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.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge

17015800_10154981836668830_529268610073059017_oJack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) returns for the 5th Pirates film in another densely plotted tale of double crosses and derring-do. This film feels in part an homage to the original with an undead pirate (Javier Bardem) chasing Jack Sparrow whilst a young couple (Brenton Thwaites and Kayla Scodelario) uncover the secret of the curse.

This installment also has the confusing quirk of being called different names in different regions. (If you want evidence of this, check out the poster I have embedded in this review). The opening moments dramatically end with Bardem’s Salazar uttering Dead Men Tell No Tales only for the titles to appear and tell us this is Salazar’s Revenge. But aside from the question of which is the better title, have they made a decent film following the diminishing returns of films 2, 3 and 4?

It is certainly better than On Stranger Tides, but I would be hard pushed to suggest it’s better than the opening trilogy. Its best aspects are few and far between, Scodelario makes a good impression as a woman of science driven to finding a map that no man can read, Bardem is fairly menacing as a villain that sometimes sounds like Darth Vader under some impressive visual effects and there is a fun cameo from Paul McCartney. And it’s poorer aspects are retreads of the series general failures. It is impossible to understand the lore of this universe, magic compasses, tridents and curses all seemingly being made up as we go along. Thwaites makes little impression as one of the new leads and Depp feels more and more like a parody of himself. In the original film, there was a hint that Sparrow knew what he was doing, now he’s just a buffoon. And finally, perhaps most damagingly the characters motivations seem poorly fleshed out. Barbosa (Geoffrey Rush) has little reason to get back on the ocean, but does so anyway and a new substitute British Captain played by David Wenham seems superfluous entirely, other than the need to have the British navy chasing them as per the original film.

Mediocre at best overall. If you stay to the very end of the credits you will also be treated to a very lacklustre sting suggesting more sequels.

Baywatch

baywatch-truck-poster-500x740Baywatch on the big screen follows a similar format to the frankly terrible small screen predecessor. Mitch Buchannon (Dwayne Johnson) is king of the lifeguards and behaves like a police officer whilst incredibly attractive women wear little and run in slow motion. In attempting to follow in the footsteps of 21 Jump Street and turn the preposterous plot into comedy gold the filmmakers have opted for a 15 rating and filled the film with F-bombs and sex jokes. Unfortunately, it lands closer in execution to this year’s other TV remake C.H.I.P.S. Given that virtually no one in the UK watched that film, it is worth pointing out this isn’t a great comparison.

The film starts well. The opening 20 minutes has some verve, introducing the characters, having a joke with the premise and using Dwayne Johnson’s charisma to good effect. But it’s all downhill from there. It’s rarely funny and falls into the same trashy plot of the TV show, despite this supposedly being the joke it is unable to cash in on it. Scenes on which a police officer tries to explain to the team that they are just lifeguards, should be hilarious but fall flat.

Zac Efron, now a sign of a poor comedy following Mike and Dave need wedding dates, Bad Neighbours 2 and Dirty Grandpa is completely wasted. Although perhaps not as wasted as the entire female cast whose entire job it is to look good wearing little.

Overall it is just a crushing disappointment on the glimmer of a good idea, after all, if the Baywatch TV series isn’t ripe for an ironic self-referential comedy I am not sure what is.

 

Snatched

ho00004350Emily (Amy Schumer) is a bit of a mess. Sacked from her job and dumped in the opening minutes she has no one to go on her non-refundable holiday to Ecuador. In a bid to introduce some fun into her mother’s (Goldie Hawn) life she invites her along and they promptly get kidnapped.

Amy Schumer’s debut film Trainwreck was genuinely hilarious and fun to watch, so Snatched has a lot to live up to. Especially when you add ditzy comedy hero Goldie Hawn into the mix. Unfortunately whilst there are some very funny moments it does not always work.

There are a number of issues, including but not limited to; Goldie Hawn is playing the straight role to Schumer which feels like a waste; the other American tourists at the resort (Joan Cusack and Wanda Sykes) are just too odd and unfunny; the plot itself is wafer thin and cliché in its portrayal of “rough” locals.

But it is fun and at only 90 minutes it does not wear out its welcome. Schumer is always value for money and an American adventurer they encounter on the way brings some great, if telegraphed comedy.

Colossal

ho00004354Colossal is such a unique and interesting film that I want to give a strong recommendation to go watch it without giving you too much information on the reasons why.

The extent of the plot that can be safely divulged is that Gloria (Anne Hathaway) is at her lowest ebb, unemployed and drinking too much, she returns to her hometown after being dumped by boyfriend Tim (Dan Stevens). Back home she rekindles an old friendship with Oscar (Jason Sudeikis) but continues her drinking. Waking from a drunken night out she sees the news that a monster has attacked Seoul and it shares an idiosyncratic head scratch with Gloria.

The story constantly keeps you guessing and the underlying drama is much deeper than your average kaiju movie. Hathaway plays a screw up with addiction issues in such a way as to make us route for her and Sudeikis whom I’ve never seen in anything other than a comedic role is revelatory. Ultimately the film goes in directions that blockbuster summer films would not dream of and it’s worth supporting.