The Book of Henry

fid17516Henry is 11 and a genius. He lives with his mother Susan and his younger brother Peter in a leafy suburb. Aside from setting his family up for life via the stock market he is concerned that apathy is worse than violence and people should do more to help others. When he suspects his classmate and neighbour Christina is in trouble he documents how his mother can help her in a book.

Directed by Colin Trevorrow this little indie film is sandwiched between Jurassic World (currently the 4th highest grossing film of all time) and Star Wars Episode IX on his directorial slate. It is also only the 3rd film he has ever made, with another indie feature called Safety Not Guaranteed his debut. And it is fair to say that this film has taken a critical mauling, one that I do not think it deserves. It is by no means a perfect film and it is incredibly strange in terms of where the plot goes, but as films go it’s fine with more than a dash of peculiar!

The opening half is a very standard precocious child film. Henry (Jaeden Lieberher) behaves like an adult and virtually runs the household. Susan (Naomi Watts) is a slightly wayward mother who plays video games (no, her controller movements bear no resemblance to the game she is playing as per every film to portray gaming). Peter (Jacob Tremblay) idolises his brother whilst living in his shadow. But then tragedy strikes and the film moves into surreal and dark territory, totally at odds with the tone of everything that has gone before. It’s a brave idea, but it’s not completely convincing and I struggle to find an underlying point to the story other than its surrealness.

It is undeniably intriguing though. And if Trevorrow wants to make indie curiosities in between tent poles then why not?

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Transformers: The Last Knight

tf5ovbbThe 5th Transformers movie from Michael Bay sees Cybertron heading to Earth to try to renew itself whilst we are treated to mythology about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table being part of Transformers history. Stanley Tucci is a drunken Merlin, Anthony Hopkins plays an utterly bonkers English Earl, Laura Haddock takes on the role of eye candy that every Transformers film must have (professor at Oxford who wears stiletto heels and low-cut dresses) and Mark Wahlberg returns to play hero.

I honestly can not make the plot sound remotely coherent because it is utter bobbins. The first Transformers film to be formed from a “Writers Room”, where only 3 people finished with a screenwriters credit feels like they were not in the same room when they wrote segments of the film. Arthurian legend is quite cool, stick it in. Wouldn’t it be good if Transformers killed Nazi’s? Stick it in. Submarines? Drones? Space ships? Hey, the film is going to run for an interminable 149 minutes so let’s just put it all in.

The film jumps jarringly from scene to scene with seemingly no connectivity, but not only that, it seems to do it during scenes. Multiple times it felt like I had blinked for too long, because characters were suddenly somewhere else or doing something else. We are introduced to a young girl at the beginning of the film, only for her to disappear for the entire middle section and to return to do virtually nothing at the end. And there are multiple examples of characters having no purpose whatsoever, as though their role was excised in the writing process but no one bothered to go back through the script and remove them completely. Anthony Hopkins entire role in the film is to show up in the middle to try to explain the plot to us, failing miserably at that, but being completely batty in the process. It is as though he feels his character must match the preposterous nature of the film.

The biggest crime of all though is how the Transformers themselves are portrayed. Firstly, as with all of these films they are secondary characters despite them clearly being what people want to see. Secondly, every robot must be a massive walking cliché. This time we are treated to a Suicide Squad style intro to a handful of Decepticons all with their own quirky cliche only for them to disappear 10 minutes later! Thirdly, Optimus Prime feels the need to constantly inform us he is Optimus Prime, thanks for that, I had forgotten because I slipped into a coma from boredom. Finally, without stating the specific characters for those who want to see this first hand, they utterly destroy 2 key characters introduced in this film, much like they did with the Dinobots in the last film.

Just for some balance, I actually think the first Transformers film was pretty decent. It had character and it focused well on the relationship between a likeable outsider and his talking car. Every film since then has been an impossibly awful over long series of slow motion explosions and zero characters to care about. This is no different.

 

Baby Driver

babydriver-04aBaby (Ansel Elgort) is a getaway driver paying off a debt to heist boss Doc (Kevin Spacey). Following an accident as a child he has tinnitus and constantly plays music off of his many iPods, every aspect of his life choreographed to music.

Simply put, this is a great film. Edgar Wright is back following creative differences on Ant Man, resulting in this being his first film in 4 years and he absolutely nails every creative decision here.

As a high concept pitch it is a car chase film set to music, but there is so much more to it. The car chases are great, Wright has talked about his love for them and recently curated a season at the BFI of his favourites. That’s shown here with real chases, no CGI and an exhilarating sense of speed. The music is diverse and cool, each song working well with the scene it’s paired with. Elgort is great as the nearly mute Baby and shares great chemistry with Lily James, who plays love interest Debora. But the whole cast is fantastic, with a rotating gallery of rogues pulling off the heists all feeling like fully formed characters. Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, Eliza Gonzalez, Jon Bernthal, Flea and Lanny Joon are all in the car with Baby at one point or another, all with their own hang ups and drives. (Pun intended).

At its best it feels like the camera is dancing around the action whilst a kinetic exhilarating heist unfolds. Watch this film!

 

Churchill

churchill-movie-posterThe first of two films about Winston Churchill this year decides to focus on the 3 days leading up to D-Day and takes a very human approach to its character.

I have to say I found the focus initially disorienting as this film is not about the decisive leader and greatest Briton who led us through the war. This is a film about a war veteran frozen with guilt and fear in the face of General Eisenhower (John Slattery) and Montgomery’s (Julian Wadham) plans for the invasion of France. The film opens with Churchill on a beach having flashbacks to the horror of Gallipoli, a campaign he feels responsible for and sees him rallying against the plans for the D-Day landings as not being enough. The idea being to show us all how human this man was.

Brian Cox steals the show of course, excellent as ever and succeeding in showing the humanity in an iconic figure. The film probably at its best when he is sharing the screen with Miranda Richardson as his wife Clementine and James Purefoy as King George VI. Both able to stand up against this man in their own way and steer him towards his duty.

Overall though, it lacks punch aside from a stand out lead role.

 

Gifted

gifted-posterFrank (Chris Evans) has been raising his niece Mary (McKenna Grace) since her mother died when she was a baby. At the age of 7 he is sending her off to school where it very quickly comes to light that she is a gifted child, something Frank already knew, but he is very eager for her to have a normal life. The resulting notoriety brings absentee grandmother Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan) into the frame and a child custody battle ensues.

For a film that checks so many genre boxes it also has some quietly assured performances that result in an amiable enough watch. The film takes in the following tropes: precocious child who is only occasionally annoying, selfless guardian trying to do the right thing, domineering grandmother arguing potential is being lost, a “fun” neighbour, a “sensitive” teacher, court room scenes and a cute pet. And despite how trite all of that might sound the performances are good enough to make us believe in the story and hope that this child will get the right outcome.

 

The Mummy

c8tvyd8voaain_pThe beginning of Universal’s Dark Universe starts with a reboot of the Mummy starring Tom Cruise, Sofia Boutella, Annabelle Wallis and Russell Crowe. Cruise is a soldier looking for plunder in Iraq when he discovers the tomb of an evil mummy. Set on turning him into the living embodiment of Set, the God of Death she pursues him to England where they take in Dr. Jekyll’s secret organisation that researches evil.

What I enjoyed most about this film is how confident Universal seem to be of their fledgling  cinematic universe. The film starts with a Dark Universe logo and is suitably fitting of that moniker to warrant a 15 certificate, something that a summer blockbuster would usually avoid like the plague! The film itself though is mostly generic, but whips along at fast enough of a pace to prevent you getting bored.

Its most interesting moments are in the make up and design of The Mummy, both before and after her transformation. Boutella doing another great job under make up and CG following Kingsman and Star Trek Beyond. It is at its oddest when Crowe’s Hyde manifests. But in the main, it is a Tom Cruise action film where he barrels through action scene after action scene, but never hits the heights of a Mission Impossible or Edge of Tomorrow.

Kinetic enough to pass the time, but not a film that you would necessarily return to.

My Cousin Rachel

17434744_1914677452098547_2460996709452620826_oPhilip (Sam Claflin) is an orphan who was raised by his cousin Ambrose and is heir to his considerable estate. When Ambrose is taken ill he heads to warmer climates to recuperate and sends letters back to Philip of him meeting and falling in love with his cousin Rachel (Rachel Weisz). When his letters start to become paranoid suggesting Rachel is poisoning him, Philip rushes to see him only to find he has died and Rachel is gone. Later she arrives at his estate and whilst Philip plans to confront her, he becomes infatuated. But what really happened and is he in danger?

Based on a Daphne Du Maurier novel this is the second film adaptation of the story, the other starring Olivia de Havilland was made in 1952. Unfortunately I have not seen that version to compare, but I would be surprised if anything could beat Weisz performance in this version. She is phenomenally good in an otherwise indifferent film, one with a lot of potential, but not quite fulfilling it.

Weisz is able to keep us guessing at all turns, whilst being utterly believable as someone men would fall over themselves to please. Is she a femme fatale or is she misunderstood? The other beautiful aspect of the film is the cinematography, beautiful vistas of the Cornish coast and candle lit interiors make this a spectacle to watch.

Its weakness lies in the other characters and their chemistry. Claflin is fine as the naive Philip, but seems to share little chemistry with Weisz or Holliday Grainger who plays his long time suitor Louise. A little more frisson here and some more clarity as to Rachel’s motives and this would be a great, rather than good period thriller.

Wonder Woman

wonder-woman-poster_1200_1778_81_sDiana (Gal Gadot), Princess of the Amazons has grown up on the island of Themyscira with only stories of the world of men when Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crash lands and brings the realities of World War 1 into her life. With Trevor as her guide, she sets out to defeat Ares, the God of War whom she blames for the corruption of mankind.

Straight away it is easy to say the 4th film in the DC Cinematic Universe is easily the most likeable and all round accomplished film.

The key winning factor here is that this film is about hope and purity and wanting to do good. Diana is not gray, she is not battling her dark side as she has none and she is not questioning her role in this world because it is clear to her. Whereas DC’s new versions of Batman and Superman are doing those things, Wonder Woman is virtuous and full of hope. Something that we can all get behind in a Superhero film.

The situation helps greatly here. This is an origin story, not connected to the cinematic timeline laid out already aside from a single photograph seen in Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice (B vs S from here on). Set in WW1 there is no need to do anything but focus solely on Diana and we get to see her grow up on Paradise Island, encounter men and choose to fight for mankind. The scenes in Themyscira are sun bleached and beautiful in contrast to the gray of the real world but never at any point are we in the perpetual dark of B vs S or Suicide Squad. The action scenes are also in the main brilliant and coherent, an issue previous DC films have suffered with. They even get very close to not going all out CGI in the final fight, but can not quite resist it.

The casting is all round excellent work. Gal Gadot is genuinely brilliant as Diana, stunning to look at, athletic and convincing as a fighter, but surprisingly funny also. Chris Pine is a charismatic spy and convincing as the man who makes Diana leave her world. Robin Wright and Connie Nielson strong and true as mother and aunt of the Amazon Princess. Only when you come to the villains of the piece played by Danny Huston and Alena Anaya do you see more generic German baddies.

Naysayers could easily say that this film is just two of Marvel’s previous successes thrown together. The opening scenes explaining the legend of the Amazons and Diana’s heritage come from Thor, even down to the fish out of water humour when she first arrives in the real world. The WW1 plot and the German scientists building weapons of mass destruction taken from Captain America and just switching out which war it is. Arguably this is true, but any complaints of similarities between DC and Marvel comics should be aimed at comic makers a very long time ago and does it really matter when it delivers such a fun film?

A few final thoughts; Director, Patty Jenkins, please don’t wait another 14 years between films (Monster was great too); I hope the DC Extended Universe has found its tone now in the lead up to Justice League; And you do not need to stay to the end of the credits, this is DC, not Marvel.