My Cousin Rachel

Year: 2017
Director: Roger Michell
Starring: Rachel Weisz, Sam Claflin, Iain Glenn, Holliday Grainger
Written by Abbie Eales

Roger Michell, probably best known as the director of Notting Hill, brings us this fresh take on Daphne Du Maurier’s dark thriller, ‘My Cousin Rachel’. A wealthy young man, Philip (Claflin) plots revenge against his mysterious cousin Rachel (Weisz), believing her to have murdered his guardian Ambrose, following their seemingly hasty marriage in Italy in an attempt to gain his fortune. The story itself is not so much of a whodunnit, but rather a ‘did she do it?’ as we take Philip’s perspective in attempting to unravel the true story of his guardian’s death.

The book had previously been brought to life in 1952, just a year after the publication of the source novel, in a lavish affair starring Richard Burton and Olivia De Havilland which, while not quite reaching the heights of fame of other Du Maurier adaptations ‘Rebecca’ and ‘Don’t Look Now’, was considered a cinematic success and was nominated for 4 academy awards. To attempt another adaptation could be seen as a bold move, but Michell and team do bring a breath of fresh air to the story.

During the early scenes of the film we only hear about the mysterious Rachel through letters and gossip, she comes into Philip’s life not with the bang and confrontation he had been expecting, but with an understated entrance that means our first view of her is silhouetted against the moon, her back to a window. Rather than the monster we are led to expect, Rachel is quiet, funny and warm, with the household’s army of dogs following her about loyally from the moment she arrives.

As Philip’s infatuation grows, Rachel remains a mystery. She seems genuine in her affections for her departed husband Ambrose (the ‘great family resemblance’ is achieved by Claflin playing both roles) but why does she keep plying Philip with that odd herbal tea…?

Weisz plays Rachel with great skill, with Michell seeming to lead our expectations one way as a single glance leads us another. Rachel seems decidedly modern and at odds with the stifling societal expectations exhibited by all those around her. Indeed the fact that she is a woman ‘of appetites’ is whispered knowingly by several of the supporting cast. However Weisz ensures Rachel flits between being charming and likeable then cold and standoffish, just enough to keep us asking ourselves if she could really be capable of murder.

Claflin plays Philip every inch as the ‘wet-nosed- puppy’ Rachel describes him, which does become grating at times. Seeing the world through Philip’s eyes is a somewhat disarming and claustrophobic experience, with the view sometimes becoming as blank and shallow as he seems.

Philip’s lack of experience with women is referenced several times, and indeed the view of Rachel we are given is one buried beneath his own misunderstanding and confusion, alongside a burning attraction and fascination. The whole film could be seen as a giant metaphor for modern cinema, as we struggle along with an old-fashioned male gaze trying to depict highly complex modern womanhood.

While the longing glances and candlelit encounters increase, the orchestral score swells, keeping true to the genre. Other melodramatic tropes abound, from the waves crashing on the shore to the string of pearls breaking and scattering down the stairs.

The film may seem a little slow for some tastes, but the many threads of the story are drawn together in a deft web for the final act. Audiences have been discussing their view of Rachel for over 50 years, and this won’t change that, but ultimately My Cousin Rachel is a well-made period melodrama with an interesting modern twist.

Abbies verdict: 7.3 out of 10

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Wilson

Year: 2017
Director: Craig Johnson
Starring: Woody Harrelson, Sandy Oian-Thomas, Shaun Brown, Judy Greer, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Laura Dern
Written by Charlotte Sometimes

As a Londoner there is an innate social etiquette transcribed in my DNA that I follow unquestionably. It includes rules such as: no eye-contact when riding public transport; avoid talking to strangers in any setting at all costs; keep any small talk that occurs small, sticking to inane and vapid topic, and that personal space equates to at least one seat between you and the rest of the world. It’s clear from the opening few moments that Wilson (Woody Harrelson) is clearly not a Londoner and if he were he’d easily be written off as the weirdo-who-must-be-avoided (of which there always seems to be one, no matter where you are in London – if you can’t spot one then it’s probably you…). In fact Wilson seems to transcend social niceties or euphemism; he’s actually a misanthropic, passive aggressive prick, one who is riddled from neuroses to such an extent that a 60 second conversation with him would be too long.

At least, that’s how it appears at the start but as with most of these things, there’s more going on under the surface. First and foremost, he’s lonely. His breaking with social conventions, sitting at an occupied table when the rest of the café is empty or choosing to sit next to the sleeping person on an empty train who you then wake up and bamboozle with questions,  is the result of his desperate need/want for human contact. He’s trapped between a fear of commitment – caused by being abandoned by his wife Pippi (Laura Dern) 18 years ago – and an overwhelming sense of loneliness. When Wilson finds out that Pippi has returned to town he goes to find her in a desperate bid for closure. What he ends up getting is another chapter of sorts. Having believed for almost two decades that Pippi had an abortion post-leaving Wilson and pre-a failed attempt living in LA he finds out that she in fact had the child and gave it up for adoption. What follows is Wilson, and a forcibly co-opted Pippi, seeking out their teenage daughter then trying to form a connection with her. But, as Wilson is a less than conventional person, what follows is unique with a side of twisted…

The film is centred on Harrelson’s performance – in fact, it’s totally dependent on it. He’s the reason that most people would choose to see the film in the first place, let alone stay committed to it. It’s certainly something of a hard-sell, watching a middle-aged curmudgeon on his desperate search for some semblance of stability, but Harrelson manages to sell it…just. He throws all his charm at it and succeeds in making someone that should or could be an unlikeable character into someone we find ourselves being tricked into caring about.  The script is loaded with great gags and the odd belly laugh, regularly straying into genuinely hilarious territory. Dern is excellent support as his estranged wife and their chemistry is immensely watchable.

It’s a shame that the film loses momentum mid-way, the gags become less frequent during some unexpected narrative twists and the charming, odd-ball tone becomes replaced with just plain odd. Whilst Harrelson is consistent, the storytelling isn’t, and when the emotional gear switches and becomes more poignant, the film lacks the depth to fully connect with the audience. After having a first act that flew by, the film gets bogged down in the second act causing the 92 minute running time to feel far longer. If you like the idea of an indie movie that is the by-product of a Venn diagram with the subheadings ‘quirky’ and ‘chaotic’ then ‘Wilson’ is the film for you. If you want to watch Woody Harrelson firing on all cylinders then you’re also the perfect audience.

Overall, the film feels like something of a missed opportunity. An opener of ‘what went well’ followed by just a bit too much ‘even better if’.

Charlotte’s verdict: 6.3 out of 10

The Mummy

Year: 2017
Directed by: Alex Kurtzman
Starring: Tom Cruise, Russell Crowe, Sofia Boutella, Jake Johnson, Annabelle Wallis
Written by Rhys Bowen Jones

18 years after Brendan Fraser’s ‘The Mummy’ surprised us all by actually being good and fun, we have a re-imagining of ‘The Mummy’ as the first instalment of Universal’s planned Dark Universe. Dark Universe is meant to be a shared cinematic universe (how many of those have come and gone since Marvel near perfected the formula?) of some of cinema’s most iconic monsters, including The Invisible Man, The Wolfman, and The Creature from the Black Lagoon. There is a lot of star power behind this incoming franchise, led by Tom Cruise and Russell Crowe. On paper, the conceit could be a fun one, but frankly, after ‘The Mummy’, the Dark Universe is already off to a rocky start.

When an ancient tomb and sarcophagus is discovered long-buried under Iraq, our heroes Nick Morton (Cruise) and Jennifer Halsey (Wallis) are tasked with transporting the sarcophagus to London for investigation and analysis. En route, disaster strikes as the contents of the sarcophagus, an Ancient Egyptian princess by the name of Princess Ahmanet (Boutella), is awoken and hell-bent on taking Earth for her own. Beyond that, we have a search for a MacGuffin or two, and a meeting with a mysterious figure (Crowe) who knows all too much about Ahmanet and her quest for world destruction.

For my money, despite its fairly damning reviews since its release, I didn’t find ‘The Mummy’ to be wholly without merit. Tom Cruise has, deservedly, earned himself the title of Hollywood’s go-to movie star, and he does everything he can to sell this film. Cruise is evidently having a lot of fun as he does Tom Cruise things. Whether it’s rolling around a plummeting plane, swimming away from swimming mummies (you heard), or legging it from an incoming giant face-made-of-sand in the middle of London, ‘The Mummy’ hits all the beats of your typical Tom Cruise film. Ultimately, the film is almost astoundingly generic, but when it’s “Tom Cruise generic”, you know you’re in for an entertaining time at least.

The film is also surprisingly funny in parts, using physical comedy and occasionally embracing the ridiculousness of the film. Sadly though, these funny parts are in direct contrast to much of the action on screen, which is where ‘The Mummy’ begins to unravel. Hold your applause.

‘The Mummy’ is tonally all over the place. The film regularly jumps from mysterious, Nathan Drake style tomb investigation to a scene from a horror film to the characters having friendly banter in a pub. One of the lead characters meets an untimely end in the first third of the film and their death is treated as something of a joke after the character who killed them accidentally fires a third shot. ‘The Mummy’ is a film that doesn’t entirely know what it wants to be. It even earned a 15-rating in the UK for sustained threat, but it never fully utilised its rating. In a film primarily linked to a horror character, you want more than the occasional jump scare, only a few of which are actually effective.

The key problem with ‘The Mummy’ is it tries to do too much in one film. It tries so hard to set up its own cinematic universe after so confidently opening the film with a Dark Universe title card that it forgets some of the fundamentals of making a good film.

Now, setting up the Dark Universe wasn’t entirely unsuccessful as I found a mid-point scene involving Crowe and Cruise the highlight of the film. Crowe’s, without giving too much away, alternate ego is a hugely entertaining 5 minutes that above all showed Crowe having fun. Crowe is handed an incredibly exposition-filled role as he explains to Morton and Halsey what exactly Ahmanet is and what she wants, and it’s nice to see him get a satisfying moment in the spotlight.

Where the writers (5 of them! Yes, 5!) and director Alex Kurtzman fell-short was convincing us ‘The Mummy’ was a film that could work on its own. It doesn’t commit to its characters enough as no one beyond Cruise, Crowe, and Boutella even register as anyone of interest (I found Wallis to be particularly poor in all honesty). There is no real through-line from where the film begins to where the film ends; it’s more a collection of 5 or 6 initially unconnected action set-pieces (though mostly entertaining) woven together through thinly plotted dialogue scenes.

I couldn’t shake the feeling as the film ended that what I watched was, ultimately, pointless. The film itself will leave no lasting impression beyond setting up the Dark Universe, should this even carry on after the critical mauling ‘The Mummy’ has received. I found myself mostly entertained for the majority of its run-time, but I can assure you that the 2017 reboot of ‘The Mummy’ will not leave the same lasting impression the 1999 version of ‘The Mummy’ had. Wherefore art thou, Brendan Fraser?

Rhys’ rating: 4.7 out of 10

Captain Underpants

Year: 2017
Director:
David Soren
Starring:
Kevin Hart, Ed Helms, Nick Kroll, Jordan Peele
Written by Dalton Brown

Nostalgia. Nostalgia is why I wanted to see ‘Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie’. I didn’t go to laugh or anything. I went because my inner child consumed me, brainwashed me, and basically forced me to go see this. My inner child is an idiot. But hey, ‘Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie’ could have been a lot worse and, honestly, probably should have been. As it stands though, ‘Captain Underpants’ is alright; kind of underwhelming.

Based off a series of children’s books, the film follows Harold (Thomas Middleditch) and George (Kevin Hart) – two best friends that are inseparable. They like making comic books about this imaginary superhero known as “Captain Underpants!” When they’re not writing their next masterpiece, they’re pulling pranks on their mean school principle… Mr. Krupp (Ed Helms). Mr. Krupp hates fun. One day, Harold and George push Mr. Krupp past his breaking point; thus, forcing him to relocate the two friends to separate classrooms. The boys panic and try to hypnotize him. And it somehow works, cue “Captain Underpants!”

‘Captain Underpants’ is beautiful to look at, I’ll give it that. And it has a nice cast of characters too. The voice work is good. Everything about it is solid. Even the jokes. Though they do grow tiresome very quickly, they’re not completely unbearable. So, why was it underwhelming? Because I’m too old for it anymore, mostly. But also, there was a joke that had to do with the choir that kind killed it for me. And the third act became repetitive.

Despite all of this, it’s still a good movie. Granted, kids will probably get a lot more out of it than adults but there are some great messages about laughter and friendship and things.

I like the messages. I like the animation. I like what the movie is going for, but it could have been better. Maybe if it embraced its mediocrity? I don’t know. I suggest seeing it at some point, but don’t get your hopes up. It’s an easy watch and I enjoyed most of it, I was also expecting something a bit better.

Dalton’s rating: 6.0/10

Wonder Woman

Year: 2017
Director: Patty Jenkins
Starring: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Connie Nielsen, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, Lucy Davis
Written by Fiona Underhill

Usually I start a JumpCut review by discussing what drew me to the film and my expectations of it. However, there are two major shadows cast over this particular movie. 1) DC – believe me, I could write A LOT about previous DC films and how it has affected my expectations of ‘Wonder Woman’, however, I’m not going to. 2) Feminism – an endless stream of articles have been produced about what this film does or doesn’t do for women. It feels like the weight of half of the world is on Wonder Woman’s shoulders. However, I am going to endeavour (and I may fail) to write about this film on its merits as a standalone feature. 

After a brief prologue, we first encounter Diana (who will become the lovely Gal Gadot) as the only child in the city of Themyscira, a paradise peopled by the Amazons – a tribe of female warriors given the duty of guarding mankind. However, they have abandoned this cause (which they view as hopeless) and retreated to their secret and protected island. They remain highly skilled in combat and continue training, led by Antiope (Robin Wright) – their greatest warrior. Diana’s mother, Hippolyta (Gladiator’s Connie Nielsen), wishes to protect her daughter, but Diana is headstrong and has the urge to learn the ways of her people. This idyllic haven is punctured one day by a WWI fighter plane, which crashes into the waters just off the islands, followed by German troops in boats. This leads to a stunning beach-based fight scene, which frankly had me welling up with emotion. 

The pilot who has crashed into this mythical world is Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) and he leads Diana on a mission to try to stop ‘Doctor Poison’ – a brilliant German scientist, from formulating a deadly gas that can dissolve gas masks. This is in what should be the dying days of The Great War, with politicians behind the scenes frantically negotiating their way towards Armistice. One of these politicians is Sir Patrick (a lovely surprise to see David Thewlis) and another beloved British actor in the London-based scenes is Lucy Davis (Dawn from The Office) as Steve’s secretary – Etta. Steve Trevor assembles a small band of rogues (including Charlie, played by Ewen Bremner), to attempt to stop the gas from getting as far as the trenches. 

Firstly, ‘Wonder Woman’ is full of humour. Much of this comes from the ‘fish-out-of-water’ Diana – a demi-god with little experience of the world of men, negotiating the world of war. Secondly, it is visually stunning. The action scenes are thrilling and yes, I will say it, this has a lot to do with the sheer glee of seeing a badass woman on screen in what could not be more of a man’s world. What to say about Gal Gadot? She is physical perfection and she does play Diana’s prowess, coupled with vulnerability and confusion very well. Chris Pine is playing a variation on Captain Kirk – sharp wit, ego, honour and the ability to be blown away by someone he underestimates. Coupling the world of superheroes with the world of twentieth century war does work surprisingly well (I will avoid mentioning one of my favourite Marvel films that does the same). 

Hopefully you have got the gist by now that I loved this film. It wasn’t perfect – there were moments of lull that made the film feel slightly too long, but it was definitely more exhilarating than boring. I am sure Diana will ‘play nicely with others’ in the upcoming DC ensemble films and I can’t wait to see what she does next. I hope she gets to have sequels in her own right – I will assuredly be turning up for them. It is thrilling that at long last, a female superhero in a film DIRECTED BY A WOMAN is getting her due (I warned you that I probably wouldn’t be able to reign it in). I urge you all to support this film in the all-important opening weekend – you won’t regret it. 

Fiona’s rating: 8.5 out of 10

 

The Circle

Year: 2017
Director: James Ponsoldt
Starring: Emma Watson, Tom Hanks, John Boyega, Bill Paxton, Karen Gillan, Ellar Coltrane
Written by Fiona Underhill

I started seeing the trailers for this film what feels like months ago. It was heavily marketed here in the US – I saw the trailer at the cinema many, many times. I was intrigued by the premise, the strong cast and the writer Dave Eggers. The fact that Eggers and Tom Hanks had already collaborated on last year’s disappointing ‘Hologram for the King’ didn’t manage to put me off too much. Unfortunately, ‘The Circle’ is much, much worse than Hanks’ last offering.

The premise is very similar to an episode of ‘Black Mirror’ (most especially ‘Nosedive’). The setting is a near-future world, in which ‘The Circle’ (kind of a combination of Google and Facebook) is hell-bent on taking over every aspect of our lives. It’s goal is to co-ordinate every aspect of people’s online life (banking, shopping, GPS, social media) into one account (so you don’t have to remember so many pesky passwords). Mae (Emma Watson) manages to get a job there, thanks to her friend Annie (Karen Gillan), who is one of the ‘Group of 40’ – the inner circle of the company, surrounding CEOs Bailey (Tom Hanks) and Stenton (Patton Oswalt). Mae can’t believe her luck at first – the company’s campus has everything an employee could desire – including dog yoga and pentanque. It also provides excellent healthcare, not just for herself, but also her parents. This is particularly significant because her Dad (Bill Paxton, sadly in his final role) has MS. Mae’s role in customer service is governed by her ‘score’ (her rating from the customers) and smiley or frowny faces are almost treated like a currency. She is also heavily encouraged to get involved in all of the social aspects of The Circle, which again, will give her a ‘rating’. 

A strong cast has been gathered by the young director (James Ponsoldt). There is a trio of young British acting talent: Watson, Gillan and John Boyega – for some inexplicable reason, Gillan gets to keep her own accent, but Watson and Boyega play Americans. Hanks will always be a draw for me – even though all three of his films from last year (‘Hologram for the King’, ‘Inferno’ and ‘Sully’) ranged from terrible to mediocre. Eggers IS a strong writer (I am a fan of his novel ‘A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius’ and McSweeney’s), but for some reason, his work is not translating well to film. The dialogue is awful, especially for poor Boyega, who is under-used and given the most cringe-worthy lines. The character development is laughable. Gillan goes from high-powered business woman to a pale, greasy-haired hollow shell seemingly over-night. She appears in the audience of one of the ‘Dream Fridays’ pep-rallies looking like something from a Japanese horror movie and I guffawed out loud. It is the protagonist, Mae, who has the most unbelievable transformation though. She is skeptical and even horrified at first, when she realises how much The Circle already knows about her when she starts. However, she very quickly (after a mostly off-screen conversation with Bailey and Stenton) agrees to start wearing a camera and to being filmed at all times. It is a ridiculous leap that comes from nowhere. 

What ‘Black Mirror’ does so effectively is plunge the viewer immediately into a fully-realised world. The plots are so tightly-controlled and efficient that no line of dialogue or detail of production design is wasted. It doesn’t overwhelm you with information and try to tell you things in a preachy way, it shows you exactly what you need to know with astonishing economy. ‘The Circle’ bombards the audience with every conceivable nightmare of ‘out-of-control technology’; lack of privacy being the main one. It raises some interesting debates – is having your health constantly monitored a good thing? Wouldn’t it be good if we were all automatically registered to vote or if voting was mandatory? How can we use facial recognition to catch criminals? However, each issue that is raised is done so in such a ham-fisted and melodramatic way, with such extreme reactions (the masses naively going along with it, a few crazy loners trying to resist) that there is no room for nuance. 

It is a shame that this had to be Paxton’s final role, as his performance is one of the few highlights of this film. Unfortunately, the rest of this film will prove largely forgettable. It has botched what could have been interesting concept with convoluted plotting, ridiculous character development and melodramatic dialogue. A feature-length episode of ‘Black Mirror’ does appeal to me, but it clear that Eggers is no Charlie Brooker. This film has just left me even more impressed than I was before with ‘Black Mirror’ because I have realised what Brooker does is not easy. So, do yourself a favour and stay home from the cinema and watch ‘Nosedive’ or ‘San Junipero’ instead.

Fiona’s rating: 4.5 out of 10

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

Year: 2017
Director: Guy Ritchie
Starring: Charlie Hunnam, Jude Law, Djimon Hounsou, Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey, Aiden Gillen, Eric Bana
Written by Rhys Bowen Jones

When a film comes around with the budget of ‘King Arthur: Legend of the Sword’ – a budget said to be north of $150 million – there is sure to be some backlash if it fails catastrophically. Unless you have been living under a rock, it’s hard to escape the media torrent stating that ‘King Arthur’ is a flop. It grossed around $15 million on its opening weekend, way behind ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’s’ haul of $65 million in its second weekend. ‘King Arthur’ flopped massively; its Rotten Tomatoes score is a paltry 28% at the time of writing. And yet, I left the film this afternoon thinking how much better ‘King Arthur’ is than I was lead to believe. What went wrong?

‘King Arthur: Legend of the Sword’ follows a recently orphaned Arthur (Hunnam) as he discovers he is the heir-apparent to the English throne, currently held by his Uncle Vortigern (Law). Arthur, along with some friends, endeavour to overthrow Vortigern and claim the kingdom he is owed. In amongst all that, there’s the classic sword in the stone, magic, boss battles, giant animals, heists, and assassination attempts. Whatever you can throw into a fantasy epic, Guy Ritchie does it.

‘King Arthur’ has a shed-load of positives about it. What I appreciated first and foremost was how the film didn’t hold your hand through the film’s plot, no matter how convoluted it may seem. It lets the story develop and flow of its own accord, using Arthur as our surrogate, reluctantly thrown into the born-leader role, having to deal with a lot of new information thrown at him at once. What could have become exposition scene after exposition scene, plot developments and historical explanations felt organic when it was done successfully. Further, at a brisk 2-hour runtime, the film manages to fill every scene with key information without overloading the audience; you get the idea that Guy Ritchie didn’t want to waste a frame of this film.

Speaking of Ritchie, ‘King Arthur’ may seem like an odd choice for a director who cut his teeth with British gangster films, but it somehow works. After the film’s bravura opening (which I will get to later), Ritchie settles into his hyperactive, kinetic brand of filmmaking with montages of Arthur’s childhood, small side-jobs Arthur completed to earn some money on the side, and of Arthur’s great quest to the Darklands to harness the power of the sword, Excalibur. If Ritchie has a trademark scene in all of his films, it’s a scene in which several characters are taking about a plan, and the film cuts between the explanation of the plan and the execution of it, whether in the past or in the future. ‘King Arthur’ is no different and it has several scenes in this style, my favourite of which is the first as it asks the audience to follow along and set the tone for the rest of the film. Guy Ritchie’s films work fast and we must keep up. If we get lost, it’s our fault.

The film’s opening scene, as briefly mentioned earlier, is a wonderfully staged set-piece. It serves as a prologue and follows the then King Uther (Bana) and his army battle against the Great Mage Mordred’s slave army, carried into battle onto the back of elephants that would crush the Oliphants in ‘Lord of the Rings: Return of the King’. These things are enormous. They set the scale of the film just big enough to be impressive and welcome us into the mad, mad world of Ritchie’s King Arthur. It’s a terrific sequence with spectacular special effects and scored superbly (as is the rest of the film) by Daniel Pemberton.

It’s a shame though, that the film never quite managed to reach the heights of its opening. Beginning the film in such a way raised the bar so high that it was almost setting itself up for failure. ­­­Try as it might, the remainder of the film doesn’t get there, though it does seem we get glimpses of what might have been. I spoke earlier of montages in Ritchie’s films; King Arthur has them in abundance, to the point where every major action sequence is in the form of a montage. Arthur’s trip to the Darklands is the worst offender as it felt like a 20-minute sequence on its own as Arthur fights creatures of all shapes and sizes to earn his power. And yet it’s spliced into a montage played for laughs. These moments speak of a film that Ritchie wanted to make, a 3-hour, Lord of the Rings style epic that got cut down to be more easily palatable for the summer audience.

Further to this, Ritchie crams so much into its possibly-studio-enforced 2-hour runtime that you could really split it into 3 separate films. The prologue has so much story to it (what led to Mordred’s attack on Camelot?) that it could have been a film on its own; Arthur’s journey through the Darklands could have been the key sequence of a shorter film simply following Arthur’s journey to harnessing his powers; and then comes the coup of Vortigern, a storyline that could easily take up 3 episodes of ‘Game of Thrones’, let alone a segment of a 2-hour film.

The biggest disappointment in ‘King Arthur’s’ veritable failure is what it so clearly wanted to set up for a future franchise. Among all of the enjoyable madness on show, Merlin, a wizard so closely associated with Arthur, is only mentioned by name. There are no dragons to be seen, no giants, no great tales of legendary foes Arthur conquered; those were all after he became King. The promise of the future from this first feature was so bright given the wealth of stories from which to pull. If nothing else, ‘King Arthur: Legend of the Sword’ is a solid foundation for a franchise. Something we very likely won’t see.

In summary, ‘King Arthur’ is chaotic, a bit silly, and a bit rushed, but I cannot deny that I remained fully entertained right the way through. It’s a shame this is likely the one and only ‘King Arthur’ film we get through the lens of Guy Ritchie. It could have been something great.

Rhys’ rating: 6.3 out of 10

Colossal

Year: 2017
Director: Nacho Vigalondo
Starring: Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudekis, Austin Stowell, Tim Blake Nelson, Dan Stevens

Written by Sarah Buddery

The current trend in film seems to be re-makes/re-boots/re-imaginings and endless, endless sequels for films that perhaps we may have cared about years ago, but now we seriously have to question whether we still do. Of course there is still originality in film, but it is often hard to come by, saved for an exclusive elite in the form of small, unknown indie films, foreign language films, and other less mainstream options. Last year’s ‘Swiss Army Man’ was divisive, but also refreshingly unique (I was one of those who didn’t care for it!), and in a similar vein comes this year’s ‘Colossal’, boasting some impressive talent and promising to tap into that magical notion; that films can, and should still be original.

For me, the trailers gave off something of a slightly quirkier ‘A Monster Calls’ vibe with its towering monster figure, but it couldn’t be further from that fantastic and fantastical tear-jerker if it tried. I will do my best to avoid plot spoilers here as this really is a film you should go into without knowing too much, although perhaps not completely blind as it might catch you incredibly off-guard! In short, it is about Gloria (Hathaway), a struggling alcoholic who after a break-up decides to return to her hometown. So far so normal, but soon reports start emerging about a giant creature that is attacking Seoul in South Korea, and Gloria realises she has a strange connection to this phenomenon.  

‘Colossal’ is a film which will quite rightly get people talking, and you still might not have a firm grasp of exactly what is going on even after you’ve seen it, but it is also perhaps deliberately ambiguous. This is intelligent film-making which refuses to hand answers to you on a plate, but far from being pretentious, it’s laid back and undeniably “cool” approach makes it incredibly endearing.

In layman’s terms, ‘Colossal’ is something of an allegory for the destructive power of alcoholism, with the monster providing a somewhat extreme, but nonetheless important, physical embodiment of the ability it has to wreak havoc and destruction. See, I said it was absolutely nothing like ‘A Monster Calls’! If you’ve ever heard the phrase of someone “battling their personal demons”, there is something of that in this film, with the “demons” in question appearing as both gigantic, city-wrecking monsters, and the regular-sized and seemingly “regular” people, whose intentions are perhaps not to be trusted. Whilst the concept and ideas of this film are grand in scale and ambitious in scope, it is amazing just how naturally this is conveyed, and how easy it is to buy into. There’s enough substance, and crucially, likeable and well developed characters to cement this idea, and they sell it completely.

Whilst the subject matter might seem bleak, and there is undoubtedly room for genuine moments of human drama, it had a surprisingly dark comedic edge to it as well. This adds a delightful charm and warmth to the film, and despite its unusual ideas and thematically rich notions it is very easy to like and genuinely funny in places.

For those who have perhaps slated Anne Hathaway in the past (something of which I have never really been able to understand), ‘Colossal’ will instantly silence them, as she is really quite fantastic here. She nails the goofy awkwardness of the character, and sells the uniqueness of the story so convincingly, which is absolutely crucial in making it work. Her performance suspends our disbelief completely, meaning the idea of a giant monster being controlled by her brain on the other side of the world never seems like it is weird at all, and this is no easy feat!

‘Colossal’ is one of those undefinable films, one which might leave you head-scratching, and one which will leave you completely tongue-tied when you attempt to describe the plot to anyone else! It is in many ways indescribable, so refreshingly unique that you do really need to see it for yourself to make a judgement. I can fully accept that this film will once again prove to be divisive, but it will certainly get people talking, and that is something at least. ‘Colossal’ is dazzlingly unique, oddly charming, endlessly inventive and quite unlike anything else I have seen. Definitely worth a watch, and good or bad, it will certainly stick with you afterwards.

Sarah’s rating: 7.8 out of 10

Baywatch

Year: 2017
Director: Seth Gordon
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron, Alexandra Daddario, Priyanka Chopra, Kelly Rohrbach, Ilfenesh Hadera, Jon Bass
Written by Tom Sheffield

Slow motion running? Check. Sexy lifeguards? Check. A soundtrack to rival ’22 Jump Street’? Check.

I’ll hold my hands up and say that I wasn’t ever really excited for this film. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge comedy fan, but as Patrick mentioned in his brilliantly worded article, comedy just seems to have lost it’s mojo over recent years, and they’ve become rather predictable. I watched the first 2 trailers and thought they look ‘okay’ and something that would give me a few laughs. I avoided the red band trailer, as that’s when the marketing team for some reason decide to show off the best gags of the film and leave you disappointed in the cinema expecting more of the same.

Right from the word go the film’s title sequence makes sure to set you up for what to expect for the next 2 hours. Without spoiling it, it’s over the top and outlandishly brilliant. The perfect expectation setter.

Mitch Buchannon (Dwayne Johnson), CJ Parker (Kelly Rohrbach), and Stephanie Holden (Ilfenesh Hadera) are growing increasingly concerned for the patrons of their beach as drugs keep washing up on shore. Determined to put a stop to it, they go beyond the call of duty for lifeguards and decide to investigate further. With new recruits Summer (Alexandra Daddario), Ronnie (Jon Bass), and Matt Brody (Zac Efron) there to help their efforts, the team must work together if they are to solve the mystery of the drugs. Victoria Leeds (Priyanka Chopra) doesn’t like people meddling in her business, so she sets out to make sure her plans stay on track and does whatever necessary to ensure nobody can stop her.

Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron are absolutely hilarious on screen together, and they really bounce off each other’s jokes superbly. The fact that Johnson calls Efron’s character every name under the sun but his actual name produces some of the best laughs. The cast as a whole are fantastic, with each of them sharing screen time with one another at some point, and we see how different their relationships are. Jon Bass is hands down my favourite in this film because his character was completely the opposite to Johnson and Efron’s but he wasn’t just there for comedic effect, he was there representing the average guy amongst two six-pick donning, bicep tensing alphas. Priyanka Chopra also gets a special mention for her villainous role that would have a Bond villain shaking in his boots. She absolutely owned this role and I would pay good money for her to play a similar villain in a film with a more serious tone.

The humour is exactly what I expected. There’s dick jokes, running in slow motion, self-referential remarks, and constant reminders from other characters that these characters are just lifeguards and not cops. There is one joke I think will go down like lead balloon with most audiences, which refers to the death of a much loved celebrity and it actually got a few shocked gasps in the audience in my screening. Other than that, I found myself laughing throughout the film, even at the most ridiculous of jokes, because the film is just genuinely a laugh and it knows it’s basically just one giant piss-take. I think there was a lot more we could have learned about each of the characters, we only really learn about Buchannon and Brody, but hopefully this is something a sequel could provide. The gratuitous cameos were brilliantly done and fit in well with the rest of the film.

I think a sequel would be welcomed due to the fact that this film felt like it kept things safe to make sure it did well. I can really imagine some of the scenes being dialled down a touch when they wrote the script or filmed it because they wanted to make sure people left wanting more. A sequel should just carry on playing on it’s self-referential nature and just go absolutely wild and ridiculous. Give the people what they want!

If you’ve watched the trailers and found yourself thinking that it looks like your cup of tea, then you’ll not be surprised to learn that it actually is. However, if the jokes in the trailer don’t make you crack a smile, then you’d probably do best to save 2 hours of your time and skip this. I enjoyed it a lot more then I was expecting to and I think Johnson and Efron’s charisma will be a key factor in people’s enjoyment of this film. You’ll also want to stay in your seats as the credits role for some hilarious outtakes and once they’re done, there’s a short bit at the end that will make sure you leave the cinema with a smile on your face.

Tom’s rating: 6.5 out of 10

Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge

Year: 2017
Directors: Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg
Starring: Johnny Depp, Javier Bardem, Geoffrey Rush, Brenton Thwaites, Kaya Scodelario
Written by Tom Sheffield

In 1967 a ride opened at Disneyland, California by the name of ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’, which was based around legendary pirates and pirate folklore. Fast forward 36 years and Walt Disney Pictures released the film ‘The Curse of the Black Pearl’, which would kick-start the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ franchise as we know it today. ‘Salazar’s Revenge’, also known as ‘Dead Men Tell No Tales’ in some parts of the world, is the fifth film in the franchise that follows the adventures of Captain Jack Sparrow.

Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites) has vowed to find a way to remove the curse enslaving his father, Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), to the ‘Flying Dutchman’, which was once captained by the ruthless Davy Jones. He believes Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) is the only man able to help him retrieve Poseidon’s trident, which, if the legend is correct,  will set his father free. Also on the hunt for Jack Sparrow is Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem) and his Spanish Navy ghost crew, who, following a run in with a baby-faced Jack at the very start of his pirating days, have been cursed to roam their destroyed vessel as ghosts.

Both Brenton Thwaites and Kaya Scodelario are fantastic new additions to the franchise. Their characters never feel overshadowed by the presence of the familiar faces of the franchise and they stand out in their own right. Their presence in this film feels somewhat similar to that of of Will and Elizabeth Turner when we first met them in the original, but with a few subtle differences that keep it fresh. Javier Bardem makes a mighty fine villain as Salazar and he’s a brilliant addition to the cast.  We know Jack has more enemies than he does friends, and we’ve often heard how much people hate him, but Bardem completely sold me with his performance on just how much hate Salazar was harbouring for Jack. Geoffrey Rush returns as Captain Barbosa, who I think people are going to love even more in this film for reasons I can’t comment on without spoiling, so I won’t. But trust me, if you’re a Barbosa fan you’re in for a treat. Johnny Depp’s performance once again is utterly superb and true to character. We see an unfamiliar side to Jack Sparrow in a some scenes, something a little un-pirate like and how Depp performed these scenes was truly brilliant.

Visually the film has definitely upped it’s game from it’s predecessors. Whilst the others have never shied away from doing something new and different, for example the skeleton pirates walking on the sea bed in the first, and Davy Jones’ spectacular ship in the second, you can really tell they put a lot of thought and effort into what went into this film. Disney worked along with IMAX for this film to deliver some truly spectacular looking scenes. Depp’s first scene is utterly brilliant and it may even get some cogs turning in Vin Diesel’s brain for the next entry in the Fast and Furious franchise!

As ever, the score was utterly superb, despite this being the first entry of the franchise to not be composed by Hans Zimmer. Geoff Zanelli, who worked alongside Zimmer on the previous films, takes the musical helm for this latest outing and he did an outstanding job. For the most part, it sounds like the score we’ve come to know and love, but it’s obvious that Zanelli has added his own touch to it, and he’s done a fantastic job. Another winner in my books!

Despite my initial reservations about this film, which were mostly based on the poor quality the films that followed ‘The Curse of the Black Pearl’, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. It’s got a strong, similar feel to the original film, which still remains my favourite, followed very very closely by this latest entry. It’s bigger, visually spectacular in places, and feels pleasantly reminiscent of the original without feeling like a copy and paste job. I would definitely recommend a viewing in IMAX if it’s an option, the score and the action sequences are well worth the ticket price.

Tom’s rating: 7.0 out of 10

Mindhorn

Year: 2017
Director: Sean Foley
Starring: Julian Barratt, Essie Davis, Kenneth Branagh, Andrea Riseborough, Steve Coogan, Russell Tovey, Simon Farnaby
Written by Tom Sheffield

Through my teenage years I remember repeatedly watching ‘The Mighty Boosh’ after being introduced to it by a friend. It’s ridiculous humour and low-budget sets and costumes often brought me close to tears of laughter. Julian Barratt took this same essence and feel that he brought to The Boosh and produced something just as beautiful. Barratt teams back up with Simon Farnaby to write the screenplay for ‘Mindhorn’, as well as both starring in it and something I didn’t learn until  the studios appeared before the film is the brilliant fact that Ridley Scott was an Executive Producer on the film.

‘Mindhorn’ is a character from a 1980’s detective show which starred actor Richard Thorncroft (Julian Barratt), which was filmed on the Isle of Man. 25 years after the show ended, we see a balding, rotund Thorncroft desperately attempt to find some sort of professional acting work, something that he hasn’t managed to achieve over the last 25 years.  Meanwhile, a killer, who calls himself ‘The Kestrel’,  is on the loose on the Isle of Man and refuses to speak to or comply with the police unless he talks to Mindhorn, who he thinks is a real detective. Hoping this case will thrust him straight back in the limelight, Thorncroft dons his ‘truth seeing’ eye patch and mustard-coloured turtle neck and gets to work trying to make a name for himself again. But there’s more to the case than the police know, and it falls to Mindhorn to see that justice is served!

Going into the film, I sort of had an idea what to expect, due to it being written by and starring both Julian Barratt and Simon Farnaby. Their previous work, both together and apart, have been some of my favourites over the years, so to have them both together in one film was always going to be a winner in my book. Their humour shines in this film, with some brilliant one liners, some heart racing action sequences, and a sense of silliness that doesn’t go too far to the point that it would put some people off. Mindhorn finds himself rolling from awkward situation to the next which allows Barratt to get his acting chops around some scenes that are all over the emotions scale, and yet he delivers in every scene.

The film’s supporting cast are absolutely brilliant, and they all bring something a little different to their character. Russell Tovey get’s a special mention from me for his portrayal as Paul Melly AKA ‘The Kestrel’, whose obsession with Mindhorn comes off as insanely creepy, but as we learn more about Melly’s background and motives later in the film, you begin to see a sort of innocence to his obsession. Steve Coogan is also a notable mention for his portrayal as Thorncroft’s Mindhorn co-star who shot to fame following a spin-off and multiple sponsorship deals. Although he doesn’t have all that much screen time, he has just enough to make an impression and give us an insight to his character and his smugness. Ultimately it’s Barratt and Farnaby’s shared scenes that are the most memorable, and not just because Farnaby is half naked the whole time. The pair have a great chemistry and bounce off one another with their similar sense of humour and I would definitely be buying tickets if they decided to pair up again and write/star in a prequel/sequel, which they recently teased in a Q&A.  

‘Mindhorn’ is a fantastic example of a brilliant British comedy that in no way takes itself seriously. Fans of Barratt and Farnaby will find themselves in familiar territory, but it never feels repetitive or too similar to their previous work. With a fantastic supporting cast, the Isle of Man delivering beautiful scenery in the background, and a perfect runtime of 89 minutes, I highly recommend giving ‘Mindhorn’ a watch.

Tom’s rating: 7.5 out of 10

The Handmaiden

Year: 2017
Director: Park Chan-wook
Starring: Min-hee Kim, Tae-ri Kim, Jung-woo Ha, Jin-woong Jo, Hae-suk Kim, So-ri Moon

Written by Sarah Buddery

Rather ashamedly, ‘The Handmaiden’ marks my first foray into the world of Park Chan-wook so I have little to compare with his other directorial offerings, but somewhat conveniently, ‘The Handmaiden’ is a film like no other, one so dazzlingly unique that it seems unfair to compare it to anything else in existence anyway!

The sweeping scale of the storyline and the precise way in which it peels back layer after layer, really is something which has to be seen to be appreciated, and I would never want to do it a disservice by spoiling the entire plot so I will do my best to keep this as spoiler free as possible.

The story follows a young Korean woman, Sook-Hee (Tae-ri Kim) who finds herself in the service of Lady Hideko (Min-hee Kim) as her titular Handmaiden. All is not as it seems however as she has in fact been planted by “Count Fujiwara” (Jung-woo Ha) who isn’t a Count at all, but rather a scoundrel who plans to seduce Lady Hideko, send her off to a madhouse, and split the money from her considerable estate with Sook-Hee. However, Sook-Hee soon finds herself infatuated with Lady Hideko and a passionate affair ensues, but is everything all that it seems?

Much will be said about the highly explicit and erotic love scenes of ‘The Handmaiden’ but they are not the primary attraction here, and in fact play very much a secondary part in a story which is about so much more than just a passionate relationship between two women. Indeed, this story was nothing like the one I was expecting, but that is absolutely to its advantage rather than its detriment. ‘The Handmaiden’ is beguiling and transfixing right from the start, lavish and lascivious in nature, with visuals that will stick with you for a long while afterwards.

Split into three definable parts, the interwoven plots only increasing in intrigue as the time passes. It somewhat appropriately resembles a story-striptease, with each layer that is peeled off being more satisfying than the last. It was surprisingly funny in places as well, but far from being definable as a comedy! This is a film which transcends genres; it is a masterclass in storytelling, a film which manages to be visually stunning and narratively satisfying in equal measure.

Tae-ri Kim as Sook-Hee is immediately likeable and charming, and she really sells this performance. The relationship between her and Min-hee Kim’s Lady Hideko is believable and the chemistry is palpable from the moment they first meet. Jin-woong Jo as Lady Hideko’s abusive Uncle is also excellent, convincingly conniving and creepy. The portrayal of male and female characters in ‘The Handmaiden’ is endlessly fascinating, with women being seen as pure, spirited and intelligent, whilst the men don’t fare quite as well, largely being portrayed as grimy, perverse and mean. It never hammers this home however so it avoids being offensive and instead ends up being somewhat empowering and undoubtedly satisfying, and the performances – all of which are flawless – contribute to that enormously.

If I had to find a fault in ‘The Handmaiden’ – and it is difficult believe me – is that there is perhaps one love scene too many and whereas they served a purpose for the most part, there was one in particular which bordered on the gratuitous. For a film which is so much more than just that one part of the plot, it was a little disappointing to give into that so late into the story and came across to me as just “giving the people what they came here for”!

Overall however, ‘The Handmaiden’ is a daring diegesis of desire and deceit that is sumptuously designed, lavishly crafted and expertly executed. Easily one of the best films of the year so far, ‘The Handmaiden’ is unlike anything else you will see, and utterly unmissable.

Sarah’s rating: 9.8 out of 10