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

Wonder_Woman_(2017_film)

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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Rapid Review: Their Finest

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Set in Britain during the Second World War, Their Finest centres on a young woman named Catrin (Gemma Arterton) who is hired to write morale boosting films for the Ministry of Information.

It’s hard to define this film into one category, it’s a behind the scenes drama with some comedic elements and insights into the way women’s roles were changing during this period. Small moments of sexism are all in a normal working day for Catrin as she hired to write ‘slop’ (women’s dialogue). Rather than this being an ‘issue’ film these elements are woven naturally into the story and it’s a fascinating insight into the work behind these propaganda and moral boosting films. I can imagine there are scenes that scriptwriters are all too familiar with such as producers making changes to the script or finding out their American lead (Jake Lacey) can’t act. These scenes are much more engaging than the sub plot with Catrin’s artist husband (Jack Houston) which feels a bit by the numbers.

Director Lone Scherfig brings the 40’s to life without hitting us over the heads with it, and captures the confusion and panic of living through the Blitz whilst its characters have to get on with everyday matters like finding work. She also brings out the best from her cast. Arterton is a sympathetic and likeable lead who can easily go between comedy and drama and has good chemistry with Sam Clafin as her co-writer Tom Buckley, who is sometimes infuriated and also infatuated with Catrin. As always Bill Nighy is great as an actor who still wants to be cast as the handsome lead despite his age. He steals scenes with his comedic one liners but is also poignant in some of the more sombre scenes.

Rating 4/5 – a great British drama that’s a welcome relief for anyone who wants a break from the blockbusters

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Fast and Furious 8

Fast and Furious 8

Otherwise known as The Fate of the Furious in the States, the eighth (!) installment in the franchise has already passed the one billion mark at the box office. This time around Dom (Vin Diesel) has seemingly turned his back on family (get used to this word being used a lot) and joined up with the evil Cipher (Charlize Theron). Can the team foil Cipher’s evil plot and bring Dom back into the fold?

Ah The Fast and The Furious movies, where logic and science goes to die. But the series is obviously doing something right with audiences scrambling to see the adventures of Dom and co. I admit the Fast and Furious movies starting from Fast Five have become something of a guilty pleasure of mine and this latest offering works best when it plays to the series strengths. One of it’s biggest strengths is Dwayne Johnson who brings charisma and entertainment as law man Luke Hobbs, Johnson looks like he doesn’t take any of the film too seriously and is having fun with the ridiculousness of it all. Trading insults with Jason Statham’s Deckard- the last film’s villain now possible good guy?-is one of the more enjoyable parts of the films. When the series has fun and goes from one insane set up to another it’s easy to get swept up in it all.

However the film gets bogged down with too much focus on Dom and Cipher- the least interesting part of the movie. Poor Theron does her best but Cipher and her monologues are a bore. The film suffers whenever it tries to play it seriously and an overlong climax also starts to wear any audience good will. Suspension of belief is already needed to get your head around the gang’s zany schemes but around the time Hobbs grabs a tornado with his hands you start wondering if the filmmakers ever reject an idea for being too ridiculous. Or maybe in the F&F world every idea is a good idea. Also the fact that Deckard murdered Han in the previous movie seems to be forgotten about. Justice for Han!

Not as deliciously bonkers as the 5th and 6th installments and lacks the emotional edge of the 7th. While the 8th will probably go down as the most profitable I doubt it will be the most popular one.

Rating 3/5 – Dom’s ‘family’ have still got it but the series will need to shape up for future installments

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Rapid Review: The Belko Experiment

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You think you had a bad day at work?  At Belko Industries eighty employees are left terrified when their office building suddenly blocks all the windows and exits. Then a mysterious voice announces starts announcing that the employees need to start killing each other, otherwise no one will make it out alive. Cue employees being divided into those who want to get help and those who want to follow the instructions.

So this is basically Battle Royale in the workplace. For the its first half The Belko Experiment is interesting enough, with lots of black humour to help through all the deaths. It also made me jump with all the exploding heads and gunshot wounds (warning it is gory for those who prefer their horror gore free). It’s also only 88 minutes long which means it doesn’t over stay its welcome.

However despite the office setting it’s a bit disappointing that most of the deaths come from gunshot wounds, it would have been a better movie if it was more inventive. The majority of the characters are thinly drawn with only Dany (Melonie Diaz) being particularly memorable as the new girl having the worst first day ever. The mystery surrounding who the voice is and why they are doing this to the employees is also a let down. If The Belko Experiment had more of a satirical slant about cut throat office politics then it may have been more memorable.

Rating 3/5 – decent enough but perhaps better waiting for it to show up on Netflix

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Rapid Review: Ghost in the Shell (2017)

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In the new future the difference between human and machine blurs as humans use cybernetics to enhance themselves. Among even them is Major (Scarlett Johansson), the first of kind as the sole survivor of a terrorist attack who has her mind placed in a mechanical body.  Now working as a super soldier with very few memories of her past Major finds herself facing an enemy who may know more about her then she thinks.

Before it was even released Ghost in the Shell, which is based on a Japanese anime, faced criticism for whitewashing its main character. It’s a shame that the film didn’t take the ‘risk’ in casting an Asian actress in the role but I’m not sure even that would have been enough to save this film.

It’s not an out-and-out disaster for example there are some nice visual effects on display and the opening fight scene which includes a creepy geisha bot is good. The idea of he cybernetic enhancements could have led to some really interesting themes about the blurred lines between humans and robots  and what really makes someone human. Unfortunately none of these plot threads anywhere compelling and the film is devoid of much originality. A shame really because from what I understand of the anime and manga it had a huge influence on a lot of talented people like the the Wachowski siblings. Ghost in the Shell also has the misfortune of being released after a whole host of films and TV shows have successfully explored the same thing (Ex Machina, Westworld and Humans to name but a few). It also doesn’t help that Major is by her nature a blank slate, which is not a criticism of Johansson’s acting who is fine in the role, but it’s hard to root for a character who is mostly emotionless.

Rating 2.5/5 – a missed opportunity by Hollywood this sci-fi actioner lacks substance and originality

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13 Reasons Why – the new Netflix Obsession

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If you go onto Netflix there are loads of TV series including Netflix own original series to choose from. But before you settle down to watch establish shows like Orange is the New Black or the latest Marvel instalment consider turning your attention to one of Netflix newest shows. 13 Reasons Why may be based off YA material (which I personally have no problem with) but it is a series adults can, and should, consider vital viewing, especially if you have teenagers yourself.

13 Reasons Why revolves around teenager Clay Jenson who finds a box of audio cassette tapes left on his doorstep. As he starts listening to them he realises the tapes are from Hannah Baker, a classmate who recently committed suicide. Each tape list a reason why Hannah decided to take her own life, and names the individual responsible. As Clay listens to the tapes he realises those named on the tapes have previously been given the tapes before him and that having the tapes means he is one of the reasons why Hannah decided to kill herself.

As you can imagine from the subject matter 13 Reasons Why isn’t always an easy watch, but then it isn’t meant to be. There are lots of news articles about bullying and teen suicide, with social media becoming a new way to torture a victim, something Hannah endures in the show. It’s therefore a testament to the writing that these issues don’t feel sensationalized, exploitative or melodramatic. While this can be a heavy show at times there are also scenes each episode of laughter and touching moments between Clay and Hannah in flashback. Of course these scenes are filled with bittersweet feelings as you already know the outcome for Hannah.

As the show moves between the two timelines, (each episode being one of the reasons why) with Clay in the present and Hannah in the past, we see not only how Clay is reacting to the events but also the other individuals featured on the tapes. Some are remorseful of their actions, others not so much. Some of the reasons taken on their own may not seem like a big deal, which is how some individuals feel. But the message of the tapes, and the show itself is that everyone is responsible for each other. Something you say or do may not seem that bad to you but you don’t know what someone else is going through or how one thing you did may have unforseen consequences further down the line.

Another reason this show elevates itself above other teen series is the casting. Each actor is excellent in their roles. The individuals on the tape range in likeability despite their actions, and the majority of them are given hints of back stories to explain why they may have acted like they did. It may not excuse them but we get a better understanding and it helps make them three-dimensional characters. You also get supporting characters on Clay’s side like his friend Tony ( Christian Navarro) who is also mysteriously involved with the tapes. Then there’s Kate Walsh and Brian d’Arcy James who play Hannah’s devastated parents trying to discover why their daughter killed herself. Both are brilliant in their roles, with Walsh in particular able to grab hold of your emotions and not let go until you’ve cried buckets of tears.

The two stand outs of the show however are its leads Dylan Minnette and Katherine Langford as Clay and Hannah. Langford has a difficult role in playing a character where every possible bad thing that could happen does, and make her feel like a real person and not just a victim. You smile when she has moments of happiness and feel her pain when she’s mistreated. There are specific moments where you can see the hope disappearing from Hannah’s eyes and it’s brutal. Despite knowing the ending you constantly wish during the flashbacks that something will happen to stop her. Then there’s Minnette who is the heart of the show. Clay is a good guy but he still has flaws and sometimes will say or do things he’ll come to regret later. As the other individuals look to see if Clay will remain silent he is the conscience for the other characters, holding a mirror up to what they have done. There are so many scenes where Minnette will just break your heart and he nails the performance.

Towards the last half of the series Netflix have guidance before certain episodes in case viewers may find a few scenes distressing to watch. Those of Hannah’s suicide are particularly difficult to watch and are more graphic than some may be prepared for. It’s not an easy watch but it also doesn’t feel exploitive and importantly it doesn’t romanticise suicide at all.

The show itself is not perfect. It could have been a few episodes shorter and the involvement of Clay’s mother in a bullying lawsuit against the school feels forced. However this is a series that I was gripped by, watching it all over a six-day period (damn work!). It is also a show that will remain with you long after the series has ended and contemplating many of its subject matters and themes. I hope you will consider watching it.

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