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

BABY DRIVER

All You Need Is One Killer Track

Director
Edgar Wright

Starring
Ansel Elgort
Lily James
Kevin Spacey



The titular Baby [Elgort] is a young and extremely talented driver working for a shady criminal group, run by Doc [Spacey], to pay off an accrued debt. Despite not working with the same crew twice, Doc insists Baby acts as driver on every heist. Thanks to a childhood accident, Baby developed tinnitus and uses a variety of musical tracks to enhance his focus, allowing him to perform incredibly impressive feats behind the wheel. With his debt almost paid off, Baby meets a young diner waitress, Debora [James] and becomes immediately enraptured. Both fall heavily for each other but Doc reveals that there is yet another job, reuniting Baby with felons Buddy, Darling and the extremely unstable Bats, played by Jon Hamm, Eiza González and Jamie Foxx respectively.

Aside from the colossal success of the Fast & Furious franchise, the “fast car” film isn’t nearly as prevalent or popular as it was in decades past. There have been a few notable revivals such as Death Proof, Drive and The Transporter which lean into the importance of the car itself as a setting or personality, ensuring the stunts have a weight and impact to them which simply can’t be replicated by computer generated effects. Baby Driver attempts the same thing and, when it works, is exceedingly commendable but with so many erratic cuts the achievement of the stunts in question are lost on the audience. In other words, fast paced camera movements and quick cuts butcher what should be a white-knuckle thrill ride, leaving us with a reasonably impressive but relatively hollow experience.

Before we go any further, we need to address what will no doubt be an unpopular opinion: Edgar Wright is not making good movies. To unpack that bold statement, let’s draw an unnecessarily unfavourable side-by-side comparison with someone like Quentin Tarantino. Tarantino’s career has been one of defiance, producing ambitious surprisingly humorous films that shouldn’t work or appeal to mainstream audiences but succeed all the same. In this regard, the two directors are alike. Tarantino’s love of classic cinema dictates how he writes and shoots a film. Wright is similarly influenced but doesn’t take the method onboard, choosing instead to employ his signature hyper-caffeinated style. With his earlier projects, this was welcome and very refreshing but it doesn’t automatically translate to every story type. Then we have the musical influence, Tarantino has never trusted composers to score his films, choosing obscure tracks that he likes – much to a film’s detriment, in my opinion – but this toe-tapping, head-nodding mixtape of hits is something audience members seem to love, especially with the same method adopted for something like Guardians Of The Galaxy. As with Guardians, Baby Driver’s inclusion of these tracks has an actual narrative grounding but the choice of tracks is much more on-the-nose and lacks that obscurity. In other words, you love the track because you love the film not love the film because you love the track.

But to address the specifics of not making good movies, Wright’s latest releases have been perfectly acceptable but all of them have faltered in the script phase. Scott Pilgrim was a great adaptation that fell apart at the end because it didn’t understand its main character, The World’s End introduced some very interesting ideas about identity and growing up but failed to execute any of them pleasingly and Baby Driver tries so hard to be cool but the final product is very sophomoric, bringing to life an idea of coolness as conjured up by a teenager. I will be the first to admit there is an exceptionally high amount of really inventive and entertaining moments or scenes but the story as a whole is so incredibly thin and derivative; while it may be a popular move, the story of a criminal who says “One more job, then I’m out” is eye-rollingly cliché. Subsequently, we’re left with a music video movie montage that is very much 70/30 style to substance with each individual segment having some standout thrilling moments but little to actually invest in. A great many critics watched Ant-Man and mused how exciting it could have been had Wright stayed on as director. Well, now that we’ve witnessed an Edgar Wright heist film, I think Ant-Man dodged a bullet.

To ease back on the berating for a second, there are plenty of elements present that really elevate this film. Wright’s biggest problem seems to be the scripts he produces but the level of detail and on-screen flare is extremely impressive. Say what you will about the motivation for anything any of the characters do, no one can deny that some physical article that could be background or minuscule has been meticulously thought out, even to the degree that it directly affects camera movement or placement. During one of the opening sequences, Baby leaves the safehouse to pick up coffee, subtly dancing to the rhythm of his selected track – it’s the kind of free escapism that many of us feel but few ever act upon. So that relatability alone makes for a fun scene. In the background, however, through the use of graffiti, posters and signs we see the lyrics of the song discreetly manifesting around the lead. The amount of planning and prep work that must have gone into getting that to line up must have been quite extensive and really speaks volumes to Wright’s skill as a visual director. But as I said before, this is a music video trope, without furthering the story it becomes little more than a gimmick – to me, the most successful use of this kind of direction was Webb’s eclectic stylings in 500 Days Of Summer. But the fact this level of scrutiny has been utilised here makes it even more frustrating that it’s not present in the story.

But even when a film’s plot falters, sometimes we can be sucked in by charm, by the performances, by the desire to see these people either fail or succeed. At times, Wright has created nuanced, interesting and deep character portrayals but mostly they are two dimensional one-note jokes. Most notably, we need to talk about how Wright portrays women. In literally every release he’s produced, women are such an afterthought; reactionary, weak, undeveloped and inconsequential. The first of our two token female characters in Baby Driver are Buddy’s partner in crime, Darling, who is little more than a sex object. She is Buddy’s plus one and while he gets a backstory about his cocaine-addled Wall Street banker days, she is reduced to “his favourite stripper.” Sure they’d die for each other, or whatever, but she seems to have no discernable and unique skill or ability other than she comes packaged with Jon Hamm’s character. Then we have Debora, the film’s female lead. Now I’ll openly admit the central love interests are both fittingly “weird” in their own right and wear their quirks on their sleeves but, much like Darling, while Baby is given a great deal of backstory, motivation and personality, Debora is just along for the ride because she falls madly in love with this mysterious enigmatic young man. We are given a brief glimpse into some sort of backstory about having someone to care for but that’s really it. This woman exists as a diner waitress solely looking for someone to latch on to. I mean, we’ve got the oedipal thing going on in that Baby ends up falling for a waitress who not only works at the diner his mother did but looks oddly similar but none of that expands on who this woman is. She just meets this guy, gets swept up in the journey and is little more than a pawn to be manipulated and dictated to from start to finish. If it was a one-off I wouldn’t lay into so much but literally EVERY SINGLE Edgar Wright film produces these laughable female characters and it’s fucking tiring. The other thugs appear in two forms, bumbling ineptitude or menacing villain. The only one who sort of walks an interesting line is Buddy but even then he eventually declines into a Michael Myers style adversary who simply won’t die – I don’t know if the film intentionally foreshadows that or not but given Wright’s tendency to hide clues, it’s more than possible.

But what of Baby himself? Ansel Elgort gives us a wistful, borderline spectrum performance with a lot of energy and slick James Dean suaveness and his fascination with music feels like a fairly natural and logical feature, all things considered. I’ll admit, I wasn’t entirely convinced of the transition between awkward dreamy kid to parkour menace who pulls a Batman every five minutes by miraculously disappearing into thin air, nor was it clear when the hell this film was set, drawing on both a childhood with seventies and early 2000’s vibes simultaneously but we can all suspend a modicum of disbelief. To a point. Toward the end of the film, the gun-toting practically psychotic Bats makes an incredibly astute observation in that you can’t trust someone who hasn’t got their mind on the mission. Having worked with a previous driver who had to listen to a certain track made him a liability, jeopardising a job because several “hex songs” came on the radio. This sets up a potentially wonderful and disastrous predicament for Baby that eventually arrives when he steals a car and races through radio stations looking for an appropriate track but nothing comes of it. After revealing this kid’s kryptonite, there’s no fallout when he encounters that very problem – which is such a wasted opportunity for depth and originality.

Ultimately, Baby Driver is an escapist film, one reliant upon sheer looks and slick action. There’s evidently a heart desperately trying to push through but it gets lost in trite developments and a few confused messages along the way. While this will be enough to seduce the bulk of cinemagoers, I can’t help but feel disappointed with something that failed to really push the boundaries in terms of excitement or fun.


Release Date:
30th June 2017

The Scene To Look Out For:
**Spoilers within**
One of Baby’s little quirks is his obsession with making recordings of people and sampling them into electronic music. There’s nothing particularly wrong with this kind of character attribute but holy fuck if it’s not the stupidest thing to do in a film involving criminals. The second it’s revealed that he records almost all of his heist missions, I was convinced the tapes would play a large role in exposing the crime syndicate or used as leverage. Instead, Baby innocently explains they are simply mixes and the consequences are all but non-existent. It’s frankly astonishing. The tapes, by the way, aren’t then destroyed, they are just kept to one side. It’s an absolutely fascinatingly dumb inclusion that makes so little sense outside of the nostalgic use of tapes and personal mixes – which are growing in popularity with a generation who didn’t really have cassette tapes.

Notable Characters:
**Spoilers again**
Kevin Spacey’s character is very vanilla. Not because the portrayal is bad or the character is flat but because there’s nothing especially new to it. Doc could easily be any number of Spacey’s previous roles, albeit watered down. What really irked me, though, was the dramatic tonal shift by the end fo the film. Throughout we learn that Doc is some powerful kingpin with whom Baby has a huge debt to clear. Once he’s finally cleared it, he mistakenly believes he can walk away from the criminal life. At that point, Doc reappears and does the typical crime boss thing and threatens death or physical harm to Baby and everyone he knows or cares about; revealing that he has known all about everything Baby has tried to keep private – again, a standard genre trope. But it’s evident that Doc has a soft-spot for Baby and genuinely wants to work with him. All fair and good so far, I’ll even give a pass to Doc trying to defend Baby’s bloody tapes but to then suffer a major personality shift just because the plot required it felt so cheap. Essentially, despite refusing to help the kid, Doc goes on to not only return a specific tape but gives him a stack of money, a car to escape with and then sacrifices himself taking on the cops and a vengeful Buddy. The seeds were there – buried deep but still present – but nothing on a level to warrant that kind of action.

Highlighted Quote:
“Who doesn’t like hats?”

In A Few Words:
“Rather than a refreshing, fun, cool, polished romp Baby Driver is a bromidic damp squib”

Total Score:

2/5

THE MUMMY

Welcome To A New World Of Gods And Monsters

Director
Alex Kurtzman

Starring
Tom Cruise
Sofia Boutella
Annabelle Wallis
Russell Crowe



In the heart of Iraq, ex-military adventurer Nick Morton [Cruise] uncovers an Egyptian tomb hundreds of miles from Egypt. This discovery is the life’s work of archaeologist Jenny Halsey [Wallis] and she immediately takes over the excavation. Rushed for time, with insurgents closing in, the group airlift out the key discovery: the sarcophagus of Princess Ahmanet [Boutella], written out of history for her crimes. While flying over the United Kingdom, the plane carrying Nick, Jenny and the mummified Ahmanet is attacked by a flock of crows which causes the plane to crash. Miraculously Nick manages to survive and is told by Dr Henry Jekyll [Crowe] that he is cursed and Ahmanet’s resurrected body will pursue him to complete a ritual which will bring Set, the god of the dead, to life.

After three separate introductions (in the form of a title card, a weirdly disconnected section about crusaders and flashbacks detailing Ahmanet’s cursing) we finally meet the main character and as he runs around Iraq looking for buried treasure and fighting terrorism in the process. Following this vapid, opportunistic treasure hunter and his quipping side-kick, there is a distinct air of trying to revive the campy 90’s The Mummy feel but largely fails on account of Cruise feeling stunted in the role. His attempts at wacky, witty and charming comes off very.. for lack of a better word.. Transformers; like a string of poorly written videogame dialogue that emulates how humans talk but sounds ridiculous. As such, we are left with a film that has the most baffling shifting tone. On the one hand, it thinks it’s a comedy and on the other a horror film. Obviously films can quite happily and easily be classified as both but this embodies neither and feeling more like a flat, overly CGI version of An American Werewolf In London than any iteration of The Mummy.

Staying with Cruise for a moment, of his roles to date, it’s evident he is best suited as a villain but so rarely plays them. This cocky anti-hero who needs to grow up (a role usually associated with younger men) in no way stretches him and feels unpleasantly hollow and unsettling; which is doubly odd as almost exactly the same thing worked masterfully in Edge Of Tomorrow. As far as acting goes, he does a perfectly acceptable job but it doesn’t fit this film, what we end up with is a completely reactionary character (admittedly not unusual in horror) who thinks he’s a charismatic Indiana Jones type. On top of that, despite being completely insignificant, we are constantly told that Nick has the key to defeating this ultimate evil, that he has the potential within to be the best of humanity. There’s little-to-no evidence that points to this but the fact that he continually resists Ahmanet’s brainwashing and – enormous spoiler coming up – can eventually control Set, he evidently must be something special; either that or Set is a pushover.

In supporting roles, we have the exposition spouting unnecessary love interest, Annabelle Wallis. Much like Cruise, there’s nothing offensively bad about the acting bar the fact that the character is poorly written. She starts as some sort of headstrong, stubborn expert – we know she’s an expert thanks to her analysis of the tomb being devoid of assumption because confidence in archaeology translates to fact, apparently – but is quickly reduced to a panicky besotted pawn who continually mutters, shouts, screams and wimpers the word “Nick.” For me, her shining moment was loading Ahmanet’s body onto the military transport plane. She clears away several army personnel and chastises them for their lack of delicacy and care, “Please be careful! This is 5000 years old!” You mean the sarcophagus we just flew around by helicopter, across the desert, on some rope? Yeah, we’ll be careful. The other key role is the titular antagonist herself, Ahmanet. To date I haven’t seen a bad performance from Sofia Boutella and in spite of this pretty dire release, I can thankfully say that statement still stands as true. Through the CGI, the heavy make-up and the barely-present costume, Boutella personifies the unstoppable force with decent flare but regrettably lacks enough layering to make her interesting. Which leaves us with one of the biggest surprises. I think Russell Crowe’s performance as both Jekyll and Hyde will be quite polarising but personally I found it rather pleasing. The mechanics of his changing and exactly when and why he needs the serum is unclear to say the least but overall it worked for me.

The biggest problem The Mummy faces is its sheer lack of creativity. With so much to draw from in terms of mythology and the expanded universe of monstrous creatures, we should have something reminiscent of the manic world of Hellboy but the monsters and Egyptian lore that justifies the film’s existence is merely used as a reference point; more goes into the burial site than the mummification itself, the dagger and the stone are important to bring Set into physical form but it’s not entirely apparent how or why, for a god of death Set is a non-entity presented as a shadowy, stumbling, dusty corpse (I think), the resolve of how to combat evil is very uninventive and the world building necessary to draw us in simply isn’t there. On top of that, we’ve also got an exceptional amount of disorientating, choppy editing and so much bland CGI, all of which is accompanied by a bland, uninspired score which, compared to Jerry Goldsmith’s amazing work on The Mummy, is practically unforgivable. And to finish the film off we have a final lackluster fight which reminded me of one of the Underworld films, the first of which was a better film despite having no budget and being released a decade and a half ago.. even bloody Van Helsing was better than this.

The idea of a shared universe for the Universal monsters (the ownership of which is very dubious as all of them are based on other properties that Universal simply happened to acquire) has been tried over and over. The closest success would have to be something like Penny Dreadful but that’s only because it established an appropriate tone from the get-go and built up entertaining characters for us to follow. The 1932 original The Mummy was a creepy foreign-based supernatural horror, while its 1999 remake was a silly fun adventure. Despite trying so hard, I think the only way to categorise this release is action and for a foundation for a sprawling cinematic universe, it’s incredibly weak. But then this raises the question of when this Dark Universe first started. On the one hand Dracula Untold was the first instalment but after it wasn’t especially well received, that idea was supposedly abandoned, so on the other hand we have the extra confusion that apparently the Brendan Fraser Mummy trilogy is apparently canon. It’s this kind of messy leaps-and-bounds style franchise launching that causes films to suffer. Too many potentially promising projects have fallen by the side of the road thanks to overstuffing standalone features with future set-ups that compromise the story itself. I mean, they gave this thing a fucking logo.. the sheer arrogance is astounding. But having said that, after three rather disappointing instalments, it seems to be working for DC, so maybe the studios can wait it out until it happens to get good. But as a contained story, while this may please certain cinemagoers, it is a very weak and unimpressive film.


Release Date:
9th June 2017

The Scene To Look Out For:
I maintain this version of The Mummy is without personality and any intended jokes fall flat but there is one instance, very early on, that amused me for some unknown reason. To establish the geographical setting when introducing Nick at the start of the film, we are shown the stone ruins of some ancient settlement. A line of on-screen text explains this is Mesopotamia before further revealing “the cradle of civilization.” It then adds the punchline, “Currently known as Iraq” before bullets rip through the historic statues and we see an ISIS-like insurgent group attempting to destroy anything considered contradictory to their warped extremist view. That one line held so much promise; the idea that tomb raiding takes place now as a matter of urgency while irreplaceable relics are destroyed by fundamentalists. Unfortunately, nothing the film presents lives up to that promise.

Notable Characters:
Joining Nick on his desert adventures – and later as a cursed being haunting Nick’s subconscious – is Jake Johnson as Chris Vail. I fucking hated this character. I don’t know if it was just weakly scripted dialogue or too much pressure on the actor to adlib his way to cinematic gold but he fails miserably. Chris is an awful unfunny buddy character but on top of that, he only shows up when the plot remembers that he exists. It’s like the writers wrote themselves into a corner and resolved the issue by saying, “Oh! Chris! We’ll just have Chris turn up and .. I dunno, say something funny and show Nick the way. Sorted.”

Highlighted Quote:
“I’ve seen evil and I see the face of Satan in your new friend, Henry”

In A Few Words:
“A tick-box, made by committee exercise if ever I saw one”

Total Score:

1/5

WONDER WOMAN

Courage. Power. Wonder.

Director
Patty Jenkins

Starring
Gal Gadot
Chris Pine
Danny Huston



Framed after the events in Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice, Wonder Woman is the origin story of the titular character who was very briefly introduced in the previous instalment. Telling the story of both the Amazons (created by Zeus to defend mankind) and Themyscira (the hidden paradise island that the Amazons reside on to avoid being discovered by Ares, the god of war) we are already treated to a wealth of exposition before we even get to the origin of Diana [Gadot]; the only child on the island who was built from clay by her mother, Queen Hippolyta [Nielsen]. As time passes, Diana is trained harder than any other Amazon but her life is thrown into turmoil when an American World War I spy, Steve Trevor [Pine], accidentally finds his way to the island, pursued by the German navy. Being the first man to visit the island, the Amazons argue over what should be done but when Diana learns of the Great War she claims it is her sacred duty to fight, believing that this is the work of their long dormant adversary, Ares. Meanwhile we are also introduced to war-hungry General Ludendorff [Huston] and his twisted cohort Dr Maru (dubbed Dr Poison) [Elena Anaya] who are busying themselves creating the ultimate destructive gas, to be utilised before a peace treaty can be signed.

With the post-Nolan DC adaptations being complete disappointments, so much has been placed on this film’s shoulders: Wonder Woman as a character has never headlined her own live-action feature film, a female-led superhero film is something of an extreme rarity – especially with a budget of this size – and that’s before we even get to the socio-political significance and representation that Wonder Woman embodies. Seriously, it’s a daunting task, if a film underperforms no one (outside of the financial backers) bats an eyelid but one that people have projected so many hopes and dreams on, quickly becomes a thing of nervous hype. The relaunch of Star Wars, the first Avengers release, the eventual Black Panther film, these movies end up inheriting qualities above their station as simple entertainment and become either a model for things to come or a chance to rewrite how films are made/cast/watched. As such, Wonder Woman will be viewed in one of two different ways: firstly, as a piece of entertainment and secondly as a banner/call to arms for all female-led blockbuster releases. Thankfully, in my opinion, Wonder Woman absolutely excels at both.

Stepping away from the flailing foot-finding of its fellow DCEU films, this release is the perfect combination of fantasy, action and levity. In terms of content, the narrative is strong, straightforward and powerful, the production design is glorious, drawing on set and costume elements from mythology and our own history, the action is creative yet grounded when it needs to be and the whole film evokes a comic book sensationalism that one would expect while displaying a key amount of core earnestness and emotional resonance. What’s also impressive is that the jarring guitar riffing theme that was present in Batman v Superman has been incorporated masterfully by Rupert Gregson-Williams without relying on it, to the degree that I actually enjoyed hearing it rather than resorting to wincing every time it reared its head.

As mentioned, other than simply being a functional superhero release, there was a lot of expectation for this movie to address the cinematic gender imbalance; Wonder Woman, through key developments and a handful of lines goes further and briefly touches on racial equality too. But at its core, the film is really ploughing the road for a female hero who everyone can rally behind and a lot of that comes from the central performance. While she didn’t get a chance to do much of anything in Batman v Superman, Gal Gadot shines here as the feisty, determined but also innocent Diana. As much as I am loathe to draw a Marvel comparison (because that shouldn’t be necessary), Diana possesses all the positive qualities of both Thor and Captain America, giving us the humorous fish-out-of-water experience paired with superhuman strength and a sincere eagerness to better humanity through example and strength of spirit. As it currently stands, DC’s most interesting, vibrant, compassionate and powerful character is Wonder Woman and I frankly love that.

As with all films of this nature, the lead takes the spotlight and others follow suit as supports. There could be a reasonable argument made that for all the progressive forwardness, once Diana leaves Themyscira, she is at the mercy of men. While I appreciate the point, I would disagree, highlighting that the film is a) navigating issues inherited from the comic and b) as a newcomer to “the world of men,” of course Diana would be best guided through it by a group of men so she could then critique its failings. Which is why casting Chris Pine as the charming and equally noble Steve Trevor was a stroke of genius. He plays the supporting role well enough, constantly underestimating Diana and translating his world to her without ever feeling like an upstaging. A fact that, now I’ve typed it out, is shocking that I should even have to acknowledge. I could also be wrong but when Wonder Woman (who has no need to observe time in the same way mortals do) laughs at Steve’s watch saying, “You let that little thing tell you what to do” I’m quietly confident that was a well-placed and subtle dick joke. The other Amazons are decently cast – although fall into the background outside of Diana’s mother and aunt – and the villainous roles are complex enough that if I talk about it in too much detail, I’d spoil the film but each of the three “bad guy” components were well handled – although I really feel Dr Poison could have been explored more.

For all its achievements, Wonder Woman is far from perfect and suffers in two crucial factors. While the direction is very impressive, the editing during the fight scenes felt a little choppy at times, mixing impossible camera movements swirling around computer generated body doubles with in-camera static shots of flying fists. Far from terrible and very much present in most big-budget releases of this kind but still a distinct separation that I don’t care for. The second issue is actually along the same vein and relates to said CGI; specifically how some of it was very questionable. I appreciate these DC films are going for a shared aesthetic but if they plan on reducing every film to a final night-time fight sequence with long shots of people being hurled around with a lack of weight to it all, we’re already on a downward spiral. The final fight very much slips into Man Of Steel/Batman v Superman territory and could have been handled better but the fact Wonder Woman’s big boss fight is against an old white man feels extremely fitting. The only thing that rained on the film’s parade a little (and this could be construed as a spoiler, so you’ve been warned) is that the joviality that is shared at the close of the war feels uncomfortable. All I kept thinking was, “Good thing there wasn’t a second world war.. oh wait.” But that’s hardly the fault of the film and to be honest, would be present in any narrative set at the end of World War I.

While this won’t please everyone and, as an effective standalone origin, certainly doesn’t save the ongoing DC franchise, I feel it is more than worthy of exceptional praise and deserves to do profoundly well.


Release Date:
2nd June 2017

The Scene To Look Out For:
I was going to highlight the exposition method of detailing the Amazon’s history utilising the style of an epic oil painting and while it’s extremely noteworthy, I highlight these cutaway elements all too often. In truth, there are several standout moments. Watching a young Diana punching at the air desperate to be a fellow Amazon was both cute and marvellous, Diana’s first interaction with ice cream was funny and appreciated as a comic fan, Diana defiantly walking out into No Man’s Land was superbly inspirational and her desire to help those who were suffering was genuinely moving. This is honestly a film of great moments and to highlight one would be pretty stupid, so any of the above will do nicely.

Notable Characters:
Much in the same way that any actor tries to put their mark on an adapted character, Gadot really defines the role with a maturity I had not seen in any of her previous performances. Part of that comes from the fact that in the comics and other media adaptations she is presented in so many different ways but mostly it’s from the script and her performance. On so many occasions Diana confronts Steve, earnestly pleading with him that the world shouldn’t be the cesspit it has become or expressing outrage at the treatment of people and the attitudes of generals and politicians whom she labels as cowards. And the beauty is that she is right. All too often we are unable to see our faults for being too close to them and thanks to one hundred years of hindsight we too can scoff and say, “Who are these stuffy, moustached blowhards? She’s trying to fix this mess!” but I feel this film is also taking a stance against our current situation and saying, “It’s not enough” and THAT is where this film’s true power lies.

Highlighted Quote:
“You think it’s just one man to blame.. its not.. maybe we’re all to blame”

In A Few Words:
“A sublime release rife with action, spectacle and a surprising amount of comedic intervals”

Total Score:

4/5

BAYWATCH

Life’s A Beach

Director
Seth Gordon

Starring
Dwayne Johnson
Zac Efron
Alexandra Daddario
Kelly Rohrbach
Jon Bass
Priyanka Chopra



Baywatch follows the titular team of lifeguards operating on the Florida beach of Emerald Bay, heroically protecting the public from the dangers of the sea. In charge of the seaside overseers is Lt Mitch Buchannon [Johnson]. I don’t recall why he’s a Lieutenant but he is and it’s apparently very important. Under his command are lifeguards Stephanie [Ilfenesh Hadera] and CJ [Rohrbach] (among others) but patrolling the beach is a dangerous job and as such, try-outs for new recruits are always welcome. But the life of a Baywatcher is harder than it looks as the selection process proves gruelling for new recruits, steely Summer Quinn [Daddario], average guy Ronnie [Bass] and Olympic gold medallist and testosterone nightmare Matt Brody [Efron]. Meanwhile, Mitch starts investigating the nearby Huntley Club run by the shady Victoria Leeds [Chopra] who may be linked to drugs turning up on the beach.

In an era of big budget parodies and franchise-building remakes, there is something to be said for the novel concept of the remake/parody hybrid; the kind of film that takes all the cheesiness of a source material and both revels in and ridicules it at the same time. It’s a rather bold choice that shouldn’t work but 21 Jump Street proved it is a legitimate way of celebrating all the best and silliest qualities of a familiar brand. But it’s not an easy sell and without an extremely charismatic cast and a very clever and funny script you end up with face-palm inducing dross like Dukes Of Hazzard, CHIPS and now Baywatch. Despite what David Hasselhoff has said over the years, Baywatch is not some trailblazing progressive piece, it’s attractive people in skimpy outfits running across the beach in slow-motion; a fact which most of its fans and critics can agree upon. But a film which openly acknowledges this fact should be able to highlight all the flaws, tropes and stupid situations in order to produce something memorable and entertaining. What we end up with, however, is a string of episodic, unconnected, obvious and flat-falling sexually charged jokes with a sporadically placed plot about drugs on the idyllic beach scene.

*Spoiler at the end of the paragraph*
Despite the atrocious script flitting between straight-faced exposition pushing a formulaic story and humourless setups, the leads are all more than capable actors who do their best to channel as much charm, competence and energy as possible but to no avail. Johnson delivers decently and Efron is wonderfully obnoxious but that is the height of what we’re given. The remainder is in the form of Ronnie, a horrifyingly shitty everyman character, and a score of women that are wasted. Getting back to Ronnie later, let’s take a look at the female troupe. Top of the four leads is Alexandra Daddario’s Quinn, who goes from eager lifeguard trainee with no time for Brody’s shit to peripheral love interest via a series of lazy boob jokes. Then we have Kelly Rohrbach as Pamela Anderson replacement, CJ, who does her absolute damnedest to rise above the two dimensions of her character but all the script gives her is tits and ass jokes. I would talk about Ilfenesh Hadera as senior lifeguard Stephanie but the script does so little with her, I have practically nothing to work with. Finally we have the menacing villain who is refreshingly female and makes valid statements about if she were a man she would be treated differently and praised for being ambitious (or something along those lines) but any potential there is lost once she gets blown up by a giant roman candle while dangling from a helicopter.

Despite the utter damning this film deserves, it should be noted that it excels on a small handful of platforms. The cinematography, while unadventurous is completely serviceable. The direction and editing are bright, clear and straightforward – as is common in many big budget comedies – and the visual effects are surprisingly competent. These can easily be overlooked when the central focus of a film of this nature is the laughs but with the sound and visual design functioning perfectly, it must be at least afforded the praise it deserves. I will also throw some praise to Christopher Lennertz’s score which riffs through the “investigation,” giving way for musical tracks that, while a little on the nose, are acceptably selected.

I wasn’t expecting anything substantial from this movie – I’m fully aware of what a fucking Baywatch film would consist of – but the fact it failed to even rise above tedium and the only observations in the script were sophomoric at best, means what we’re left with is a bland, forgettable release.


Release Date:
26th May 2017

The Scene To Look Out For:
As the credits roll, Baywatch follows the Smokey And The Bandit trope of reeling off a load of bloopers. For the most part the corpsing and line flubbing is amusing but then we are shown a medley of costume adjustments. To crassly clarify, I mean pulling short dresses down, digging things out of cracks and shoving breasts back into place. I think it was supposed to be some sort of titillating consolation for the lack of nudity throughout (bar a fake penis) but it just came off as a bit tawdry – like a lot of the film in fact.

Notable Characters:
Ronnie. I see characters like Ronnie all the flipping time. Ronnie is the sideways wink to the male members of the audience, the nod to placate anyone who isn’t a chiselled Adonis to say “Even you could end up with a babe like CJ.” Ads, TV, film, there are so many times we’re presented with an average, slightly out of shape dude who wins the affection of a woman vastly more attractive than him. Now, I’m not going to say these men are bridge-trolls who are unworthy of love but the fact that there would never be a role reversal wherein a relatively plain lady is courted by some smouldering muscle-cake betrays this film’s eye-rolling obviousness. Maybe I’m overreacting: Ronnie’s fun and CJ likes his personality, right? Fuck that and fuck you, Ronnie HAS NO personality, he’s just a quivering 1980’s nerdy horndog with little in the way of redeeming qualities.

Highlighted Quote:
“You gonna be cool and go over and talk to her or are you gonna stay up here like Mr Creeper Creeperton with your binoculars?”

In A Few Words:
“Hardly a wasted opportunity, considering the source material, but a disappointment nevertheless”

Total Score:

1/5

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: SALAZAR’S REVENGE

Dead Men Tell No Tales

Directors
Joachim Rønning
Espen Sandberg

Starring
Johnny Depp
Javier Bardem
Brenton Thwaites
Kaya Scodelario
Geoffrey Rush



If any franchise is in dire need of retiring or a really fresh revitalisation, it’s the Pirates Of The Caribbean series. In truth, the only decent instalment was the first one and everything that followed has seen diminishing returns of substance and quality. It’s clear this latest entry tries to recapture the elements that worked so well in the original but what we end up with is an overcooked disappointment and a question which must be nagging every Disney producer: is this the best we can do with quarter of a billion dollars?

Set five years after the last instalment (and some twenty years after the first film), Henry Turner [Thwaites], son of Elizabeth Swann and William Turner, is working a lowly position for the navy. Defying the orders of his commanding officer, Henry uses his vast knowledge of folk-lore and myths of the sea to correctly predict that following a pirate ship into a cove called the Devil’s Triangle is extremely ill advised. Not wanting to lose face, the captain throws him in the brig and continues ahead. Entering the rocky cove, the ship is attacked by ghosts commanded by Spanish captain, Armando Salazar [Bardem]. He kills the entire crew but leaves Henry alive to tell the tale and hunt down Jack Sparrow for him. Simultaneously we learn that Sparrow has fallen on hard times, with his ship still encased within a bottle and we are introduced to Carina Smith [Scodelario], a female academic (something derided and branded as sorcery) who is trying to honour her deceased father’s memory and continue his scientific pursuits.

For a lot of people, the mainstay of this franchise is the acting; more specifically, the role of Jack Sparrow. People seem to project a curious amount of nostalgia and ownership on the character and revel in seeing the drunken pirate’s exploits without noting whether it’s any good or not. I will happily admit the role is absolutely brilliant; when Depp first appeared as the eccentric Captain, it was memorable and mesmerising. Since then it has become a parody of itself, trapped in the same stupid swagger without evolving or challenging Mr Depp to do anything other than the bare minimum. There is a clear effort made to flesh out his character some more while pushing him back into a peripheral view but what we end up with is little more than a slurring, screeching, dad-joke-spewing idiot. Harsh words but without a decent script and a high-energy performance, there isn’t much to be reaped from the role. Mirroring Curse Of The Black Pearl, we have two new young leads but they’re not exactly new, they’re simply the new generation, tying them heavily to the ageing original cast. While Elizabeth Swann and William Turner were painfully annoying at times, they were never unbearably flat or devoid of chemistry; these two are – despite proving themselves in previous projects. Without spoiling things, the whole obsession with fathers in On Stranger Tides didn’t work then and it sure as hell doesn’t work now. Interestingly, no matter how poor a Pirates film is, one can always count on a memorable and really impressive villain. Geoffrey Rush, Bill Nighy, Ian McShane, all three had powerful presence accompanied by impressive visual effects to create something impactful. While I respect Javier Bardem I don’t think he really cut it. Salazar’s initial entrance is pretty damn cool, flush with waning guitars riffs and mystery but there’s nothing new about him and one of the most criminal acts is that he isn’t really much of a villain; he’s a man who lost his family to piracy and is seeking revenge. That.. in fact.. is a hero’s origin. So when he meets his ultimate demise (I really don’t see that as a spoiler) I mostly felt bad for him. Having said that, I’ve just realised that in actuality, the most criminal act was gathering a boatful of Spanish sailors who talk to each other in English.

For all their good intentions, those behind the film have produced something that is surprisingly mediocre. For all Dead Man’s Chest and The World’s End’s flaws, they were at least adventurous and entertaining with a broad, ambitious scope. Everything one could expect of a Pirates film is present but it’s nothing we haven’t already seen before. So with the same cast and the same old story tropes it falls on the directors to produce something vibrant and different. Regrettably while there are a handful of interesting shots or transitions, the majority seems to be lazily shot centralised close-ups and awkwardly obvious outlines as people are clearly stood in green-screen studios. Oh, and the film makes the classic error of assuming two objects colliding (one made of wood, the other of rock) explode. Yeah, yeah, gunpowder on-board, I get that but that’s not what is shown in the visual effect. Seriously, why do all these ships explode? But I digress, the only true saving grace of this film (and the reason it’s not a 1/5) is the continually superb production design. The towns, the ships, the costumes, the hair, the make-up – these people are doing a damn fine job and it’s very difficult to point to a particular physically created set or character and say “that doesn’t work.” To carry so much weight on their shoulders, these departments are performing spectacularly.

So is this the end of the franchise? Probably not. While Depp-driven features aren’t nearly as bankable as they once were, they’re still serviceable and audience fanaticism will keep the series going for at least one last outing. But to reiterate what I said earlier, I don’t think the franchise is beyond saving, it just needs an overhaul and a stern conversation about what works and what doesn’t. Although I have a dreaded feeling that was how this film started.


Release Date:
26th May 2017

The Scene To Look Out For:
I was going to talk about a fairly interesting scene but I’m afraid I need to address the humour instead. As stated before, the dad jokes are appalling but one played on my mind longer than it deserved to and when I finally understood it, a wince slowly crept across my face. With Carina to be hanged on charges of witchcraft, Henry rushes under the scaffold and holds her aloft, preventing her death.. or at least postponing it. The exchange between them is painfully lacking in charisma, charm, chemistry and culminates in a joke which rears its ugly head a few times. The joke in question is that, while holding Carina up, Henry has his hands on her nethers (it’s never exactly defined where) and says he’s holding her by her port (i.e. left side of a boat). She corrects him explaining it’s the stern (the back part of the boat). He seems confused and tries to correct her and a forced married-couple, love/hate bickering ensues. Now, I could be wrong but I think the whole left/back joke is that port can also mean a window in a boat.. or more aptly a hole. You.. you see where I’m going with this, right? It’s most likely an anus joke. A really poor anus joke. That stayed in every draft of the script and was brought out multiple times. Good clean family fun, right kids?

Notable Characters:
It has taken an exceptional amount of willpower not to talk about Paul McCartney’s godawful cameo (and I’ve evidently failed) but the truth is, there isn’t really any one standout performance. There’s a wealth of talent on display but none of it is utilised. Actors who have performed magnificently in the past are given so little to actually work with that it all feels very tired. Even the mighty Geoffrey Rush, who I still maintain is one of the greatest cinematic pirates ever, looks bored. And when you’ve got swashbuckling seafarers, supernatural elements and a budget the likes of which filmmakers can only dream of, there’s absolutely no excuse for subpar results.

Highlighted Quote:
“She breeds donkeys”

In A Few Words:
“Yet another disappointing journey rife with lacklustre and unimpressive feats”

Total Score:

2/5

KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD

From Nothing Comes A King

Director
Guy Ritchie

Starring
Charlie Hunnam
Jude Law
Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey



Thirty six years ago a medieval fantasy film based on the legendary exploits of King Arthur was released in the form of Excalibur, it did reasonably at the box office and over time garnered cult success; as well as being a huge boon for the Irish film industry. With the success of fantasy pieces like Lord Of The Rings and Game Of Thrones, you’d think audiences would be totally up for a modern retelling. Regrettably, what we end up with is a very stylistic but remarkably hollow feature reminiscent of equally forgettable CGI-fests Clash Of The Titans, 300: Rise Of An Empire and Hercules.

For the most part, King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword follows the Arthurian legend to a degree. Following an opening battle sequence establishing Uther Pendragon’s (played by Eric Bana) rule over England, being overthrown by his scheming brother Vortigern [Law] and the escape of the young prince Arthur ..played by one of the most unresponsive child actors I’ve ever seen. Sailing down the river from Camelot, Arthur arrives in London – sorry, Londinium – and is taken in by a group of prostitutes. Over the years he learns the hard ways of the streets and establishes a nice little underground living. Years later, the lake near Camelot reveals a sword embedded in a rock which no one can unsheathe. This arrival prompts Vortigern to instigate a search for all potential individuals who could in fact be the lost king. Back in Londinium, Arthur [Hunnam] is arrested in connection with an altercation with a group of Vikings and brought to the stone to try and remove the fabled sword. Arthur has an extreme reaction to the weapon and is brought before his uncle, the king, who frankly explains that in order to fully establish his rule, Arthur must die.

I rather enjoy Guy Ritchie’s releases but with the rather tedious The Man From UNCLE and now this, one would assume big budget blockbusters aren’t his forte. And yet, I really enjoy his Sherlock Holmes features. Trying to ascertain the lacking quality between those positive releases and these negative ones is surprisingly tricky. They both adapt established works with high energy and a cheeky sense of rapscalliousness but there are a handful of key factors that are either lacking or absent entirely. The most obvious being a strong script. King Arthur is a story that has been told again-and-again, itself an amalgamation of origin stories and legends the world over. Subsequently, we all know the ideas and core concepts inside out: orphaned child is discovered in a capsule, grows up to be a protector of men and then challenges an oppressive ruler to establish his rightful place. As such, the only way to draw the audience in is to make the peripheral and aesthetic details interesting and engaging enough to distract us from what is, essentially, the same old story. Amazingly, this film manages to make these elements so distracting that they become the central focus for criticism.

Ritchie’s films are unarguably stylistically driven and this has served him well over the years but this film is a bit of a muddled mishmash of concepts. From the fucking awful 90s font to the erratic, schizophrenic tone between cheeky cockney street thugs and high-stakes fantasy drama nothing really works the way it should. The production design and cinematography on Sherlock Holmes and its sequel were bold and pleasing but here everything feels cheap and hollow despite the literal wealth of detail and money that’s been poured into it. Both the direction and editing are sloppy and most of the film feels like it’s told in a rushed montage, racing to the end of the film to establish an outcome for, what I can only assume is, an intended multiple sequeled franchise.

Another key staple of a Ritchie release is the wealth of acting talent utilised. King Arthur isn’t any different but rather than employing a decent range of thespians, we get a scale going from Game Of Thrones veterans to David fucking Beckham. I don’t care about cameos either way, sometimes they can be surprising and reveal hidden acting talent – Eric Cantona I’m looking at you – but most of the time they just take you out of the film entirely and David fucking Beckham is a prime example. Don’t get me wrong, he does a surprisingly adequate job but it’s such an oddball choice. Ultimately, the cast performs as expected but whether down to delivery or editing, I couldn’t get behind Hunnam. I like the man as an actor but in this role he never really excels, which is frankly baffling as he’s cut his teeth on performances that draw upon every necessary component on display here. Although by the end of the film I wholly believe one of the prerequisites for this starring in this release is how you look delivering a slow motion roar.

And yet, it should be noted that King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword is far from awful. Daniel Pemberton’s pounding, medieval Celtic score is powerful and pleasing, the costume design is really nice and gives the world a beautiful rich look and the pacing ensures that, although things are skipped over quite a bit, nothing lags. The problem is this isn’t enough. This story could have easily been told on half its assigned budget, garnered a decent amount of respect and amped up the scale in a follow-up release. Instead we are given a massive initial outing and told that there will be more, whether we want it or not, which is entirely the problem with Warner Bros releases of late. Far from offensively dull or bad, King Arthur’s greatest crime is simply that it doesn’t do enough to warrant existing in the first place, let alone hanging around for a further five instalments.


Release Date:
19th May 2017

The Scene To Look Out For:
**Spoilers throughout this section**
The CGI both works and flails horribly depending on the scene. So I’ve highlighted two for you. In order to harness the dark magic to rule England, Vortigern makes a deal with a nautical creature that is both grotesque and beautiful in its design. The acting is great, the location design is superb and the water effects, make-up design and CGI are brilliant. In a more disappointing example, the final showdown between Arthur and Vortigern in full-on muscly hulk mode is breathtakingly shit. I wouldn’t denigrate video games by drawing a comparison to them and bad visual effects but the whole sequence feels like watching a ropey quick-time-event ..whilst spinning around in a washing machine. The quality is questionable, the action is impossible to follow and all tension is completely absent, culminating in an extremely poor effort.

Notable Characters:
Of all the actors in this movie, Jude Law gives a performance that feels like he’s appearing in an entirely different release. Vortigern is suitably nuanced, dark and layered but devoid of any of the charm and levity that is injected throughout the movie. Obviously, this was to ensure he retains a menacing presence but in the end it just leaves him feeling somewhat external.

Highlighted Quote:
“That’s what you’re here for Bedevere, you silly posh bastard”

In A Few Words:
“An odd choice of release with a handful of standout moments but overall a bit of a non-event”

Total Score:

2/5