47 Metres Down

47-meters-down-2017-06Sisters Lisa (Mandy Moore) and Kate (Claire Holt) are on holiday in Mexico when they decide to go on a daring dive in a cage to see sharks. When catastrophe strikes they find themselves 47 metres down at the bottom of the ocean, running out of air and fighting for survival.

This film owes a lot to the vastly superior “The Shallows” which came out last year, not just for its shark content but because this film was destined for a straight to DVD release before its success. But it can not match that films tension or pacing unfortunately. The set up feels straight from a soap opera. Sisters, who look nothing like each other, are on holiday in Mexico, one of whom has split up with her boyfriend because he thought her boring and is spurred into doing something dangerous to make him jealous. The fact that this is mentioned multiple times to get her into the cage feels like terrible motivation to move the plot forward. Once at the bottom of the ocean there are occasional jumps brought by the claustrophobic dark. In fact it is in these parts that it feels most inspired by another superior film, “The Descent”. Claustrophobic darkness and squeezing through gaps at the last moment to avoid sharks feeling remarkably similar to the potholing of that film.

All in all though, this 89 minutes feels far too predictable and pales in comparison to its peers.

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Cars 3

cars-3-us-posterLightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) returns for the third installment in the franchise with him now the old-timer threatened by a new rookie on the Piston Cup circuit, Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer). In his quest to find the speed he needs he revisits the life of his old mentor Doc Hudson (Paul Newman) accompanied by his new trainer Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo).

Cars, for me, has always been the weakest Pixar offerings and unfortunately despite some nice touches and phenomenal looking animation this is no different.

Flipping the story from the first film is one of those touches, it is nice to see the themes brought full circle from McQueen being the rookie coming through the field to the veteran racer. But it does not really give the new rookie any screen time to be more than just a rude annoyance given that he disappears for the entire middle section of the film. Then we move on to McQueen’s new trainer Cruz, who gets a few establishing scenes and a crazy demolition derby before we move to Doc Hudson’s home town. Here we are treated to a bar scene where a band sings a Bruce Springsteen song (nice touch) and an underlining of Doc’s name being Hud, because of course he is voiced by Paul Newman who played Hud (sledgehammer subtle). This, like in the first film is where we have the moral centre of the film. Again, the echoing of the original is a nice touch and having Newman’s Hud pop up for flashbacks is great, although I am not sure about the moral standpoint. Newman died 9 years ago and all of his lines are cuttings from the original film. The ending will be a crushing disappointment to any adult watching as well, not because of how it ends, but because of the way we get to that moment.

But for all the underwhelming nature of the film, the moment the final race ended prompted my 6-year-old son to utter “Yes!” under his breath and that just proves that the target audience will be thrilled by what they see. It is just that unlike Toy Story, Up, Finding Nemo or the many other Pixar offerings out there, the adults in the room might just be thinking “finally!”

The Big Sick

the-big-sick-posterKumail (Kumail Nanjiani) is a struggling stand up comic who meets Emily (Zoe Kazan) at one of his gigs. Romance blossoms but Kumail’s Pakistani heritage and a sudden illness threaten to break them apart.

Kumail’s family want him to marry a Pakistani girl and constantly arrange awkward appointments at family meals for him to meet girls. But Kumail’s fear of telling his family about the white girl he is in love with creates a rift between him and Emily. And her sudden illness results in him having to bond with her parents (Ray Romano and Holly Hunter) in hospital waiting rooms.

Where this film succeeds over so many other comedies right now is that it is a well scripted and well acted comedy with a rounded story. There is little to no ad-libbing on show here and every character feels fully realised. Even one of the many girls who has to awkwardly meet with him gets a moment to explain the difficulties attached.

Based on a true story, this is a remarkable romantic comedy that succeeds in being charming, funny and heartfelt. Written by the real life Kumail and Emily it also manages to accurately reflect cultural differences and the bond people have with family and country (thanks to Kumail’s amazing one man shows). Stay for the initial minute or so of the credits and you will be treated to some real family photos of the couple.

Dunkirk

ho00004397Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk is a masterpiece from a master film maker. As with Nolan’s other films as much as possible is kept under wraps until release date, something rare in a world filled with trailers for trailers when entire plots can be gleaned from the teasers leading up to the release of a film. But surely, we all know the story of Dunkirk? That may well be true, but where Nolan surprises constantly is the way the film is structured and the emotional impact wrought from the intensity of the build up.

The story unfolds across land, sea and air. One week on land, one day at sea and one hour in the air. All of those stories cut together with events seen from different perspectives. Nolan has proved he is a master of bending time and space before in Memento, Inception and Interstellar and he does it again here in such a way as to make events almost unbearably tense even when you know what is going to happen.

And whilst it will be already clear that this is a must watch movie, I want to underline how much this film should be seen in the cinema. Much is made of Nolan’s use of 65mm film and the larger image this provides, but the most outstanding technical achievement in this film is the sound design. You absolutely should watch this in an IMAX screen if possible, but just having the benefit of a cinema sound system is going to be a vitally important element to the experience. When enemy planes are bearing down on the troops it is the sound that has you gripping your arm rest. And when bullets start to fly it is the sound that have you jumping out of your seat.

Finally to the cast, all round excellent at portraying the gravity of their situations. Fionn Whitehead leads the story on land, a naive young man desperate to survive, Mark Rylance leads the story at sea as a diligent man prepared to do what must be done and Tom Hardy leads the story in the air as a stoic RAF pilot. And it is Hardy who I would single out for an exceptional performance, mostly told through his eyes.

An all round exceptional experience.

The Beguiled

the-beguiled-poster_1200_1778_81_sThree years into the American Civil War and young Amy (Oona Lawrence) comes across a wounded Yankee soldier (Colin Farrell) whilst picking mushrooms. Taking pity on the enemy soldier she takes him back to her all girl school where sexual tension rises amongst the residents. Owner, Miss Martha (Nicole Kidman) veers between wanting to turn him over to the confederate troops and sharing a brandy with him whilst the eldest members Edwina (Kirsten Dunst) and Alicia (Elle Fanning) seem awakened by the attention.

Whilst this is a remake of a 1971 film of the same name starring Clint Eastwood and Geraldine Page I could never imagine that to be the case based on how quintessentially Sofia Coppola this film is. Coppola is the writer/director of The Virgin Suicides, Lost in Translation. Marie Antoinette, Somewhere and The Bling Ring. As with those films you get the following themes; beautiful, but woozy and dreamlike camera work, strong female lead roles and a somewhat detached and distant emotional connection to events.

The cinematography is beautiful, exteriors are full of sunlight drenched gardens, whilst interiors seem to be lit with natural candlelight or sunlight through windows. Dunst and Fanning, both Coppola film veterans now in their 3rd and 2nd outings respectively stand out amongst the cast. But, and it pains me to say it, this feels the most emotionally detached of all of her films and it has a massive impact on the enjoyment of the film. It feels as though we are voyeurs not completely aware of what is motivating these characters actions and as a result it feels like a cold and distant dream.

A film to technically admire, but not to love.

War for the Planet of the Apes

apesposterFollowing Rise and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes the trilogy concludes with War. Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his ape tribe are being hunted by soldiers and a devastating attack on their camp leads to a personal quest by Caesar to end the war.

Whilst titled “War” it is much more of a personal journey for Caesar as he journeys with a small group into the soldiers base. The Colonel (Woody Harrelson) leads his troops like a zealot, giving speeches and shaving his head with a straight razor whilst his troops have daubed their gear with “monkey killer” and other mantras. The references to Apocalypse Now could not be more obvious when the film knowingly references them with a wall marked “Ape-pocalypse Now”. The story of whether Caesar will lose his humanity in his fight with them is gripping and sold in the main by Andy Serkis phenomenal performance.

Whether awards ceremonies will finally recognise motion capture performances must come to the fore following this performance. Serkis conveys such a range of emotion for a fully rounded character the fact that it is covered by state of the art effects must be ignored. Speaking of which, the effects here are so good that you will completely forget that they are there, other than perhaps to wonder how they manage it.

The Apes trilogy is one that has grown in stature with each iteration and this is a startling piece of film making that never loses momentum and provides huge emotional impact. Every plot thread has a purpose and is paid off in due course throughout the story. It also manages to pay homage to the original series of films with character names and a major plot point.

If only more summer blockbusters were this intelligent and this rewarding. It will be a shame to see an end to the series but it is a fitting finale.

 

The House

ho00004389Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler star in a high concept comedy about parents who decide to open an illegal casino in their friends home to pay for their daughters college tuition fees.

Let’s get this out of the way quickly, this is an awful film with very little positive to talk about. The opening set up is forced and you will be hoping it gets funny when the casino antics are in motion but unfortunately you will be treated to sporadic chuckles whilst you wonder how so many talented people are in such a poor film. As usual, my complaint here is improvisational comedy is fine if it is part of a plot and used to come up with some gems. But it will not help something that would struggle to fill a 22 minute sitcom episode.

The only positive aspect, by a long margin are the crazy antics of Jason Mantzoukas, who plays gambling junkie Frank, whose home the casino is set up in. His desperation and casual attitude to the criminal aspects of the venture are the only thing that will regularly make you smile.

Despicable Me 3

624a8766869bf2bb563519261f0865beGru and his minions return for a really enjoyable romp through Illumination Entertainment’s world of super villains where the trump card is a truly brilliant new nemesis for Gru.

The plot should be wince inducing, but seems to work well in this strange world of villains. Gru (Steve Carrell) has a long-lost twin brother Dru (also Steve Carrell) which is brilliantly explained away by Gru’s mum (a returning Julie Andrews who missed the 2nd film). Dru wants to be a super villain, but is hopeless at it and wants to enlist his brothers help. But the main plot running through the film is of Gru’s battle with his new arch-enemy, the truly brilliant Balthazar Bratt (South Park’s Trey Parker). Bratt was a child television star who played a super villain, but when he entered puberty and his show was cancelled he took on the role for real.

The absolute joy of this film is rooted in the 1980’s. Super villain Bratt is stuck there and this means cheesy music, insane hair cuts, shoulder pads and dance fights! And if you do not think that will be funny, then this film might not be for you. The other stroke of genius is that the film sidelines the minions for the majority of the film, bringing them in for interludes that are very funny but not necessarily connected to the plot. I think this gives us the best of both worlds, as the minions proved they can not necessarily hold a film, but they are funny in short bursts. One particularly funny scene reminding me of West Side Story of all things.

Overall, a breezy 90 minute romp that should keep young and old laughing throughout.

Spider-Man: Homecoming

mv5bntk4odq1mzgznl5bml5banbnxkftztgwmtmymzm4mti-_v1_uy1200_cr8006301200_al_For the third time in 15 years we have a new Spider-Man and this time he is in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU from here). Thanks to an agreement between Sony and Marvel, Spidey is finally allowed to live in the same world as the Avengers, but only on the proviso that Marc Webb’s films with Andrew Garfield are consigned to history. So, how good is the new Spidey? Unfortunately I would say his score card is very mixed.

Picking up from Captain America: Civil War we first see our new Spider-Man excitedly watching phone footage of his adventures with the Avengers. It is good fun and sets the tone for this high school Spidey who is full of wise cracking humour. There is no origin story, no tale of Uncle Ben or “with great power, comes great responsibility”. On the flip side of that we see Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) as a contractor cleaning up the city after the events of the original Avengers film hung out to dry and forced unto using alien technology to create weapons as a means to provide for his family. Of course for those familiar with the comics Toomes will become the Vulture and he is destined to battle with Spider-Man.

So far, so good? Tom Holland is great fun as Spider-Man. Young enough looking to pass as a high schooler, great at wise cracks and athletic enough to look the part. Keaton is great as the Vulture, someone pushed down the wrong path by circumstance, but morally ambiguous enough to snap up the opportunity. Where it fails though is in the relationships Spider-Man has with those around him. It is far more excited about the fact that this is Spidey in the MCU and his relationship with Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau returning as Tony Stark’s bodyguard) and Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) than it is with his relationships with Aunt May (Marissa Tomei) and his high school friends. As a result we do not really see the bonds to his home life that matter the most. Aunt May is barely seen throughout and there are no moments showing the deep relationship between the two. Peter Parker’s best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) just gets to be more comic relief and advertise Lego. And love interests Michelle (Zendaya) and Liz (Laura Harrier) and school bully Flash (Tony Revolori) also have minority parts with perhaps Liz only getting any moments to shine.

This is exacerbated further by the fact that anyone who has seen the trailer knows the story arc between Spidey and Iron Man, thanks to another example of a terrible trailer showing all the major plot points. But at no point does the Spider-Man/Iron Man relationship compete with Sam Raimi’s Spidey/MJ/Harry Osborn dynamic or Mark Webb’s Spidey/Gwen Stacey dynamic.

So, thank heavens for Tom Holland and Michael Keaton then. Because they both really work hard to make this work and when the Vulture is soaring I think the film is at its best.

Oh, and as with all films in the MCU, hang around for a mid credits and post credits scene.

Okja

okja-posterOkja is my first review on this site for a film that I did not see at the cinema and that on its own gives me incredibly mixed feelings about the health of the Cinema. The film, financed by Netflix has received a limited cinema release the same day as it became available on the streaming service. So limited in the UK that I am unable to seek it out, especially when I already pay for Netflix. More about my thoughts on this state of affairs at the end of this review, but lets talk about the film because it is very much worth talking about.

Written and directed by Boon Joon Ho (The Host, Snowpiercer) Okja starts out as a live action My Neighbour Totoro and ends as a call to arms for vegetarians everywhere. Okja is a super pig, created by the Mirando Corporation to address world hunger. Led by CEO Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton) they aim to spin a heartless corporation into a caring one with a publicity stunt where they send 26 super pigs to different farmers across the world. The pig sent to Korea becomes Mija’s (Seo-Hyun Ahn) companion and the opening scenes are set in idyllic mountain side locations where we watch them bonding. Anyone who has seen My Neighbour Totoro will see the comparisons straight away, a giant super cute animal making odd noises bonding with a small girl, its a sweet introduction that makes you care about an animal intended for slaughter.

As Mija and Okja’s tale unfolds we are also introduced to Paul Dano’s Eco warrior Jay and Jake Gyllenhaal’s utterly crazy performance as a TV personality Johnny Wilcox. okja-character-posters-4-600x900The film is almost worth watching for his performance alone. Check out his character poster that I have included here for evidence of this.

The subjects of ethical practices, genetically modified foods and companionship wrapped up in a quirky, sometimes crazy and original world view make for a really thought provoking film that is well worth a watch.

But coming back to my comments at the beginning, how you can watch this film is very much limited to your home cinema. Unless you happen to be near a Curzon screen in the UK (6 of their 10 screens being in London). My issue with this is that mainstream cinema is now unwilling to take risks on original film makers with original visions. It is too dangerous for them to distribute this sort of film when they know they can make money with more generic fare. As someone who sees around 100 films a year at the cinema I still arguably only see mainstream films, borne out by the fact that critics like Mark Kermode’s best of lists often feature films never distributed at a cinema near me.

A state of affairs that means a director stung by the handling of his most recent film, Snowpiercer will turn to a streaming service. Where arguably more people will see it, but not on the big screen, where it would look best.