Dunkirk

Posted: August 3, 2017 in Film reviews
Tags:

Directed by Christopher Nolan. Starring Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh, Mark Rylance, Cillian Murphy and Fionn Whitehead.

dunkirk-movie-preview-01_feature

It is May of 1940, and after the invasion of France by Germany large numbers of allied soldiers have retreated to the seaside town of Dunkirk. With limited numbers of naval vessels available to transport the men back to England, and with only one pier, “The Mole”, that large ships can dock with it seems unlikely that Churchill’s hope of rescuing even a tenth of the 400,000+ men trapped by the advancing Germans, and under constant attack by the Luftwaffe, is possible.

But as the soldiers on the beach struggle to survive, and the RAF struggle to win the aerial battle, there may still be hope in the form of a flotilla of tiny pleasure boats, many crewed by civilians, who are making the dangerous crossing to France…

 

And so, decades after he first conceived the idea, Nolan’s desire to tell the Dunkirk story finally reaches our screens. There are many words that could be used to describe this film, but the first that springs to mind is magnificent.

Precious few films are perfect, and I’ll discuss a few tiny issues I had with Dunkirk later, but initially I think it’s important to laud what is a truly phenomenal piece of cinema. Short by Nolan’s standards, and with minimal dialogue, Dunkirk is a tour de force that marries exquisite cinematography with impeccable sound. This is a film that pretty much succeeds on every level.

Nolan’s decision to split the film into three parts, each of which has their own unique timeline, is at once complex yet also incredibly simplistic—certainly when compared with films like Memento, or Inception or Interstellar. Nolan has always seemed fascinated by time, but if you think about it the decision to focus on a triple narrative showing the evacuation from the perspective of land, air and sea, demanded some temporal dislocation to do the story justice. So for the men on the beach we experience a week, for those on the little boats it’s a day, but for the Spitfire pilots with limited fuel it’s just an hour.

Whether it’s in sweeping views of the beach itself, the unforgiving seas, or the bright blue skies where planes clash, Nolan and cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema have produced visuals you cannot take your eyes off. Allied with the visuals though are the sounds. Hans Zimmer’s ticking clock of a soundtrack ratchets up the tension, but the sound effects that really drive home the terror. Unexpected gunshots ring out, each one devastatingly loud. Stuka dive bombers scream towards the ground, their deadly payload exploding on the beach. Torpedoes streak through the water, and rivets pop and metal screams as ships sink.

This is not a war film in the typical sense. We barely see any German soldiers, yet they loom over everything like an implacable force of nature, as if they were less an army than an out of control forest fire or a tsunami. This is a disaster film. This is a story of survival against all odds.

BB-T2-0044.jpg

Tom was getting a little paranoid that Nolan always seemed to want to make him wear a mask…

The cast are excellent. Wearing a mask for much of the film Tom Hardy is excellent as spitfire pilot Farrier, and if they gave out Oscars for eyes alone he deserves one, because he imbues every moment of indecision perfectly. Quite frankly if Nolan wants to make a Battle of Britain sequel and bring back Hardy I’d be all for it and I really had to fight the urge to cheer every time Tom shot down another German plane.

As Commander Bolton, Branagh is marvellously resolute, channelling the likes of John Mills to perfection. Similarly Rylance utterly convinces as Mr Dawson, owner of one of the little ships.

kenneth-branagh-dunkirk

Ever the gentleman Sir Ken even doffs his hat to German dive bombers

Fionn Whitehead as Tommy, Harry Styles (who apparently Nolan didn’t realise was a huge music star, yeah right….) as Alex and Barnard as Gibson do well with less notable roles. Not that they aren’t important, in fact they’re the heart of the film, but as with something like Blackhawk Down there comes a point where soldiers tend to merge a little into one.

The rest of the cast are uniformly great, with Cillian Murphy turning in a fine performance as a shell shocked solider, and James D’Arcy giving it his best stiff upper lip as one of Commander Bolton’s fellow officers.

I did say I had a few issues. For one thing the beaches do look a little empty, and you never quite believe there are almost half a million men there. I can understand why Nolan did this, showing a great expanse of empty beach does enhance the sense of isolation for those men we do see, but it’s a shame the epic scale of the evacuation wasn’t just a bit more evident, and this is also true when it comes to the flotilla of pleasure boats. There were hundreds but the way they’re filmed it looks like just a handful. Again I understand, Nolan is showing a snapshot of the evacuation, not the whole thing, but again it would have been nice to get more of an idea of the scale of the evacuation.

There are some issues around the lack of non-white faces, we see the odd black face amongst the French but that’s about it and it’s historical fact that there were Indian troops serving in the British Expeditionary Forces. Of course you can argue since they numbered in the hundreds amongst hundreds of thousands, and since Nolan is only showing a fraction of the evacuation, that logically we wouldn’t have seen them, but it is a shame we don’t at least a glimpse.

Overall though, this is a fantastic film, and one that kept my heart racing and my eyes glued to the screen throughout its 106 minute run time. At once old fashioned but also bang up to date, this is one of my favourite films of the year so far and I’ll be amazed if it doesn’t get Oscar nominations aplenty.

maxresdefault

There’s only One Direction lads, back to Blighty!

ergocalciferol-injection-500x500

I’ve talked about rejection before, and I think anyone who talks about writing (however infrequently) has to address rejection, because for the majority of writers it is just one of those immutable facts of life. As always there are exceptions, but they are rare, and whilst one may feel an annoyance with the lucky buggers, I do wonder if not getting rejections— if having your first story/book picked up, then the next one and the next one, without ever getting that hit of disappointment— is a good thing.

Don’t get me wrong. Rejection is horrible, I’ve talked before about how being a writer is a bit like being a boxer getting pummelled by punch after punch, but can you imagine a boxer who never takes a hit? Some kind of inhuman pugilist who’d make Muhammad Ali seem flat footed, a preternaturally fleet-footed ninja who no one could lay a glove on. Know what, eventually even such an individual will take a hit, and I’d be willing to bet that one punch, however light, will drop them like a stone.

Nietzsche’s assertion that what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger is naïve in the extreme, but on occasion there is some truth behind the notion, in particular when it comes to rejection. Just as eschewing shoes (eschoeing?) will eventually lead to the skin on the soles of your feet hardening, then hopefully rejections, assuming you don’t buckle and quit after the first few (and I would never begrudge anyone who does that because rejection is like a knife to the heart) will harden your heart and mean future rejections maybe won’t hurt quite so much.

Don’t get me wrong though, they’ll still hurt, and maybe they always should, but as counterintuitive as it sounds rejection can be a positive, I know I’ve channelled the despair I’ve felt over having been rejected in many ways. There’s the visceral “well, I’ll show you!” response to rejection, and often one of the best ways to handle a rejection is to take that story and fire it off towards someone else, and I think that’s a perfectly acceptable way to respond. The only note of caution I’d sound is that before you do you should always give a moment’s consideration to whether you can make it better first. Have you proof read it enough, could you polish some more? At the end of the day with any work of art, be it a sculpture, a musical composition, a painting or a story, there’s always a danger of it never feeling finished, but by the same token it would be annoying if a great story kept being rejected because publishers felt your grammar and spelling weren’t up to scratch.

cd1099ba387fa030bcfd46e9997e65a1

J.Kitten. Rowling suddenly had a new idea…

Rejection can prove a positive in other ways. In the last week I’ve been hit with a double whammy of rejection. Both were stories I felt were good, and both were stories that had been with publishers long enough that I’d started to feel overly hopeful (never a good idea, but there is some truth in the notion that the longer someone holds onto your story the more they like it) so in both cases it was a hard pill to swallow when the “Thanks, but no thanks,” came back. What’s curious is that in both cases, within an hour or so of getting the rejections my mind came up with new story ideas, one for each rejection, almost as if subconsciously I was saying; “Ok, you didn’t like that story but how about this one?”

As a wordsmith it’s quite obvious that the word rejection and the word injection are the same if you remove the first two letters, so next time you get a rejection take away the RE and add an IN, make it an injection of something; whether it’s a desire to polish your story further, whether it’s a sheer bloody minded belief that someone else will like your story so you send it somewhere else, or whether you channel your disappointment into firing your imagination to come up with a brand new story.

Oft times I find rejection prompts all three of those reactions in me, and I’m not sure this was always the case, but being a writer is often about evolution, not only in what we write and how we write, but also in how we react to what people feel about our work, whether that’s a positive or a negative.

In conclusion I’ll circle back to the use of my boxing metaphor once more. In Rocky 3, Rocky was beaten by Clubber Lang, and in order to come back and reclaim his title he had to learn to fight a different way, knowing he couldn’t beat Clubber in a lengthy fight, he had to change his approach and beat him quickly. He took his defeat, his rejection, and turned it around, used it to inject something new into his technique.

Keep punching folks, and if they do knock you down, just make sure you get back up again before the count hits ten!

ROCKY203

I pity the fool that rejects my stories!

Spider-Man: Homecoming

Posted: July 22, 2017 in Film reviews
Tags:

Directed by Jon Watts. Starring Tom Holland, Michael Keaton and Robert Downy Jr.

spider-man-box-office-resize-tt-width-400-height-227-crop-1-bgcolor-000000-responsive-1-nolayzr-1-lazyload-0

I’m sure Deadpool would have a witty remark about teenage boys and sticky fluid to mention here but thankfully I am more mature.

After helping one set of Avengers against the other, Peter Parker (Holland) is eager for Spider-Man to become a fully-fledged Avenger, but Tony Stark (Downy Jr) feels that he’s too young and inexperienced, and suggests that he concentrates on being a friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man for now.

Undeterred Peter neglects his studies and social activities to concentrate of crimefighting, included within this he quits his school’s academic decathlon team, despite having a major crush on one of his fellow students, Liz (Laura Harrier). His decision to leave opens up a space for Flash (Tony Revolori) a smug bully who has a dismissive opinion of Peter.

Whilst patrolling the streets of New York Spider-Man comes across a group of criminals selling high tech weapons retrieved from some of the Avengers’ major battles during the last eight years. The group is led by a man named Adrian Toomes (Keaton) a salvage expert who feels he was cheated out of a fortune when he wasn’t allowed to salvage alien technology after the Chitauri invasion of the first Avengers movie. Toomes has a high tech set of mechanical wings and an alter ego as The Vulture.

As Spider-Man tries to bring down the Vulture, he also has to contend with his best pal Ned (Jacob Batalon) discovering his secret identity, and has to confront the possibility that, as Stark says, he isn’t ready to be a fully-fledged hero.

 

The word Homecoming in the title has something of a dual meaning. Ostensibly it relates to the Homecoming dance at Peter Parkers high school, an event that resonates in the background throughout the film, but it also refers to Spidey coming home. The character is owned by Sony these days, and so until now hasn’t been able to play a part in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Now don’t get me wrong, I actually quite liked the last two Spider-Man films, and for me Andrew Garfield made for a better Peter than Tobey Maguire, but the absence of Spider-Man from the Avengers films has left a noticeable gap, and although the introduction of Spidey to the MCU seems a little complex (with Sony retaining some ownership and effectively loaning the character out) it is great to see him return.

Of course people wondered if we really needed a third version of Spider-Man in just fifteen years (and the second version in just the last five) but Homecoming answers that question very easily. Obviously we did, and I think most people understood that once we saw Spider-Man cameo in Captain America: Civil War.

The makers of Homecoming have delivered a film that is at once simplistic, yet also one that goes out of its way to differentiate itself from the previous two incarnations of the character. Sure, Holland is playing younger than his years, but the high school scenes feel more realistic than they did with either Maguire or Garfield, and it’s nice to see the character return to his roots as a very young man who winds up with a heck of a lot of responsibility on his shoulders.

The decision to play the film like a high school comedy means it is by necessity a touch lighter than many recent Marvel offerings, but this is no bad thing. This is Spider-Man if John Hughes had made it.

In a clever touch that does something new, whilst remaining faithful to the character, the film manages to ignore Peter’s angst over the loss of Uncle Ben, whilst retaining the idea at the core of the character that with great power comes great responsibility. This time rather that Peter wrestling with his failure to capture the criminal who would then go on to kill his uncle, he instead has to deal with the fact that he puts people’s lives at risk by getting ahead of himself and running before he can walk (or maybe that should be web swinging before he can walk?)

Holland is very good, both as the geeky high school student, and as the wise cracking superhero, managing to portray the weight on Peter’s shoulder without allowing the film to dip too deeply into angst, and Peter and Spidey are in safe hands. It’s especially encouraging that the young man can act toe to toe with heavy hitter like Downey Jr and Keaton without looking overwhelmed.

v1.bjsxNTc2MTk1O2o7MTc0MzM7MTIwMDs1NzYwOzM4NDA

“You wanna get nuts? Let’s get…oops wrong film.”

As the villain of the piece Keaton does a good job of imbuing the blue collar Vulture with a genuine sense of menace—there is a reason he remains my favourite Bruce Wayne because he’s the only actor to really hint that a man who dresses up as a bat to fight crime might have a few screws loose, and though Vulture clearly isn’t mad, he lets enough of a hint of malevolence out to prove a worthy adversary, but pitting Spider-Man against Vulture is another canny move by the producers, because he isn’t one of Spidey’s more powerful foes, best to leave them for when Spider-Man is a bit more experienced (judging by the end credits sequence it’s easy to guess who his next enemy might be).

 

Tony-Stark-and-Peter-Parker-Spider-Man-Homecoming

“What do you mean you wish you’d been on Captain America’s side?”

Downey Jr has Tony Stark’s personality down to a tee now, and it continues to be impressive that he can make Stark so arrogantly snarky, whilst also making him empathetic and likeable, and he and Holland had a nice chemistry as mentor and mentee. I had feared that Stark and Iron Man might overshadow Spidey, but thankfully this isn’t the case. It’s also nice to see Paltrow back as Pepper and Jon Favreau as Happy Hogan.

There’s a nice sense of diversity about Peter’s peer group, and whilst Flash’s shift from jock lunkhead to smug rich kid takes a little getting used to, it’s a believable change. As Ned, Batalon is a genuine find as Peter’s wingman/man in a chair.

It is a shame that the female characters aren’t as well served as the boys in this, and it seems to be about Peter having multiple father-ish figures in his life in Stark, Happy and even Toomes, and as such Marisa Tomei as Aunt May feels short-changed, similarly Harrier barely gets to rise above the level of love interest. The only bright spot, although she doesn’t get much to do, is Zendaya as Michelle, another of Peter’s friends. She’s wonderfully sparky and owns every second of her limited screen time and one presumes/hopes she’ll have a bigger part to play in any sequel.

There are some nice set-pieces; the Staten Island ferry bit is good, but for me the Washington Monument set piece is the best. The final showdown between Vulture and Spidey is to be lauded for not going down the route of a city destroying conflagration (Marvel seem to have learned their lesson somewhat on this) but is let down by the night-time setting which swathes much of the fight in darkness and means you struggle at times to see what’s going on. I’m also not sold on Peter’s suit featuring an AI, although it does seem like the sort of thing Tony Stark would build in there.

A somewhat flawed but still hugely enjoyable outing for the character, and proof that Holland’s scene stealing cameo in Civil War wasn’t some flash in the pan. Hopefully this version of Spidey will be around for a long time to come because he’s great.

SpiderManHolland.png

Baby Driver

Posted: July 16, 2017 in Film reviews
Tags:

Directed by Edgar Wright. Starring Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Lily James, Eiza González, Jon Hamm and Jamie Foxx.

20170124_14_44_BabyDriver_Insta

Jamie Foxx was not happy when he discovered there were none of his albums on Baby’s iPod

Baby (Elgort) is a young man with preternatural driving skills. He also has a bad case of tinnitus courtesy of a car accident as a child which means he near constantly listens to music. In order to pay a debt to criminal mastermind Doc (Spacey) Baby has to use his skills behind the wheel as the ultimate getaway driver, much to the chagrin of his deaf foster father. When his debt to Doc appears to be paid off, and when he begins a tentative relationship with waitress Deborah (James) Baby thinks his life as a wheelman is over, but fate has other ideas.

 

And so, after walking away (being fired?) from Ant Man, British director Edgard Wright, the director of Scott Pilgrim Vs the World, plus Simon Pegg and Nick Frost’s Cornetto trilogy (not forgetting one of the greatest sitcoms of all time—Spaced) revisited an idea he first had more than twenty years ago, an idea that would become Baby Driver.

In some ways it’s an easy film to categorise, but in others it’s difficult to pigeonhole. First and foremost it’s a driving movie, and a heist movie, but Wright uses Baby’s near constant need to listen to music to provide a soundtrack that makes the film almost play like a musical, and with the central romance between Baby and Deborah more than one critic has highlighted similarities with La La Land.

So let’s get one thing out of the way straight away, Car Car Land this ain’t. Which doesn’t mean it’s not hugely enjoyable, it just maybe means it isn’t quite the work of genius some people are saying it is.

imageshandler.ashx

Baby had the strangest feeling they were being followed…

A car chase film lives or dies by the choreography of its car chases, and every chase in the film is exceptionally well handled and, more to the point, appears to have been done with actual cars rather than with CGI imposters. There’s a balletic beauty to the carnage here, and it’s certainly one of the best car related films I’ve seen for quite some time (even if some of Baby’s tricks aren’t quite as subtle/clever as those employed by Ryan Gosling’s character in Drive, on the plus side compared to Drive which felt like it didn’t have enough driving, Baby Driver never short changes you in this department.) Along with the driving the eclectic soundtrack complements the action perfectly.

As Baby, Elgort does a good job essaying a young man in way over his head. Despite allusions to it, he isn’t exactly James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause however, but though his strong silent savant genius shtick does get a little annoying at times, on the whole he’s a very effective lead.

Spacey puts in a good turn as Doc, even if it isn’t anything we haven’t seen him do before. As always he manages to be avuncular and slightly scary all at the same time. As Deborah, James gets little chance to shine until close to the end, and its shame she couldn’t be elevated to more than mere love interest.

Foxx over does it somewhat as Bats, one of several crazy criminals Doc employs. It’s possible this over egging was intentional but it never feels like anything other than Foxx playing a role. Far more effective as Buddy is Jon Hamm who really plays against type and manages to flit behind likable and terrifying, and he might well be the stand out of the cast. As his wife Darling, González gets a meatier role than James and handles the role well, again it’s just a shame the part never lifts much above cliché.

The film is exciting, at times hilarious and messes with your expectations on multiple occasions (though at other times characters behave exactly how you expect them to).

On the downside the films sags in the middle, and whilst Elgort and James have chemistry, it’s nothing like what we saw between Gosling and Stone. The first and third acts are fantastic though, although the ending does go on a bit.

Other than that I think my only slight issue with the film was one of tone. The film walks a fine line between frothy romantic teen action comedy, and something altogether darker. Of course, Wright has walked such lines before, but whereas with something like Hot Fuzz he was aided by the comedy being so broad, and the central plot so ridiculous, with Baby Driver being somewhat more grounded it means that on occasion the flit between violent crime thriller and light romantic comedy is a little jarring.

All in all though the positives of the film far outweigh the bad and I heartily recommend you head on over to your local drive in theatre.

is-baby-driver-the-next-drive

Groovy, Baby!

Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Posted: July 11, 2017 in Book reviews
Tags:

51OD1k0SGNL._SX304_BO1,204,203,200_

By Truman Capote.

In 1940s New York an unnamed narrator moves into an apartment in a brownstone and soon becomes enraptured by one of his fellow tenants, the carefree Holly Golightly, a woman who’s card on her mailbox advises that she is “travelling”, and so she is, though she doesn’t quite know where to, only that she’s looking for a home, and she’ll know it when she finds it. She has a cat with no name and a penchant for rich, often older men, including, amongst others, an imprisoned gangster, a possibly gay millionaire playboy, and a Brazilian diplomat.

Holly is a former actress turned socialite and looking for a rich man to marry, though there’s more to her than meets the eye as the narrator discovers more and more of her background, including her humble origins, she is more than just a gold-digger, she’s a beautiful bird that refuses to be caged, but will she ever find happiness?

 

It’s strange how life goes. I was aware of an individual named Truman Capote, but I didn’t really know much about him, and I had no interest in reading any of his works. Odd then that in the space of half a year I’ve now read, and enjoyed, his two most celebrated works. Enjoying—if that’s the right word—his seminal true crime tale In Cold Blood prompted me to seek out Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and I enjoyed this just as much, though can two books be so different?

Never having seen the film (actually that’s a lie as I think I’ve seen the final moments in the rain several times) I think I actually had a more romanticised notion about what Holly Golightly’s story was about, so it was a surprise to discover it was quite racy, with a dynamic female lead.

It’s hard to quite pinpoint what’s so good about it. Is it Capote’s prose, which is superb, each word seemingly chosen with utmost care, and yet never pretentious, never a chore, or is it Holly herself, a flighty girl about town who should be all rights be annoying, yet whose refusal to bow down to what society expects of her is somehow refreshing, especially when married to her clear fragility (and now I understand why Capote wanted Marilyn Monroe for the part), or is it Capote’s decision to give us a narrator who we know barely anything about (other than that he’s a writer) a man whose name we never learn, although Holly christens him Fred after her brother. It’s an interesting narrative choice, which allows Holly to remain the focus of the story, although Capote leaves just enough breadcrumbs to ensure we know full well that Fred loves Holly just as much as every other man she meets.

In the end I think the story’s strength is its sheer effortlessness, and the fact that it manages to be both flimsy and profound, much like Holly herself. Because it’s a novella it’s a slim tale, but it packs a lot in, and the ending is poignant. Holly may or may not find her forever home, but at least someone does.

The novella is supplemented by three short stories, and each in their own way is very different, and engaging. Of these the first is House of Flowers, the tale of a poor young girl living on the island of Haiti who’s torn between her love of a country man, and her former life as a prostitute. Of all the stories in the book this was probably my least favourite, and the one whose ending was least satisfactory, which doesn’t mean it wasn’t interesting.

A Diamond Guitar focuses on the relationship between two prisoners, a grizzled old lifer, and a passionate younger man. It’s a really well-crafted tale of a platonic love affair between two men, and features betrayal, hope and regret in equal measure, and Capote really gets inside the characters, making them believable human beings despite the story’s brevity. I really enjoyed it.

The final tale, which I’ve heard some describe as autobiographical, is A Christmas Memory, and tells the tale of a seven year old boy, and his elderly female cousin and their preparations for Christmas, which mainly revolve around a tradition of baking fruitcakes. I won’t say too much except that I found it a beautiful and incredibly touching story of love and friendship, and I’d rank it alongside the titular novella as my favourite story in the book, and it was the only one that very nearly moved me to tears at the end.

Highly recommended and I suspect I will be searching out more Capote before the end of the year.

Before the Fall

Posted: June 20, 2017 in Book reviews
Tags:

By Noah Hawley

9781444779776

On a foggy summer evening a private jet takes off from Martha’s Vineyard to fly to New York. Despite the conditions it’s a routine flight, except that less than twenty minutes in something happens and the plane crashes.

There are only two survivors, one is JJ, the four year old son of the billionaire media mogul who chartered the flight, the other is Scott Burroughs, a down on his luck painter who was only on the plane by pure chance.

Scott becomes an instant hero by swimming to the shore with JJ, however in the aftermath a multitude of questions are asked about the cause of the crash; was it mechanical error or sabotage? Pilot error or an intentional crash? JJ’s father ran a right wing news service, and the channel’s irascible host, Bill Milligan, immediately cries conspiracy. So was JJ’s father the target, or was it the wall street banker who was also on board, a man who’d been laundering money for all manner of rogue states and who’d been on the verge of being arrested by the FBI.

As time passes more and more focus alights on Scott. Was he having an affair with JJ’s mother? Just how did a poor artist end up on such a lavish flight, and is there any connection to the fact that his latest work all feature disasters, including an air crash?

 

I bought this book less on the basis of the blurb on the back than the fact that Noah Hawley is the man responsible for the recent Fargo TV series, a show that’s been truly excellent to watch (at least the first two seasons, the third one has only just started and, if I’m honest, it hasn’t gripped me yet) and so I was drawn to the work of a man who’s clearly already written stuff I liked.

I was disappointed.

The cover announces that this is a thriller, but to be honest it’s not really that thrilling. Don’t get me wrong, the initial crash and Scott’s heroic swim are exceptionally well told, it’s just that after this point the book meanders, occasionally perking up, but too often veering off down side streets—where it parks up for a snooze before heading back onto main street one more.

It would be churlish to suggest Hawley isn’t a good writer, clearly he’s a very good writer, at least in script form (and I have heard people laud his earlier books). The trouble is that Before the Fall is all over the place, with Hawley skipping back and forth between past and present tense, and just when you think the plot is moving forwards he’ll drop back to before the crash and give us a chapter from the point of view of one of the victims. Sometimes there’ll be a potential clue here, but too often there isn’t, and all you’re left with at the end is a bunch of red herrings and loose threads that never got tied up.

And yes I know that’s how real life works sometimes, but a work of fiction should be tighter. For a book that isn’t that long there is an awful lot of padding. Hawley is also exceptionally pretentious, never relying on one simple word when three or four longer words will do, it’s like an exercise in “look how clever I am”, which seems odd given his experience as a script writer where brevity is the order of the day. Maybe this is him throwing off the shackles and deciding to write as many damn words as he wants.

There’s a kernel of an interesting idea here, about how the modern media react to tragedy, and how even a hero can find himself put under the microscope and suddenly be tarnished, the trouble is that idea is buried under tons of turgid prose that serves little purpose other than bumping up the word count.

It wouldn’t be so bad if the characters were anything more than cardboard cut-outs. Scott is a recovering alcoholic/womaniser/failed artist; Bill is an Alex Jones (the mad American one not the lovely Welsh one) style right wing nut. Gus, the lead crash investigator is a man wedded to the job with a failed marriage behind him who will clearly be played by Morgan Freeman in the eventual film…none of these people feel anything more than caricatures (and don’t get me started on the female characters who, in a book filled with two dimensional characters, are especially poorly served).

The book picks up towards the end but then peters out, a damp squib as the cause of the crash is revealed (and you’ll have probably guessed what the cause was long before you get to the end). Lauded as a literary thriller this is actually the kind of book that thinks it’s cleverer than it actually is, or else the reviewer is dumber than he thinks he is, that’s not impossible.

Maybe I’ll give Hawley’s prose another shot one day, but for the moment I think I’ll stick to Fargo.

 

The Mummy

Posted: June 17, 2017 in Film reviews, horror
Tags:

Directed by Alex Kurtzman. Starring Tom Cruise, Russell Crowe, Annabelle Wallis and Sofia Boutella.

 

The-Mummy-Tom-Cruise-and-Jake-Johnson

So that’s where I put my giant head!

In ancient Egypt Princess Ahmanet (Boutella) is first in line to succeed her father, the pharaoh Menehptre, or at least she was first in line. When Pharaoh has a son courtesy of his second wife Ahmanet slips down the pecking order. Not a woman to take disappointment lightly the princess sells her soul to the God Set and gains supernatural powers. She slaughters her family but, before she can claim the throne, her father’s priests capture her and mummify her alive, burying her in a sarcophagus where they think no one will find her.

In present day Iraq, solider (and part time treasure hunter) Nick Morton (Cruise) and his long-suffering partner in crime Chris (a nice turn from Jake Johnson) survive an encounter with IS militants as they search for lost artefacts to loot. In order to survive they have to call in the cavalry, but when the army arrive so does archaeologist Jennifer Halsey (Wallis).

When a cave-in reveals a hidden tomb Nick, Jennifer and Chris discover a sarcophagus. Jennifer insists it must be taken back to London, but en route things don’t go as planned. Soon the sarcophagus is lost and something monstrous stalks England.

Can the risen Ahmanet be stopped? What does this have to do with the uncovering of a Crusader tomb under London, and just what part does a mysterious Doctor played by Russell Crowe have to do with all this?

Sofia-Boutella.png

Come with me if you want to live…forever!

Mummy films have a long history in Hollywood that began with Universal studies who, between 1932 and 1955, made six Mummy films. That these began as straight horror films with Boris Karloff as the Mummy and ended with the Mummy meeting Abbott and Costello speaks volumes about how the franchise went downhill. Just a few years later the franchise was resurrected (see what I did there) by Hammer, and between 1959 and 1971 they made four Mummy films.

Flash forward to 1999 and Stephen Sommers gave us an action adventure romp starring Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz. More Indiana Jones than Boris Karloff the film was nevertheless a huge amount of fun and a huge success, spawning two sequels, plus a spin off (The Scorpion King) and a raft of straight to DVD sequels.

2017’s effort is clearly not the worst Mummy film of all time. What is clear is that it’s a long way short of the best Mummy film.

Its main problem is in what kind of film it’s trying to be? The 1999 version proved that turning the franchise into an action blockbuster could work, so the overall theme of the film isn’t the major problem. The trouble is that it tries too much to be all things to all people, without settling on a definitive tone. It’s not especially scary, but yet it does tread closer to horror than Sommers’ version did, and this is reflected in its 15 certificate, and whilst it’s action packed, it can’t compete with the kind of action franchises you get elsewhere. This leaves the film reliant on its performances and its script, and whilst the actors do ok, the script lets them down.

The film is incredibly derivative, not only of previous Mummy films, which you’d kind of expect, but also of other films—most notably other horror films. An American Werewolf in London is a wonderful film, and I wouldn’t decry any director who wanted to ape its glorious balance of horror and comedy, but lifting a recurring plot idea so shamelessly is so downright disgraceful that someone ought to sue. The other film , admittedly perhaps less well known and certainly less well lauded (though its truly wonderful in its own way) this riffs on is 1985’s Lifeforce; a film about a beautiful alien vampire who stalks England, sucking the lifeforce out of people by kissing them and turning them into desiccated zombies. Oh and she has a psychic link with the all-American hero who’s trying to stop her. Ahmanet’s mode of killing is so on the nose as a rip-off of Lifeforce (as is the look of the zombies she creates) that again I’m surprised legal action hasn’t ensued.

Throw in far too much exposition (hang on, it’s ten minutes since the last info-dump we’d better pause and regurgitate some more mythology) and lacklustre direction, and you’re left with a film that should be terrible. That it isn’t is down purely to some “so bad it’s great” moments and the performances.

Rumour has it that Tom Cruise had far too much creative control, and that’s part of the reason the film sucks, I can’t comment on this, all I can do is go with what’s on screen, and on-screen Tom almost saves the film through sheer force of personality. He’s engaging, funny, and proves yet again that he’s a good actor and an honest to goodness movie star.

Film Title: The Mummy

“I’m sorry, Tom, I can’t hide the truth any longer. I am the real monster of this film.”

If Cruise is the main reason to see the film, then Crowe’s performance is another. It’s fantastic. It’s just amazing for all the wrong reasons! I won’t go into why or how, suffice to say that there comes a point where his performance shifts and the film reaches such a level of preposterousness that you will either laugh or cry. I chose to laugh.

As the titular Mummy (or is she?) Sofia Boutella works very well. There’s a languid alien grace to her—no doubt born out of her dance training—and she’s probably a better villain than the film deserves. If anyone loses out it’s Wallis, who doesn’t get much to do other than explain what’s going on and fall in love with Nick improbably quickly.

The film will supposedly form the start of Universal’s Dark Universe, and one can only imagine that, having seen the riches Marvel/Disney have reaped in recent years, they’ve decided they want a piece of that, but the only property they own is all the old Universal monsters so, voila, let’s just reimagine the Mummy, Dracula and the Wolfman et al as superheroes/supervillains.

Based on how The Mummy has been received I wonder how many of the Dark Universe films will actually get made.

This is an unmemorable and derivative film that isn’t scary enough to be horror and isn’t action packed enough to be an action film, and yet I can’t say I didn’t enjoy it. It made me laugh (admittedly sometimes for the wrong reasons) and I was never bored at least so that’s something.

Ok then, I think that about wraps up this review…