Category Archives: Reviews

Detroit

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I can’t say I know too much about American history with only the basic knowledge beforehand of the Detroit riots but I managed to see an advance screening of Kathryn Bigelow’s latest movie and boy what an education.

It’s the summer of 1967 and civil unrest leads to riots across Detroit. One night during the riot reports of gunshots near the Algier Motel leads to unexpected levels of police brutality as racism and violence spills further out of control.

I felt absolutely sick to my stomach watching Detroit and for a long time afterwards too. In a way it’s probably the best film I never want to see again. But it definitely deserves to be seen and talked about.

Bigelow has always been a strong director that can amp up the tension to keep the audience at the edge of their seat but here the tension is brought to an almost unbearable level and there’s no action set piece or surfer drug dealers a la Point Break to release the anxiety.

From the off there’s a feeling of dread as the movie introduces you to Detroit 1967 and the group of characters caught up in one particularly awful night during the riots. That dread feels even worse as you know it is all based on real events and real people brutalised, beaten and killed by the police. With such an excellent cast giving their absolute all there are two in particular that stand out. Will Poulter is fantastic as officer Krauss, whose sinister and murderous actions leave you reeling the whole way through. I haven’t felt such an overwhelming feeling of hate towards a movie character for a long time. Then there’s Algee Smith who I never heard of before but is utterly heartbreaking as singer Larry Reed in this movie and has a lovely soulful voice. Hopefully this won’t be the last we see or hear from him.

It would have been easy enough to just stop right after the incident at the hotel when the audience is feeling bad enough but Bigelow doesn’t let up and doesn’t let its audience off the hook. She doesn’t just want to make you sad, she wants you to feel angry and not just about what happened that night in the hotel but at the injustice that continued on afterwards and still continues now. One of the most disturbing things about the film is the fact that very little has changed. You can’t make yourself feel better by saying well that’s all in the past now.

After seeing this Dunkirk has got some tough competition on its hands come Oscar season.

Rating 5/5 – see it, get angry and spread the word – this must be seen.

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Dunkirk

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Christopher Nolan is back once more, this time with World War 2 drama Dunkirk. But is it worth all the hype and Oscar talk it’s been getting?

As British soldiers prepare to evacuate from Dunkirk in 1940 we follow three stories; one with the troops on the beach, one with a civilian boat on its way to Dunkirk and another from the perspective of the Spitfire pilots in the air.

I’ve long been a fan of Nolan’s work, even Interstellar which I wasn’t as enamoured with still had Nolan’s great direction, so I’m pleased to say Dunkirk is another triumph for the visionary director.  Splitting the three narratives in slightly different time frames can sometimes be confusing but for the most part the three stories are smoothly interwoven. Luckily all three narratives are gripping so you never feel you’re missing out by going back and forth between the stories.

Having seen the film in IMAX helped the feeling of immersion into the action. Whether it’s the thrilling chase in the clouds or the overwhelming struggle for survival on the ground you feel in the thick of the battle.

As we are dropped into the characters viewpoint there is little time to get to know much about these people we’re following. While it is a little disappointed we don’t know much about them on the other hand it would appear that Nolan’s intention is to give you a small bit of what the soldiers are feeling. There’s no time for back story when everyone is just trying to make it out alive. One of the strongest elements of the movie is that it allows you to emphasise with the complete desperation that the soldiers are feeling. That need to survive is something that comes across all the soldiers. They don’t feel brave or proud, they just want to make it home. For this reason Nolan’s film is one of the best to deal with that desperation and the dark places it can take you to. The soldiers here are not categorized as bad or good, just men on the edge who have seen too much too young and want to get out.

Dunkirk is not a war film about victory in a traditional sense. It’s victory is in how many people managed to survive in what was considered at the time a hopeless situation. There’s a few scenes which discuss cowardly behaviour but Nolan reverses these issues back at us asking would you really be any different in this situation?

Rating 4/5 powerful and compelling, this is Nolan’s best shot at an Oscar yet and a worthy one at that

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Rapid Review: Baby Driver

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Baby Driver tells the story of a getaway driver called er, Baby (Ansel Elgort) who constantly listens to music to drown out the severe tinnitus he got after a car crash in his childhood. After he meets a pretty waitress named Debora (Lily James) Baby  is determined to leave the life of crime behind him once his debt is paid. However it’s not going to be that easy.

I wasn’t sure from the trailer if this was going to be my type of film but I was actually pleasantly surprised how much I liked it. Yes it is mostly style over substance but for the most part it’s a good style. Director Edgar Wright breaks away from his usual comedies and it’s good to see Wright is taking risks as a director. Baby’s music provides the soundtrack for the film and provides some great moments including the great car chase/getaway scenes.

As the lead character Baby, Elgort has bundles of geeky charm that elevates a character that could come across as annoying in the wrong hands. The rest of the supporting cast are good although the two main females are underwritten (however James’ effortlessly chemistry with Elgort does a lot to cover up how undeveloped the role is). It’s just a shame that some of goodwill the movie built up is then lost with an ending that goes on for about 20 minutes too long.

Rating 3.5/5 – a cool, humourous movie that’s destined to have a cult following

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Baywatch

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In this reboot of the popular 90’s TV series Baywatch a team of lifeguards led by Mitch Buchannon (Dwayne Johnson) attempt to foil a drugs plot while also dealing with cocky new recruit Matt Brody (Zac Efron). Can they catch they catch the bad guy and keep their beach safe?

As a kid I loved Baywatch from the opening theme song (“Some people stand in the darkness…”) and the ridiculousness of the slow running lifeguards. I was hoping that the reboot would be fresh and funny like the 21 Jump Street movie managed to be. Unfortunately while I think they were trying to reach that level Baywatch falls far short. The majority of jokes are just not funny, revolving around crude body humour and relying on swearing as punch lines. It doesn’t help that the female characters are criminally underserved given the thinnest of characterisation and sidelined for the most of the heroics, yet Mitch, Brody and the dorky Ronnie (Jon Bass, whose given a number of unfunny moments in the film) all perform heroics in the big climax while the women are left on the sidelines. After the amazing heroics of Wonder Woman this is a cold reminder that Hollywood still sees females as beautiful bystanders.

It’s not all bad news though there are flashes of good jokes that find their way through. As usual Johnson retains his charm and star charisma while Zac Efron does his best with the material and at least has a character arc throughout the film. As head villain duties Priyanka Chopra (star of the great TV series Quantico) oozes charisma and glamour though she’s underused like the rest of the female cast.

Rating 2/5 – unfunny and unoriginal, this reboot sinks on arrival

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Wonder Woman

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One of DC’s most iconic superhero finally gets her big screen début after 75 years. Here to rescue DC films from mediocrity (although I quite liked Man of Steel) Diana Prince and director Patty Jenkins have a lot of expectations on their shoulders. Can they rise to the challenge?

Raised amongst the Amazons on the island of Themyscira Diana (Gal Gadot) trains and fights whilst never leaving the island. When Captain Steve Tanner (Chris Pine) crashes onto the island Diana finds herself leaving the safety of her home for the horrors of the First World War.

Breathe a sigh of relief because the good news is that Wonder Woman first film is actually good! As one of the best things about Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice  Wonder Woman now gets a solo film that does her justice. Early scenes show Diana being trained by the Amazon’s on their island, a bright and peaceful paradise which nicely contrasts with the cold and less colourful scenes off island. We also gets to see a glorious sight of Amazon’s vs soldiers which is cool and its great to see actresses like Robin Wright and Connie Neilson kicking ass. As we follow Diana to London and beyond the film turns into part origin story/part fish out of water/part coming of age for Diana as she navigates the world of men. The setting feels fresh and for an origin story it doesn’t get too bogged down by having to explain everything.

Director Patty Jenkins manages to balance the different story elements well and the action scenes look great with Wonder Woman looking powerful and full of strength as she faces her foes. Gadot does a lovely mix of strength, vulnerability and charm. She also displays Diana’s journey from naïve optimist to more world-weary but still hopeful warrior that we saw in Dawn of Justice.

As her love interest Chris Pine is a likeable presence and interestingly in a reversal of the male gaze we get a whole lot of female gaze with a practically naked Pine featured in one scene.the scene is played for laughs and Pine gamely plays along. The fact that Tanner is portrayed as almost as heroic as Diana did make me worry that Wonder Woman was going to be overshadowed in her own movie. Was it just that they wanted to give Diana a worthy love interest or were studio bosses nervous about having a woman doing all the heroics? Ultimately though Wonder Woman is the main hero here and it’s her journey that we are invested in.

Perhaps all too aware of the criticisms of the previous DC movies Wonder Woman looks brighter and has more humour. Like the other movies the film is still too long in the last act and has underwhelming villains. However Wonder Woman is a serious step forward for the DC extended universe. Let’s just hope the upward trend continues and Wonder Woman is at the forefront of the Justice League movie.

Rating 4/5 – a wonderful (sorry!) solo effort for an iconic DC character

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Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2

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Its predecessor was an action packed, laugh a minute, wonderful surprise that threw Marvel universe into space. Of course a sequel was inevitable and hopes are high with director James Gunn returning to oversee the madness. But can lightening strike twice?

Set two months after the events of the last movie, we catch up with the Guardians who have managed to upset the Sovereign race due to Rocket’s thieving impulses. Their escape eventually leads them to an unexpected reunion between Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and his father, a living planet called Ego (Kurt Russell). However it’s not long before the Guardians find themselves in trouble again and have to fight to keep the gang together.

It was always going to be an uphill battle to match the same rebellious, unexpected spirit that Guardians of the Galaxy gave us. While Volume 2 doesn’t quite hit those highs dues to the lack of element of surprised it’s still a rollercoaster of fun and laughter. Humour was a strong part of the first movie’s success and Volume 2 delivers on many funny one liners and great sight gags.

The Guardians themselves are still a loveable ragtag group of misfits with Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) often being a scene stealer. We also gets more development on the sisterly rivalry between Gimora (Zoe Saldana) and Nebula (Karen Gillan) which more often than not spills into violence. New characters Mantis (Pom Klementieff) is also introduced and fits in seamlessly with the other Guardians and has a funny odd couple friendship with the blunt and tactless Drax (Dave Bautisa).

The film’s excitable energy does starts to waver towards its last act and while Michael Rooker is great as returning character Yondu (“I’m Mary Poppins”– it makes sense in context), I didn’t quite buy his redemptive arch or the film trying to make out he was a good guy all along. Didn’t he still beat Peter as a kid? However these quibbles aside Volume 2 shows that there’s still life in these loveable rogues yet and there encounter with the more professional Avengers in next years Infinity Wars movie should make for an entertaining encounter.

(As an aside note this film rivals the last Fast and Furious Movie with the amount of time the word ‘family’ is mentioned. Does Vin Diesel have some kind of contract where the word must always be referenced?)

Rating 4/5 – a less surprising but still a riveting ride with Marvel’s funniest heroes

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Rapid Review: Alien Covenant

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I was actually quite hopeful about the latest Alien prequel as I heard reports that it was better than 2012’s Prometheus. However I forgot how low a bar that was. So while Covenant is indeed better than it’s predecessor it’s nowhere near as satisfying as it should be.

It starts promising with the Colony ship Covenant damaged during it’s voyage and it’s crew making the unwise decision to investigate a radio transmission from a nearby planet. The characters are thinly drawn but it goes along OK and there are some gory scenes when the aliens do make some appearances. However once David (Michael Fassbender) appears sprouting the creation/creator philosophy nonsense that was so prevalent in Prometheus the film goes downhill. Instead of intense action/horror scenes we have Michael Fassbender playing opposite himself as the two identical androids (the Covenant ship’s android Walter and the android from Prometheus David) which devolves into some weird Michael Fassbender fan fiction. Add in some really stupid decisions by certain characters and a final twist that the audience would have spotted a mile off and you get a lacklustre result. The GCI effects of the Xenomorph and some of the other creatures are also disappointing.

Rating 2.5/5 – a solid start descends into a less than stellar result

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