who, in Mark Wahlberg’s words, dresses like a stripper. The film bites back saying, “How dare you, a woman can be both smart and sexy!” and while that’s completely true, this script has no idea what denotes intelligence outside of exposition, snobbery and various honorific titles. Isabela playing the role of Izabella is actually the most crushing for the fact that she is a rather promising young actor but this entire film wastes her in a nothing role of sass and tears. Izabella isn’t the only young character, as appeared in many of the trailers there are four boys who journey through the scarred Chicago but they are written out literally by the end of the scene, proving themselves to be unnecessary filler in a film that didn’t need any more bloody filler. Oh and Josh Duhamel’s back too.. but who cares? So aside from Anthony Hopkins (who I shall revisit later), that leaves us the mechanised cast. Everyone knows the score by now, Megatron will execute some terrible plan making him in fact a manipulated and inefficient pawn and Optimus will turn up and save the day, probably while monologuing “I.. am Optimus Prime” (He says it four times, if you’d like to know). Only this time, the twist is that Optimus has been brainwashed into attacking Earth, leaving the primary Autobot of choice Bumblebee. I’m pretty fucking sick of Bumblebee. This iteration is nauseating. He’s supposed to be some young, immature punk who uses various radio frequencies and recordings to communicate but that wore thin a long time ago. On top of that, they try to give him extra backstory by making him a World War II veteran (a point of such pride that he features in propaganda posters) which raises so many more questions and problems than anything else and the focus given on his real voice is so excruciating that it transcends moronic. There are also a string of other forgettable spinning cutlery characters. Fan favourite Hot Rod is finally here with weird blue bug eyes and a French voice actor because.. reasons? A submarine Transformer (I think) that didn’t actually transform and if it wasn’t a Transformer, someone needs to tell Bay how submarines actually work: loop-the-loops are not a thing. And finally Quintessa, the villain of this release. Why in the name of holy hell is Quintessa a tiny lady? I don’t get it. She’s five foot high and has a human face. There’s no explanation as to what she is or what her powers are but everyone seems to be aware of this previously unmentioned individual. Baffling. Holy shit, I just remembered that Cade has a side kick called Jimmy.. ah well, he literally does nothing.

The truth is I can’t hack whatever Bay has been producing these last ten years. From the marvellously cliché tropes to the bizarrely impossible tick-box features, Bayworld is mind-numbing. The way people talk, act, move, everything feels like a video game written by a twelve year old and I will openly concede that’s a straight-up insult to video games and twelve year olds. Nothing furthers character development or the plot, everything is shot and delivered as simplistically as possible into the camera. Characters feel a certain way? They will tell you. There’s no room for subtext or subtlety here. Want to liven the mood every ten goddamned minutes? Easy, simply chuck in a weirdly dated reference about J-Lo or Tiger Woods, either that or some other horrendously flat joke. And the film carries on like this for two and a half hours. A constant barrage of hollow flare paced with hideous attention-deficit skittishness. With frankly astonishing ease and brazenness we are taken from a poor man’s opening fight from Gladiator to a deserted town that feels like an asylum with a few randos milling around while buildings explode, all the while serving up helpings of objectification, over-sexualisation and barely-curbed racism. The script even does its best to self deprecatingly highlight its racist tendencies with a conversation between Cade and a Native American cop {Don’t call me Chief, it’s Sherman / Aren’t you the Chief of your people? / Yeah but coming from you it sounds vaguely racist} but despite that we still have characters like Mohawk who has a “street” dialect fresh out of Short Circuit 2 and a Vespa that can only say Chihuahua in a Latino voice because he’s broken. But I’m no longer surprised. These are not things that I am shocked to see, they are things I expect in this release. If anything, I’m more astounded when they aren’t present. They are as much directorial traits as long corridors are to Kubrick, I just don’t understand the base appeal; surely people aren’t that mouth-breathingly dumb.

To give a moment of positivity, Jablonsky continues to punch out his memorable and pounding theme which remains completely serviceable. The film even goes so far as to create a moment of levity to poke fun at how absurdly “epic” and over-the-top it can get. It’s not funny but that’s neither here-nor-there. I will also admit that as ridiculous as the story is, it’s actually much more straightforward than its predecessors: Optimus is turned evil by a witch who wants to use a magic stick to drain the Earth of power. Everyone races to find the stick. It’s not good and it overly contorts itself in the false assumption that this will make it seem clever but that doesn’t detract from the fact that I can sum up the basic core narrative easily. The cinematography is also astoundingly good. All those rich colours, deep contrasts and slo-mo nonsense are aided wonderfully by the scale and beauty of the IMAX cameras. The fact that 90% of this film is shot with IMAX makes the regular widescreen shots feel like odd choices but one cannot take away from how detailed everything feels. But, of course, all of that is shat in the bin due to the hyperactive editing we’re subjected to.

At this point you are either a committed cinematic Transformers fan (and may God have mercy on your soul) or you’re simply holding out for some sort of miracle when the next director comes along. Either way, I can’t see what people are getting out of these bloated, farcical messes as they deteriorate more and more with each passing feature. If I had to summarise the entire film in one sentence, something about the film that would either sell you on the release or give you cause to walk away, it would be: Mark Wahlberg grows a fucking sword to save a robot’s life. Do with that what you will.


Release Date:
23rd June 2017

The Scene To Look Out For:
While searching through an old study for the magical staff of Merlin.. or Cybertron.. or whatever, Cade and Viviane tear the room apart barking out painful double-entendres that are supposed to infer to everyone else in the house that they are having wild, passionate sex. From the horny old dears who are desperate for this highly educated woman to simply find a man (one of whom is Rebecca bloody Front!), to dopey lines like, “Just shove it in there” the whole thing feels like something out of Austin Powers or a Carry On flick; made all the more agonising for the utter lack of emotion, passion or basic level give-a-shit that one would expect from a paycheque of this size.

Notable Characters:
With an uncomfortable degree of energy Anthony Hopkins really commits to this shit. He rattles off scores of lines about Transformers history and leans into every terrible joke about “snuggling Agnes” or who the hell ever. One could argue he did the same thing in the Thor franchise and while I would agree, it feels worse here. Like a grandparent who’s walked into a strip club and is drunkenly being brought on stage. I can’t tell if he’s into it or he’s just going along because everyone is cheering but I feel something terrible is happening. To top it off, he’s also accompanied by an absolutely infuriating side-kick that I don’t feel is worth mentioning on account of being a poorly written cretin.

Highlighted Quote:
“Something’s coming and you can’t shoot your way out of it”

In A Few Words:
“Transformers: The Last Knight somehow manages to show us everything that could happen in this film while simultaneously and paradoxically showing us absolutely nothing”

Total Score:

1/5