Gifted

Year: 2017
Director: Marc Webb
Starring: Chris Evans, Mckenna Grace, Lindsay Duncan, Octavia Spencer
Written by Fiona Underhill

Directed by Marc Webb (whose CV bizarrely includes ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ and ‘(500) Days of Summer’) and starring Chris Evans (who is coming to the end of his Marvel contract) – ‘Gifted’ is clearly a smaller, quieter, more personal project that is being squeezed in between saving the world. Evans plays Frank, who lives in Florida and repairs boats. He lives with his niece Mary (McKenna Grace), who in the opening scenes is reluctantly being sent to first grade, after a period of being home-schooled. Frank’s neighbour, Roberta (Octavia Spencer) helps out looking after Mary at the weekends and she thinks it’s a very bad idea to send Mary to school too.

The reasons for this reluctance becomes apparent early on when Mary is clearly bored and truculent in class. Mary complains about the work being too easy and her teacher Bonnie (Jenny Slate) challenges her with some increasingly difficult sums. It turns out Mary is a maths prodigy. After getting into trouble at school, the principal suggests Mary go to a school for the gifted, but Frank wants her to lead a normal life, surrounded by normal children. The reasons for this become clear – Mary’s mother had been a child prodigy too and struggled with her genius for her whole life. Enter Frank’s mother Evelyn (one of my favourite British actresses – Lindsay Duncan). She wants to move Mary to Boston, have her home-tutored and pushed into becoming a world-class Mathematician, like her mother. The conflict turns ugly and becomes a custody-battle in court.

The acting talent that has been assembled is impressive. A film like this rises and falls on the charisma of its child star and their chemistry with the main adult (or adults) they’re interacting with. This is definitely a positive of ‘Gifted’ – McKenna Grace is a great find and clearly bonded with Evans and Spencer (as can be seen on the press tour). Because Evans is now defined by Captain America (and before that, Johnny Storm), he is an underrated actor. He has been subtly weaving in some indie projects between Marvel gigs for some time now, the most note-worthy of which is his directorial debut ‘Before We Go’. I, for one, am intrigued to see where his post-Cap career will take him.

The story is an interesting one – it is an age-old question – how do we best treat gifted children? It is really difficult to achieve a balance of giving them social skills, happiness and a ‘normal’ life, while also helping them meet their potential. There is no clear cut answer. However, the complexity and nuance of the issue is not fully explored here – Frank and Evelyn are pitched at opposite ends of the scale, with Duncan being painted as an almost pantomime villain. I wish the film had gone deeper into exploring why it is particularly difficult to be a female genius. It is hinted that Evelyn herself had to give up a promising career when she became a mother. Evelyn then views her daughter becoming a single mother as her downfall. The film does slowly and effectively peels away layers of Frank’s character and his relationship with his mother and sister. I wish more had been made of his brief affair with Mary’s teacher Bonnie. Slate is a gifted comic actress, who is under-used here.

So, while there were glimpses of subtlety within this film, it is all together too slight and surface-level. It is a light-hearted bit of sentimental fluff that fans of Evans will enjoy. I will admit he was the main selling point for me and there is even a bonus one-eyed cat, just to tick all of my boxes. The story and script ultimately cannot match the acting talent of the ensemble. They are not given enough to chew on and I fear the film will prove quite forgettable. However, it is worth an evening’s entertainment, if you want some escapism and something pretty to look at (of course I mean Evans).

 Fiona’s rating: 6.5 out of 10
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Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Year: 2017
Director: James Gunn
Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Kurt Russell, Michael Rooker, Pom Klementieff, Karen Gillan
Written by Rhys Bowen Jones

‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’ marks the beginning of a MCU triple header in 2017, soon to be followed by ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’ and ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ later in the year. It’s a return to the wider, ethereal plane of the MCU not yet entirely connected with the Avengers, but they’re certainly on the path to it. ‘Vol. 2’ has aspirations to be bigger than its previous installment, widely considered to be one of the best films in the MCU to date, but as we will soon find out, bigger doesn’t always mean better. 

‘Vol. 2’ sees the Guardians, Peter “Star-Lord” Quill (Pratt) et al, continuing to save the galaxy from weird and wonderful things. They have crafted a niche in the galaxy as problem-solvers in their own, unique way. Together, each with their individual assets to lend to the team, such as Gamora’s sword, Rocket’s gadgets, Drax’s strength, and Groot’s adorability, they frequently succeed in their missions, no matter how unorthodox the solution may be. This time, however, a mysterious figure named Ego (Russell) has tracked the Guardians down claiming to be Peter’s long lost father who has wider aspirations for the Galaxy that Peter and the others have sworn to protect.

From the very opening moments, ‘Vol. 2’ has a different feel about it. Much was made before the film’s release that ‘Vol. 2’ is the first MCU film to be shot on state-of-the-art RED cameras and this is evident from the opening frame. No MCU film, populated by colourful characters left and right, has ever looked this vibrant. James Gunn and cinematographer Henry Braham use this to its fullest in every frame. My personal favourite moment is during a mid-point escape sequence, Yondu’s (Rooker) bright red arrow of death knocks the lights out in a corridor before illuminating 5 kills in a row in wonderful flashes of red. From a visual stand-point, ‘Vol. 2’ absolutely shines.

The characters we know and love are all back and as great as ever. Quill and Gamora (Saldana) share a relationship that borders on will-they-won’t-they that doesn’t feel forced; it feels borne from their experiences and mutual respect. Rocket and Baby Groot are the lovable, bickering older and younger brother of the team, and Drax and newbie Mantis (Klementieff) hit it off from the get go with their suspect social skills. These pairings all work in and of themselves, but the film shines when the team is all together. In the opening battle (sound-tracked wonderfully by Mr. Blue Sky), they bicker as they fight a hideous, tentacled beast, they bicker on the Milano, they bicker as they’re being praised for saving the Galaxy again. Their bickering is what made Vol. 1 so great; we fell in love with these characters and they became an unorthodox family with a spaceship as their home. They’re the best rag-tag band of space misfits this side of Joss Whedon’s ‘Firefly’.

And yet, James Gunn decided to split them up.

I understand film structure, and I understand that films have the A-plot and B-plot, but to separate Peter, Gamora, and Drax from Rocket and Groot fairly early on diminishes the film’s strongest suit – the Guardians themselves. Try as it might, despite some individual stand-out moments from Drax (he has one mini-rant about parents having sex that had me in fits of laughter) and Rocket (Taserface!), I could never shake the feeling that something wasn’t as right as it should be. When the band finally get back together, ‘Vol. 2’ rediscovers the magic that made Vol. 1 so special. The film is book-ended by sequences in which they fight and bicker and get the job done, but the hour between those is filled with far-too-many scenes of different pairings standing around, talking in a room. Gunn evidently wanted to delve deeper into these characters and help us understand who they are, where they came from, and where they want to go, but some work more than others. Peter gets the lion’s share of the character study as he discovers the true meaning of family, but it felt as if we were simply told these things rather than shown. With the aforementioned camera technology at Gunn’s disposal, it’s a shame so much of it is used to frame people’s faces as they discuss their feelings.

In Kurt Russell’s Ego, ‘Vol. 2’ has a fascinating character. Ego is a living planet. You heard me. A planet. I must commend Gunn for managing to convey this idea so effectively. It’s a baffling concept that could have alienated some viewers, but Russell oozes so much charm and cool that he sells the idea convincingly. Again, from a visual stand-point, Ego is conveyed beautifully with stellar backgrounds and a hint of Russell’s actual face on the surface of the planet itself. It’s a shame though, that Ego felt so inconsequential in the grand scheme of things.

Ego plays a major role in Peter’s character arc, but where Vol. 1 had a connection to the MCU’s big picture of the Infinity Stones, ‘Vol. 2’ feels disconnected from everything else. Aside from a couple of Thanos name-drops, ‘Vol. 2’ is a self-contained story in the Guardians of the Galaxy side of the MCU. For most, this isn’t a problem, but it’s a bold move for Marvel to do this considering next year the Guardians are meant to be joining up with the Avengers for the impending Infinity War. I would have thought ‘Vol. 2’ would do more to send the Guardians to Earth.

‘Vol. 2’ has its fair share of spectacular set-pieces, fabulously unexpected cameos, and it is no doubt full to the brim with references that only die-hard Marvel Comic’s readers would know on first viewing. It’s certainly a very enjoyable film because of our connection to and love for the characters, but I felt it was a step back from Vol. 1. Rather than build on the strengths of the original, it split them up, and it hampered my overall feeling towards it. It’s a shame because when ‘Vol. 2’ works, it works. Groot’s moments in the spotlight trying and failing to complete a task are gold, Drax’s new found sense of humour is a delight, and Mantis is an adorable addition to the team. It just didn’t quite match the heights of Vol. 1.

Rhys’ rating: 7.2 out of 10

Their Finest

Year: 2017
Director: Lone Scherfig
Starring: Gemma Arterton, Sam Claflin, Bill Nighy, Jack Huston, Paul Ritter, Richard E. Grant, Jeremy Irons
Written by Fiona Underhill

We all know that Hollywood loves to make films about itself, and then shower these films with awards in a self-congratulating exercise of narcissism and ego. So, it’s refreshing to see a British take on its own film industry, at a particularly interesting point in its history. We are talking World War Two – when entertainment had to do several things at once. It needed to provide an escape to the horrors, of course, but it also had to put the right ‘spin’ on things and became an instrument for propaganda. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – one of my favourite films of all time – Powell and Pressburger’s ‘A Matter of Life and Death’ was one such film. In an effort to foster favourable US-UK relations, it has an American radio operator fall in love with a British pilot. ‘Their Finest’ focuses on a similar film – a team is assembled by the Ministry for Information to make inspiring films, based on real wartime events happening around them. Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton) is specifically hired to write the ‘slop’ – the female dialogue. She stumbles upon a pair of twin sisters who took it upon themselves to steal their father’s fishing boat and try to take it to Dunkirk – to assist in the effort of evacuating the hundreds of thousands of men stranded there. The fact that they never made it, need not get in the way of a good story. Mrs Cole is teamed up with Tom Buckley (Sam Clafin) and Raymond Parfitt (Paul Ritter) to weave the story into something dramatic and exciting – and don’t forget a bit with a dog.

Bill Nighy plays Ambrose Hilliard – an actor past his prime, who believes he will be given the heroic soldier role, but ends up playing the comic foil – Uncle Frank. It is decided that (as with ‘A Matter of Life and Death’), an American character is needed, just at the turning point of whether the US will be entering the war or not. So a real life all-American hero is found – Carl Lundbeck (Jack Lacy – last seen playing one of Hannah’s boyfriends in TV show ‘Girls’) – the only problem is that he can’t act. Some of the best British acting talent has been assembled for ‘Their Finest’, even in smaller roles – with Eddie Marsan and Helen McCrory playing sibling agents to Hilliard. Richard E. Grant and Jeremy Irons also appear in small parts – it is gratifying to see that stars will still return home to help out British films. Jack Huston plays the role he always seems to play – a mustachioed injured soldier (see also Boardwalk Empire) – who is Catrin’s struggling artist husband.

The film alternates between a constantly bombarded London (where landladies and friends can be there one day and gone the next) and the much more peaceful seaside location where some of the film’s shooting occurs. Mrs Cole and Buckley become close here, but she is torn between supporting her husband’s art exhibition and her burgeoning feelings for her fellow writer. Of course, the film examines women’s changing roles during the war. The fact that they have jobs, responsibilities and freedoms that they had not experienced before means they will not easily be sent back to the kitchen when war is over. Mrs Cole is patronised and dismissed as a writer, but she grows in confidence throughout the film and gains respect from the men around her. The ending of the film is a disappointment in some ways, but ultimately is trying to return the focus to Catrin Cole and her role as a writer, rather than her reliance on romance or men.    

It is a delight to see some of the ‘behind-the-scenes’ magic of how films were made before the age of CGI. The Dunkirk beach scene is a particular highlight. It is also nice to examine a time when cinema had real power – to transport millions of people from bleak reality on the one hand, but also have an important role in providing news and information from the war also. ‘Their Finest’ is directed by a woman – Lone Scherfig – who, despite being Danish, has scrutinised aspects of uniquely British life in ‘An Education’, ‘One Day’ and ‘The Riot Club’. The acting – from Gemma Arterton and Bill Nighy, in particular, is excellent. Nighy still manages to upstage almost every actor in almost every film he’s in. He simultaneously plays the ego and awkwardness of his character tenderly, particularly when he finds an unexpected role as acting teacher to the poor American war hero.

‘Their Finest’ is a lovely film, which is sure to melt the most cynical of hearts. I certainly had something in my eye at more than one point. It is also really important to support a) British cinema and b) female talent behind-the-camera; so go out and see it! You won’t regret it.

Fiona’s rating: 8 out of 10

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

Year: 2005
Director: Shane Black
Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Val Kilmer, Michelle Monaghan
Written by Rhys Wortham

I try to stay away from most buddy cop movies, mainly because they are either cliché or you can see the same thing (usually done better) on a TV cop show. There are some films that do this genre well, such as the ‘Lethal Weapon’ series and ‘Rush Hour’, although both are somewhat character driven rather then story driven sometimes. On the other hand there are ones like ‘Loose Cannons’ that tries too much to be everything and accomplishes nothing, or ‘White Chicks’ that bases itself on the premise that two handsome black man can disguise themselves as two white women and somehow not still look like men. Sorry fellas, you didn’t fool anyone. It ranges from the too silly, like ‘Police Academy’, to the very depressing, like ‘The Departed’. Its a mixed bag and sometimes they just aren’t marketed well. 

‘Kiss Kiss Bang Bang’ from director Shane Black isn’t about the usual wacky comedy crime duo. In any duo, one is usually the straight man, who is anything but straight, and the other is a comic relief, but both you can relate to on some level. Harry Lockhart (Robert Downey Jr.) is a down on his luck guy who see everyone else living their lives happily, while the only love he’s ever known is getting her cervix tested by every dog in town that wants to bury his bone. Haven’t we all been there? While Gay Perry (Val Kilmer) is the street-wise guy who doesn’t like his job, people, you, nor his inability to help people when going gets rough. It’s a nihilist perspective while still trying to see the sunny side of life. 

These two work well because Harry’s moronic antics lead to better questions and help solve the mysteries faster, Gay’s tactics are a little more based on detective work. He’s not a good guy, but not a bad one either. They counter balance each other really well as they try and struggle to work with each other. This leads to some great dialogue and some really funny scenes, both with and without nudity. Other whimsical things happen along the way, in the vein of ‘The Three Stooges’, except in this case, a few people actually die. 

This movie is definitely worth watching at least once. It captures a quirky person with the comedic ideals of someone like Bill Burr or Seth MacFarlane while still being grounded in reality and working with someone who’s probably going to get someone grounded, in a meat grinder. It’s slightly different because of it’s continuous commentary on Hollywood and how the whole crime drama genre is a farce of itself sometimes. It excels as a crime drama because it emotionally brutalizes a normal fellow like Harry while giving enough to Gay to go on to solve the mystery. 

I liked this, but the continued humour might ruin it for some. Seeing someone bleed out their chest after a few punch lines might leave something to be desired, but with a little something for everyone, if anything it might be a good movie for a date. 

Rhys’ rating: 7.5 out of 10

Going in Style

Year: 2017
Director: Zach Braff
Starring: Michael Caine, Alan Arkin, Morgan Freeman 
Written by Andrew Garrison

I have longed to watch a good comedy for a while, but so many “comedy” films today are either terribly unfunny, or raunchy to the extent that is too gross to be funny.  I wanted a mature film that could make me smile and laugh like the comedy films of old did. ‘Going in Style’, featuring the talents of Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, and Alan Arkin felt like a film that could do this. Additionally, director Zach Braff has proven himself a competent director, although he may have still peaked in the television series ‘Scrubs’.  ‘Going in Style’ is about three elderly men who find themselves being given a bad deal thanks to some greedy companies and bank loaners, who then decide to rob a bank so they can live comfortably and take care of their various personal issues. I’m delighted to say, despite its flaws, this film proved to be the comedy I’ve been waiting for.

I must say that the first act of this film is poorly written; I didn’t like the dialogue, the jokes weren’t funny, and nothing was timed well. It felt to me that this film was going to be an absolute mess. Everything about this film improved in the final two acts, but the humour didn’t always sit right. This film is comical, but it had potential to be so much more and never reached it.

While not so much a flaw, it is a concept that some could consider overused – about how the elderly still has value in society, about how being old doesn’t mean you stop living. The classic idea of staying young-at-heart even if the rest of you isn’t. This film taps into that notion quite well.

As mentioned before, the final two acts of this film are enjoyable and funny, with several moments leading to hearty laughter.  The talented cast find their groove and provide us with some quality entertainment. 

While certainly not the first film to do so, I did appreciate that this movie went after the treachery of major corporations and large banks – how they rob many less fortunate blind and pick up massive profits in the end. Meanwhile others lose their homes, their very livelihoods, and their hopes and dreams. It is among the greatest injustices of our time and too little has been done to stop it. By no means do I think a bank heist or something illegal is the correct path, but I liked that vein of thinking this film has; a sense of justice to those so sorely wronged.

As well as the A-list main cast members, the other cameos and bit-parts in this movie are wonderful, with so many familiar faces and voices doing wonderful things – I would love to see more from many of them.

‘Going in Style’ had a rough time getting together, but once established, it proved a worthwhile comedy, with a list of talented actors and an amazing secondary cast. This film turned out a delightful change of pace compared to the majority of raunchy comedies which currently litter the present movie landscape. If you have enjoyed the comedy style of Braff before, you likely won’t be disappointed here. 

Andrew’s rating: 6.6 out of 10

The Fate of the Furious

Year: 2017
Director: F. Gary Gray
Starring: Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Charlize Theron, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Kurt Russell, Nathalie Emmanuel, Luke Evans
Written by Tom Sheffield

I’m fairly new to the ‘Fast and Furious’ universe, having only watch the original film, which was released in 2001, in January this year in preparation for this 8th installment. The trailer, if i’m being honest, looked bat-shit insane and so much fun, so I thought it was about time I watched the films to see what all the fuss was about. I grew up with friends who all loved the films but I just never saw the appeal.

‘The Fate of the Furious’ begins with Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) on their honeymoon when a mysterious woman, who we later learn is called Cipher (Charlize Theron),  coerces Dom into turning on his team and working for her. After betraying his family as they finish a job, the team are brought together by Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) to stop Dom and bring an end to the chaos Cipher is causing and find out the reason for Dom’s sudden and uncharacteristic betrayal.

The thing I love most about this film is the fact that it knows it’s a little silly in places, and it just goes with it without actually taking things too far and putting you off the film. I found myself just laughing at some of the plot points and scenes because of how ridiculous they were, but you know that was their intention. Each film, from the 4th one onwards has just tried to one-up itself in terms of the absurd stunts and situations the gang find themselves in, but it’s clear to say this one blew the others out of the water.

Standout performance for me has to be Jason Statham, for reasons I cannot justify in this spoiler-free review, but trust me, if or when you see the film you’ll know exactly why he’s my choice. Another notable mention goes to Helen Mirren, who does the best Barbara Windsor/Peggy Mitchell impression going.  I was looking forward to her appearance in the film since she was announced as a member of the cast, and however short her screen time may be, she absolutely leaves a lasting impression! I hope she makes an appearance in future films.

The rest of the gang are just as brilliant as ever, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Nathalie Emmanuel and of course Dwayne Johnson all bring their A-game and you can really tell that they’re all pretty close to one another, both on and off screen. There are some hilarious exchanges of dialogue between Roman and Tej, as fans of the franchise have come to expect, but I think the scenes with Deckard and Hobbs will be the most memorable this time round.

I have to hand it to director F. Gary Gray and his team, the outrageous yet brilliant action scenes were superbly shot. I went to an IMAX screening and the shots of each location the gang visited over the course of the film were shot beautifully. The car races, chases and downright outrageous ‘what the fuck’ moments were fantastic to watch, and in some scenes you find your eyes constantly scanning the screen to see what’s going on over on that side, and what’s going on on the other, and I’m sure I’ll need another viewing to see what I might have missed.

To wrap this up, I highly recommend a viewing of ‘Fate of the Furious’ or ‘Fast and Furious 8’, whatever they’re calling it. If you’re a fan of the most recent films in the franchise, then this will be right up your street. It’s fun, it’s action packed, a ton of bass drops out of nowhere and as always, a brilliantly fitting and upbeat soundtrack to go with it. This might just be my favourite entry in the franchise, bu the question is where does the franchise go from here!? Either way, I’m excited to see how they try and one-up themselves next time.

Tom’s rating: 8.0 out of 10

The Boss Baby

Year: 2017
Director: Tom McGrath 
Starring: Alec Baldwin, Jimmy Kimmel, Lisa Kudrow, Tobey Maguire, Steve Buscemi
Written by Andrew Garrison

Animation has always had the ability to inspire me. While all film can be art, animation has an edge in that department; to create life from the lifeless and allow the imagination to soar well beyond the realm of possibility. It can tell legendary stories and showcase the finest artistic style in the modern era.

My anticipation for ‘The Boss Baby’ was almost non-existent. I’ll admit the concept sounded quirky enough that I may enjoy it, then the trailers arrived and most of my interest sailed away and it was clear this wouldn’t even attempt to reach for that gold standard of animation.  The thoughts I had going into this film are unmentionable, though I did my best to keep an open mind.  

‘The Boss Baby’ has a very simple premise. A special baby wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase infiltrates an average family with a seven-year-old boy. This boy discovers that the baby is something more than what appears, and together they go on a mission to rescue baby-kind from the treachery of Puppyco, a global puppy corporation. 

Sure enough, this film has plenty of flaws. The most important aspect of any film is characters and their development, and the majority of characters in this film are one-note. They have little to no depth or emotional impact and are just as easily forgotten. Even the main character named Tim wasn’t that believable, and I don’t feel the voice actor did a great job with the character. 

Next up is the writing. No one is expecting an Oscar winner, but it is very simplistic and the film focuses on gimmicks which get old fast. The novelty of “Look! A baby is wearing a suit! How absurd!” is fun for a bit, but loses its shine quickly. It is very predictable and follows that cookie cutter story-line to precision. As expected, the humor was low brow, and I can understand being a younger kids movie that the jokes wouldn’t be as clever as other films, however the amount of bodily functions used as a crutch for a joke was insulting. The film had good humour and I will get to that, but the push for the lowest brand hurt the movie far more than it helped. Don’t play down for children, challenge them instead. 

Finally, the animation was often average to subpar. Considering this is a Dreamworks film, with ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ and ‘Kung Fu Panda’ in its corner, it was disappointing. Just because the target audience is younger, that doesn’t mean you can slack off on the details and still get full credit. Take some pride in your work, and it doesn’t seem everyone felt that way for this one.

All this being said, the movie was actually better than I expected, with some surprising positives. Alec Baldwin as the Boss Baby (Ted) was clearly the star of the movie as his character has the best lines and many of the best gags. He used everyday baby actions and accessories and made them humorous, and the character is the only one with some emotional depth to him.   

While I mentioned how the jokes went low too often, when the higher-level jokes actually landed, they were really funny. Complete with references that only adults would truly appreciate, from mimicking popular horror films and or video games, to jokes about the Titanic  and Indiana Jones. Some of these jokes were brilliant.  Clearly someone was having fun making this film and cared about its production. Because kids don’t see movies alone, they bring older audiences and that means you should have something for them as well, and this movie did.

Some may complain that the action scenes in this film weren’t realistic. I hear that and I understand what they are saying, but is an animated comedy about a baby wearing a suit trying to stop puppies. If you went into this film for realism, you chose poorly, and personally I found the action scenes to be entertaining and at times hilarious.

Whilst I didn’t like the animation throughout a lot of this film, there were moments. Scenes scattered throughout that some talented artist put together. It reminded me a little of ‘Samurai Jack’ and the ‘Madagascar’ films.  There must have been a small group of talented people working on this when, in an average film, their greatness shines bright.

Finally, while the film didn’t have emotional bite despite poor efforts to achieve it, there was a nice message that younger audiences could learn from or appreciate.

The Boss Baby’ is by no means the best animated film of this year. It runs the average line in animation quality and too often hits the low notes with the humour without much emotional pulse. However, on the whole the film is humorous with many awesome references. The action is colorful and entertaining, and whilst this isn’t Dreamworks at their finest, for the audience they are pandering to, it is serviceable. If you have young children and need a relatively harmless film to keep them occupied for 90 minutes, this will do the trick. As for older audiences, it isn’t ideal, but there will certainly be aspects you can appreciate.

Andrew’s rating: 6.3 out of 10

 

The Fundamentals of Caring

Year: 2016
Director: Rob Burnett
Starring: Craig Roberts, Paul Rudd, Selena Gomez. Jennifer Ehle
Written by Sasha Hornby

‘The Fundamentals of Caring’ is an American comedy-drama indie film that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on January 29, 2016, and was released on Netflix, as a Netflix Original, on June 24, 2016.  Adapted from the novel ‘The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving’ by Jonathan Evison, ‘The Fundamentals of Caring’ focuses on Ben, played by the most-likeable-man-on-earth, Paul Rudd. 

Ben is a broken man.  After a family tragedy three years ago, he is now avoiding his divorce, avoiding his work as a writer, and avoiding moving on in life.  After taking a 6-week course in care-giving, he is assigned to Trevor, a wheelchair-bound agoraphobic asshole of a teenager.   What transpires as they become caregiver and ward is a part ‘bromantic’ comedy, part coming-of-age drama, as the two embark on an impromptu road trip that subverts the usual schmaltzy tropes one might expect.

Welsh actor, Craig Roberts, is perfectly cast as the sardonic 18-year-old who openly delights in torturing those around him with an uncomfortably blunt observation or borderline cruel prank.  Diagnosed with Duchenne muscular dystrophy at the tender age of 3, his understandably over-protective mother (played note-perfectly by British actress, Jennifer Ehle) points out he will be lucky to survive another 10 years. 

The journey Trevor has mapped out includes some of the lamest American attractions, such as biggest cow and deepest pit, with the former providing one of the film’s genuine laugh out loud set pieces.  Somewhat predictably, along the way, Ben and Trevor pick up some supporting characters, including Selena Gomez’s foul-mouthed runaway, Dot, and Megan Ferguson’s delightfully sweet heavily pregnant Peaches.  Whilst both actresses do the best they can with the material they have, their characters are never fleshed out to be more than catalysts for the two leads to let go of their demons.

One of the real triumphs of this film is its handling of a disabled character and his relationship with his caregiver.  Yes, Trevor uses a motorised wheelchair, and yes, Ben has butt-wiping duties, but Trevor’s mental faculties are all there.  His disability is never the source of a joke or used in an overly-sentimental way.  Dot’s flirtation with him doesn’t come from a place of sympathy – she openly says she ‘only dates assholes’.  And that’s exactly what Trevor is, in a completely endearing way.

Indie films often excel at curating great soundtracks, and ‘The Fundamentals of Caring’ is no exception.  From the joyful Bright Whites by Kishi Bishi, to the crooning I’m Your Man by Leonard Cohen, to the beautiful Take Me As I Am by Au Revoir Simone, every song has been chosen to seamlessly compliment the moment it accompanies.  

At 93 minutes, ‘The Fundamentals of Caring’ never outlives its welcome.  The screenplay and direction by Rob Burnett is satisfactory, if a little heavy handed at times.  The backdrop of mid-Western America provides some beautiful landscape shots.  What really stands out are the two leads, Rudd and Roberts, who both exude confidence and nuance in their roles.   The film doesn’t necessarily bring anything new to the genre, but it is certainly one of the more likable additions of recent years.  A quaint, humourous, heart-warming watch, that provides a welcome relief to the gritty sci-fi and superhero films dominating the screens.

Sasha’s rating: 7.7 out of 10

 

Fist Fight

Year: 2017
Director: Richie Keen
Starring: Ice Cube, Charlie Day, Tracy Morgan, Jillian Bell, Dean Norris, Christina Hendricks
Written by Tom Sheffield

Last year we witnessed some of the most iconic exchanges of fists in cinema history, first with Captain America taking on Iron Man in ‘Civil War’,  and then we saw Man take on a God in  Batman vs Superman. This year we witness ‘It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’ writer and star Charlie Day duck and dodge former N.W.A member (and the meanest looking character in any film he’s in) Ice Cube’s fist,  in a comedy that was in no way intended to be taken as seriously as most people seem to have received it.

Andy Campbell (Charlie Day) and Strickland (Ice Cube) are teachers at failing Roosevelt High School. The students are running wild because it’s the last day before the summer break, and they’re pulling the most ridiculous pranks on their teachers and fellow students. After Strickland loses his temper with a student trying to prank him, he and Campbell are called before the very stressed out Principal, who is currently spending the day firing a good majority of the staff due to budget cuts. Fearing he might lose his job just as his wife is about to give birth to their second child, Campbell rats on Strickland in an attempt to save his job. Strickland doesn’t take too well to his fellow teacher’s betrayal and challenges Andy to a fight at the end of the school day. Campbell enlists the help of Coach Crawford (Tracy Morgan) and School Counsellor, Holly (Jillian Bell), to help come up with ideas to get out of this fight.

Despite its less than warm reception from a lot of people who’ve seen it, ‘Fist Fight’ was everything I expected from a 91 minute comedy featuring Charlie Day and Ice Cube. Both actors play their characters to their loveable strengths – Ice Cube is a mean looking, no shit taking teacher who has anger issues. Charlie Day is a pushover who has never been in a fight and never really stood up for himself and just wanted to do the right thing for his family. There’s some brilliant exchanges of dialogue between the pair, and as predictable as the film is, it still manages to surprise you in places.

For me, Tracy Morgan stole every scene he was in. It was fantastic to see him back doing what he does best following his horrific car accident in 2014. ‘Fist Fight’ is Morgan’s first film role since the accident, which left him with life threatening injuries and put him in a coma for 2 weeks. In a bout of recent interviews promoting the film, he’s spoken highly of Cube, Day and all the people working on the film and thanked them all for their patience and kindness as he found his feet in front of the cameras again.

The beauty of ‘Fist Fight’ is that it knows it’s an unrealistic and frankly absolutely bonkers premise and therefore it doesn’t take itself too seriously, nor should the audience watching it. The scenes get more ridiculous as the film progresses, and the writers really ramp up the insanity for some of the pranks, but it’s blatantly obvious this is done on purpose to keep the film’s unrealistic premise up. I’ve seen a lot of comments about the lack of story and depth of plot, but at the end of the day, this is a comedy film about one teacher challenging the other to a fight after school and the majority of the plot revolves around the challenged teacher trying to find obscure and ridiculous ways to avoid getting the absolute living shit kicked out of him. It’s not after an Academy Award!

If you’re a fan of either Day or Cube, I would highly recommend giving the film a shot, even if you’re just looking for a quick film that offers up a few good laughs. I think the film is worth your time for a certain scene that takes place at Campbell’s daughter’s talent show alone. That definitely got the most laughs out of the audience at my screening.

Tom’s rating: 5.5 out of 10

Ghost in the Shell

Year: 2017
Director: Rupert Sanders
Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Pilou Asbæk, Takeshi Kitano, Juliette Binoche, Michael Pitt
Written by Chris Gelderd
Disclaimer: I have never read the 1989 manga works or seen the 1995 anime adaptation so this will not be a comparison-based review of existing material. I went in blind. So, in summary, Scarlett Johansson took my ‘GiTS’ virginity, and I’m very pleased she did.

Thankfully I find this a very simple film to review. In part its due to the short running time; a rare thing these days and so it never out-stays it’s welcome, feels drawn out or bloated. Also, due to the story; it’s very simple and familiar, but enjoyable and safe none-the-less. And the visual look of the film itself; gorgeous in many places and with a real sense of understanding what the context of the film is about and what we see.

From the off, Johansson pleased me in the role of the Major, a human brain implanted in a synthetic body. We are made aware of the title’s relevance in the opening minutes, with her soul and ghost being alive and well in her shell of a body. And white-washing? Casting a white American in a role associated with an Asian? I don’t know. I don’t see it as disregard to race at all – I’m not going to dwell on that because it’s not a racial attack. It makes sense in someways over the course of the film, having this faux body trapping someone alien inside who doesn’t belong in it – the shell is just that, a shell.

Johansson never breaks into a big stride in the role, but with her playing a subdued cyborg battling repressed memories while kicking ass in a gloriously distracting near-nude one piece, she does a damn good job hiding her emotions. She’s effective, cold and gives small glimmers of the ghost trying to break free. She proves she’s more than able to perform in heated drama with her co-stars and also the action sequences without breaking a sweat. It’s about time she got her ‘Black Widow’ solo movie.

Her co-stars in the likes of Takeshi Kitano, Michael Pitt and Pilou Asbæk all pretty much deliver their basic roles and offer nice conflicts of morality and what it means to be human, or non-human. Kitano especially oozes his powerful acting presence when he actually does little until the later scenes. They are good supporting characters, and never pushed to the sidelines.

Action wise, there’s enough to keep you satisfied with a good 3 or 4 well choroegpraed shoot-outs and gravity defying acrobatics. If you blend ‘The Matrix’ with the ethics of ‘Max Payne’ then you get ‘Ghost In The Shell’. The form of slo-mo gun-running and jumping has been done before, granted, but thanks to it never being drawn out too long and with the stylish was it is presented, the crack of guns still excite and the editing style is flashy. It gets a bit run-of-the-mill towards the end, but again, it doesn’t drag on so you can easily enjoy it for what it is.

Story wise is where it may sag. If this had come about 20 years ago, it would be pretty decent in all aspects, but visually it would have been more ‘Judge Dredd’ than anything here. The story has been done to death; see ‘RoboCop’ for one. Cyborg is created to serve an ideal, but that ideal starts to crumble and the identity of said cyborg comes to light that may help them find their once forgotten humanity and take down corrupt/evil execs. 

You know who the villains are from the start if you think about it, and you know who will turn out to be good and bad as the story goes. But based on material nearly 30 years old, it’s not trying to re-invent the wheel of sci-fi thrillers, but it’s the WAY it’s presented here that is the redeeming factor.

Add a healthy amount of ‘Blade Runner’ into the mix here and you clearly see what influence the 1982 sci-fi adventure had on ‘Ghost In The Shell’. From a gorgeous opening sequence charting the creation of a synthetic body that looks ripped from manga comics, we are treated to a gorgeous rendering of Hong Kong in the future with everything from streamline hover cars, skyscraper tall holograms, and illuminating neon lights. It’s all easy on the eye and the detail is super. Even the visual effects are pretty impressive, from the CGI enhanced costumes and set design, looking more real than anything George Lucas could create on his computer.

With the stylish visuals coupled with the slick action, the two go hand in hand offering something very familiar, but at times excitingly fresh in this era of super-hero comic-book adaptations and heavy drama. This steampunk-esque nod to all things sci-fi is entertaining enough for just over 1 hour and 35 minutes with gorgeous visuals, popcorn fuelled action and a perfect leading lady who does a stellar job. Don’t expect anything ground breaking and you’ll leave satisfied.

 

Chris’ rating: 6.9 out of 10

The Great Wall

Year: 2017
Director: Yimou Zhang
Starring: Matt Damon, Pedro Pascal, Tian Jang, Willem Dafoe, Andy Lau
Written by Nazeer Vawda

I really didn’t want to watch this film. I didn’t care about Matt Damon, because why should I? He’s not playing a Chinese character. If you want to use the white saviour argument you can, but why? Damon isn’t the sole saviour, he just helps.  I didn’t want to see this film because it looked bad. It looked like a generic, dull sci-fi action film, but I was pleasantly surprised.

The film definitely wasn’t great, but it was an absolute blast. It sometimes is the standard generic actioner, especially at the end, but the rest of the action was a lot of fun. While the rest are all fun, the first set piece on the wall is the one that I want talk about, because, oh my god, it is incredible. I haven’t had that much fun in a cinema in a long time. Along with the rest of the cinema I was exclaiming when things happened and moving around my seat like you sometimes do when playing a racing game. I think the fact the film did that makes it worth it alone. The whole film manages to engage you due to its incredible colour scheme, which really shows in some of the action scenes. You have each type of fighter in different colours, with lots of colourful weapons, and it just makes the film so much fun, which is all the film wants to be.

From his last films, I’ve learnt that Yimou Zhang is a great action director. He merges great cinematography and fantastic choreography, and turns each action sequence into a beautiful sequence of pushes and pulls, almost like a dance. As much as I wished this would be as well done as ‘Hero’, it wasn’t, but he still managed to create something really good, with some incredible action sequences, which is often not the case with action films like this.  

The performances too, while not always consistent, are still fun. Damon is just doing what he’s told, and for some unknown reason changing his accent any chance he gets. Pedro Pascal, was good in his role, however Willem Dafoe is totally wasted and useless here, he doesn’t really do much at all. The real standout here is Tain Jing who teals the film as Lin Mae. She plays her role perfectly, and manages to outdo everyone else in the film. I’m incredibly grateful that the film let her be the true lead.

And now to confront the controversy. This film isn’t racist, nor is it whitewashing. Matt Damon isn’t playing a Chinese character. He isn’t taking a role away from a Chinese actor, what he does is act as the wests window into the film. Sure this wasn’t necessary, but I understand why they did it here. Matt Damon doesn’t play the white saviour, he is mostly a bystander and helper. As I just mentioned, Tian Jing plays the real hero of the story, the film is about her character, what she does, and how she can save the day. All Damon does is observe. This film is about how we can work together, how everything doesn’t need to be entirely one race.

I honestly had an absolute blast with this film, at its highest points its some of the most fun I’ve had in a cinema, and at its lowest its just good, I think that’s pretty good. I really hope that this film gains a good following once it gets a home release like ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ did, it really deserves it, and while it wasn’t perfect, more films should begin to follow in the footsteps of this films style.

Nazeer’s rating: 7 out of 10

Power Rangers

Year: 2017
Director: Dean Israelite
Starring: Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, RJ Cyler, Ludi Lin, Becky G., Elizabeth Banks, Bryan Cranston
Written by Chris Gelderd
Don’t go into this third outing on the big screen for the Power Rangers (following ‘Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers: The Movie’ and ‘Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie’) expecting it to be (you guessed it!) a Power Rangers movie. It may do the usual trick of serving as a reboot of any former timeline and characters, but it does it in a very boring, run-of-the-mill and annoying way.

I assume most people will come to this film as either adults who grew up with the 90s popular television show and hope for some sweet nostalgia, or they’ll bring their teenage children to introduce them to what they loved as a child. Sadly, both parties will be disappointed. There aren’t enough positives here to balance out the negatives to make this a satisfying experience.

The main issue comes from our leading stars. All relatively unknown actors who need to do two things; make you care about them and make you want them to succeed. I failed to do either. I tell a lie; for the first 15 minutes or so I understood each of them and their issues, but when the same issues were fronted for 90 minutes before any slap-dash resolution to them, I was increasingly bored hearing and seeing them go over the same subject with the same doubts, same bratty attitude and same forced humour to try and make it funny. 

Director Dean Israelite did a goob job making audiences think these new Rangers were addressing diversity. They don’t. Trini is supposed to be the first ever gay superhero, but nothing is addressed about it; she spends her time sulking, being distant and not even hinting she is in a relationship. All she does after 90 minutes is say she doesn’t like her family giving her a label. That’s it. Why can’t she be in a happy relationship for people to see? 

Same for Billy being autistic. He’s certainly not truly autistic – take it from a Daddy to a mild/severe Autistic 6 year old – and is most certainly high functioning. All we get to hint that is him saying “I’m on the spectrum” and his character being a typical Hollywood Autistic person; a quirky genius who talks fast and has to keep things in order or in neat piles. That’s it. Beside his “mental disability”, he can drive, create gadgets, fight and do everything the others do. There’s no challenge presented here, and certainly no resolution or awareness. It seems being gay or having autism is something Hollywood can inject into a film and hope it comes across as revolutionary. This isn’t. It’s just insulting.

And while Bryan Cranston spends most of his time as a CGI face (easy pay-check) and a forgetful Bill Hader brings an unnecessary CGI Alpha-5 to live, at least Elizabeth Banks as Rita seems to have some fun. A little, anyway, because all she does is walk around with a golden staff in front of explosions or CGI henchmen, scream orgasmically at her enemies and eat a donut. That’s it.

While Angel Grove is itself a nice enough place to be set in, the cinematography is standard and the editing is sloppy. The locations are basic, from high school to a rocky mine to a strangely nearly non-populated city, and the main focus is the set of Zordon’s spaceship which is decent in design but small in scale. The soundtrack by Brian Tyler is also standard and forgetful. That’s the issue here – everything is forgetful.

The angst of teenagers has been present in every film aimed at kids/teenagers for years and they all soon blend into one. It’s a checklist of what we expect from the jock, the geek, the rebel, the outsider and the sweetheart, except here they are all repeating the same thing for 90 minutes.

I keep saying 90 minutes because out of a 118 minute film, it takes that long before we actually see the Power Rangers on-screen in their iconic armour. It takes an hour and a half of constant moaning and arguing about their “issues” and being “outcasts” before they are allowed to become the Rangers we want to see. And even then we get an abysmal “Morphin’ Time” that is muttered by a characters, and with no calling upon their prehistoric dino-power, and we get 1 minute…ONE MINUTE…of Power Ranger action fighting bad-guys. After that, it’s straight to them sitting in the cockpit of their CGI Zords (their prehistoric transformers) for a loud, disorientating CGI showdown with a huge CGI villain made out of gold and….eh. You get the idea. It’s nothing new, and we are really cheated on the Power Rangers we were promised. Even their armour dissolves so you can see their faces for some reason.

Can you tell I was dissapointed? I wanted to see Power Rangers in action for a new era – a little darker but with the sense of fun the show had. Instead I had to sit through a teenage coming-of-age drama that did what it could to avoid having fun, and even when it started to have it, the sloppy narrative and action sucked it all away. Even the iconic theme tune when it blasted out for all of 8 seconds gave me more excitement than the action.

And yes, there is already a mid-credit sequence teasing an obvious sequel. Bring back Ivan Ooze, or don’t bother.
Chris’ rating: 2.3 out of 10