Dunkirk

Year: 2017
Director: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Fionn Whitehead, Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Harry Styles, Barry Keoghan
Written by Sarah Buddery

Films directed by renowned British director Christopher Nolan are always something of an event; few and far between but whenever does come along there is always incredible amounts of expectation. Nolan is one of those rare “classic” directors, one who has a love and appreciation for the craft and skill in making a film, and one who can easily stand amongst the all-time greats, despite his relatively small filmography.

The notion of Nolan directing a war film perhaps surprised a few people, and indeed I was one of those people questioning whether it would be Nolan directing a straight-up war film, or whether it would be a “Nolan-ified” war film. The short answer is it is neither of those things and it is wise not to go in expecting a “war” movie as you might imagine one. It isn’t short on action by any stretch, but it is much more of a thriller that just happens to be set during the events of Dunkirk.

It is fairest to describe ‘Dunkirk’ as a “ticking-clock thrilller” – quite literally in fact, as not only do the events seem to occur in real-time, but there is an ever present ticking sound incorporated into the score, serving as an ever present reminder of impending doom and tension.

This film was almost nothing like I was expecting, but was absolutely everything I wanted and so much more! ‘Dunkirk’ has the Nolan stamp all over it, with all the class and finesse that you would expect, but it is boldly and brilliantly different from anything he has done before. ‘Dunkirk’ is a breath-taking, heart-stopping masterclass in nail-biting tension that perfectly balances the action with genuine human emotion. It is a survival story at its core, and just as meticulous, precise and measured as you would expect from Nolan.

Shot on IMAX film, ‘Dunkirk’ is visually stunning to look at, and it is so refreshing to see an action thriller that is genuinely worthy of receiving awards. The cinematography is stunning and the mind-blowing attention to detail ensures that everything looks and feels as accurate as it possibly can. The incredible aerial acrobatics and dogfights were largely done for real, using real planes and with the actors genuinely placed within the cockpit of an aircraft; the result is something which is immersive and heart-stopping in places. So often you can be taken out of the moment because you know it was created on a computer or using a green-screen, and whilst you can be assured Tom Hardy and co were safe throughout, there’s some genuine heart-in-your-mouth moments that are heightened by knowing that they were done for real.

Frequent Nolan collaborator, Hans Zimmer is back with an incredibly emotive and brilliant score. It is so wonderfully woven into the soundscapes of war, incorporating the roars of planes and the tense ticking clock to absolute perfection. The  use of sound in ‘Dunkirk’ is undoubtedly awards worthy, and whilst it might be too early to call, I would be very surprised not to see it up there in the technical categories.

As is so often the case with Nolan films, the score and sound are sometimes a little overwhelming in places which made it a hard to hear the dialogue in places. Whilst it did an excellent job of conveying the chaos and noise of war, it did also make it a little difficult to connect with the characters at times. Whilst the tight run-time (by Nolan standards anyway!) did a great deal to keep it concise and measured, it did also leave a few untied loose ends which some may find frustrating. However, it is still dramatic at every turn, with unbelievable amounts of tension and an unrelenting energy that will leave you breathless.

It is perhaps the nature of the story that it wasn’t about connecting with the characters, more just the various situations occurring simultaneously which does make it difficult to pick a stand-out acting performance. Mark Rylance’s heroic every-man was the easiest to connect with however as he made a daring trip across the sea to save those stranded and surrounded by the enemy. Cillian Murphy’s deliberately un-named and shell-shocked soldier also does an excellent job of conveying the horrors of war and the effect it had on many. Despite it only being one man, the fact is he represents the mental anguish and damaged psyche of millions of people who have been through similar horrors, and it was a surprisingly powerful performance.

‘Dunkirk’ is an utterly stunning film which isn’t quite perfect but boy does it come very, very close. A fair warning if you’re hoping to see this in IMAX; the noise of the bombers and gunfire is absolutely deafening, so whilst it might lead to a loss of hearing, it’ll be more than worth it. Absolutely unmissable.

Sarah’s rating: 10 out of 10

War for the Planet of the Apes

Year: 2017
Director: Matt Reeves
Starring: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Karin Konoval, Terry Notary, Amiah Miller, Gabriel Chavarria
Written by Rhys Bowen Jones

The rebooted Planet of the Apes trilogy has had a strange existence. With ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’, it’s safe to say that most people were surprised at just how good the film was, better than it had any right to be, and becoming one of the surprise hits of 2011. Then along came ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ in 2014, a true blockbuster in every sense of the word by winning over audiences and critics alike thanks to its stunning visuals, compelling story, and wonderful performances. ‘Dawn’ stands tall as, for my money, one of the finest science-fiction films of the century. And yet, with ‘War’ upon us, the series as a whole isn’t yet mentioned alongside greats of cinema like ‘Back To The Future’, ‘Toy Story’, or ‘Lord of the Rings’. With Caesar’s return to the silver screen, Planet of the Apes has a series capper that manages to exceed and subvert our expectations and cement the series’ place as an all-time great trilogy.

After the events of ‘Dawn,’ in which Koba (Toby Kebbell) led a revolt against Caesar (Serkis) and a devastating battle against human survivors in San Francisco, the Ape colony are in hiding in an undisclosed location. We join the film in the middle of the action as a small troop of soldiers close in on an Ape camp for a surprise attack. After the attack, Caesar discovers the humans are capturing and using apes as “donkeys” in war to help the human cause. After the colony suffers a great loss, Caesar takes it upon himself to get revenge on the human in charge of this attack, The Colonel (Harrelson).

Upon reflection, it’s important for the prospective audience to know that ‘War’ may be a surprise to some. Given the title, it wouldn’t be foolish to expect Ape-on-Human anarchy throughout as the titular war rages on, but ‘War’ is, in fact, much more introspective and personal than I expected. Forgoing battle in favour of a grand character study of what it means to be human and what’s at stake for both humans and apes is a bold move for a summer blockbuster. That’s not to say there aren’t scenes of anarchy and battle and war, it’s just not the focus of the film. Caesar is at war with his inner demons as much as he is at war with The Colonel to protect his colony.

The series so far has had stellar performances from its apes, none more so than from Andy Serkis, but ‘War’ takes these performances to the next level. One must wonder what more Serkis must do to gain recognition from the Academy because his work in these films is utterly unparalleled. Caesar faces several obstacles to overcome, questions of family and loyalty and morality, all of which are written on his face in typically meticulous fashion. There are so many shots of Caesar’s eyes and they dominate the screen as he wrestles with himself and what he needs to do next. Caesar commands the screen in the same way he commands his colony. One raise of a hand is enough to silence a hundred apes, and he has the same effect on the viewing audience. Caesar is such an incredible achievement in character creation, design, and development that every word, every gesture feels weighty and important. Serkis’ fellow apes, Konoval, Notary, Zahn, are all impressive in their own right, but Serkis is the master, and in ‘War’ we are seeing a master at the very height of his powers.

If any criticism could be aimed at ‘Dawn’ it would be its lack of comic relief. ‘Dawn’ is a very dark film addressing a very serious subject matter, and while ‘War’ is no different by arguably going even darker, this criticism is addressed with the film-stealing Bad Ape (Zahn). After crossing paths with him accidentally on Caesar and company’s travels to find The Colonel, Bad Ape reveals himself to be an escaped chimpanzee from a zoo who learned to speak only by listening and, unlike most apes on screen, is unable to use sign language. Bad Ape learned to live on his own and meeting an ape of a different style to what we’re used to is a great touch for the third entry in the series. The comedy Bad Ape brings, both verbal and physical, is wholly satisfying, the highlight of which is a visual joke before they all set off on a long, cold journey north which had the entire cinema laughing.

Addressing the obvious, ‘War’ is home to the finest performance capture work in cinema. On a purely visual level, the Apes are stunning. No pixel has been left unused as every Ape on screen looks photorealistic, the most impressive of which on this front is Maurice (Konoval), the hulking Orangutan. Many, many critics state that the true power of any performance is in the eyes, and here it’s no different. Most of the Apes are unable to speak and communicate through sign language, so the eyes are as important as ever and each character’s eyes, whether Caesar, Maurice, Rocket (Notary), or Bad Ape, portray so much about their feelings in any given moment.

Beyond the Apes, the effects in general are stunning and I frequently found myself spellbound by the action on screen. Seamlessly blending CGI with humans, whether a small, lost girl (Miller) they found is hiding behind Maurice, or an Ape hands a human a machine gun magazine, it’s an achievement in itself that it looks so perfect. In scenes of battle and in quiet, dialogue filled scenes, the film manages to convince us that what we’re watching is real. If you were to show someone from even 1997 this film, they’d likely be convinced that these were real apes.

‘War’ is as good a series ender as any other. It manages to conclude Caesar’s arc in a satisfying way while keeping the doors open to future instalments. Reeves’ achievements with this film and ‘Dawn’ should not be underestimated as he has taken the fine foundation of ‘Rise’ and elevated it to a level beyond which any of us could have possibly imagined. For me, ‘Dawn’ remains the series’ peak, but ‘War’ is a stellar achievement in film-making. Apes. Trilogy. Strong.

Rhys’ rating: 9.1 out of 10

 

Spider-Man: Homecoming

Year: 2017
Director: Jon Watts
Starring: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr., Marisa Tomei, Jon Favreau, Zendaya
Written by Tom Sheffield

To say there were high expectations for this film from it’s waiting audience would be a understatement. For the third time in 15 years we were about to witness a new actor take on the role of Spider-Man, but this time would be different because he now exists in the same universe as Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and all the heroes we’ve seen so far in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which opens up a whole new world of possibilities that weren’t possible with the webhead’s previous live-action incarnations. Having already been introduced to Tom Holland’s Peter Parker briefly in ‘Captain America: Civil War’, I was eager to see how he would hold his own in his first film. I’m relieved to say he did not disappoint, and neither did the film as a whole.  

Following his participation in the epic airport battle against Captain America and his team, Peter Parker (Holland) returns home feeling that his day-to-day heroics helping average citizens is a huge step down from what he just took part in. Eager to participate in more Avengers missions, Peter wants to impress Stark (Downey Jr.) and show him he’d be a valuable member of the team. When Peter starts interfering in Adrian Toomes’ (Keaton) plans, Toomes sees no other option than to put an end to the Spider-Man.

Tom Holland may just be my favourite portrayal of Peter Parker/Spider-Man to date. He completely embodied Peter’s awkwardness, his eagerness to do more to help people, and his struggle to please everyone. Both in and out of the suit, Holland is a joy to watch on screen and I’m excited for what’s to come for Peter following certain revelations in the film, and the fact we get to watch him progress through High School, juggling school, a social life, and his evening heroics. Michael Keaton was menacingly brilliant as Toomes / Vulture. There’s one scene in particular where he is face to face with Holland and his delivery is enough to send shivers down your spine. Vulture has quickly become one of my favourite villains in the Marvel Cinematic Universe because whilst a lot of villains we’ve met so far see themselves as Gods or are willing to cause havoc and mayhem to gain power, Toomes is just a guy who thinks he’s doing the right thing to provide for his family. It’s this protective behaviour that spurs him on to don his Vulture wings and do what he deems necessary.

Despite appearing heavily in the trailers and posters, Iron Man’s involvement in the film isn’t as big as many had feared, with people often dubbing it ‘Iron Man 4’ due to how much he was in the trailers. Stark’s protectiveness over Peter and his heroics provides one of the best exchanges of dialogue between two heroes in the MCU, which I won’t spoil here, but if you’ve seen the film you’ll know what I mean. It truly shows how much Tony has changed from his arrogant, selfish, playboy ways when we first met him in ‘Iron Man’  and how what he’s experienced since then has changed him.

Michael Giacchino’s opening score had me excited from the get go. Incorporating the classic Spider-Man theme tune was always going to be a winner in my eyes, and after hearing it in the little teaser video he released on Twitter, I couldn’t wait to hear it blasting from the cinema speakers. What a treat that was! Sadly, Giacchino’s score throughout the rest of the film is pretty forgettable, which regrettably seems to be a recurring thing in Marvel movies.

Overall, ‘Homecoming’ is one of the strongest first entries in the MCU and I feel that Marvel/Sony taking the risk and not making it an origin story was definitely a huge factor. With this being the third reboot in the last 15 years, the audience for this film know how Peter gets his powers, they know his parents history and Uncle Ben’s fate. Skipping all that allowed them to focus on Peter’s struggle as a kid to balance school, friends, and keeping this huge secret from those closest to him. 

Tom’s rating: 8.7 out of 10

Okja

Year: 2017
Director: Bong Joon Ho
Starring: Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, An Seo-Hyun, Jake Gyllenhaal
Written by Fiona Underhill

‘Okja’ has been one of my most highly anticipated films of the year. South Korean director Bong Joon Ho’s ‘Snowpiercer’ is one of my favourite films. ‘Okja’ also features ‘Snowpiercer’s’ Tilda Swinton, along with Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano and ‘Breaking Bad’s’ Giancarlo Esposito – it really feels like dream casting, almost tailor-made to appeal to me.

Of course this film is unusual for several reasons – the main one being that it has been released on Netflix with little opportunity to see it on the big screen.  There are some cinema showings of it (mainly in big cities), but significantly, these have been after the film debuted on Netflix. This fact caused much controversy at Cannes Film Festival – with people debating whether it should be shown at a film festival or if it should be eligible for competition. It feels ridiculous to me that ‘OJ – Made in America’ can be considered eligible for film awards and ‘Okja’ could not be. It is absolutely time that Netflix and Amazon are recognised as the significant film production and distribution companies they now are. Certainly when they allow directors to take risks, have final cut and follow their unique vision, as they have done with Bong here. 

I have mentioned some of ‘Okja’s’ more ‘big-name’ actors above, but they are actually not the stars of the film. At the centre of the story is a 12 year old girl; Mija (An Seo Hyun) and of course – the CGI creation that is Okja. Okja is absolutely a central character in the film – she has an almost mystical connection to Mija and her eyes have been imbued with humanity, an impressive achievement by the effects team. Swinton plays Lucy Mirando – head of a large global corporation that has genetically engineered a ‘super-pig’ – enormous hippo-like creatures. She acts as if they are environmentally-friendly (leaving a minimal footprint etc) and further pervades these ‘eco’ credentials by sending 26 out to the best farmers all over the world to be raised over a period of ten years. This is turned into a competition to see who can raise the most super of the super-pigs. Mija’s grandfather is one of the farmers raising a super-pig and Okja has very much become part of their family, isolated in the mountains of South Korea. These early scenes, set in the picturesque countryside, deserve to be seen on a big screen. 

Jake Gyllenhaal plays ‘Doctor Johnny’ – a Steve Irwin dialled up to 11 – as the public face of the Mirando Corporation, ostensibly sent out to check on the health and welfare of the super-pigs. It is the most outlandish performance by an almost unrecognisable Gyllenhaal, but he does well to hint at the character’s insecurities underneath all of the bombast. The MVP for me (as is often the case), is Paul Dano, as Jay, the head of ‘ALF’ – an animal rights activist group who stage a convoluted ‘rescue’ mission. The group is a band of misfits, including one who whose extreme veganism has left him weak with hunger and a Korean translator who wields more power than he should. There is an impressive lorry chase and a sequence with Okja rampaging through a subterranean mall in Seoul – the production values of the action and CGI are as high as anything you would expect if the film were getting a wide cinema release. 

Once the action transfers to New York, Swinton gets to really stretch her acting muscles, playing both Lucy and her sister Nancy. The production design is every bit as lush and outrageous as you would expect, after ‘Snowpiercer’. Lucy puts Mija in a matching ‘Mirando-designed’ kimono for the big press event – another scene where Swinton’s character’s hubris is punctured and she comes crashing down to earth.  Swinton plays this beautifully – she is truly one of the finest actors working today.

Towards the end of the film, the message does become slightly preachy – by showing the concentration-camp-like conditions of the meat factory. Yes, there are huge problems with the commercial meat production industry and this highlights them in an unusual way. But, I’m sorry to say, ‘Okja’ is not enough to put me off my bacon. 

Although I really liked ‘Okja’, it didn’t quite meet up to my (extremely high) expectations. It did get a little too sentimental and manipulative for my tastes. Visually, it was a huge treat and the central performance by Seo Hyun was exceptional. The wider ensemble cast were also all fantastic, providing humour as well as showing the vulnerable side of seemingly powerful characters. I’m a proponent of this type of bold, risk-taking singularly visionary film-making, whatever platform it chooses and I hope we get to see much more like it. However, I was a little disappointed by ‘Okja’ – I need to keep my anticipation in check next time! 

Fiona’s rating: 8.5 out of 10

 

Transformers: The Last Knight

Year: 2017
Director: Michael Bay
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Anthony Hopkins, Josh Duhamel, Laura Haddock, Isabela Moner, Jerrod Carmichael
Written by Corey Hughes

Whether you love it or hate it, franchising has become a fundamental influence on Hollywood’s success in film today. From the Marvel Cinematic Universe to the Fast and Furious series, movie franchises come in many shapes and sizes. Yet despite an overwhelming consensus of negative reviews from critics, the Transformers franchise is one that refuses to die down.

And why should it? With Michael Bay’s retail-toy adaptations being as lucrative as they are, Bay wipes the tears of negative criticism with $100 dollar bills. But with ‘The Last Knight’ reputedly being the final one to be directed by Bay, (fingers crossed), is there a possibility that the fifth film will defy all odds?

Nope.

Summarising a synopsis for ‘The Last Knight’ is as useful as a eunuch in a brothel. As the film begins, we are thrown back into the ‘dark ages’ of England, where King Arthur and the Vikings are at war. With the battle against Arthur and his men, the king seeks out the magic of Merlin (Stanley Tucci’s second outing in the franchise) to tip the balance of war in his favour. 1600 years later, the fate of the human race relies entirely on the discovery of Merlin’s magical staff. Blah, blah, blah; if you’re really into the plot at this point, then all credit to you.

This boils down to what I believe is Michael Bay’s biggest flaw as a filmmaker. Barring his over reliance on slow-motioned, explosive and debris-propelling action, he is entirely incompetent at telling a coherent and engaging story. His films, especially his treasured Transformers flicks, are told exclusively through these grand, spectacular action set pieces. Narrative, for Bay, seems secondary; a grout to fill in the gaps. The action, nonetheless, does look spectacularly convincing. The use of CGI, especially for the appearance and movement of the Transformers, is unparalleled in its presentation.

With the story being as convoluted as it is here, with multiple sub-plots in play, the film is desperately calling out for strong performances, but there’s none to be seen here. Although new arrival Anthony Hopkins’ portrayal of the crude, but whimsical old Brit is amusing, it’s Wahlberg’s ‘The Happening’-esque wooden performance that will have you shaking your head in disbelief. Yet that’s the least of the film’s problems. ‘The Last Knight’ establishes no sense of continuity from its predecessor and with the onslaught of new characters being vomited onto the screen, Bay and co. are discouraging their viewers to invest in the characters and the conflict that they find themselves in. Even the on-screen relationship between Wahlberg’s Cade and Laura Haddock’s highly-educated and snobby Vivian Wembley seems forced, with no eye for attention being invested in their developing attraction. It’s sloppy, unconvincing, and if we didn’t care about the film before, we surely don’t now.

In the end, this fifth outing for the Transformers franchise regrettably ticks all the boxes for a totally unforgettable Michael Bay action flick. Hot girl? Check. Unforgivable product placement? Check. Flat-lined humour with a paper-thin story? Check. Resisting the urge to pluck your eyes out from their sockets? Check.

On a more light-hearted note, I’ve created a new drinking game for ‘The Last Knight’: take a shot every time Optimus Prime declares, “I am Optimus Prime!” That way, by the time the final credits roll, you’ll be absolutely shit-faced. It’s by far the only way you’re going to enjoy this one.

Corey’s rating: 3.5 out of 10

 

Baby Driver

Year: 2017
Directed by: Edgar Wright
Starring: Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx, Lily James, Jon Hamm, Eiza Gonzalez
Written by Rhys Bowen Jones

Odeon’s ‘Screen Unseen’ is a regular event in which the cinema chain hand picks a film for an early screening. In the build up to the eventual screening, Odeon release very cryptic clues for the film they’re showing. This film’s clues were “Political hangover,” “Soon shorter star, surrogate shop,” “Tiny, dark, waiting in the wings, “ and “Fingers ‘n Finest formed.” I’ll let you figure out exactly how they link to the film in question, but as you can tell, Edgar Wright’s ‘Baby Driver’ was the ‘Screen Unseen’. For a film to join the ranks of previous ‘Screen Unseen’ films like ‘Moonlight’, ‘The Revenant’, and ‘Whiplash’, Odeon certainly had high hopes for ‘Baby Driver’. Those high hopes were not unfounded. ‘Baby Driver’ is one of the films of the year so far.

‘Baby Driver’ is the story of Baby (Elgort) and his adventures as a getaway driver for mysterious criminal and bank robber Doc (Spacey). As far as the plot goes, giving much else away would ruin some of the surprises and magic you have in store. In ‘Baby Driver’, you have a film where the motto seems to be “it’s not about the destination, it’s how you get there.” Both the film and its title character get from Point A to Point B in the only way they know how; driving really fast to the sound of a really loud, really eclectic iPod. It’s a blast.

From the first scene, Wright lets us into idea of the film. Baby is the getaway driver and he is our lead character; he is the focus of our story. While some of his criminal associates are off performing heists, that is purely background noise to Baby’s enjoyment of music. The first song we hear is ‘Bellbottoms’ by The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, a blues-y, headbanger of a song, and the entire heist is ignored in favour of Baby air-guitaring and air-drumming and miming along to the song. Instantly, Baby comes across as charming and likeable and once the driving begins, almost impossibly talented. The first car chase, in the red Subaru that’s all over the trailers, is spectacular. It’s an intense, white-knuckle thrill ride through the streets of Atlanta. There are close shaves, clever tactics, handbrake turns galore, and accompanied by the song in question it becomes one of the best car chases I’ve seen in years. This becomes a common theme. Every car chase or major set-piece in ‘Baby Driver’ is on its own level of awesome.

As a huge fan of Edgar Wright, his Cornetto trilogy, ‘Spaced’, and ‘Scott Pilgrim’, I found his energetic style of filmmaking to be a perfect fit for ‘Baby Driver’. Even small, conversation filled scenes are punctuated with small sound cues at just the right moment or gesture. I got the impression as the film went on that the visuals on screen were so meticulously planned from the get go, almost as if the scenes themselves were filmed with a song in order to truly nail the timings. Everything you see in Baby Driver can be matched to a musical influence of some description, gunshots were in perfect sync with the music playing overtop, and even Doc explaining an upcoming heist had the rhythm of a drum solo. Wright manages to keep the pace and flow of the film at such a high level that I have no doubt that there are moments and jokes that I didn’t catch on first viewing and will require a second or third viewing. What a shame.

Given the talent on show, it should come as no surprise that the performances are terrific across the board, particularly from Elgort, Foxx, and James. Foxx’s Bats is a loose cannon, a difficult business partner when the business is crime and several characters find themselves on the wrong side of Bats. Lily James’ Debora leaves a long-lasting impression too as she comes across so endearingly from her very first appearance. It’s possible that there’s a manic-pixie-dream-girl element to her as she is Baby’s perfect match instantly, but when James pulls off the character so well you can’t help but be swept up along with Baby and his love for her.

Baby Driver’s driving force is no doubt its music. Judging by my Spotify playlist having increased in number by no less than 15 songs, there’s something for absolutely everyone as the song choices span several decades. ‘Baby Driver’ does for 80s blues what ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ did for 70’s rock. ‘Baby Driver’ covers every base it can in a soundtrack that no doubt took almost as long to get right as it did to actually film. A late chase sequence to the sound of a Queen song had my mouth agape for its duration as it was such a perfectly intense song for the visuals on screen. That scene, as well as several others, were utterly breathless and I can’t wait to see them again.

If I had a gripe about Baby Driver, I would say it’s in its third act as some characters make some choices that are questionable, possibly going against what we’ve been shown in the previous 90 or so minutes. One character has been far-removed from the key action until the third act and when they are, they appear to brush off fairly brutal violence very casually. That said, it’s a small gripe that has no bearing on my overall opinion of the film.

‘Baby Driver’ is a blast. It’s exciting, funny, heart-warming, and very original. The performances are terrific, it’s written and directed superbly, and all being well, ‘Baby Driver’ should be one of the big hits of the summer. Edgar Wright, you’ve done it again.

Rhys’ verdict: 9.2/10

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

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

 

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