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Film Review: Baby Driver

“The Moment You Catch Feelings Is The Moment You Catch A Bullet…”

Of all the rare successful exports of sunny, sunny Dorset, director Edgar Wright is undeniably up there with the best the South West has had to offer within the 20th century, and whilst his humble beginnings with the likes of the Simon Pegg starring Spaced gave Wright the opportunity to begin his venture into stardom through the medium of televised entertainment, his crowning jewel is indeed the triage of movies within the so-called “Cornetto Trilogy”, a series of successful movies which began all the way back with Shaun of the Dead in 2004 and continued with Hot Fuzz and The World’s End in 2007 and 2013 respectively. Emerging once again into the cinematic spotlight, Wright returns with Baby Driver, a star-studded action comedy led by the likes of  Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey and Jamie Foxx, and a movie which overtly revels in a superbly crafted jukebox soundtrack, a collection of musical accompaniments which acts as the cornerstone for both the narrative and the development of the film’s titular leading character, resulting in a blockbustingly entertaining thrill ride which features all the tricks and twists you expect from an Edgar Wright film, albeit one which is slightly lacking in a similar level of charm which has encompassed his earlier work.

With an opening set piece which sets the standard for the rest of the action ahead, the audience is swiftly introduced to the life of Baby (Ansel Elgort), an ultra-skilled, high-speed driver who alongside suffering from a hard case of tinnitus, is caught under the thumb of Kevin Spacey’s crime boss, Doc, a softly spoken, calculating Joe Cabot figure who forces him to carry out heist after heist in order to pay off a substantial debt. Using music as both a blockade to its’ leading character’s ailment alongside acting as a bedrock of carrying out the film’s narrative, Baby Driver is undeniably an audience pleasing joy-fest, one which wins on a surreal number of levels through its’ constant supply of rib-tickling humour, brilliantly measured OTT acting and action set pieces which prioritise practicality and stunt work over the CGI overkill which tends to encompass many so-called contemporary blockbusters. I mean really, who can beat a high-speed car and foot chase played out to the backdrop of Hocus Pocus by Focus? Whilst the ending set piece does seem a little too far-fetched and overlong, one which makes the final shootout of Hot Fuzz look like the lowest key fight scene ever, Wright has managed to bag himself another cinematic success, using his love of cinema and sound to create a film which will no doubt be as big a hit with audiences as it has been with critics, a rare combination to say the least.

Overall Score: 8/10

Film Review: Hampstead

“Everyone Wants Me To Change And Now You Too…”

Aided by a successful long-term collaboration with Woody Allen and a recurring starring role within Coppola’s Godfather trilogy, Diane Keaton remains one of the most iconic actresses to cross the barrier between the 20th and 21st century, and whilst the spotlight hasn’t entirely shone on the Californian star within recent years, Hampstead offers the opportunity for Keaton to show whether or not she still has the acting pedigree she once had when working back in the day alongside a rafter of incredibly talented and inspirational filmmakers. In the opposite chair, the contemporary icon of Ireland which is Brendan Gleeson graces the big screen once again with perhaps the most impressive beard he has grown to date, portraying a character within a narrative which bases itself upon the life of Harry Hallowes, a rough sleeping Londoner who after a rafter of legal battles managed to become the owner of land worth a breezy couple of million. Directed by Joel Hopkins, Hampstead is a remarkably safe, nuts and bolts romantic drama, one which although brought me within an inch of falling into a sleep induced coma, when up against the likes of Transformers this week, is really quite harmless.

Whilst Keaton is a shadow of her former acting self, taking a plain sailing approach to a character who chops and changes her decision making whenever the narrative direction tells her to do so, Gleeson is as charming and watchable as ever, using his gruff, edgy demeanour to some form of effect, even if the character development doesn’t really offer him or the audience up much more than an on-the-face-of-it kind of approach. Aside from the film’s two leading stars, Hampstead suffers rather woefully from an excruciating array of secondary characters, with Jason Watkins and Lesley Manville being the leading lights of utter tedium, with the former’s eerie, pestering nature being a complete hindrance on any sort of likeability whilst the latter suffering from what can only be regarded as being the type of toffee-nosed, greenhouse loving, cat hating, right-wing bastard which I tend to completely disagree with from the outset. Aside from such matters, Hampstead is similar to the likes of the Moody Blues or say the last remaining rich tea in the biscuit tin, with it not really causing much damage at all but not likely to spring to the forefront of many people’s minds at any time soon.

Overall Score: 4/10

Film Review: Transformers: The Last Knight

“The Imminent Destruction Of All We Know And Love, Begins Now…”

Whilst overly long blockbuster movies are indeed not exactly anything original, it does take the patience of a saint to be able to sit through and enjoy most of Michael Bay’s most recent cinematic exploits, and whilst The Rock and Bad Boys prove that sometimes Bay does manage to create something which although is undeniably stupid, is too a whole bunch of fun, his annoyingly pompous stamp on the Transformers series proves without a doubt that fame and fortune is the only thing on the mind of its’ creators, particularly when the series just doesn’t seem to be slowing down in terms of worldwide and domestic gross. Clocking in at a staggering 149 minutes however, a runtime which is actually generously measured when put up against previous Transformers entries, The Last Knight is stated by both Bay and leading star Mark Wahlberg to be the final entry into the CGI-fuelled, overlong, action franchise and with that in mind, there is a sense of joy heading into the cinema knowing that this may indeed be the last time to witness Bay’s live action interpretation of Hasbro’s famous plastic toy range. Unfortunately, yet rather inevitably, The Last Knight is not exactly a movie which can classed as anything remotely joyful, with Bay successfully managing to create the most insipid, boring and woeful excuse for a blockbuster in years. Wait a second while I just clear my tinnitus.

Although narrative and plot are never usually at the forefront of most Transformers movies, The Last Knight actually revels in the fact that there simply isn’t a story to be told. Whilst something about King Arthur, Merlin and some ancient, historic sword attempts to linchpin the movie together, Bay’s latest makes Batman v. Superman look like a picture-book example of coherent A to B storytelling, with the movie too often more interested in endless explosions and placid CGI to really offer anything for the audience to really sink their emotional teeth into. Aside from a woeful narrative, epileptic editing and a cash-hungry supporting cast including the likes of Sir Anthony Hopkins, The Last Knight suffers from two inexcusable elements which simply make the film a painful exercise of patience. Firstly, the length. Not many films earn the right to be 150 minutes plus and whilst The Last Knight may be one of the shorter Transformers offerings, my sweet lord do you feel every single second of its’ sheer awfulness, with each passing minute ripping your soul apart as you slowly lose hope in the future of cinema as we know it. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the 12A rating slapped onto the movie encourages kids to go and see it, albeit with their parents, and whilst the action and spectacle may keep many wildly entertained, the constant use of unnecessary expletives and ripe sexual references make this supposed “kids” movie a poison chalice of misjudgement, and a movie which although may succeed in taking shed loads of money, will surely not satisfy even the most hardcore of Transformers fans. An explosive mess of a movie, The Last Knight is worthy of complete avoidance. Don’t take the risk.

Overall Score: 2/10

TV Review: Doctor Who Series 10 Episode Eleven – “World Enough and Time”

“Just Promise Me One Thing. Just Promise You Won’t Get Me Killed…”

One of the most obvious and thrilling elements of this week’s episode of Doctor Who was the surreal and reckless sense of abandon which show-runner Steven Moffat clearly has come to terms with, with the talented, and sometimes controversial, scribe clearly at a stage in which he sure well knows his time, much like Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor, is coming to an explosive climax, and with “World Enough and Time”, Moffat has successfully created a finale first act which ticks all the boxes in regards to what I personally look for in all the classic Doctor Who stories. Suspense. Threat. Horror. Three key elements that usually end up in creating some damn fine science fiction, and whilst the rather annoying pre-release press storms have felt it necessary to show off a rafter of key details and spoilers before the episode even aired, “World Enough and Time” is still undeniably and far and away the best episode of Series 10 so far, and with twists and shifts which set the battleground for next week’s explosive finale, it too has the potential to become the definitive Moffat/Capaldi exploration of the famous Time Lord.

Within the episode’s many successes, the return of the Mondasian Cybermen is an absolute stroke of genius. Whilst the 21st century incarnations of the famous Who foe have never really managed to get the characterisation and fear factor bang on, the utterly insidious look of the classic era baddies results in “World Enough and Time” genuinely being one of the most terrifying episodes of Doctor Who in years, with the body-horror type sets in which they are painfully hooked up to an unknown liquid harking back to not only the gas-mask people in “The Doctor Dances” but looking too like something out of a classic horror movie convention. The threatening nature of the Mondasian Cybermen aside, the inevitable links between the fate of the First Doctor within “The Tenth Planet”, an episode which featured the very first appearance of the Cybermen on Mondas, and Capaldi’s current incarnation are inevitable, particularly when regeneration energy is so clearly seen to be seeping out of our beloved hero. Overall, “World Enough and Time” is an excellent episode of Doctor Who, and whilst the episode would have been better served to be left to its’ own devices in terms of unravelling its’ secrets itself, grab the popcorn and get ready for a concluding piece next week which so clearly needs to keep to the standards set so far. Oh, and John Simm though.

Overall Score: 9/10

Film Review: Churchill

“I Am Choosing Between Trials and Tribulations. Do Stop Adding To Them…”

Sandwiched rather effectively between the likes of Their Finest and Christopher Nolan’s upcoming blockbuster, Dunkirk, Brian Cox takes on the challenge of portraying the iconic image of Winston Churchill this week in yet another 2017 release which focuses on a particular element and point of view regarding the historical and wholly barbaric events of the Second World War. Directed by Australian filmmaker Jonathan Teplitzky, perhaps best known for his work on the Colin Firth starring 2013 war drama, The Railway Man, Churchill attempts to bring to life the infamous story of the United Kingdom’s “greatest Briton”, a title unashamedly handed out upon the film’s pre-release trailer, and with the astute reputation of an actor such as Brian Cox in the leading role, stakes couldn’t be set higher for a cinematic interpretation of one of the most instantly recognisable faces of recent history. Whilst Churchill does feature some stellar acting form many of its leading stars, Teplitzky’s movie is unfortunately let down by a shallow and wholly uninteresting narrative, one which believes shouting and screaming is the best way to evoke a sense of drama, whilst the cinematic scale of such a film is so minimal, it really questions whether such a character exercise belongs on the big screen in the first place.

Taking place in 1944, on the eve of the infamous D-Day operations, Churchill unsurprisingly places Brian Cox’s titular conflicted Prime Minister at the heart of every single scene throughout the course of the movie, and whilst Cox seemingly manages to hit the nail on the head in terms of famous Churchill mannerisms, the dialogue and script too often let him down, with Teplitzky choosing to allow every line to be bellowed and screamed, akin to some awful teenage sitcom which just happens to be focused primarily during wartime. Subsequently, the decision to set most of proceedings within the confines of smokey, alcohol ridden low-key environments results in wondering why on earth Churchill belongs in the cinema in the first place, with it most likely to find success upon the medium of television not only due to its’ low-budge sensibility, but because on the face of it, there are a wide range of TV programmes that offer more reasons to be cinematic than that of Churchill. Although a sliding plot at the heart of it threatens to ruin the film entirely, Brian Cox does manage to pull you in and keep you entertained despite moments of utter silliness in terms of dialogue delivery, and whilst many will find a lack of action incredibly dull, ironically Churchill was a film at least I was never bored whilst watching, it just quite baffled me at times.

Overall Score: 5/10

TV Review: Doctor Who Series 10 Episode Ten – “The Eaters of Light”

“Time To Grow Up. Time To Fight Your Fight…”

Whilst the notion of centurions within Doctor Who automatically resorts to times gone by within the era of Matt Smith, this weeks’ episode featured a budding mystery regarding the fate of the Ninth Legion of the Imperial Roman Army amidst a narrative which featured too a time-splitting leading alien entity and an incredibly talkative creepy crow. Isn’t science fiction great? Penned by Rona Munro, a writer already well-versed in the ways of all things Time Lord, with her previous works including the Sylvester McCoy led episode “Survival”, the final Classic Who story to air on the BBC until its’ return all the way back in 2005, “The Eaters of Light” is a passably fun tale of adventure, one which comes across as a surreal amalgamation between the BBC-ran adventure series Raven and the portal-weaving adventures within Stargate, but too a tale which feels ever so slightly underwhelming at times to really be considered anything other than just a precursor to much more interesting developments which are set to unravel within next weeks penultimate episode, adding to a year of stories which have been solid enough, but lack in a certain amount of wonder in comparison to the critical acclaim of Series Nine.

With events taking place in the homeland of Capaldi, it comes as no surprise that the inclusion of an abundance of fellow Scots results in an array of Scottish-targeted quips. most of which are expertly managed by the straightforward tone of Capaldi’s take on the travelling Time Lord, and whilst the underlying true-to-life mystery at the heart of the story laid down a possible interesting narrative, “The Eaters of Light” is ironically the most straight-forward tale of good vs. evil so far this series. Aided by an array of slightly dull secondary characters, Munro’s script does ultimately come across as slightly pre-21st century Doctor Who at times, with the cliched plot one in which I struggled to really engage with and whilst the design of the titular monsters is interesting enough, the threat in which they pose is minimal to say the least. Throw into the mix some shady and rather cringe-laden CGI, “The Eaters of Light” is not means a terrible episode, it just lacks the invention and spark of many which have preceded it.

Overall Score: 5/10

Film Review: Gifted

“He’s A Good Person. He Wanted Me Before I Was Smart…”

Aside from making moves in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Captain America, Chris Evans is very seldom seen in other visual ventures between the criss-crossing of fighting Tony Stark and aiding the woes of Bucky Barnes, and whilst this week’s release of Gifted is a far stretch away from CGI-fuelled mayhem and size-bending superheroes, the charismatic manner of the Hollywood star is indeed a welcome sight in a drama which allows Evans to convey his acting abilities and prove that muscle mass and tight rubber pants are not the only thing he feels comfortable doing. Directed by Marc Webb, a director renowned for the indie sensation which was (500) Days of Summer but probably best known in the geek world for the very good The Amazing Spider-Man and the not so good 2014 sequel, Gifted is a charmingly grounded family drama, one which includes a zippy and snappy narrative rife with effective comedic dialogue and tropes, and too a film which although could be classed as a good example of emotive manipulation, offers good enough reasons to bypass the saccharin sweetness at times and just enjoy the ride whilst it lasts. As the great Roger Ebert stated, “Some people like to be emotionally manipulated. I do, when it’s done well”.

Focusing on the one-two uncle and niece duo of Frank (Chris Evans) and Mary Adler (Mckenna Grace), Gifted begins primarily by setting the scene of the drama which is set to unfold, with seven year old Mary attending school for the first time and becoming increasingly noted for her outstanding mathematical abilities and street-wise nature which extends way past each and all of her similarly aged peers. At the heart of the narrative too is both the kind-hearted and softly spoken first-grade teacher Bonnie (Jenny Slate) and the Cruella de Vil-esque character of the piece, Evelyn Adler (Lindsay Duncan) who interrupts the peace and tranquillity of Frank’s quest for a normal life in order to fulfil her own petulant and wholly selfish commemorative wishes, using Mary as a pawn in a proceeding tale of family breakups and legal scaremongering, all in a quest for Evelyn’s view of the greater good. Whilst both Mckenna and Evans give both incredibly charming performances, using the great chemistry between them effectively within an array of heartwarming comedic scenes which focus on the innocence of youth and the hardship of fatherhood, Gifted does suffer from a rather overly ripe shiny-happy-people ending and the inclusion of Duncan’s steely-eyed antagonist does come across as slightly too boo-hiss at times to feel a natural fit for the overall feel of the movie. Webb knows how to do the mis-fit, slightly kooky comedy drama well, and whilst Gifted isn’t as flashy as (500) Days of Summer, it sure worked for the most part in which I was emotionally invested with its’ loving, leading characters.

Overall Score: 7/10

Film Review: My Cousin Rachel

“Whatever It Cost My Cousin In Pain And Suffering Before He Died I Will Return With Full Measure…”

Although unaware of her particular line of writing beforehand, the release of My Cousin Rachel has not only expanded my understanding of English author Daphne du Maurier but more interestingly has highlighted the importance of her writing, particularly in regards to its’ impact on cinema, with the likes of full-on classics such as Don’t Look Now, Rebecca and The Birds all being based upon du Maurier’s talented scripture. Following in the footsteps of Nicolas Roeg and Alfred Hitchcock, arguably one of the most daunting double acts to take the mantle from, director Roger Michell brings to life du Maurier’s writings once more with My Cousin Rachel, a direct adaptation of the 1951 novel and a remake of the 1952 original movie which starred Olivia de Havilland and Richard Burton in the two leading roles, leading roles that this time are handed to Oscar winner Rachel Weisz and Their Finest star, Sam Claflin. With the infamy and reputation of previous successes of du Maurier’s works in the background, My Cousin Rachel understandably is nowhere near the calibre of anything from Hitchcock or Roeg, but with a stand out performance from Weisz and some gorgeous costume and set design, Michell’s movie is a solid enough attempt to transpose the ambiguous and paranoid writing of du Maurier onto the big screen.

Whilst the film’s narrative effectively reeks of uncanny uncertainty, the movie is undoubtedly bolstered by the magnetic presence of Rachel Weisz in the titular leading role, giving a superbly maligned performance which edges on the side of both troubled innocent and femme fetale depending on where exactly you believe the underlying plot is being directed by the careful hand of Roger Michell. Whilst Weisz is the undeniable guiding light of the movie, the same unfortunately cannot be said for the likes of Sam Claflin as Phillip, the incredibly annoying and wholly idiotic man-child who immaturely decides to deconstruct his entire life slowly but surely over the course of the film’s two hour runtime all-the-while the audience responds not with an inch of sorrow or remorse but instead wondering how on earth such a devious tit managed to achieve such wealth to begin with. Whether it be petulantly screaming and barking orders at his much more humane serving staff or wondering whether he is at the epicentre of a epic murderous scandal, Claflin has successfully gone and created arguably the most annoying leading character of the year so far, and when put up against the strong centrality of Weisz’s character, Claflin’s Phillip ultimately is a complete fail. Whilst the film’s key mystery is arguably too anti-climactic and the plot sometimes downgrading into lulls of utter dreariness, My Cousin Rachel passed the time nicely in a way which will see it on the BBC Two afternoon schedule sometime in your near future.

Overall Score: 6/10

TV Review: Doctor Who Series 10 Episode Nine – “The Empress of Mars”

“That’s Not Just Any Tomb. This Is The Tomb Of The Ice Queen…”

Ah, the Ice Warriors. Those awfully designed, avocado shaped, freezer magnets. Whilst many contemporary Who fans would have been made aware of their existence in the slightly better than average, Matt Smith-led “Cold War” back in Series Seven, their history through the Whoniverse begins all the way back within Patrick Troughton’s stint in the late 1960’s, with their second appearance within “The Seeds of Death” arguably being the biggest fan-favourite episode in which they are the primary antagonist of the piece. Returning this week and facing battle with Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor in “The Empress of Mars”, the Ice Warriors are moulded into submission by constant Moffat companion Mark Gatiss who returns as a guest scriptwriter, following on from Series 9’s fan dividing episode “Sleep No More” and whilst many are aware of Gatiss’s love for all things Doctor Who, the multi-talented sci-fi geek is behind a script which although is pleasing in many aspects, also suffers from a slight feel of anti-climax, particularly in regards to the trio of episodes most recently, and whilst Gatiss’s work on Doctor Who has never really been consistently excellent, “The Empress of Mars” is arguably the weakest episode of the series so far, if remaining to the motif of a more “classic Who” feel which has been more than rife throughout this year’s series.

Whilst Matt Lucas’s Nardole is once again cast out as side-companion, appearing only at the beginning and end of the story, Pearl Mackie is once again a real treat to be seen at Capaldi’s side, offering quick, infectious quips when necessary and holding a sense of ingrained humanity when comparing her outrageous situation to the likes of famous science fiction movies. At the heart of the narrative, the titular female leader of the Ice Warriors can only be regarded as somewhat of a major letdown, one whose one-dimensional characterisation lacks a complete sense of threat even when shooting funky lazer beams at endless cannon fodder who are transformed into anatomy defying squares of death. Whilst the endgame of the story is simple enough for even the youngest of minds, Gatiss does make up for a mediocre script with a concluding scene which links in the previous appearances of the Ice Warriors in the best fan-pleasing way possible when as soon as the high-pitched voice of Alpha Centauri was heard, my heart was won completely over and my mind was thrown back to the Pertwee years, a winning formula whenever when considering Pertwee remains my favourite Doctor to this very day. This week’s episode was good enough but still remains the weakest of the series so far. Maybe next time Gatiss.

Overall Score: 6/10

Film Review: The Mummy

“Welcome To A New World Of Gods And Monsters…”

Adding a new layer to the ongoing genre of Universal Horror, a cinematic legacy which began all the way back in the 1920’s. the newest blockbuster franchise comes in the form of the so-called “Dark Universe”, a directed step into another legion of remakes and re-imaginings which begins this week with The Mummy and is set to continue into the future with fresh interpretations of classic monster movies which are reported to include the likes of Van Helsing, Frankenstein’s Monster and of course, Dracula. Taking the time away from beating the heck out of people in Jack Reacher and flying super speedy jet planes in the upcoming Top Gun sequel, Tom Cruise leads the way as the flagship star of the franchise’s beginnings in the latest incarnation of The Mummy, a well-known and well-versed adventure tale, with arguably the most popular representation being the Stephen Sommers led take in 1999 which featured a clean shaven Brendan Fraser and a pre-Daniel Craig infused Rachel Weisz. With Alex Kurtzman on directorial duty, a filmmaker with a background in the likes of movies such as Star Trek, Star Trek Into Darkness and Mission: Impossible III, the latest incarnation of The Mummy is unfortunately a generic, overblown snooze-fest, ultimately resulting in a movie which begins the Dark Universe franchise in a rather mediocre manner to say the least.

With a narrative which is more than familiar in terms of the overall set-up of the titular bandaged antagonist, The Mummy suffers too from a wild scope in tonal bipolar, changing from B-Movie horror to cringe-inducing comedy in between an array of soulless set pieces which either consist of endless CGI hollowness or people wildly screaming whilst being shot at with both never actually managing to induce a sense of threat into the proceedings. At the heart of the action, the duo star power of both Tom Cruise and Russel Crowe never really have anything juicy to work with either, and although Crowe’s character reveal was quite charming in a in-joke, canon kind of way, Cruise’s overly cocky and quite annoying leading character is at its’ best a poor depiction of Brendan Fraser. Similarly, although Boutella has all the hallmarks of a beautifully seductive Egyptian princess, her campy leading villain is ultimately a dead rubber alongside a long list of supporting characters who are either there for cannon fodder or for cranking the creaky narrative into place. The Mummy isn’t exactly terrible, it just reeks of laziness, and for a movie which is meant to propel a new franchise into some sort of success, Kurtzman’s movie doesn’t do the job effectively enough to wonder where it ultimately goes next.

Overall Score: 5/10