Archive for the ‘Film reviews’ Category

Kingsman: The Golden Circle.

Posted: October 5, 2017 in Film reviews
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Directed by Matthew Vaughn. Starring Taron Egerton, Colin Firth, Julianne Moore and Mark Strong.

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It’s ok. I’ll take the next ski-lift.

It’s been a year since Eggsy (Egerton) saved the world and became a fully-fledged Kingsman, taking on the codename Galahad, which had been his mentor Harry (Firth) Hart’s. He’s now working full time as an agent, and is living with Tilde (Hanna Alström) the crown princess of Sweden who he rescued at the end of the first film (and who had a rather novel way of, ahem, rewarding him for saving the world!)

An encounter with an old foe at first seems like nothing more than a case of attempted revenge, but it soon becomes clear that a larger plot is at hand orchestrated by Poppy Adams (Moore) head of the Golden Circle, a huge drug cartel. All too soon the Kingsman suffer major losses, and for Eggsy and Merlin (Strong) the only hope lies in contacting a secret American intelligence agency known as Statesman, whose front is a whisky distillery in Kentucky. When Poppy’s diabolical scheme is revealed the head of Statesman, Champagne (Jeff Bridges) throws the full weight of his agency behind the Englishmen, including assigning agent Tequila (Channing Tatum) and tech specialist Ginger Ale (Halle Berry) to help. There’s also assistance to be had from an old friend that no one expected to see again.

But not everyone is eager to stop Poppy’s plan, so can Eggsy save the day again, and can he maintain a relationship with Tilde whilst still undertaking some of the dirtier aspects of his job as a spy?

 

First off let’s state the obvious. The Golden Circle is nowhere near as good a film as The Secret Service was. That said, this is nowhere near the disaster some critics have suggested it is, though it is amazing that a film with so many flaws can still be hugely enjoyable.

It’s a bloated film though, and riding on the back of the initial film’s huge 2015 success Vaughn has secured a bigger budget, and seems to have spent a lot of it on hiring a huge retinue of famous faces, many of whom feature prominently in the film’s marketing yet don’t feature so heavily in the actual film. The worst example of this is Tatum, and if you’re a fan of the guy (and I’ve liked him in most things I’ve seen him in) then prepare for disappointment because he’s barely in the film at all—though there is an interesting tease at the end which suggests we may see more of him next time out. Bridges and Berry get more screen time, but neither is exactly integral to the plot. Bridges just hams it up and basically just gives orders, and Berry gets little more to do than provide Merlin with someone to talk to.

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“Sorry, we’re in the film five minutes and get paid how much?”

Yes much as with the first film, the female characters do tend to come off badly, from Berry to poor old Roxy (shunted off on a weather balloon in the first film she fares even worse here) and though it’s nice to see some continuity with the return of Tilde, she doesn’t get much to do either.

Thankfully Julianne Moore gets much more to sink her teeth into as Poppy, a deranged mastermind with a penchant for 1950s Americana and a chip on her shoulder because drugs get a bum rap compared to booze and fags.

There’s a nice performance from Pedro Pascal (Game of Thrones’ Oberyn Martell) as Statesman Whisky (who’s arguably the most prominent Statesman screen time wise) and though some have sneered, I found the low-key performance from newcomer Reginald Dwight quite fun.

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A gentleman always keeps his gun dry.

The heart of the film, as before is the relationship between Eggsy and Harry, and yes it’s a spoiler, but given they’ve plastered Colin Firth all over the trailers and the posters, I’d be amazed if anyone went in and was surprised to see Harry back from the dead. I won’t go into details about how he’s resurrected. Suffice to say it’s ridiculous, but Egerton, Firth and Strong collectively make it work, and frankly given how cool Harry Hart is, I’m tempted to give the filmmakers a bye.

Egerton continues to impress as Eggsy, switching effortlessly between working class kid from the wrong side of the tracks and debonair superspy with nary a missed beat. He has an effortless natural charm that makes him difficult not to root for. As for Firth his charm is far more practiced, but no less affecting, and I could watch the two of them all day.

Which is just as well given some of the places the film goes.

Yes, it’s time to talk about Glastonbury.

Anyone who’s seen the first film will remember the bit at the end, what was seen as an offensive misstep by many. Now I’ve gone out to bat for that scene a few times. It’s not that I think it’s funny, and it isn’t that I think the film needs it, but in what is essentially a Roger Moore Bond film turned up to eleven, there is a certain logic to the film finishing like a Moore Bond, only more so.

I have no desire to defend the Glastonbury scene. If the bum joke straddled the line then what happens in the yurt here crosses the line. As the wise philosopher Joey from Friends so eloquently put it. “You crossed the line, in fact you’re so far past the line you can’t even see it anymore. The line is a dot to you!” It’s gross and offensive and effectively features sexual assault. Of course, all the Bonds have seduced women to gain an edge over the years, but there’s something especially icky here, taking the juvenility of Austin Powers and turning it up to eleven, and if what happens in Glasto stays in Glasto, and I was able to set it aside and enjoy the remainder of the film, be under no illusions that this was down to masterful direction or nuanced writing. No, it was down to Egerton’s performance.

I look forward to Kingsman 3, I just hope Vaughn doesn’t feel the need to outdo himself once again, because he doesn’t need to do it. He has a great cast and a fun universe. Which doesn’t mean I want him to play it safe, he just needs someone to point out when he’s gone too far. Frankly I’d expect screenwriter Jane Goldman to do just that.

It’s too long and too baggy, and shoehorns way too many big names in to no great effect, but with Egerton and Firth on top form, and with a slew of exciting set pieces this is an enjoyable romp. I just hope Vaughn tones down the mysoginy, celeb cameos and too new the knuckle (literally) stuff next time out. I’m nowhere near being tired of Eggsy and Harry, but I might be a lot closer to being tired of Vaughn!

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That’s not a Mark Strong. This is a Mark Strong.

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Victoria & Abdul

Posted: September 22, 2017 in Film reviews
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Directed by Stephen Frears. Starring Judi Dench, Ali Fazal and Eddie Izzard.

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The James Bond reboot took a lot of people by surprise.

The year is 1887, Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee year, and as part of the celebrations two Indian servants, Abdul (Fazal) and Mohammed (Adeel Akhtar) and chosen to travel to England to present the Queen with a ceremonial gold coin. It’s only supposed to be a brief trip, but after Abdul catches the eye of Victoria (Dench) he and Mohammed find themselves drawn into the royal household.

As time passes the Queen becomes more and more enamoured of Abdul, and as his star rises, so too does the ire of the members of the Royal household, and especially of Bertie, the Prince of Wales (Izzard) and plans are drawn up to turn the Queen against Abdul and send the upstart Indian back home.

 

Victoria and Abdul has come in for some stick, and whilst I can see where much of it is coming from, I think some of it is unfair. The film isn’t perfect, but it isn’t quite as lightweight as some critics have suggested.

For a long time the presence of Abdul Karim, a Muslim at the side of Queen Victoria, was a story that few people knew about, so vehemently had his presence been excised from history, and part of the film’s problem is that the story almost seems to fantastical to be true, which is a shame given much of what we see here is presented quite accurately. The producers don’t help matters by claiming it’s ‘mostly’ inspired by true events.

There’s a nice symmetry to Dench playing Victoria once more opposite a man who provided companionship to Victoria after the loss of Albert. In 1997 this was in Mrs Brown opposite Billy Connolly as John Brown but now the object of her affection is amiable Bollywood star Fazal.

The cast are uniformly good, but really it’s Dench’s film, as she plays a woman who is incredibly powerful, yet seems a prisoner of that power, an old woman who knows she is nearing the end of her life, and for whom every day is a mundane struggle, until she spots the handsome young Indian and a spark of life is reignited within her. It’s a great performance by a great actress.

As Abdul, Fazal is given less to work with beyond wide-eyed devotion, and whilst his naiveite is engaging to start with it grates after a while as he never quite seems to wise up to how he’s being perceived by those around him.

Still it’s to both his and Dench’s credit that they form such a convincing relationship, and whilst it might be a very platonic love story, the film very clearly plays like a romance.

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Eddie considered that he was going to have to run a few marathons when the shoot was over!

As the Prince of Wales (Dirty Bertie) Izzard is unrecognisable, having put on the pounds and gained a beard, and he’s very good as the irascible next in line to the throne, balancing comic buffoonery with genuine menace. Bertie isn’t portrayed as a nice man, but it’s to his credit that Izzard wrings every drop of humanity out of him that he can.

As Abdul’s long-suffering friend Mohammed, Akhtar swings between humour and pathos. For long stretches of the film he’s the comic relief, yet eventually he has one of the stand out moments in the film and he plays it perfectly.

In his last screen role Tim Pigott-Smith does a sterling job as the Queen’s put upon Private Secretary, and there’s good work from Michael Gambon as Disraeli, and Olivia Williams and Fenella Woolgar as ladies in waiting. A cameo by Simon Callow as Puccini does seem a step too far however.

Some have seen the film as showing a saccharine version of British Imperialism, but given that practically every white British character other than Victoria is shown to be a snobbish racialist at one point or another this seems unfair. It’s worth noting as well that because the film spends very little time in India we don’t get to see very much of what the Raj was like which is a shame. Still Abdul telling Victoria the history of his country, and by the by mentioning the priceless artefacts that the British Empire stole/smashed in the process, is incredibly poignant.

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Abdul had a sneaking suspicion that Victoria may have lied about her age on her Tinder profile…

Yes, Victoria is portrayed as the only progressive in the British Empire, and yes for all that Abdul is naïve so is she with regard to just what crimes her subjects are perpetrating in her name, but at no point does it seem that all is rosy for the colonial subjects of the Empire.

But whilst it doesn’t completely take a rose-tinted view of Victoria, Abdul and the Empire, one can’t help feeling that the film plays it safe too often, and this applies to both sides of the divide. It would have been nice to hear more about what life was like in a subjugated India, but by the same token there’s potential for an interesting discussion around Muslim attitudes to women that’s never taken. How does Abdul reconcile his love for subservient, burka wearing wife with his affection for the most powerful woman in the world?

Still, the story of a friendship between an old woman and a young man is a breath of fresh air, even before you factor in the fact that one is a Muslim and the other a monarch.

Frears’ direction is assured and the film is sumptuous to look at. It may be light and whimsical at times, and maybe it doesn’t spend quite enough time delving into the darkened corners of the story (was Victoria really that progressive? Was Abdul really that naïve?) but that doesn’t mean it lacks heft when it needs it.

Amusing, well-acted, touching and well-staged this was a far better film than I expected it to be. I don’t expect I’ll rush to watch it again in a hurry, but I still enjoyed it more than many films I’ve seen this year.

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Unlike Vicky here this film didn’t remotely send me to sleep!

Wind River

Posted: September 16, 2017 in Film reviews
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Directed by Taylor Sheridan. Starring Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen.

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Scarlet Witch and Hawkeye go undercover!

Whilst out hunting wild animals on the Wind River Indian reservation in Wyoming, tracker Cory Lambert (Renner) discovers the body of an 18 year old Native American girl named Natalie Hanson in the middle of nowhere. She has no shoes and isn’t dressed for winter.

It looks like murder, but because the federal government has jurisdiction over capital crimes committed on reservations, the FBI must send an agent in to confirm this. Rookie agent Jane Banner (Olsen) arrives and, together with Cory and Tribal Police Chief Ben (Graham Greene), she investigates Natalie’s death.

But in the depths of winter, with a powerful storm on the way, the trio soon discover that blizzards and wildcats are not the only dangers that await them on tribal land.

 

In just a few short years former actor Sheridan has emerged as a powerful screenwriting presence. His first script was Sicario, and he followed it up with last year’s underrated Hell or High Water. Now he adds a directorial string to his bow by serving as both writer and director on Wind River.

Though ostensibly thrillers, all three of Sheridan’s scripts could also be rightly described as modern westerns, and all seem to involve a frontier of some kind, and all three harbour a deeper metaphor. In Sicario it was about the war on drugs, in Hell or High Water it was about farmers losing their livelihoods as the banks foreclosed, and now in Wind river it’s tangentially about the treatment of Native Americans, left to wither away on their reservations. It’s a message pushed home with a statement at the end pointing out that Native American women are the only demographic where no statistics are collected regarding disappearances.

It’s sad then that for a film about the marginalisation of Native Americans, the film itself marginalises them, and for the most part they are portrayed as victims. Sure, Cory has a Native American ex-wife and Native American kids, but he isn’t Native American, and neither is Elizabeth Olsen, and however good the film is—and in places it’s very good, in others not so much but more on that in a minute—this fact is pretty inescapable.

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“Seriously, Elizabeth, can’t you put in a good word for me with Disney? Marvel must have some Native American superheroes, right?”

This isn’t to say Native American actors don’t get prominent roles, as the tribal police chief Graham Greene is wonderfully sardonic (but then he’s always great in anything he does) and plays the kind of character you’d happily watch a tv show about, and whilst he isn’t in it much, Gil Birmingham impresses as Natalie’s father Martin, adding depth to what could have been a stock stoic warrior.

If I had one problem with Sicario it’s that the film side-lines it’s female lead in the denouncement so a man can go off and exact vengeance, and Wind River follows a similar pattern. In some ways it’s easier to accept in Wind River because clearly Renner is our point of view character, but it still feels a trifle unfair on Olsen who’s very good, managing to tread a fine line between making her FBI agent competent, whilst highlighting her inexperience. She might not always do the right thing, but she’s not incompetent. Sadly whereas Emily Blunt’s character in Sicario felt well rounded, Olsen never quite escapes primarily being a plot device to allow people to explain how things work in the wilderness/Reservation to. She is a strong character, it’s just a shame she wasn’t given more backstory.

Renner is a better actor than people give him credit for, but at time’s he’s hampered a little by a script that primarily wants him to a stoic frontiersman; a loner prone to staring off wistfully into the wilderness. At times Renner plays this very well, but at others it makes the film drag.

This is a slow burn of a film, and it would be incorrect to think of it as a serpentine mystery. What Sheridan is very good at is taking fairly simple plotlines, but making them more than the sum of their parts. I feel like I need to see it again because the first half is quite slow (but then it took a second viewing of Hell or High Water to truly appreciate that film as well). Sheridan is a decent enough director, and whilst the film drags a little in places, we eventually find ourselves with some great scenes later on. There’s a palpable tension at one point which reminded me of Tarantino at his best, and a fantastic gun battle that might well be one of the more realistic gunfights you’ll see in a movie, and it reminded me of how the Gunfight at the OK Corral is supposed to have gone down.

Sheridan and his cinematographer make full use of the snow-covered mountains and thick forests, emphasising the isolation of such an environment and further playing into the notion of the lone gunman bringing order to the wilderness.

There’s some wonderful dialogue and good performances, and the film has some interesting things to say about masculinity and the emasculation of Native Americans, but it’s slow pace and reliance on a white male hero in a film supposedly about Native Americans and women (plus, it’s fair to warn you, the presence of a graphic rape scene) mean that whilst I liked this, I didn’t like it as much as I expected to.

And I can’t shake the feeling that it would have been more interesting if Cory had been played by Gil Birmingham and/or if Jane had been the one to exact finale vengeance, but Sheridan is to be commended for telling simple stories well, and for his 21st Century approach to masculinity, and I remain a big fan of his work.

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“All I’m saying is, maybe you’re a little too obsessed with Braveheart.”

 

Atomic Blonde

Posted: August 22, 2017 in Film reviews
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Directed by David Leitch. Starring Charlize Theron and James McAvoy.

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As a feeling of icy dread enveloped her, Charlize knew the game was up, they’d finally caught up with her for all those overdue library books!

It is 1989, and the Berlin Wall is on the verge of coming down. James Gasciogne, an MI6 agent, is shot and killed by a KGB assassin who liberates from his corpse a list of all Western agents working behind the Iron Curtain, a list that could prolong the Cold War for decades.

Ten days later MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton (Theron) is brought in to MI6 headquarters to be debriefed by MI6’s Eric Gray (the ever-reliable Tony Jones) and CIA agent Emmett Kurzfeld (John Goodman)

After Gasciogne’s death Broughton was sent into Berlin to retrieve the list, and to identify Satchel, a high level double agent within MI6 who’s provided the Soviet Union with valuable information for years, and who might have betrayed Gasciogne to them. Helping (or possibly hindering) her is David Percival (McAvoy) the Berlin Station chief who’s gone somewhat native.

As Broughton’s debrief continues it soon becomes clear that things didn’t go remotely to plan, but did Broughton locate the list, and just who is Satchel?

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You can tell it’s the eighties, everyone’s smoking indoors!

Seeing the trailer for Atomic Blonde you’d be mistaken for imagining the film is a female led actioner ala John Wick film with added period setting, but whilst there are visceral set pieces to rival Keanu’s (the director apparently co-directed the first John Wick and was involved in the second) the film doesn’t come close to John Wick’s nonstop pace.

Based on a graphic novel it’s clear to say that the film has issues. It’s late eighties setting is stylised within an inch of its life, and its soundtrack, whilst great, is a little too on the nose at times. There’s lots of neon and handy graffiti style graphics to explain where certain scenes are set. All in all the style is a little overwhelming.

Then there’s the tone. Atomic Blonde can’t quite decide what kind of film it wants to be. On the one hand it clearly does want to parlay Theron as a female John Wick, but as I said it isn’t quite action packed enough, by the same token it wants to give us an espionage thriller ala Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy, but the plot is nowhere near serpentine enough and the action scenes tend to spoil the mood.

What’s most surprising about Atomic Blonde, having said all that, is that rather than fall between two stools it somehow manages to be more than the sum of its parts, and, though it took a little while, I ended up really enjoying it.

The cast are great. Theron’s already proved she can handle action, but she steps up her game here, and whilst there’s something superpowered about her agent at times, she throws herself into every fight with gusto. There’s no holding back and you feel every punch or kick (whether she’s taking them or dishing them out) at whilst not quite believable she does at least rely on cunning rather than brute strength to win many skirmishes. When she’s not fighting she’s icy cool, and her British accent is jolly decent into the bargain, plus she looks amazing in most every scene, from her thigh high boots to her Debbie Harry inspired hair, and she’s the best thing about the film.

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Nice tank-top James!

Close behind is McAvoy. Really nobody makes seedy look quite as appealing as McAvoy does and he’s at his sleazy best here as an agent who probably likes the Berlin underbelly a little too much.

Jones and Goodman give it their best back home, and there’s further glamour in Berlin courtesy of Sofia Boutella (who seems to be in everything these days, which isn’t a criticism as she’s always good) as a naïve young French agent who becomes embroiled in Broughton’s and Percival’s dealings. Finally there’s Eddie Marsan in fine form as a Stasi agent who stole the list and who now wants to defect.

The film is too long, and features a few too many double bluff endings. Like I say too often it’s style outweighs its substance, and as a final point I have to say that I’m sick and tired of the list of agents plot device. It wasn’t probably wasn’t new when Mission Impossible did it, never mind when Skyfall did it, so it’s really past it’s sell by date by now, so, Hollywood, can we pretty please have a new spy McGuffin?

But. Despite all those points there’s a lot to like about Atomic Blonde, so whilst it doesn’t quite go nuclear, it doesn’t fizzle out either. It’s worth it for Theron and McAvoy, a cracking soundtrack and the action scenes, one of which in particular is probably worth the price of admission alone, so please Check (point Charlie) it out!

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“Take that back about Snow White and the Huntsman!”

Dunkirk

Posted: August 3, 2017 in Film reviews
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Directed by Christopher Nolan. Starring Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh, Mark Rylance, Cillian Murphy and Fionn Whitehead.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

Spider-Man: Homecoming

Posted: July 22, 2017 in Film reviews
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Directed by Jon Watts. Starring Tom Holland, Michael Keaton and Robert Downy Jr.

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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.

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“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).

 

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“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.

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Baby Driver

Posted: July 16, 2017 in Film reviews
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Directed by Edgar Wright. Starring Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Lily James, Eiza González, Jon Hamm and Jamie Foxx.

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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.

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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.

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Groovy, Baby!