Review: Eighth Grade

DIR/WRI: Bo Burnham • DOP: Andrew Wehde • ED: Jennifer Lilly • PRO: Eli Bush, Tom Ishizuka, Scott Rudin, Christopher Storer, Lila Yacoub • DES: Sam Lisenco • MUS: Anna Meredith • CAST: Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton, Emily Robinson

 

Eighth Grade broke my heart and mended it again and I’m not ashamed to admit that. It is a bold, beautiful, brave film that signals bright, long lasting careers for writer and director Bo Burnham and lead actress Elsie Fisher. Eighth Grade is an awkward coming-of-age comedy, a cringing, squirming drama and, ultimately, a balm for social media wracked souls.

Kayla Day (Fisher) is in her last week of eighth grade in middle school. Her life is dominated by Snapchat, Instagram and social anxiety. Despite her dad Mark’s (Josh Hamilton) best efforts at convincing her otherwise, Kayla feels a desperate need to fit in with the ‘cool’ kids. As Kayla makes YouTube life-advice videos, goes to parties and makes friends she gradually realises that fitting in may not be all it’s cracked up to be.

Kayla’s YouTube videos are a stroke of genius. Filmed on her iMac’s poor quality webcam and punctuated by unscripted slip-ups and stuttering, they make for novel act breaks in the film. They often contradict each other as Kayla’s first video is about how “It’s like totally OK to just like, um, be yourself” whereas one in the middle focuses on faking it til you make it. Kayla’s sign-off of “Gucci!” is just the icing on the cake. Writer/director Burnham’s early career as a YouTube comedian and Vine star factors in here but it’s his empathy that’s the greatest surprise.

Much like the Netflix smash Big Mouth Burnham softens the edge of potentially cruel comedy with a heavy dose of empathy. Kayla’s arrival at a summer pool party is preceded by a claustrophobic anxiety attack in a locked bathroom. Kayla emerges in an unflattering swimsuit and observes her classmates dancing, splashing and texting in a montage set to booming electro-pop. Lesser films would faceplant in moments like these but Burnham directs with such a sure hand that all we can do is feel for Kayla and laugh at her awkward interaction with Gabe (Jake Ryan).

All of the performances in Eighth Grade orbit around Fisher. Kayla is the selfless centre of the film. Her endearing nature is only superseded by her awkwardness especially in scenes where she interacts with anyone older. Various scenes fight for their right to be the fulcrum of the film from the pool party to a horrible, pitch dark car ride but it’s a fireside conversation between Kayla and her doting father that really captures the spirit of the film. The movement from Kayla tossing a box of her “hopes and dreams” onto a fire to ungainly leaping into Mark’s arms feels natural and sentimental in a way that’s never saccharine.

For a film about awkwardness and growing up Eighth Grade is astonishingly well put together. Jennifer Lily’s masterful editing fades in Kayla’s slack-jawed expression over her Twitter feed, K-pop videos and Snapchat filtered selfies all while Anna Meredith’s bombastic, glitchy score sweeps over and through the film. The closeness of Andrew Wehde’s camera flows from claustrophobic to intimate as naturally as water from a tap. Make no mistake Eighth Grade is a landmark in the packed hall of coming-of-age stories and in its humour, pathos and authenticity it can stand tall with the best of them.

Andrew Carroll

93 minutes

15A (see IFCO for details)

Eighth Grade is released 26th April 2019

Eighth Grade – Official Website

 

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Review: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

DIR: Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman • WRI: Phil Lord • DOP: Bob Kelly • ED: Síle Ní Fhlaibhín • DES: Justin Thompson • MUS: Daniel Pemberton PRO: Avi Arad, Phil Lord. Christopher Miller, Amy Pascal, Christina Steinberg • CAST: Hailee Steinfeld, Nicolas Cage, Mahershala Ali, Liev Schreiber

It’s difficult to get Spider-Man wrong. It’s more difficult to get six versions of the character – all with their own distinct designs and personalities – right but Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse does it and then some. With a warm, pull-no-punches story and impeccable voice acting and animation Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse asserts itself as not just the best comic book movie of 2018 but as a defining moment in comic book movies.

Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) is bitten by a radioactive spider and after watching his universe’s Spider-Man (Chris Pine) die takes on the mantle to stop Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) and shut down the Super-Collider that will destroy New York. The Super-Collider has brought five other Spider-People into Miles’ universe. There’s the schlubby, older Peter Parker (Jake Johnson), the competent but aloof Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld), the Nazi punching Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage), the anime-inspired Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn) and Looney Tunes caricature Peter Porker/Spider-Ham (John Mulaney).

All of these characters get their moment in the sun but it’s Miles that the movie belongs to. Essentially an origin story Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse wears this fact proudly and twists it in a variety of interesting ways. Thrown in at the deep end with a useless teacher and little time to learn the ropes Miles’ trials and tribulation become the beating heart of a movie that’s never ashamed to make fun of itself or frightened to up end tropes such as the classic Uncle Ben moment.

The problem with a lot of big-budget animation films is that a famous voice cast can often treat it like an easy paycheque. Not here though. Cage is worth a particular mention with his performance drawing on classic actors from the 1930s like Bogart and Cagney. Mahershala Ali’s turn is heart-wrenching, and unusually but not unwelcomely so is Schreiber as a strangely relatable and hilariously animated Kingpin. But it’s the likes of Moore, Johnson and Steinfeld that ground the film in its very real, very affecting story.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse isn’t afraid to dive deep into grief and loss. The death of the original Spider-Man in Miles’ universe hits like a hammer blow in a protracted but never overstayed moment. This is helped by the animation which makes the New York of the film feel like a living, breathing city. The vibrant colours and techniques such as the inclusion of split screens, thought bubbles and ‘POW!’ exclamations remind that this film is not just a warm, funny and thoughtful story but a warm, funny and thoughtful comic book story.

At two hours Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse never rushes or drags. It was a film I was content to bask in with a world, no universe, that would be criminal not to revisit. Even the film’s end credits scene is worth staying for. Quality right to the end. As Marvel enters its darkest era yet Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a reminder not only of how enjoyably bright these films can be but how enjoyably bright these films should be. The world is a grim place right now but Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is not just a light to rest by but one to be guided by.

Andrew Carroll

97 minutes
117 (see IFCO for details)
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is released 12th December 2018
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Review: Widows

 

DIR: Steve McQueen • WRI: Gillian Flynn, Steve McQueen • DOP: Sean Bobbitt • ED: Joe Walker • DES: Adam Stockhausen • PRO: Iain Canning, Steve McQueen, Arnon Milchan, Emile Sherman, Sue Bruce Smith • MUS: Hans Zimmer • CAST: Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki

Genre and literary forms often don’t mix that well. At least that’s the consensus of snobs and people that think Nicolas Cage’s best film is Leaving Las Vegas. But genre cinema has had a great renaissance recently with the likes of Mandy, The Shape of Water and Mission Impossible: Fallout all being heaped with praise. The more highbrow, literary if you will, form of cinema has always been in good stead. But when mixed together something magical can happen between the two. It depends on who the mixer is but when it’s Steve McQueen magic is almost guaranteed.

So it is with Widows. When four criminals are killed in a police ambush the man they were stealing from, Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry), approaches their widows to get his money back. Veronica (Viola Davis) the widow of leader Harry Rawlins (Liam Neeson) approaches the other widows fiery Linda (Michelle Rodriguez), naïve Alice (Elizabeth Debicki) and workaholic Belle (Cynthia Erivo) to complete their husbands’ last score. Mixed up in this brutal tale are politician Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell), Jamal’s sadistic brother Jatemme (Daniel Kaluuya) and Jack’s aging father Tom (Robert Duvall).

Trauma rests at the heart of McQueen’s films. Whether that trauma consumes its victims or is weaponised by them depends on the film but in Widows it becomes a weapon that often seems to harm both sides. Anyone that knows grief will tell you it is often raw. It can burn like fire, bleed like a wound or chill like ice but it is always there as a blistering, cutting force on the soul. Widows examines it from all angles. Characters often face it as much as they flounder in it. Whether it’s grief over an irreparable relationship, a dead partner or stolen millions. It’s there and it bleeds.

McQueen co-wrote Widows with Gone Girl novelist and screenwriter Gillian Flynn. After Sharp Objects this year Flynn may as well be considered an expert in trauma as a tool in genre. The characters of Veronica and Alice are the strongest with Davis plastering a stony, glamorous veneer over Veronica’s crumbling emotional walls. Debicki meanwhile portrays Alice as a woman thrilled by the newfound power that criminality offers her. The relationships the widows shared with their husbands are outlined in brief scenes that get done in two minutes what most films take two hours to thrash out. All are complex, loving in their own way and all have their problems.

It’s been a bad year for heist films. Den of Thieves tried to do Heat with Gerard Butler, which speaks for itself. Ocean’s 8 was all class and no character. Widows is the late-year entry this genre was desperate for. Cinematographer Sean Bobbitt shoots Chicago as a grim, cold, claustrophobic place. Hans Zimmer’s score ratchets up the tension and glimmers with soul. Kaluuya and Henry radiate a sinister silence while Neeson inverts the prototypical tough guy he often plays into a pathetic, broken man.

Widows might not rank highly among McQueen’s fans but it’s the only one of his films I’d consistently watch again as a film fan. It’s a film with plenty of muscle on strong bones and rich blood coursing through its veins. The same things can be said of Hunger or Shame or 12 Years A Slave but it’s hard to watch any of those and come away feeling good. McQueen and Flynn indulge themselves in escapism but Widows never feels less incisive for it. It is a masterful film made by a man at the peak of his powers. It’s not Heat, it’s better.

 

Andrew Carroll

129 minutes
16 (see IFCO for details)
Widows is released 5th November 2018

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Review: Mandy

DIR: Panos Cosmatos• WRI: Panos Cosmatos, Aaron Stewart-Ahn • DOP: Benjamin Loeb • ED: Brett W. Bachman, Paul Painter • DES: Hubert Pouille • PRO: Nate Bolotin, Daniel Noah, Josh C. Waller, Elijah Wood • MUS: Jóhann Jóhannsson • CAST: Nicolas Cage, Andrea Riseborough, Linus Roache

 

There are very few actors out there – especially former Oscar winners – that you could get to do what Nicolas Cage does in Mandy. From crushing skulls to lighting a cigarette off a burning severed head to snorting cocaine off a shard of glass, Cage does it all and more. But Mandy is not just a movie destined to be confined to the midnight-movie circuit. It makes you wait for its mind-bending visuals and grindhouse violence. It’s to director Panos Cosmatos’ credit that Mandy never falters in its singular but multi-faceted and surreal vision. Beyond the blood and bone there’s something almost tender that barely any other movie of this kind can boast.

Lumberjack Red (Nicolas Cage) lives a life of solitude with his girlfriend Mandy (Andrea Riseborough) in the Shadow Mountains in 1983. Surrounded by high peaks and tall pines they enjoy a peaceful existence only occasionally upset by both characters’ past traumas. On her way to work one day Mandy draws the interest of Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache), a failed musician and leader of the Children of the New Dawn – a Manson-esque cult. The cult kidnaps Mandy, and Red embarks on a blood-crazed, cocaine fuelled revenge quest.

Mandy is about two hours long and it takes about half of that time to really get going. Cosmatos uses that time to lower the audience steadily into the world he’s dreamed up. The most common colour of the film is red from the crimson filters on camera lenses at the beginning to the blood that oozes, gushes and spurts in the second half of the film. Neon green alludes to the fantastical imaginings of Mandy as well as to the crazed bikers Sand commands later on. Colour abounds in Mandy and it is helped along by the grainy, pulpy look of the film itself as if it was shot on actual film reel. Brief animation segments raise their heads and so too does a mac ‘n’ cheese ad featuring a puppet goblin that vomits the cheesy goo. Rather than distract, these brief segments add to the ’80s feel of the film that never falls into homage or pastiche.

Cage and Riseborough’s performances could take place at any time realistically but the 1980s timeframe suits these characters and their actions within it. When Mandy at last revs into full gear it never really lets up until the credits roll. Red crafts a battle axe of solid, shining steel; picks up a crossbow from ’80s character actor Bill Duke (Commando, Predator) and then Red goes to war. In the last hour of the film Red sets a tiger free, shoves the shaft of his axe down a man’s throat and fights a chainsaw duel in a quarry. All lit by what seem to be the blood red fires of hell and scored to Jóhan Jóhannsson’s final score. The music throbs, swells and rumbles as Cage slices, roars and howls his way through the movie.

It can be hard to empathise with Nicolas Cage. His most insane roles have often found him playing barely likeable lunatics but with Mandy it’s pretty easy. A scene in the bathroom soon after Mandy’s kidnap has Cage howling and shrieking in feral animal pain. He swigs from a bottle of vodka and roars out all the pain and misery Red is afflicted with. If this is the only truly empathetic Nicolas Cage performance that is also the most insane Nicolas Cage performance than I think that Cage can count himself among the world’s greatest actors, living or dead. In a similar way – by virtue of being so committed to its fantastical world and nightmarish visuals – Mandy can count itself as one of the best grindhouse films ever made.

 

 Andrew Carroll

121 minutes
Mandy is released 12th October 2018

 

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A Second Look at ‘Red Sparrow’

Andrew Carroll takes a bird’s eye view on Francis Lawrence’s hollow spy thriller.

Pain and injury visited on the female body has a long and storied history in cinema. It also proves to be very popular unfortunately. One only needs to look at the critical and commercial success of the likes of Mad Max: Fury Road, Sicario and Atomic Blonde. The difference between these films and Red Sparrow is that the women in the former films all maintain some degree of choice or agency. Dominika, Jennifer Lawrence’s character, does not and no matter how much the film attempts to convince us otherwise it all ultimately rings hollow.

Dominika is a former ballerina who, after an injury, is forced to look for other methods to care for her ailing mother. Her uncle Ivan (a scarily Putinesque Mathias Schoenaerts) offers her training as Sparrow, a seductive spy, so that her mother may continue to benefit from state care. Dominika is trained and sent to Budapest to uncover an American mole in the Russian intelligence service. Included in the mix is CIA agent Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton) who attempts to recruit Dominika. What follows is overly long and attempts twists that result in the film nearly going off the rails at several points.

Continuously we are told that Dominika doesn’t have a choice; that she must be in the employ of cruel and sadistic spymasters. There are better and easier ways to care for an invalid relative even in Russia surely? Despite being trained as a seductress extraordinaire Dominika does very few unsavoury things, but a great deal of unsavouriness is brought down on her. From awkward sex scenes to rapeand on to torture Red Sparrow puts Dominika through a great deal, and none of it is necessary. Throughout the whole thing I just felt sorry for Jennifer Lawrence.

Director Francis Lawrence shoots what little action there is with a focussed brutality. A great deal of the fight scenes take place with one or more naked characters which is always tenser considering how vulnerable the naked body is. This would be fine if we cared about any of the characters at all. A fake Russian accent is always a bit of a turnoff and Jennifer Lawrence is no Meryl Streep when it comes to accents. The only convincing Russian in the whole film is Schoenaert’s; meanwhile Edgerton doesn’t even make for a convincing American. Others, such as Ciarán Hinds and Jeremy Irons, phone it in, which is surprising considering all they do is talk and smoke.

The story meanwhile is as bad as those telling it. This is Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy as told from the perspective of Xenia Onatopp in GoldenEye. It aims for a highly intelligent kind of spy thriller but with dialogue this banal and characters this simple it can’t hope to achieve much. Anyone hoping for a stylish, fluid action thriller a la John Wick or Atomic Blonde will be sorely disappointed. Despite the occasional glimmers of style, Red Sparrow flies right past dumb fun and smacks right into dumb.

Red Sparrow feels very by the numbers. Its plot seems to be following a requisite number of twists and expository moments interspersed with some truly horrible scenes of sadistic violence. This film is not for the faint of heart. At the beginning a drill whirrs into bone. That sets the tone for the rest of Red Sparrow – now if only the story was less painful than its torture scenes.

 

 

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Review: Tomb Raider

DIR: Roar Uthaug • WRI: Geneva Robertson-Dworet, Alastair Siddons • PRO: Graham King  DOP: George Richmond • ED: Stuart Baird, Tom Harrison-Read, Michael Tronick • MUS: Junkie XL • DES: Gary Freeman • CAST: Alicia Vikander, Hannah John-Kamen, Walton Goggins

 

Adapting video games into films takes a great deal of hard work. The two are inherently different mediums with very little in common. Video games are interactive in both mental, emotional and physical ways. Films are only interactive in the latter two categories. And yet people keep trying to smooth the edges between the two because, well, video games are the biggest entertainment industry in the world and with Tomb Raider the crossover potential is huge.

Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander) is a young heiress shirking her responsibilities in London until Ana Miller, (Kristin Scott Thomas) a partner in the multi-million-dollar company Croft Holdings, convinces Lara to declare her father Richard (Dominic West) legally dead and claim her birth right. Instead Lara goes gallivanting across the globe to a hidden island to find her father. With her is ship captain Lu Ren (Daniel Wu) and on her tail is jaded mercenary Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins).

Tomb Raider is based off the reboot of the game series that was released in 2013. It’s an origin story and quite an average one at that. Full of tropical locales, mercenaries and ancient tombs Tomb Raider is neither daring nor boring. Its action sequences are quite CGI heavy but the fact that most of them – besides a stunningly lit shipwreck scene – take place in the daytime is a relief. Lara is often left battling her environment as much as the thugs in sweat-stained shirts. An escape from an old World War II plane manages to be both thrilling and true to the same event in the game.

Alicia Vikander is committed to her role which is something never really seen in video-game adaptations. Timothy Olyphant shaving his head for Hitman in 2007 doesn’t count. From the very start it’s quite clear from all the lean muscle on display that Vikander went all in to portray the action heroine as most people now know her. Despite all this, there’s not a great deal of emotional range in the character or even in the film. Walton Goggins just seems tired even when it looks as though he’s about to win. Dominic West never achieves much more than sad man with a mullet. Daniel Wu is underused, and it feels like there’s a few key scenes missing for his character.

On the technical side of things Tomb Raider is almost flawless. The action, from a bike race at the beginning to one-on-one fight scenes later, is kinetic and clear cut. Lara’s skin-of-her-teeth escapes are, as previously stated, very heavy on the average quality CGI but that’s a small price to pay just to see her escape a plane dangling over a waterfall. Tom Holkenborg’s score booms and blasts as George Richmond’s camera moves in quick but never confused fashion.

Tomb Raider is a good adaptation of its source material and one of the more viable properties to create a film franchise from but it stops there. There will never be a perfect game adaptation, even a great one is unlikely. The mediums are too different to ever really gel in a way that could conceivably work or please the vast majority. Still, Tomb Raider is a hell of an action movie and if that’s what the people want I say give to them.

Andrew Carroll

12A (See IFCO for details)

117 minutes
Tomb Raider is released 16th March 2018

Tomb Raider – Official Website

 

 

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Review: Den of Thieves

DIR/WRI: Christian Gudegast • PRO: Gerard Butler, Mark Canton, Tony Grazia, Alan Siegel, Tucker Tooley  DOP: Terry Stacey • ED: David Cox, Joel Cox, Nathan Godley • MUS: Cliff Martinez • DES: Kara Lindstrom • CAST: Gerard Butler, Pablo Schreiber, Jordan Bridges

 

Films and video games are two separate art forms and never the twain shall meet unless it’s in an exceptionally bad adaptation. Den of Thieves doesn’t seem to understand this. Its characters move and talk like they’re in a Call of Duty game about cops and robbers. Interspersed between scenes of beefcakes in tight t-shirts and scuffed leather jackets shooting each other are some truly awkward scenes of family drama and a lot of tactical planning. It’s something only Gerard Butler could make in a way that is painfully unironic and, at times, painfully offensive.

 

Gerard Butler plays the hard-bitten Sheriff Big Nick of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department who is keeping tabs on ex-military bank robbers Ray Merrimen (Pablo Schreiber), Levi Benson (50 Cent) and Donnie Wilson (O’Shea Jackson Jr.). The gun-toting, brass-balled muscle men all eventually come together in one big heist and climactic gun battle that, while satisfying, is a slog to get towards. Oh and Big Nick has some family drama that is never resolved and isn’t worth talking about.

 

The script from director and producer Christian Gudegast puts together a decent heist sequence that takes an hour and forty minutes to get to. Building up to the gung-ho sequence of gunfire and tightrope tension are ho-hum scenes of family drama and police corruption that will either offend, bore or fizzle out before anything worthwhile can be squeezed from them. All of the characters outside of the leads look like stuntmen and MMA fighters drafted in just for the purposes of getting shot.

 

Gerard Butler’s Big Nick, stupid name by the way, borders on the edge of the almost-racist, trigger-happy cop character that would have passed in the 1980s but only serves as discomfiting now. Schreiber and 50 Cent are essentially meatheads, calculating meatheads but meatheads nonetheless. The twist comes in the form of the supposedly out of his depth Donnie Wilson. Still, since Wilson is so one-note and flat, the twist never feels earned or necessary. Ironically Den of Thieves, despite all the military jargon and loud gunshots, feels very safe.

 

There are moments of depth to Gudegast’s film. Unfortunately they come in the form of long tracking shots where no characters are heard or seen. Set in Los Angeles, these long, gliding movements only serve to remind that the city has far more character than those that occupy it. Gudegast shoots the action steady in a way that calls to mind neither the smoothness of John Wick nor the choppiness of the Bourne series. It rests somewhere in the middle and that is probably the best way to sum up Den of Thieves.

 

Were it not for the relatively exciting heist and the thrilling gun battle that finishes it, Den of Thieves would be a very bad film. Instead, it flounders just below the average mark. It pays homage to the likes of Heat but never comes close to emulating or even imitating the greatness of previous heist films.

Andrew Carroll

15A (See IFCO for details)

139 minutes
Den of Thieves is released 2nd February 2018

Den of Thieves– Official Website

 

 

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Review: Early Man

DIR: Nick Park • WRI: Mark Burton, James Higginson  PRO: Richard Beek, Peter Lord, Nick Park, Carla Shelley, David Sproxton  DOP: Charles Copping, Dave Alex Riddett, Paul Smith, Peter Sorg • ED: Sim Evan-Jones • MUS: Harry Gregson-Williams, Tom Howe • CAST: Tom Hiddleston, Maisie Williams, Eddie Redmayne

Aardman has been the go-to house for stop-motion animation for the past quarter century. With four Academy Awards to their name even the studio’s missteps such as Flushed Away are still adored by many. Their latest film Early Man maintains its distinct British charm and unique stop-motion models though it can’t quite reach the heights of classics such as Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit and Chicken Run though it does possess something special of its own.

Caveman Dug (Eddie Redmayne) lives a contented life with his pet boar Hognob (director Nick Park) and tribe in a lush crater valley. The arrival of a Bronze Age society led by Lord Nooth (Tom Hiddleston) upsets the tribe’s peaceful existence forcing them out into the viciously volcanic Badlands. Dug realises the only way to win the valley back is by challenging the Germanic invaders to their sacred, traditional game: football.

That’s the crux of the film, football, which happens to be a lot more interesting when it’s played by clay models with big teeth. The story is watertight lasting long enough to fully realise all of its potential as well as keeping younger viewers entertained for the duration. Dug has the ambition of Ginger from Chicken Run and the amicability of Wallace of the studio’s most famous duo. Redmayne steps away from his more serious or nervy roles to give an endearing performance while Hiddleston pulls off a convincingly ridiculous French accent. The supporting cast are mostly passable with the likes of Richard Ayoade given little to work with and the excellent Rob Brydon given far too much as a messenger pigeon and two identical football commentators. The only true dud is Maisie Williams whose accent fails to land on any real destination.

Three destinations feature prominently in Early Man: the valley, the city and the Badlands. CGI is used to enhance backgrounds and moments that would normally be impossible to animate using traditional stop-motion. It never distracts from the iconic characters however who all come across as personalities drawn from all walks of British life. Details that have been there since Aardman’s earliest days still remain. Fingerprints on clay, a dusting of hair from false eyebrows and the classic big-toothed grin every character proudly displays. Still, the weight of past achievements weighs on both the studio and the films it produces.

Early Man struggles to maintain the same amount of whimsy all of its earlier films had. A film that heavily features dinosaurs is hard to inject whimsy into although it tries it’s hardest. Alongside this the choice of the fiery wastes and brown and grey city outside of the tribe’s verdant valley often make the film’s location dull and boring to look at. Though not of the same calibre as their most paradigmatic work Early Man will undoubtedly be recognised as an instant classic.

Andrew Carroll

PG (See IFCO for details)

88 minutes
Early Man is released 26th January 2018

Early Man – Official Website

 

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Review: Borg vs McEnroe

 

DIR: Janus Metz   WRI: Ronnie Sandahl  PRO: Jon Nohrstedt, Fredrik Wikström • DOP: Niels Thastum • ED: Per K. Kirkegaard, Per Sandholt  DES: Lina Nordqvist   MUS: Vladislav Delay, Jon Ekstrand, Carl-Johan Sevedag, Jonas Struck • CAST: Stellan Skarsgard, Shia LaBeouf, Sverrir Gudnason

 

Tennis is hardly an interesting sport at the best of times. To the uninitiated it begs the question: “Why watch two people hit a green ball and grunt for three hours?” To the initiated, however, it is a game of speed, skill, and endurance. Borg vs McEnroe does the impossible and makes tennis look, sound, and feel interesting. Despite an overload of onscreen text, the film wrests both gripping tension and riveting drama from the jaws of overwhelming boredom.

It’s 1980 and Björn Borg (Sverrir Gunadson) is chasing his fifth consecutive Wimbledon title. The supposedly emotionless Swede’s only challenger is the fiery young American John McEnroe (Shia LaBeouf). Both men demand total control on and off the court with McEnroe’s emotional volcano concealing an icy professionalism and Borg’s own temperament closer to a pressure cooker than the well-oiled machine he puts across. Past and present pressures come to the fore as the championship approaches.

This being a Swedish production, its focus is obviously very Borg-centric. Understandably so as McEnroe’s notoriously explosive temper works only in small bursts. Gunadson’s performance as Borg is like watching an iceberg melt. Professionalism drips away over the course of the film revealing a passionate core that still beats within. His desire to be the best drives many people away. including his fiancé Mariana Simionescu (Tuva Novotny) and coach Lennart Bergelin (Stellan Skarsgård). LaBeouf as the complex McEnroe is some of the best casting this year giving the equally hot-headed actor a great deal to play with. It never comes close to scenery-chewing however, as director Janus Metz knows how much is just enough.

The only problems Borg vs McEnroe truly suffers from are pacing and an overload of on-screen information. Certain scenes of childhood flashbacks could have been left out in Borg’s case whereas the younger McEnroe’s story is only hinted at through parental pressure from his formative years all the way to the championship. Even so Niels Thastum’s camerawork ensures that no matter how slow the film moves at times it is always a joy to watch. Soft orange lighting occupies most of the film and the tennis matches have a sunburnt, over-lit feel to them making the film’s best sequences even more authentic.

The story of Borg versus McEnroe at the time was a tale of “Gentleman versus Superbrat” as the tabloids so eloquently put it in 1980. Borg was depicted as a Messianic figure of all that was good about tennis. McEnroe was depicted as a villain both on and off the court. In reality, both men were flawed people capable of great passion and even greater fury. In one scene, the two players sit beneath a quote from Rudyard Kipling’s timeless poem If… It reads: “If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster/And treat those two imposters just the same.” Winning and losing in Borg vs McEnroe is ephemeral. Victory is fleeting,as is defeat, and both mean nothing if you cannot step off the court and share the feelings both bring. Borg vs McEnroe succeeds in immortalising two titans of the game of tennis all the while capturing exactly what makes the game so interesting.

Andrew Carroll

15A (See IFCO for details)

107 minutes
Borg vs McEnroe is released 22nd September 2017

 

Borg vs McEnroe – Official Website

 

 

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Review: The Jungle Bunch

DIR: David Alaux • WRI: David Alaux, Eric Tosti, Jean-François Tosti • ED: Jean-Christian Tassy   MUS: Olivier Cussac  • CAST: Paul Borne, Philippe Bozo, Pascal Casanova

 

I’m not sure whose idea it was to make an exotic animal version of the Avengers but whoever came up with it should be severely reprimanded. The Jungle Bunch is a film that will bore most to tears and only mildly interest its target audience. It takes more liberties than most Disney and Pixar films but its only saving grace is in the jaw-dropping detail of its animation.

In an effort to expel an evil koala, named Igor, from the jungle the Champs, an heroic team of animals inadvertently rescue a penguin egg though they ultimately fail to save the jungle from burning down. Igor is exiled and the Champs adopt the penguin that hatches from the egg. Years later the penguin Maurice has flown the nest and formed his own team of vigilante critters called the Jungle Bunch. Igor returns and Maurice must prove himself to his large adopted family of jungle animals.

Nothing about The Jungle Bunch feels natural. The dialogue is flat and so are the performances. Everyone sounds like they’re phoning it in apart from a childlike gorilla named Miguel who sounds like he’s doing a racist impression of a stricken Forest Whitaker. I see the irony in saying talking animals don’t feel natural but when compared to efforts like Zootropolis or another French production like Ernest and Celestine then the weaknesses of The Jungle Bunch really start to show.

There is a great deal of potential in The Jungle Bunch but the likes of PAW Patrol or Fireman Sam have more life to them than this film. That said, even if the voices or the story aren’t convincing, at least the animation is. All the characters have a rubbery, fun consistency to them allowing for some amusing pratfalls and slapstick gags, especially between the two put-upon toads, Al and Bob. The animation is, perhaps, The Jungle Bunch’s only redeeming quality.

Everything from rain-slicked fur to snot and Maurice’s ludicrous straw baboon-disguise are lovingly detailed. TAT Productions’ animators clearly put a lot of effort into bringing these characters to vibrant life. It’s just a shame the rest of the film doesn’t reflect this vibrancy. The kung-fu inspired fight scenes of the film don’t pull as many punches as the average Disney animation. A sloth called Tony wouldn’t be that out of place in one of Jackie Chan’s weirder films. It adds a little bit extra to a film that is an overall disappointment.

The Jungle Bunch feels like it could have done with another draft or two. The script drags the film down to a degree that is rare for such a technically accomplished piece of animation. It’s an agonising bore to anyone over the age of seven but is having an hour and a half of peace and quiet really worth both the financial and temporal cost? I highly doubt it.

Andrew Carroll

G (See IFCO for details)

97 minutes
The Jungle Bunch is released 15th September 2017

 

The Jungle Bunch – Official Website

 

 

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Review: Wind River

DIR/WRI: Taylor Sheridan  PRO: Elizabeth A. Bell, Peter Berg, Matthew George, Basil Iwanyk, Wayne L. Rogers • DOP: Ben Richardson • ED: Gary Roach  DES: Neil Spisak   MUS: Nick Cave, Warren Ellis • CAST: Kelsey Asbille, Jeremy Renner, Julia Jones

 

In writing both Sicario and Hell or High Water Taylor Sheridan brought the neo-western back to life. His American Frontier Trilogy resurrected a failing genre with great critical and commercial success. Not since 2007’s No Country for Old Men has the western genre felt so invigorated and full of life. As much as a genre filled with death and despair can be that is. With Wind River Sheridan concludes his trilogy and sets a high bar for those who will undoubtedly follow him.

US Fish and Wildlife Service agent Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) finds the body of a young woman in the wilderness on the Wind River Native American Reservation in Wyoming. FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) is called in to find the murderer and employs Lambert as a tracker. The case bares eerie similarities to Lambert’s own daughter’s death three years prior and soon a conspiracy is revealed as the isolating and freezing Wyoming winter closes in.

Wind River is unbelievably tense. So tense I’d almost have laughed had every muscle in my body not been locked. Sheridan’s big-budget debut makes great use of the expansive emptiness and claustrophobic indoors of his chosen setting. Much like his previous film’s violence explodes suddenly and is gone just as quickly. Tension burns like a dynamite cord in Wind River and that is as much thanks to the cast as it is to Sheridan’s script.

Jeremy Renner is a victim of his previous roles. His work in the likes of 28 Weeks Later, the Avengers films and The Bourne Legacy have cast him in roles he is suited for but that offer no real depth. Wind River casts him as a grieving but exceptionally knowledgeable cowboy-type. He is capable of great pain and great resourcefulness. Olsen’s Banner is out of her depth and often reliant on Lambert in the wild. She is, however, more than capable of learning on the spot and holding her own in combat. Sheridan’s characters are flawed but relatable and they form the beating heart of this film.

The supporting cast are equally excellent with desperate and lonesome turns by Gil Birmingham and Jon Bernthal. However, the greatest technical performance of the film is Ben Shepard. His camerawork is often stationery and meditative but quickly bursts into speed once the action starts moving. The lethal cold of Wyoming and the barren natural beauty of its landscape stand in stark contrast to each other while most characters are shot to look as rugged as the wilds they inhabit. Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’ haunting score that swells and whispers is the cherry on top of this ice-cold cake.

Wind River is one of the best films of 2017. It is pleasingly similar to Taylor Sheridan’s other work but the brutality of the near-Arctic land is a nice change from the arid aesthetics of Sicario and Hell or High Water. Few can claim to have Sheridan’s consistency as a scriptwriter as well as his talent to craft intricate yet simple stories with characters that are both pitiful and strong. Wind River is a career best for Sheridan and a masterclass in tension.

Andrew Carroll

16 (See IFCO for details)

134 minutes
Wind River is released 8th SeptemberAugust 2017

Wind River – Official Website

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zN9PDOoLAfg

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Review: Atomic Blonde

DIR: David Leitch • WRI: Kurt Johnstad • PRO: A.J. Dix, Eric Gitter, Beth Kono, Kelly McCormick, Peter Schwerin, Charlize Theron • DOP: Jonathan Sela • ED: Elísabet Ronaldsdóttir • DES:
David Scheunemann • MUS: Tyler Bates • CAST:  Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman

 

The spy thriller has needed a good wake-up call for some time now. Daniel Craig’s role as James Bond has gone some way to bringing the stuffy and often silly genre into more gritty and realistic territory. Atomic Blonde goes further and while it does an excellent job for the most part, it is a flawed attempt.

Top MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) is sent to Berlin to retrieve a list of active field operatives from a KGB assassin who murdered another British spy for the list. Broughton must also assassinate Satchel, a double-agent, who has leaked information to the Soviet Union. Aiding her are naïve French agent Delphine Lasalle (Sofia Boutella) and degenerate booze hound David Percival (James McAvoy). All this happens while the Berlin Wall falls and everyone double and triple crosses each other.

Atomic Blonde is confused as to what it wants to be. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy or John Wick? James Bond or Jason Bourne? Perhaps Jane Bond or Jessica Bourne? The Bond series of films operate on a certain level of whimsy no matter how serious they get. The Bourne films are all gut punches with no room for jokes. Atomic Blonde dances on the razor’s edge between these two franchises while borrowing a great deal from the likes of director David Leitch’s previous film John Wick and the slower burning Cold War thrillers of the past. It’s too violent to be any of these films however and its characters and story suffer for this.

A lot has been made of Charlize Theron’s skills as a stunt performer in Atomic Blonde and if it’s all true then I never want to meet her in real life. Lorraine Broughton is a deadly weapon. Guns don’t often come into play in the film instead everything from hoses to corkscrews to vodka bottles are used as weapons. Atomic Blonde has a lot of brutal and visceral scenes that supersede even the hyper-violent John Wick series. In the film’s final and exquisitely shot and choreographed fight scene the violence is almost too much. After watching ten minutes of multiple stabbings, broken bones, and crippling beatings I was left gripping my seat rests and feeling slightly queasy as well. Still I can’t say I felt any more sympathetic for the characters than I did before they were left needing six weeks of physical rehab.

There are few likeable characters in Atomic Blonde. Theron and Boutella’s characters benefit from a great deal of time in the quieter moments of the film where both characters get to express and feel which is obviously rare for super-spies. McAvoy’s David Percival is a slimy, depraved pig not dissimilar from his character in Filth. Toby Jones and John Goodman as the MI6 and CIA suits respectively aren’t given much to work with while the Russian and German villains are mostly stuntmen and deserve a great deal of acclaim for getting their asses continuously handed to them by Theron.

Ass-handing is something Charlize Theron does terrifyingly well. Whether it’s stabbing a man in the neck with a stiletto or taking on four men at once in a dingy East German apartment, she can be proud of creating a female action hero capable of taking on James Bond and Jason Bourne at once. Accompanied by a bombastic soundtrack, flawlessly kinetic camerawork and superb direction by Leitch, Atomic Blonde is a film that, despite its flaws, should not be missed.

Andrew Carroll

115 minutes
16 (See IFCO for details)

Atomic Blonde is released 11th August 2017

Atomic Blonde – Official Website

 

 

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Review: The Boy and the Beast

 

DIR: Mamoru Hosoda • PRO: Atsushi Chiba, Takuya Itô, Genki Kawamura, Yuichiro Sato • DOP: Ryo Horibe • ED: Shigeru Nishiyama • MUS: Masakatsu Takagi • CAST: Bryn ApprillKumiko AsôMorgan Berry

Coming-of-age films form a central part of cinema; especially in Japanese cinema. One only need look at the likes of Studio Ghibli’s most popular films such as Spirited Away and Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind to see the deep connection such a genre has to the country and its films. The Boy and the Beast is similar in terms of Japanese cinema as well as director Mamoru Hosoda’s previous work.

Nine-year-old Ren is left alone after the death of his mother. With no father figure to be found Ren wanders the streets of Tokyo. While there he encounters a beast, Kumatetsu, and follows him back to the beast world. Begrudgingly Kumatetsu takes Ren on as a pupil granting him the nickname Kyuta and begins training him in the martial art kendo. This causes controversy in the beast world and as the years pass Ren finds that severing his connections to the human world was not so easy.

Like many of Hosoda’s previous films family runs deep in The Boy and the Beast. It is, however, less high concept than the likes of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and Summer Wars. It is closer to Wolf Children in terms of his style and not just because of the personified animals. The film has a warm emotional core full of the need for acceptance and a desire to be long. Something that both main characters feel strongly about.

Both Ren and Kumatetsu are very similar to one another. Both are arrogant, stubborn, and brave to a fault. That said they both have hearts of absolute gold. Both are willing to die for what they believe in and for the people they care about. This is probably Hosoda’s best film thanks to the glaring flaws in nearly every major or minor character. Some are prideful, others are snobbish, while some are just plain annoying. But on the whole it makes the film feel very real chock full of living, breathing personalities.

The animation is perhaps the film’s biggest selling point. It harkens back to the classic designs of anime and manga in the past but also reaches into the future with some very impressive and well blended CG work. Backgrounds look like oil paintings in the beast world or photo-realistic drawings in the human world. Character animations are quirky, fluid, and lively though the background CG crowds leave something to be desired. The fight scenes make The Boy and the Beast essential cinematic viewing while some of the more surreal imagery is sublimely breath-taking; such as an enormous tusked sperm whale made of blue light diving into the concrete of a Tokyo street.

The Boy and the Beast wears its influences on its sleeve from the likes of Alice in Wonderland to Harry Potter right back to Moby Dick. Hosoda owes a great deal to the masters that came before him, including those at Studio Ghibli but that’s not to say he isn’t a master in his own right. The Boy and the Beast is a beautifully warm film that rides on a wave of emotion and fantasy. Mamoru Hosoda has made his mark on history with this film and is free to join other great anime directors such as the late Satoshi Kon or Hayao Miyazaki.

Andrew Carroll

120 minutes

The Boy and the Beast is released 28th July 2017

The Boy and the Beast – Official Website

 

 

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Review: 47 Metres Down

DIR: Johannes Roberts • WRI: Johannes Roberts, Ernest Riera • PRO: James Harris, Mark Lane • DOP: Mark Silk • ED: Martin Brinkler • DES: David Bryan • MUS: tomandandy • CAST: Mandy Moore, Claire Holt, Matthew Modine

 

Nothing is scarier in our world than the ocean. Forget about vampires, aliens, and ghosts; the ocean is what’s truly terrifying. With ninety percent of it totally unexplored the thought of what’s down there is enough to give the hardest horror fan shivers. 47 Metres Down attempts and mostly succeeds to scare and chill.

Sisters Lisa (Mandy Moore) and Kate (Claire Holt) are on holidays in Mexico. They make friends with some locals who convince them to go cage diving with them. Everything is going swimmingly until the winch breaks and the cage with Kate and Lisa in it plummets forty-seven metres to the ocean floor. Surrounded by sharks and running out of air, Kate and Lisa attempt to escape without getting eaten, drowning, or getting the bends.

47 Metres Down is far more successful than it should be. Seeing how Jaws was both the beginning and the end of the shark thriller, it’s strange how Johannes Roberts manages to create an exciting thriller with nothing more than water, a cage and CGI sharks. Roberts finds thrills in both the presence of the sharks and the lack of them. Two stand-out sequences include Lisa swimming out over a massive open trench with nothing but blackness below and a headlong rush for the surface lit only by a red flare as Great White Sharks attack the two women. This is where the film succeeds but where it fails is in its characters.

It’s hard to care about Lisa and Kate. Moore and Holt do their best in roles but are essentially scream queens. The terror of their desperate situation doesn’t elicit the “I hope they get out of this one” response – instead, it’s more “I’d hate it if that was me”. The characters are boring out of water and only slightly more interesting under it. The supporting cast, meanwhile, contribute basically nothing. For a man of his talents, Mathew Modine, as Captain Taylor, is surprisingly useless. Still, the thin characters can be forgiven once the gut-punching action scenes come into play.

The sound design is incredibly gruesome. The rip and crunch of a shark tearing through a human leg is enough to set people to wincing even without the visual. The beasts themselves are impressive for CGI fish, with their skin looking suitably rough and scarred. Soulless eyes pass by the camera constantly and the power of these underwater predators is made abundantly clear. The constant mishaps suffered by Kate and Lisa, although quite unrealistic, are enough to induce severe bouts of shaking and sweating in one’s cinema seat.

47 Metres Down is no Jaws but then no film ever has been or will be again. Though its characters are poorly fleshed out and the story is woefully far-fetched, Roberts’ film succeeds where countless other shark films have failed. It might not be this year’s best thriller but it’s one worth seeing.

Andrew Carroll

89 minutes
15A (See IFCO for details)

47 Metres Down is released 21st July 2017

47 Metres Down  – Official Website

 

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Review: The Boy and the Beast

DIR/WRI: Mamoru Hosoda • PRO: Atsushi Chiba, Takuya Itô, Genki Kawamura, Yuichiro Sato • DOP: Hoyte Van Hoytema • ED: Lee Smith • DES: Nathan Crowley • MUS: Masakatsu Takagi • CAST: Bryn ApprillKumiko AsôMorgan Berry

 

Coming-of-age films form a central part of cinema; especially in Japanese cinema. One only need look at the likes of Studio Ghibli’s most popular films, such as Spirited Away and Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, to see the deep connection such a genre has to the country and its films. The Boy and the Beast is similar in terms of Japanese cinema as well as director Mamoru Hosoda’s previous work.

Nine-year-old Ren is left alone after the death of his mother. With no father figure to be found Ren wanders the streets of Tokyo. While there, he encounters a beast, Kumatetsu, and follows him back to the beast world. Begrudgingly, Kumatetsu takes Ren on as a pupil granting him the nickname Kyuta and begins training him in the martial art kendo. This causes controversy in the beast world and, as the years pass, Ren finds that severing his connections to the human world was not so easy.

Like many of Hosoda’s previous films family runs deep in The Boy and the Beast. It is, however, less high concept than the likes of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and Summer Wars. It is closer to Wolf Children in terms of his style and not just because of the personified animals. The film has a warm emotional core full of the need for acceptance and a desire to belong. Something that both main characters feel strongly about.

Both Ren and Kumatetsu are very similar to one another. Both are arrogant, stubborn, and brave to a fault. That said, they both have hearts of absolute gold. Both are willing to die for what they believe in and for the people they care about. This is probably Hosoda’s best film thanks to the glaring flaws in nearly every major or minor character. Some are prideful, others are snobbish, while some are just plain annoying. But, on the whole, it makes the film feel very real chock-full of living, breathing personalities.

The animation is perhaps the film’s biggest selling point. It harkens back to the classic designs of anime and manga in the past but also reaches into the future with some very impressive and well blended CG work. Backgrounds look like oil paintings in the beast world or photo-realistic drawings in the human world. Character animations are quirky, fluid, and lively though the background CG crowds leave something to be desired. The fight scenes make The Boy and the Beast essential cinematic viewing while some of the more surreal imagery is sublimely breath-taking; such as an enormous tusked sperm whale made of blue light diving into the concrete of a Tokyo street.

The Boy and the Beast wears its influences on its sleeve from the likes of Alice in Wonderland to Harry Potter right back to Moby Dick. Hosoda owes a great deal to the masters that came before him including those at Studio Ghibli but that’s not to say he isn’t a master in his own right. The Boy and the Beast is a beautifully warm film that rides on a wave of emotion and fantasy. Mamoru Hosoda has made his mark on history with this film and is free to join other great anime directors such as the late Satoshi Kon or Hayao Miyazaki.

 

Andrew Carroll

119 minutes
The Boy and the Beast is released 11th July 2017

 

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Review: Free Fire

Free-Fire-2-620x280

DIR: Ben Wheatley • WRI: Amy Jump, Ben Wheatley • PRO: Andrew Starke • DOP: Laurie Rose • ED: Amy Jump, Ben Wheatley • DES: Paki Smith • MUS: Geoff Barrow, Ben Salisbury • CAST: Enzo Cilenti, Sam Riley, Michael Smiley, Brie Larson

Genre filmmaking is consistently hit and miss. For every Quentin Tarantino, there’s an Eli Roth. For every George A. Romero, there’s a Zach Snyder. Genre films range from the grotesque to the absurd to the downright awful. Making a genre film is like mixing dangerous chemicals. On the one hand, you could manufacture a wonder drug, on the other it could all blow up in your face. With Free Fire Ben Wheatley achieves an exciting mix of both results.

 

Chris (Cillian Murphy) and Frank (Michael Smiley) are two Irish Republicans looking to buy guns from a South African arms dealer, Vernon (Sharlto Copley), and some American middlemen Justine (Brie Larson) and Ord (Armie Hammer). Rounding out the cast is Sam Riley as drug addict Stevo, an unrecognisable Jack Reynor as Brooklynite Harry and Babou Ceesay as former Black Panther Martin. The film takes place in late ’70s Massachusetts in and around an abandoned warehouse. Following a tense argument over incorrect weapons and an altercation between Stevo and Harry the free fire of the title becomes the film’s reality.
 
Free Fire is, first and foremost, a technical marvel. Together with co-editor, co-writer and wife Amy Jump, Ben Wheatley brings the trademarks of 1970s action cinema into the 21st Century. Taking inspiration from Peckinpah, De Palma and Coppola, Wheatley builds a kinetic film around his already dynamic script. Free Fire never has a slow moment and even when the bullets aren’t flying the air is filled with verbal sparring and coarse insults. At one point Frank tells son-in-law Stevo that “sympathy is in the dictionary between shit and syphilis. Find it in your own time.” Speaking of bullets a great portion of the film, almost ninety-nine percent according to Wheatley, uses practical effects. Another throwback to the era he homages so well. Live rounds, squibs and pyrotechnics are all in abundance throughout making every scene feel more punchy and gut-wrenching in its violence.
 
In most modern action films, such as the Mission Impossible or The Expendables series the heroes shrug off the gunshots, punches, and knife wounds. The same cannot be said of Free Fire as characters limp, crawl and worm their way across the crumbling set. Ord uses a crowbar as a crutch for most of the film while Justine uses a home sewing-kit to stitch up a bullet graze. In one stand-out moment for one of the film’s stand-out characters, Sharlto Copley’s Vernon ties cardboard around his injuries in a ridiculous attempt to protect against infection. Wheatley gives every character their moment in the sun but Reynor, Hammer and Ceesay are worthy of special praise.
 
Free Fire has set a high standard for action cinema in 2017 and beyond. While highly stylised action is nowhere near dead Wheatley makes a convincing argument for bringing Western action back to its roots. Free Fire is proof that the macho action hero was never necessary all you need is a truck full of guns, a great cast, and a smart script.

Andrew Carroll

90 minutes

18 See IFCO for details

Free Fire is released 31st March 2017

Free Fire – Official Website

 

 

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Review: CHiPs

first-poster-for-the-chips-movie

DIR/WRI: Dax Shepard • PRO: Ravi D. Mehta, Andrew Panay, Rick Rosner, Dax Shepard • DOP: Mitchell Amundsen • ED: Dan Lebental • DES: Maher Ahmad • MUS: Fil Eisler • CAST: Michael Peña, Dax Shepard, Jessica McNamee

 

Buddy cop comedies are rarely good and CHiPs is unfortunately no exception. Based off the TV series of the same name that ran forty years ago, the antics of Frank Ponch and Jon Baker are brought into the modern era. Director, writer, and star Dax Shepard was clearly never told that some things are better left in the past where they rightfully belong.

Former motocross champion Jon Baker (Shepard) joins the California Highway Patrol in order to save his failing marriage to Karen, an underused and unlikable Kristin Bell. Michael Peña, normally a comedy wizard, does his best as Ponch while working with a poor script and even worse direction. Vincent D’Onofrio appears as the bloodthirsty crooked cop Ray Kurtz and, considering his history of unhinged characters in the likes of Full Metal Jacket and Netflix’s Daredevil, does quite well in the role.

CHiPs suffers greatly from a poor script. Action set pieces that would have been impressive forty years ago feel like old hat in this reboot. Considering what could have been done with two cops on high-powered motorcycles the chase sequences and highway set action sequences feel consistently underwhelming. Even the fight scenes flounder around the average mark and all of the crippling injuries Shepard’s character Jon Baker suffers are explained away by a metal bone in his arm. It doesn’t help that Shepard looks like a roughed-up Zach Braff. Unlike Braff however, Shepard and his script aren’t funny.

Around ninety percent of the jokes in CHiPs fall flat. Instead of delivering a proper punchline a great deal of the jokes peter off into awkward silence or pregnant pauses. I’m no fan of the canned laughter they use on sitcoms but CHiPs could have used some just to alleviate the cringe factor of all those faceplants Shepard intended to be jokes. The film falls nowhere in between the high or low-brow spectrum of comedy. Instead it’s a no-brow comedy. Any brows this film might’ve had were shaved off by Dax Shepard’s poor writing and lazy direction.

The film has some bright spots. Peña delivers his lines with the same commitment of other big-budget comedic roles he’s had such as Ant-Man and The Martian. The effects and stunt work are occasionally impressive even if they are always uninspired. An appearance by Jane Kaczmarek of Malcolm in the Middle fame feels natural and might just be the only original idea Shepard had. Still these little glints of hope are like finding a piece of stained glass in a landfill. The potential was there but somewhere along the way it broke apart.

CHiPs is Dax Shepard’s attempt to mix action and comedy, which he was done before with mixed results in 2012 with Hit and Run. Shepard has spent his life writing jokes and bringing them to the screen and stage with varying degrees of success. In an attempt to diversify in terms of genre, Shepard ultimately finds himself struggling to tread water and worse failing to mix the two genres that makes either interesting.

Andrew Carroll

100 minutes

15A See IFCO for details

CHiPs is released 24th March 2017

CHiPs – Official Website

 

 

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Irish Film Review: Lost in France

EIIF Lost In France

DIR/WRI: Niall McCann • WRI: David Birke • PRO: Nicky Gogan, Paul Welsh • DOP: Julian Schwanitz • ED: Nicky Gogan, Cara Holmes  • CAST: Stuart Braithwaite, Stewart Henderson, Alex Kapranos

Friendship is a fickle thing. It can bring great rewards and it can break hearts. No two friendships are quite the same. Those forged in the fires of intense settings such as the workplace, school and the creative process are often the hardiest. Friendship is, ultimately, what Niall McCann’s new documentary Lost in France is about. Oh, and music too. Lots of great music.

The Delgados, Mogwai, Bis, Franz Ferdinand and Arab Strap were all Glaswegian bands connected to the Delgados’ music label Chemikal Underground at one point or another. In 1997 these bands along with various others went to play some shows in Mauron, France. In 2015 a few returned to relive old memories, reconnect with old friends, and remember one of the turning points in the Scottish music scene. McCann combines old VHS footage, new talking-head interviews and footage shot in both Glasgow and Mauron in 2015 to highlight just how much has changed.

It’s safe to say the original trip to France in 1997 was not a safe or sane idea to begin with. Packing fifty-something young Scottish people onto a bus sounds like a recipe for disaster and it almost was but this is where the documentary’s humour is strongest. From nearly losing a band member to the English Channel to the bus driver being constantly inebriated right up to the intense, destructive shows themselves McCann never fails to catch the funny side. Now the likes of Stewart Henderson of the Delgados, Stuart Braithwaite of Mogwai and Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand have calmed down a great deal. Their music has veered away from punk-rock closer to the folk stylings of their home country. McCann captures both the fire of their younger selves and the more meditative side of things in his interviews.

Stewart Henderson, the former bassist for the Delgados and current co-owner of Chemikal Underground, is the lead focus of the documentary. McCann gives everyone their moment in the sun but Henderson gets to bask in the light that much longer and with good reason too. More successful bands such as Mogwai and Franz Ferdinand have gone onto great success both at home and abroad. Meanwhile plenty of acts like the Delgados have broken up due to a lack of deserved success. Henderson explains why this is but his frustration is clear. As bigger bands go on to great success, others with the same degree of talent that lack big label support eventually give in to socioeconomic pressure and call it quits.

The state of the music industry at large can be viewed in the microcosm that is the Glasgow music scene. Bands like Mogwai, Franz Ferdinand and even younger bands such as CHVRCHES have gone from playing small shows at working-class clubs and venues to festival mainstages and stadium tours. Other bands such as Bis, Arab Strap and the former members of the Delgados never quite escaped the working-class roots of their hometown. Henderson states that nothing will change unless the industry does.

Lost in France is a bittersweet and often hilarious tale of friendship, sheer luck and the absolute power music can have. Its message is one of get up and go. Regardless of what regrets some of McCann’s subjects had in the intervening years it’s clear that trip to Mauron was not one of them. According to Lost in France nothing trumps the power of music or friendship.

Andrew Carroll

126 minutes

Lost in France is released 3rd March 2017

 

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Review: Assassin’s Creed

fassbender

DIR: Justin Kurzel • WRI: Michael Lesslie, Adam Cooper, Bill Collage • PRO: Jean-Julien Baronnet, Patrick Crowley, Michael Fassbender, Gerard Guillemot, Frank Marshall, Conor McCaughan, Arnon Milchan • DOP: Adam Arkapaw • ED: Christopher Tellefsen • DES: Andy Nicholson • MUS: Jed Kurzel • CAST: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons

 

Critics rarely agree on anything, it comes with the territory, but one thing they all agree on are that film adaptations of video games are all bad with no exceptions. Loathed by film critics, regular cinema goers and the gaming community alike these adaptations often perform poorly at the box office and are generally forgotten about. Justin Kurzel’s Assassin’s Creed somewhat bucks this trend however by sticking closely to the style and substance of its source material.
 
Callum Lynch, a directionless career criminal, is executed for murder in 2016. He later wakes up at the Abstergo research facility run by father and daughter team Alan Rikkin (Jeremy Irons) and Sophia Rikkin (Marion Cotillard). They want to use Callum’s genetic memories to see where his Spanish ancestor Aguilar de Nerha hid the Apple of Eden; a mythical holy relic said to hold the genetic code to free will. Michael Fassbender plays both Callum and Aguilar, both of whom are descendants of the ancient Assassin Brotherhood, protectors of the Apple. They fight against the Templars who seek the Apple in order to eliminate free will and therefore all of humanity’s flaws. Needless to say, Abstergo are a front for the Templars and the Assassin Brotherhood has been all but wiped out. It’s a complicated plot that never really finds its footing among all the pseudo-science, religious mysticism, and secret society waffle.
 
What Assassin’s Creed lacks in story it makes up for in action and style. The fight choreography is continuously impressive and elaborate chase sequences on horseback and across rooftops highlight Kurzel’s talents for action cinema. The Snowtown and Macbeth director brings many of the latter film’s flaws to the screen in his attempts to bring 15th Century Spain to life. Though these sections of the film are full of jaw-dropping moments this comes at a cost. Much of the dialogue throughout the film is difficult to make out due to Jed Kurzel’s overbearing score and the bombastic sound design that makes a simple footstep sound like an earthquake. Not even the massive star power onscreen can stop Assassin’s Creed floundering just above the average mark.
 
As Callum Lynch, Fassbender is eagerly committed to the role of a borderline psychotic criminal. As Aguilar, he’s a lot more stoic and subtle. Overall, Fassbender brings his trademark energy to both roles even if neither role really deserves it. The rest of the cast leave a lot to be desired however. Marion Cotillard always seems on the verge of tears which doesn’t make her a very convincing leader for what is a project that’s supposed to save mankind. Jeremy Irons comes across as very bored as if he spent the entire time between takes looking at his watch. The rest of the cast besides a few very minor characters is the stunt team who outperform everyone when it comes to sheer physical commitment to being thrown off buildings, stabbed and shot.
 
Assassin’s Creed is the best video game adaptation ever made which, unfortunately, is not hard to be. Fans of the first few games of the series will find something to love and hate here. Both mediums share the same overwrought and needlessly complicated story but they also have some of the most exciting fight scenes and chase sequences outside of a big budget martial arts film.
 
 

Andrew Carroll

115 minutes
12A (See IFCO for details)

Assassin’s Creed is released 26th December 2016

Assassin’s Creed – Official Website

 

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Review: The Edge of Seventeen

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DIR/WRI: Kelly Fremon Craig • PRO: Julie Ansell, James L. Brooks, Kelly Fremon Craig, Richard Sakai • DOP: Doug Emmett • ED: Tracey Wadmore-Smith • DES: William Arnold • MUS: Atli Örvarsson • CAST: Hailee Steinfeld, Haley Lu Richardson, Blake Jenner

Coming-of-age stories have undergone something of a renaissance in the last few years particularly in the case of films. The likes of The Spectacular Now, Diary of a Teenage Girl and Me, Earl and the Dying Girl being just a few examples of those that were well-received. The Edge of Seventeen doesn’t stray far from the path that these films have trodden before but it does make strides in subtler areas.

The Edge of Seventeen focusses on the awkwardly jumbled life of teenager Nadine Byrd (Hailee Steinfeld) who must deal with her jock brother Darian (Blake Jenner) dating her best friend Krista (Hayley Lu Richardson). Throw in Woody Harrelson as her unwilling mentor Mr Bruner and Kyra Sedgwick as her bemused and barely together mother, Mona, and the film becomes a whole mess of teenage issues and hormones. The Edge of Seventeen is a good coming-of-age movie but it deals with the problems associated with mental illness far better than it does with other issues that crop up throughout the storyline.

Nadine’s mother Mona is ill in some way that is never explicitly mentioned. Instead a seven-year-old Mona says that “Mommy has to take a pill every morning otherwise she gets sad and buys too much at the mall.” Nadine herself is characterised by crippling anxiety and the selfish desire to designate herself as a so-called ‘special snowflake’ because of her social awkwardness. Darian, buff though he maybe, obviously struggles with holding together a family that is desperate to tear itself apart. Both Steinfeld and Sedgewick excel in portraying the various problems and neuroses that affect their characters in increasingly explicit ways. Jenner plays Darian more subtly as a man slowly cracking under pressure. An Atlas brought low by carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. However, despite all these great performances, The Edge of Seventeen is more impressive from a technical standpoint than from a narrative one.

Director Kelly Fremon Craig’s decision to bring a more John Hughes’ vibe to her film rather than the sun-drenched depression the likes of The Spectacular Now and The Perks of Being a Wallflower brought to the screen was a brave one. It’s visible in every detail from the damp autumnal setting to the way Nadine’s style veers between Judd Nelson in The Breakfast Club and a grungier Cher from Clueless. Cinematographer Doug Emmet’s tendency to shoot Steinfeld in isolated positions adds a greater deal of sympathy to the character and distracts from her more negative traits. She is often framed in corners, empty corridors and in close-ups that cut out other characters. Like all great teen coming-age movies The Edge of Seventeen lets its scenery and soundtrack speak when its characters can’t. It’s just a shame that Craig’s dialogue often can’t keep up with the other elements of her film.

The Edge of Seventeen is a good coming-of-age film but that’s all it is. Parts of it shine brighter than others but in a genre so packed, films that are merely ‘good’ stand little chance of ingraining themselves in the history of the genre. Craig has made a modern interpretation of John Hughes’ greatest hits and shown great potential while doing so but The Edge of Seventeen is no landmark.

Andrew Carroll

104 minutes
15A (See IFCO for details)

The Edge of Seventeen is released 2nd December 2016

The Edge of Seventeen – Official Website

 

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