fbpx

Category: Reviews

Read the latest movie reviews.

Reviews

Review: VS. [Spoiler Free]

October 10, 2018

From the trailer, it may be tempting to simply call VS. the UK’s version of 8 Mile. Yes, there’s battle rapping & a white rapper at the lead of the story, but that’s where comparisons to Eminem’s 2002 semi-autobiographical film come to an end – and that’s a good thing. VS. is very much its own film, one which knows its audience and is of its time, the result is a wonderful coming of age drama which will resonate particularly well with younger audiences who’ve followed online UK HipHop / Grime platforms and seen their growth over the years.

The film follows 17-year-old Adam (played by Connor Swindells) as he moves into a new foster home in Southend and is befriended by Makayla (played by Fola Evans-Akingbola), he is then introduced to the world of battle rap. For those unfamiliar to the world of battle rap, over the past decade, globally the scene has evolved into its own distinct subculture within Hip Hop, with the likes of U.S based promotion, Ultimate Rap league; Candian promotion, King of The Dot & the UK’s very own Don’t Flop (co-founder, Eurgh makes a very brief cameo appearance). And despite being rap battles themselves being confrontational, the film also does a great job in depicting the relative comradery that exists within U.K battle rap community.

In telling the story of Adam’s foray into battle rap, co-writers Daniel Haynes & Ed Lilly (who also serves as the film’s director) have done a great job interweaving many topics into the film: the challenges of the foster care system, broken homes, sexual identity & using rap as a vehicle for self expression. The writers have managed to give each of these key areas its own time and place within the film, giving VS. enough depth to prevent the film feeling one dimensional. Many of the films most gripping moments are found in Adam’s interactions with his mother, Lisa (played by Emily Taaffe) and with Adam expressing his frustration with the foster care system that he feels trapped in. After this lead role performance, expect to see Connor Swindells in many more movies. Adam Rooney (real-life battle rapper Shotty Horror), also fits into his role effortlessly as the battle rapper, Slaughter. The rest of the cast has been carefully selected, with the likes of veteran actor, Nicholas Pinnock; actor/rapper, Paigey Cakey and rising star, Jovian Wade all fitting in perfectly to the film.

VS. will instantly find a home with those who follow battle rap and online Hip Hop / Grime media platforms such as LinkUp TV & GRM Daily. However, for those simply looking for a refreshing British coming of age story, look no further.

Verdict: 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

VS. is released October 19th in UK Cinemas.

Reviews

Review: Deadpool 2 [Spoiler Free]

October 4, 2018

This week’s review features the red-suited “Merc with a mouth” Deadpool as he embarks on another profanity-ridden adventure across your television screen.

Maximum effort.

Why now?

Deadpool 2 was released on DVD and Blu Ray in the UK towards the end of September.

In a nutshell

Wade Wilson has been fighting crime as the mercenary Deadpool for two years when a personal tragedy (hasn’t he had enough of those?) forces him to team up with some lesser-known members of the X-men to track down and rescue a young mutant barrelling down a dark path towards violence. His quest brings him face-to-face with Cable, a cybernetic super-soldier from the future who’s travelled back in time with some violence of his own on the agenda.

Who’s it for?

Not your granny, that’s for sure – as with its predecessor, Deadpool 2 is chock-full of gory violence, sexual innuendo and naughty words, and as such is R-rated.

Who’s in it?

Ryan Reynolds plays Deadpool in such a way that no-one else ever really could, much like Heath Ledger’s Joker. His charisma and comedic delivery keep the film ticking along at a steady pace as he bounces off every other character on screen (figuratively and often literally). The Deadpool movies wouldn’t be up to much without him playing the titular character.

Supporting Reynolds is Morena Baccarin as Vanessa (in a smaller but possibly more weighty role), the brilliant Josh Brolin (can’t not hear Thanos now, though), Julian Dennison (you’ll see), and a host of others returning to their roles from the previous film. There are a few wonderful cameos throughout as well, but I won’t spoil those for you.

The good stuff

This is another very funny, irreverent superhero film that constantly pokes fun at itself and its genre. If you like Ryan Reynolds and have a fairly good grasp of Marvel, you’ll find this hilarious. It’s also well-directed and has a surprisingly solid storyline.

The not so good stuff

Like the first Deadpool, the film frequently threatens to collapse under the weight of its toilet humour. I found myself wincing at times when yet another barrage of swear words spills out of Deadpool’s mouth when a less-profane line would have done the same job. There could also have been more Cable, but Brolin’s signed on for multiple films so he’ll be back soon enough. It also feels a little too long at almost two hours.

Best quote

Cable: I use a device to slide through time. The longer I travel, the harder it is to control. I got two charges: One to get me here, one to get me home.

Wade Wilson: [looks at the camera] Well, that’s just lazy writing.

The bottom line

If you’re a fan of the first Deadpool movie, you’ll like this one. It’s almost as good, and only falls short because it isn’t (and can’t be) as original as its predecessor. In all honesty, it wouldn’t be one I’d watch again in a hurry, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a solid flick that’s certainly worth a home viewing.

Again, though, just don’t watch it with your granny.

Verdict: 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Reviews

Review: Venom [Spoiler Free]

October 3, 2018

Comic book movies have been big business this year. Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War and Deadpool 2 are all among the highest grossing films of the year. It’s not surprising therefore that Sony is looking to continue the trend of big comic book hits by making a movie about one of Spiderman’s greatest villains, the alien symbiote, Venom.

Combining the reliability of the Marvel brand with the super anti-heroics of films like Deadpool and Suicide Squad and the box office draw of Tom Hardy. Will this version of Venom be a success or will we all be left pining for the days of Spiderman 3? Let’s look.

The Story

Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) is a reporter with a conscience, always wanting to find the truth. He has a fiancé, Anne (Michelle Williams), a weekly TV show and even a cute cat. But when he asks the head of the life corporation, Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), the wrong questions he loses everything. A few months later, a scientist from the life corporation comes to him to help expose what Carlton Drake has been doing. But when Eddie enters Drake’s facility, he finds that Drake has been using people as hosts for alien symbiotes, brought back from a life corporation space mission. During the ensuing scuffle, Eddie ends up as host to one of the symbiotes. The symbiote, known as Venom, then uses his body to escape and fight off anyone who opposes him.

What did I like?

Venom has received a lot of bad press but not all of it is deserved. For one thing, many of the actors do a fine job. Tom Hardy holds himself well with what the script asks of him, and his accent is not as off-putting as some people feared it would be. And as Venom he manages to steal the show from under himself as he gives the frightening goliath a good sense of dark comedic timing combined with surprisingly good self-chemistry. Riz Ahmed also continues to impress. His character is not afforded any depth, but he plays his role to the hilt and infuses a lot of gravitas into his scenes.

The action scenes and the effects are also quite well done. The symbiotes natural forms are very gooey and suitably gross and when Venom reveals himself, he is just as imposing and intimidating as fans of the comics would want him to be. The action scenes are also suitably energetic. The motorcycle chase in the middle of the film and the final showdown has some imaginative touches regarding what the symbiotes can do.

And the film works ok as a standalone. Despite the connection to Spiderman being a big part of the character’s history, the screenwriters have fashioned a plot that makes Venom a separate entity from his comic origins. While still showcasing Venom’s trademarks including body morphing, weakness to sounds and his emotional connection to his host. Unfortunately, the negatives of the film outweigh everything else.

What needed improvement?

Hardy said 30-40 minutes of material were cut and it really feels like it. The film’s editing is awful. Some scenes lack any clear payoff. For example, when Eddie is on an island surrounded by guards, hiding up a tree, we transition to a new scene, with no indication of what happened. The film’s pacing also suffers because of the editing. Several scenes race by barely elaborated on, the spaceship opening, and the final villain reveal highlight this offence. Then the brakes are applied for lengthy character discussions and comedic scenes. Which could be forgiven, but many of the characters have no personality.

The actors do their best, but the script gives them nothing to work with. Every character is a blank archetype. Eddie Brock is a boring cardboard cut-out who drones on about doing the right thing but never grows as a person. Aside from learning to be ok with eating people, which he takes to surprisingly quickly. Carlton Drake is a cartoon villain, but the worst offender is Michelle William’s character. Whose only function in the plot is to serve Eddie’s story. A lack of romantic chemistry between the two leads also hurts the proceedings. Even Venom, as fun as he is, has little to no motivation for the things he does. This is not helped by dialogue that comes free with any version of Microsoft Word.

There are other points of annoyance too. The music is flavourless and forgettable. The lack of blood is disappointing for a 15 rated character-driven comic book film. Especially in the wake of Logan. And a lot of the comedy is too broad to make an impact.

The Big Problem

What ultimately condemns Venom is that it does not know what it wants to be. Is it a violent comic book anti-hero movie like Deadpool or Suicide Squad? No. Those movies had characters with big personalities and facets that made you feel for them despite their questionable actions. Venom is boring, glum and populated with stereotypes. Is it trying to be a faithful adaptation of the comic? Potentially. But Spiderman’s absence and the watered down violence will not please hardcore comic fans and the lack of explanation for his powers in this universe and the general ineptitude of the rest of the film will alienate non-fans. Is it just trying to entertain? Maybe. But in an age, where comic book movies have showcased more imaginative and complex stories and have become more than just entertaining distractions, the viewing public deserves better.

Bottom Line

Venom is a great disappointment that wastes its talented stars and potential for an interesting, violent, character-driven storyline. The script is rampant with clichés, stock characters and boring dialogue. Which is not helped by the final product having been edited with a meat cleaver and a lack of understanding about its target audience. If you want a well-acted popcorn film then there are much better films out there.

Verdict: 1 out of 5 stars (1 / 5)

Reviews

Review: Mile 22

September 28, 2018

MILE 22 is 22 miles of blood, sweat and tears!

An elite American intelligence officer, aided by a top-secret tactical command unit, tries to smuggle a mysterious police officer with sensitive information out of the country.

Watch to Rachael’s review of Mile 22 starring Mark Wahlberg.

Reviews

Review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

September 22, 2018

This review contains some spoilers.

My wife and I sat down this week for a small-screen viewing of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, which was recently released on DVD.

Admittedly, this genre wouldn’t normally be my cup of tea, but after only a little coercion from Christine (who very much does like films in this genre), we decided to try it.

Caffeine and apple pie at hand (didn’t fancy the potato peel version), we settled in.

The story

Guernsey (the full title’s a bit of a mouthful, right?) is an historical-romantic drama directed by Mike Newell, starring Lily James in the lead role as Juliet Ashton, a successful novelist in the post-war era (very post-war, actually, as the film’s set in 1946). While promoting her latest book with publisher Sidney Stark (Matthew Goode), through whom she’s been contracted to write stories for The Times Literary Supplement about the benefits of literature, she is contacted by Dawsey Adams (Michiel Huisman, of Game of Thrones fame) about buying one of her novels.

Dawsey resides on Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands, where he is part of “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.” A prologue in the film reveals that the society was formed five years earlier during the German occupation when Dawsey and his friends make up the unusually-named book-reading group on the spot when stopped by the Nazis after breaking curfew. They’ve met every Friday night since and become firm friends.

After exchanging some letters with Dawsey, Juliet becomes fascinated by the Guernsey society and decides to travel to the island to meet with them – just to complicate things a bit more, her wealthy American boyfriend Mark Reynolds (Glenn Powell) proposes to her just as she’s getting on the ferry (sneaky move).

Shortly after arriving, Juliet meets the members of the society where she is treated as a great celebrity by the members: Amelia Maugery (Penelope Wilton), Isola Pribbey (Katherine Parkinson), Eben Ramsey (Tom Courtenay), and Eben’s young grandson, Eli (Kit Connor), as well as Dawsey Adams. The members tell Juliet that Elizabeth (Jessica Brown Findlay), who founded the group that fateful night in 1941, is overseas.

The rest of the film plays out gradually as Juliet uncovers more and more of the society’s story, particularly the circumstances around the mysterious absence of Elizabeth, with whom Dawsey (apparently) has a little girl called Kit. As you might expect, there’s more to Guernsey society than meets the eye, and Juliet soon finds herself fully invested in all of them, especially Dawsey, with whom she quickly falls in love.

The things I liked

First up, the cast is great. Lily James’ star continues to rise, and she’s well-worth her leading role credit here, playing an intelligent, compassionate young woman who you can’t help rooting for throughout. Wilton is fantastic as the troubled Amelia, doing her best to steal every scene she’s in with her intensity and brokenness; Courtenay balances her nicely as the warm, pleasant Eden, and I was thrilled to see Parkinson put in a subtle performance as the damaged and lonely Isola (I’m a huge IT Crowd fan and it was great to see Parkinson stretch her acting muscles some more here).

Mike Newell’s direction is understated but effective. His wide, establishing shots of beautiful Guernsey made me want to hop on the next boat there, and his subtle use of tone and light works nicely in the back of your perception of the narrative – of course, it’s a historical drama so there was never going to be anything overly flashy about it. I felt the pace of the film carries you along gently as you follow Juliet’s story.

The things that could have been better

Michiel Huisman’s performance is understated as the reserved Dawsey, but I think he holds back a little too much. While there is definite chemistry between him and Juliet, I didn’t quite believe that she would fall for him in such a short time, even ditching her fiancé in the process (the poor lad didn’t deserve it).

While the film is never boring, it sometimes lacks a little bit of humour or zest in the writing. There was scope there somewhere to have a comic relief character to lighten things up a bit (within reason, of course, in a film with such sensitive subject material) and some of the characters deserved more development. I would have liked to have seen a bit more closure around Elizabeth, and the final act felt slightly rushed and formulaic. These are very minor gripes, though.

The bottom line

Guernsey is a pleasant viewing experience. It deals with the tough historical subject matter in a way that can be absorbed easily – this is a film that successfully balances a narrative featuring menacing Nazi occupation with picturesque island farm life, all carried by a strong lead in Lily James.

Even if you don’t normally go for films in this genre, give this one a go. It’s worth the watch, and you’ll certainly pick up a bit more wartime history knowledge along the way, as I did!

Verdict: 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Reviews

Review: Avengers: Infinity War

September 14, 2018

Every once in a while, a film’s released that you’ve been waiting on for a long time. Maybe it’s the next Star Wars movie, or another masterpiece by Quentin Tarantino. Or maybe it’s that Fifty Shades of Grey sequel you were dying to see (some judgement here). Whatever it is, seeing it on the big screen is always a fantastic occasion, if you’re a movie buff.

Back in April, my wife and I attended the midnight showing of Avengers: Infinity War (if you haven’t been to the midnight showing of a film you’ve been anticipating for a long time, you don’t know what you’re missing). We both had work the next morning but the opportunity was too good to pass up, and naturally, with a screening packed to the gills with comic book nerds, the atmosphere was electric.

Infinity War is an incredible film by all accounts. It’s the culmination of a rich, intricately-woven narrative that began way back in 2008 with the release of Iron Man and shows no real signs of stopping, although most of the all-star ensemble cast we’ve come to love will step down after Infinity War Part 2 (working title). It’s the nineteenth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and it starts the curtain drop that will reach the stage floor next year with the closing chapter of the story.

We grabbed it on Blu Ray this week (the day it was released, naturally) and enjoyed it again from the comfort of our living room. Less atmospheric, perhaps, but no less thrilling.

The premise

If you don’t have at least some inkling about the premise for Infinity War, where’ve you been for the last decade?!

The titan Thanos (Josh Brolin) has spent quite some time acquiring – or learning the whereabouts of – the Infinity Stones, six gems that existed before the Big Bang which were scattered throughout the universe (conveniently, though, mostly in easily-accessible locations). Combined, these stones grant the owner power over the entire cosmos. Thanos has had a left-handed gauntlet fashioned for himself to make wielding the stones more straightforward, once acquired.

Infinity War kicks off immediately after the events of Thor Ragnarok (a strong contender for the best Marvel movie), with Thanos and his Black Order cronies decimating the remains of the unfortunate Asgardians who escaped their doomed planet. After a brief and concise encounter with Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and Heimdall (Idris Elba), during which the supervillain acquires the Space stone from the Tesseract, Thanos sends the Black Order to Earth to retrieve the next two sparkly gems (Mind and Time) for his gauntlet while he heads to Knowhere for the Reality stone.

Naturally, the Black Order show up in New York (it’s always New York, isn’t it?) for the Time stone, currently in the protective hands of Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), who has just bumped into Bruce Banner and Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr). Once the fists start flying, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) comes swinging in as Spider-Man to join the fray. Meanwhile, in Edinburgh, the Black Order attack Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany) in an effort to prise the Mind stone from Vision’s forehead, but are thwarted when Steve Rodgers/Captain America (Chris Evans – no, not that one), Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Sam Wilson/Falcon (Anthony Mackie) arrive on the scene. Oh, and while all this is going on, Thor has bumped into the Guardians of the Galaxy (Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper).

Yes, that cast is enormous, and I haven’t even mentioned Don Cheadle (War Machine), Chadwick Boseman (Black Panther), Sebastian Stan (Winter Soldier), Benedict Wong (Wong, handily), Karen Gillan (Nebula), Gwyneth Paltrow (Pepper Potts), Benecio Del Toro (The Collector), Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury) and, wait for it…Peter Dinklage! There’s more on top of that, but I don’t have enough space in this review for them all.

Thanos’s homicidal quest to balance all life in the universe (by wiping half of it out) brings him into conflict with most of the Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy, either directly (every punch he lands on a good guy will make you flinch) or through his Black Order, who are themselves formidable enemies. The film ends perhaps unexpectedly and will leave you gagging for the final showdown in next year’s sequel.

Worth the wait?

It’s taken a long time to reach this point in the Marvel saga. We’ve seen a multitude of hero origin stories spring to life, love interests come and go (whatever happened to Natalie Portman?), placeholder villains defeated, and the Earth saved dozens of times, all the while building in anticipation towards the introduction of the ultimate comic book monster Thanos. The question is, was it worth the wait?

The answer is, of course, yes.

Josh Brolin’s Thanos is by far the best villain I’ve seen in a comic-based movie since Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight. He’s menacing and ruthless, yet his intelligent and – dare I say, reasoned – approach to committing mass genocide makes you root for him on some level, which is always the hallmark of a great bad guy. He’s stronger than Hulk, more powerful than Thor, smarter than Stark, and believes just as wholeheartedly in his cause as Captain America. You can’t help but feel all the way through Infinity War like Thanos is genuinely unbeatable, which is how we should feel about this guy who’s been built up for a decade worth of superhero films.

Anthony and Joe Russo have once again knocked it out of the park from their twin directors’ chairs. I’ve loved their style in previous Marvel offerings (Winter Soldier and Civil War) and felt confident that the Infinity War double was in safe hands. Their expert blend of pacing and specific visual approach keeps the film ticking along nicely – it never drags despite its 149-minute runtime and the action is always easy to ingest, no matter how many hundreds of fist-fights are happening simultaneously onscreen.

They’ve also got the best out of their cast, which is no mean feat considering the sheer number of A-list actors in this movie all vying for meaningful screen time. And yet every one of them gets a genuine punch-the-air-type awesome moment (“We have the Hulk…Wakanda forever…bring me Thanos!”) that you’ll be talking about for a while after watching the movie. For me, the best moment of the film was the subtle flicker of confusion on Thanos’s face as a certain all-American hero matched his strength, just for an instant.

The Bottom Line

Infinity War is a dazzling spectacle of thrilling visuals, clashing egos (Star-Lord squaring up to Thor is a wonderful, hilarious moment) and satisfying story-telling. The antagonist is more than a match for the band of heroes we’ve come to love, and it’s all set up perfectly for what will hopefully be a fantastic closing chapter to this epic, ambitious story.

If you haven’t seen the eighteen films that came before, it’s worth watching them first to avoid getting very lost in the narrative – even if you’ve seen them before, you may need a reminder as there’s simply so much going on in this movie. It’ll be worth your time, though.

This is another five-star review (they come like buses, don’t they?) because I just can’t fault this movie for what it is – the complete superhero film we’ve been waiting for. It’s a lot of fun, and well worth grabbing on DVD or Blu Ray this week.

Verdict: 5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Reviews

Review: BlacKkKlansman

September 7, 2018

I went into BlacKkKlansman not quite knowing what to expect.

It’s hard to judge from the movie poster exactly what type of movie you’re going to see. Is it some sort of bizarre, slightly-misguided comedy? Could anyone really try making a movie about a black man joining the Ku Klux Klan and produce something with any shred of solemnity?

Turns out, Spike Lee can.

The premise

BlacKkKlansman conveys the real-life (yes, this ACTUALLY happened) account of Ron Stallworth who, in the late 1970s, became the first black police officer in the Colorado Springs Police Department. Stallworth starts off in the records room before transferring to undercover at his own request after being racially abused by another officer (and likely others). During his first assignment, he attends a rally featuring civil rights leader Kyame Ture and meets Patrice Dumas, president of the black student union at Colorado College, in whom he immediately develops a romantic interest.

After the rally, Stallworth switches to the intelligence division, where he notices an advertisement in the local paper offering the chance to join the Ku Klux Klan. Stallworth calls the number listed in the ad and pretends to be a racist, anti-Semitic white man, convincing the chapter leader Walter Breachway to meet him. In order to infiltrate the Klan, Stallworth recruits Flip Zimmerman, his Jewish co-worker, to act as him when meeting Klan members face-to-face. Together, Stallworth and Zimmerman begin a dangerous undercover investigation into the Klan that becomes increasingly menacing with each passing minute in the film.

Expert craftsmanship

The acting in this film is superb. Stallworth is played by David John Washington (son of Denzel) who strikes a delicate and mesmerising balance between humour and stony seriousness. He’s an excellent, believable protagonist with a realistic agenda.

Adam Driver (I still can’t not see him as Kylo Ren) plays Flip Zimmerman and gives a typically brooding performance that draws you in from the get-go. Every scene in which he’s playing the Ron Stallworth character in the presence of the KKK members is horrendously tense and impossible to look away from. I found myself quite literally on the edge of my seat in the cinema, which doesn’t happen often.

Supporting players in the film include Laura Harrier as Patrice Dumas (and a strong female lead), Ryan Eggold as Walter Beachway, Jasper Pääkkönen as the I’m-going-to-kill-you-at-any-moment Felix Kendrickson, the wonderful, casually sinister Topher Grace as David Duke, and Alec Baldwin in a brief but hilarious cameo role. No-one in this film feels underused or two-dimensional, and the chemistry between the actors is palpable.

Spike Lee, of course, does an impeccable job turning this almost-implausible story into the viewing experience that is BlacKkKlansman. Jordan Peele (Get Out) brought the story to his attention and he evidently ran full-tilt with it, forging a slow-burning atmosphere with long takes, pinpoint mise en scène and costume design, and carefully-executed depth in every shot (kudos to cinematographer Chayse Irvin) to transport you convincingly back into the late 70s.

The final scenes of this movie, however, will jolt you back into 2018 and provide a shocking reminder of the current state of our world, especially the US. I won’t say any more than that, but be prepared.

The Bottom Line

This is a movie you have to see. It’s not always comfortable viewing (not that it ever pretends to be) but it’s wildly entertaining from start to finish. Spike Lee has produced a masterpiece that’s expertly laced with themes of racism, violence and injustice that are all too relevant in modern-day America.

And it’s my first five-star review.

Verdict: 5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Reviews

Review: Beast [spoiler free]

August 30, 2018

Beast is the 2017 debut feature of Michael Pearce, which I nabbed on DVD this week after hearing good things about him and his “psychological thriller” set on the island of Jersey. I hunkered down yesterday to watch it with a cup of tea and a cockapoo on my lap.

And I’m pleased to confirm I wasn’t disappointed.

In fact, it’s a damn good film.

Premise

Pearce’s inspiration from Beast was drawn from the real-life account of Edward Paisnel, a psychopathic serial rapist and paedophile known as the Beast of Jersey who terrorised residents of the island for ten years before his arrest in 1971. Pearce grew up with stories of Paisnel during his childhood on the island and drew aspects of his subject material for Beast from that experience.

The film’s protagonist is Moll Huntford, played here by the exceptional Jessie Buckley. Moll lives with her family in a neat suburban home under the constant watchful glare of her mother (scene-stealer extraordinaire Geraldine James), and her father who suffers from Alzheimer’s. Moll works as an island bus tour guide (a job she obviously loathes) and plays second-fiddle to her pretty sister Polly – who upstages her at her own birthday party – and arrogant older brother Harrison. It’s immediately clear from the opening scene that Moll’s trapped in a suffocating environment, and it’s not long before the stifling monotony of her gloomy life pushes her into a perilous situation.

Enter Pascal (Johnny Flynn, Buckley’s equal), the roughened island outsider with tangled blond hair and mysterious facial scars, who steps in to rescue her at the last second. Moll and Pascal strike up a friendship that soon escalates into a passionate romance, much to the disgust of Moll’s family, who regard Pascal as something beneath them in their close-knit society. But of course, nothing can stand in the way of true love – Moll finds herself inexplicably drawn to the island’s dangerous outcast, descending deeper and deeper into her own personal darkness as her feelings for Pascal grow.

However, it isn’t long before Pascal winds up in the frame for a series of murders on the island, dragging Moll with him into social exile. Now trapped in a new form of destructive purgatory, Moll is torn between her love for Pascal and the possibility that he may, in fact, be a psychopathic killer, and she only reaches a resolution of sorts by the end of the film (or never, depending on your own interpretation).

Beautifully Brooding Violence

Beast is an exquisitely directed film. Pearce and cinematographer Benjamin Kracun make excellent use of the camera, both through subtle movements (slow-zooming during a seemingly-harmless dialogue to elicit unexpected tension, for instance) and jarring angles to ensure the audience is never allowed to settle into what they might start to believe is a typical British crime thriller. I found myself drawn into the addictive gloominess of the story, unable to look away as Moll’s mother casually drives yet another emotionally-manipulative dagger into her daughter’s heart, or as the delectably-prolonged suspense of the narrative hurtles towards its peak in the final moments.

And as previously suggested, Buckley and Flynn are fantastic as the film’s tragic, seemingly-doomed lovers. Their chemistry – off the charts in every scene – is somehow captured and made tangible by Pearce’s powerful and intelligent direction. Moll and Pascal are two of those wonderful character types who you genuinely don’t know how to feel about right the way through the film: do you sympathise with them as the community hemming them in on every side grows increasingly unforgiving, or should you remain detached and clinical in case they turn out to be the villains of the piece in the end? That’s exactly where Pearce wants you to be, and it’s where Buckley and Flynn keep you.

The Bottom Line

Beast is a twisted fairy tale, an immersive, experiential commentary on the human condition that requires vigilant viewing – look away for a few moments and you might miss a key line or some unspoken thing between two characters. It’s not exactly a pleasant watch, but you definitely won’t regret giving it your time (at just over an hour and a half, it’s not a huge commitment anyway).

I’ve kept this review short for fear of giving too much away – you need to see (and experience) Beast for yourself. Pick it up on DVD now.

Enjoy with a cup of tea and fellow movie-buffs. Cockapoo optional.

Verdict: 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Reviews

Review: Ready Player One [Spoiler Free]

August 23, 2018

Ready Player One is the most un-Steven Spielberg film that Steven Spielberg’s ever made.

But don’t worry – it’s very good.

It was one of those “I really need to go see that” movies that I didn’t end up seeing on the big screen, so I had to settle for a much smaller screen at home when it came out on DVD and Blu Ray in July. And I’ve only just watched it, in August.

Anyway, preamble over. Let’s get to it.

The Breakdown

This didn’t feel to me like a Spielberg film largely because so much of it takes place in an entirely CGI-realised virtual reality world called the OASIS. Set in 2045, the protagonist (an orphaned teenager called Wade Watts, whose father was a comic book nerd, naturally) is one of millions of gamers making regular use of the OASIS to escape from their less-than-glamorous lives through their avatars. As his avatar Parzival, Watts experiences this unrestricted world where anything goes and anyone can be whatever they want; he spends most of his time there with Aech, a gaming buddy who he’s never met in real life.

If you’re a parent of online gaming teenagers, this element of the film will immediately strike a chord with you.

The OASIS was co-created by eccentric designers James Halliday and Ogden Morrow. After Halliday’s death, his avatar Anorak delivered a pre-recorded message to the users of the OASIS announcing that whoever locates the Golden Easter Egg hidden in the game will be granted full control of the company – gamers must find three ‘keys’ that unlock the gate to the Easter Egg, each of which are scattered somewhere in the OASIS and can only be found by solving riddles. Naturally, this attracts the attention of every gamer hooked into the OASIS, as well as Nolan Sorrento, CEO of Innovative Online Industries (IOI) and his “Sixers”, labourers forced to pay off debts by working for IOI within the virtual world. Parzival, Aech, and fellow egg-hunter Art3mis team up to find the keys and win the Golden Easter Egg, and ownership of the OASIS.

Phew! I’ve probably made that sound more convoluted than it really is – apologies if you’re lost/bored already.

Actually, Ready Player One is easy to follow, as long as you’re listening. There’s a lot of initial exposition by Watts (played by Tye Sheridan), but not so much that you feel bogged down in it. The film is well-paced with only a few main characters to worry about.

This is very much a movie for teenagers (the very occasional profanity throughout may rule out younger viewers), especially those who make heavy use of online gaming. However, the pop culture references constantly exploding out of your screen will appeal to a certain demographic of adults too.

Pop Culture Overload

And there are a lot of pop culture references in this movie. A lot. I can’t emphasise this enough, actually. Lots and lots.

If you like anything directed or produced by Spielberg in the 80s and 90s or connected with him in any way, this is the film for you. As a pop culture enthusiast, I found myself straining to take in every single movie and gaming reference on the screen. I was amazed that Spielberg – even Spielberg – had managed to acquire the rights to so many instantly-recognisable characters, vehicles and, for a particularly spellbinding portion of the film, sequences from classic works of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. He apparently spent years gathering them, and still didn’t get everything he wanted.

I had a lot of fun trying to take it all in, and I still probably only managed to ingest about fifty percent of it. If you’re like me and you know your DeLorean from your chest-bursting Xenomorph, I think you’ll really enjoy this film. If you haven’t watched a lot of movies, it may feel like a bit of an overload, however.

Technical Brilliance

Ready Player One is visually dazzling from start to finish. Industrial Light and Magic created the film’s extensive visual effects, expertly directed by Spielberg from a Zak Penn script. Sheridan’s lead is supported by Olivia Cooke (Art3mis), Ben Mendelsohn (Sorrento), Simon Pegg (Morrow) and the wonderful Mark Rylance (Halliday), who I loved in The BFG and Bridge of Spies. The actors slip easily between their “real-world” selves and their avatars, the seamlessness of which is a credit to them and their director.

My only real criticism of the film is its length. With a run time of 140 minutes, it can definitely feel long after a while, especially by the time the third act rolls around and you’ve already been blasted fairly relentlessly with dozens of pop cultural references and roller coaster CGI. In addition, adult viewers may sometimes find that the narrative and dialogue are aimed too squarely at the younger audience, who are likely to absorb the video game-like action sequences more readily.

The Bottom Line

But don’t let that deter you. Ready Player One is a totally immersive and entertaining experience as a film. I went into it not really knowing what to expect, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. You can view it as a commentary on contemporary gaming culture, in which people invest themselves to such a massive extent that their identities start to become transferrable between virtual reality and actual reality. Or you can just enjoy the visual spectacle and not worry too much about what it means.

Pop it into the Blu Ray player on your next available Friday night and let Spielberg take you with him on his own pop culture homage train – who better to go with?

Verdict: 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Reviews

Review: Mission Impossible Fallout [Spoiler Free]

August 15, 2018
Mission Impossible Fallout

Mission Impossible Fallout is the best film in the series, and one of Tom Cruise’s best movies to date.

Surprised? You shouldn’t be.

Cruise is famed for his unrelenting desire to perform many of his own stunts on set, most of which would be highly dangerous for even the most capable stuntman. The Mission Impossible series has seen the American actor free-climb a cliff face in Utah, scale the tallest building in the world, and cling to the outside of a plane during takeoff. And Fallout is no exception, featuring (among others) a halo jump from 25,000 feet and a breathtaking motorcycle chase through the streets of Paris.

The scale of these stunts, along with the general cinematic ambition displayed throughout the series, have catapulted almost all of the MI films to the top of the must-see action movie list (almost all, because MI:2 isn’t great). And they simply keep getting better.

Another impossible mission

 

Fallout picks up two years after the events of Rogue Nation and the capture of antagonist Solomon Lane. Ethan Hunt (Cruise) is tasked with intercepting three stolen plutonium cores before the ‘Apostles’ (a new terrorist organisation reformed from Lane’s ‘Syndicate’) can sell them to the mysterious fundamentalist John Lark. However, things don’t go according to plan, and Hunt is forced to team up with the CIA to retrieve the plutonium before it can be used to power nuclear weaponry in the hands of the Apostles.

Plot-wise, that’s all you need to know, from this review anyway. The resulting narrative takes Hunt and fellow long-standing agents Benji and Luther (Simon Pegg and Ving Rhames) on a non-stop thrill ride from Paris to London and eventually to Kashmir, where the dramatic finale takes place. For me, the most interesting location used in the film is Belfast (more of a cameo that was probably shot on a sound stage, in all honesty) as I live just outside of it, though I doubt anyone else will be quite as impressed!

Keeping pace with Tom Cruise

 

The film is directed impeccably by Christopher McQuarrie (also responsible for Rogue Nation) and he does an astounding job here. I was struck by how effectively McQuarrie balances the pace of the film with its huge action sequences – at no point do you find yourself glancing at your watch wondering when a section of dialogue will pass, or puzzling over a missed plot point in a confusingly-overstuffed action scene. Hunt is on a journey – a very fast one with bullets, fist-fights and explosions – but the audience is right there with him every step of the way, even as Tom Cruise, a man in his mid-fifties, sprints across London rooftops and leaps over gaps between buildings (yes, he did it for real, and yes, he did break his ankle doing it, for real). It has a 147-minute runtime and it feels like half that.

Familiar faces

 

The casting in the movie is solid. It’s great to see Pegg and Rhames back in their supporting comedic roles (very measured, of course), as well as Rebecca Ferguson, Michelle Monaghan and Alec Baldwin. Henry Cavill is a suitable if a slightly-wooden-at-times addition to the cast and Sean Harris is a thoroughly sinister foil to Cruise’s protagonist. Cruise is, of course, charismatic in the extreme, and continues to be the reason why these movies endure. Mission Impossible wouldn’t be the same without him, and will certainly lack some appeal when a studio inevitably reboots it sometime down the line.

The bottom line

 

I’ve very little to say about Fallout that isn’t positive. I loved every second of it, more so than all of the previous instalments, which were themselves fantastic. I don’t know if Cruise will want to carry on for a seventh movie in the franchise, or if McQuarrie will return for a third go, but I’ll be first in line at the box office if they do.

Go see Mission Impossible Fallout on the biggest screen available while you still can.

Verdict: 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Reviews

Review: Winter Ridge [Spoiler Free]

June 14, 2018
Winter Ridge Film Poster

Winter Ridge is a crime-thriller set in the fictitious English town of Blackrock. The film also serves as the feature-length directorial debut of British film director, Dom Lenoir.

The central plot revolves around a young detective who is torn apart after his wife ends up in a coma while tracking down a serial killer. The serial killer specifically targets vulnerable and elderly, with this particularly heinous and insidious motive setting the tone for how the film plays out.

One of Winter Ridge’s key strengths lies in the pacing of the film. Especially with crime dramas, if the pacing is too slow and filled with unnecessary plot points the film becomes unnecessarily convoluted; however if the story moves too quickly it doesn’t allow for the necessary nuances that are needed to make a complex, yet entertaining drama. Winter Ridge has a lovely blend of action, dialogue and suspense to keep viewers engaged throughout the with the story, even having all it’s key suspects very much in the picture until the final act.

Many of the films most touching moments are the scenes with Alan Ford (who plays pensioner, Dale Jacobs). His portrayal of a grandfather with Alzheimer’s was gripping and the film’s sub-plot highlighting support for those with Alzheimer’s was handled with the right duty and care that the topic warrants. Lead actor, Matt Hookings (who plays Detective Ryan Barnes), along with the supporting cast, are a well put together a mix of established industry heavyweights and new emerging actors.

As a relatively small budget independent feature, what the film may have lacked in the scale of its production, the team have made up for in location and shot selections. The result means we have a film that has some traditional elements of a British police procedural drama, but with elements of contemporary American crime thrillers thrown in for good measure.

If you like crime thrillers, this film is for you.

Our Rating: Fresh

Winter Ridge will be released in UK cinemas in September.

 

Reviews

Review: Idris Elba’s “Yardie” [Spoiler Free]

June 4, 2018
Yardie Film

Is this a gangsta film? A film about family? A look into working-class subcultures of 80’s London? Or a homage to 70’s Jamaica? The answer is all of the above and more. With so many elements packed into the film, veteran actor, Idris Elba, in his directorial debut, jumps straight into the deep end and does not disappoint.

Yardie, the film, is based on the novel of the same name by Jamaican born writer Victor Headly. Starting off in 1973 Jamaica, the film follows Dennis (known as “D”), who is played by Aml Ameen (Kidulthood, Maze Runner) as he deals with the killing of his brother amidst gang rivalry between warring factions: Tappa & Spicer. Through association “D” eventually strays into the drug business and is sent to London after a drug deal goes bad. What plays out is a story of redemption and retribution as “D” tries to reconcile his past, until he is forced to face them head-on.

The first 30 minutes of the film, which take place entirely in Jamacia serves as an extended introduction into D’s character. The scenes in England make up the rest of the film. The decision to split the film this way is creatively felt like the right choice. It allows us the opportunity to better understand the culture which underpins the narrative: from intergenerational relationships to spiritual belief systems. The latter part of the film which takes place in 1983 London. At this point, the pace of the film changes, focusing more on progressing D’s story.

Idris Elba and Aml Ameen on set
Idris Elba and Aml Ameen on set

Given the different competing elements in the film, Aml Ameen navigates his role as “D”  in a way that feels authentic and believable. There is a fine balance to be had: not to overextend himself in a way that creatures a caricature of what he should be; but also to give enough range to the performance so that the audience is emotionally invested in his journey and interactions with his supporting cast. Thankfully, more often than not, Idris struck the right balance in directing Aml to bring the best out of him throughout the movie.

The supporting cast adds character and flair to what is already a very compelling narrative. Stephen Graham (This is England) pulls off an incredible performance as club-owner Rico. He is funny, eccentric and ruthless when he needs to be. Whilst it is not too dissimilar from some of the notable characters he’s previously played, he brings with him a gravitas to execute the character of Rico in a way that it is not too cliche and enjoyable to watch. A real jewel in the crown is Shantol Jackson’s character, Yvonne who plays Dennis’ childhood sweetheart and love interest. Her portrayal embodies much of the story Jamaicans coming to the UK in Marget Thatcher’s Britain would’ve gone through, particularly during the time period of the Brixton race riots. This is perhaps an area Idris could’ve have explored in greater depth; a more nuanced at how a lack of opportunities at the time, fuelled criminality. We are then able to look at D’s time in London in this context.

Yardie is a film full of charm and character, presented through lush cinematography. While it is technically a crime drama, simply calling it that seems somewhat limiting. It’s an ambitious film and serves as a great directorial debut for Idris Elba, but also for Aml Ameen and his fellow co-stars. Yardie is definitely a film you need to see (at least) once!

Our Rating: 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5) (Fresh)

Yardie will be in cinemas later this year