“There’s Been Whispers Of A Thief. He’s Got Our Commoner’s Looking Up, Seeing Hope…”
With the unintentional hilarity which ensued during last year’s dire attempt to recreate one British legend in the form of Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, in which a cameo from David Beckham was one of the better aspects of the movie, Hollywood’s obsession with re-hashing well versed tales of adventure and heroism continues with yet another adaptation of Robin Hood, succeeding Ridley Scott’s mediocre 2010 version as the most contemporary telling and one which utilises the talents of Taron Egerton (Kingsman: The Golden Circle) in the titular role. Directed by Otto Bathurst, a British filmmaker famous so far for his acclaimed work on the likes of Black Mirror and Peaky Blinders, and based on a debut script from Ben Chandler and David James Kelly, Robin Hood circa 2018 somehow manages to leapfrog in front of Guy Ritchie’s work of nonsensical silliness with relative ease in terms of cinematic woefulness, channelling an off-kilter tonal mix between Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins and Monty Python and the Holy Grail as it attempts to redefine the age-old tale with a strange stylistic decision which seems to cater particularly for audiences who are simply after a slice of mindless fun. Unfortunately for Bathurst and co, Robin Hood isn’t a movie which can be branded with such positivity, bordering instead more on the edge of being totally irredeemable as it slogs its’ way through a two hour incoherent mess featuring awfully slim characters, a laughably bad script and feeling that once again a supposed future cinematic franchise dies spectacularly with its’ first attempt. Whoops.
Opening with a cockney-geezer voice-over which instructs its’ awaiting audience to forget everything they know about the tale of Robin of Loxley and be amazed at a fresh new take of the historic legend, hilariously, such a statement is ultimately completely contradicted almost immediately thanks to one of the most lazily constructed and cliched scripts not only this year but in living memory. Introducing our central hero as a toffee-nosed, obnoxious ruling class beefcake who quickly chooses to swap allegiances after four years of war, Egerton is charming to an extent but ultimately feels wickedly miscast as he is simply directed to portray a hooded version of his character from Kingsman, awful accent and all, and therefore loses all sense of belief in a performance which at times crossed into the realm of on-screen pantomime. Joining him on this list of miscastings, Jamie Foxx’s (Baby Driver) role as a dodgily accented prisoner of war turned teacher is the American’s worst on-screen appearance in recent history, whilst joining in on the pantomime sensibility of the film is surprisingly Ben Mendelsohn (Rogue One), an actor who aside from slowly being typecast as the turn-to Hollywood sneering villain, pulls off the most OTT and overly camp lead villain performance since Eddie Redmayne in Jupiter Ascending. With woefully directed action set pieces which include a jaw-droppingly misjudged opening scene set in a Iraqi inspired third-world war zone, automatic crossbows and all, and a penchant for utilising the “art” of slow-motion to paint over the pants choreography which seems directly inspired from similar tactics used in King Arthur, the latest version of Robin Hood isn’t just bad, it’s a lazy, pointless and amateurish so-called “blockbuster” which makes Guy Ritchie look like the reincarnation of Stanley Kubrick. Avoid like a CGI arrow to the chest.
Overall Score: 3/10
“This Isn’t Just A Game. I’m Talking About Actual Life And Death Stuff…”
With The Post earlier this year garnering a wide flurry of Oscar nominations and a critical consensus which boarded on the side of rousing positivity, a return to form for director Steven Spielberg after the yawn-inducing mediocrity of The BFG was welcomed with open arms, and with only three months since its’ release here in the UK, Spielberg returns once again to the movie-fold with Ready Player One, a cinematic adaptation of Ernest Cline’s 2011 science fiction adventure novel of the same name. Projected in 3D for its’ preview screening release, Spielberg’s latest primarily focuses on Tye Sheridan’s (X-Men: Apocalypse) Wade Watts, a slum-stricken teen who uses the environment of the OASIS, a virtual reality gaming platform created by Mark Rylance’s (Dunkirk) recently deceased James Halliday, to both escape his daily slumber and more importantly, to join many others in the hunt for three “Easter Eggs” left within the game by Halliday before his death which give the finder both riches beyond belief and the key to control of the entire OASIS itself. With pop culture references galore and an upbeat, heroic sensibility, Spielberg’s latest undeniably should work in the hands of a filmmaker renowned for popcorn delights, but with a brain scorching over-reliance on digital effects and a screenplay both absent of emotion and effective engagement, Ready Player One doesn’t work as a whole and is merely saved by individual elements which make it passable rather than thoroughly entertaining.
With an obvious social commentary regarding the nature and impact of modern technology, Spielberg’s movie mixes the subversive ideas within Cronenberg’s Existenz and Videodrome with a obvious love for the science fiction genre in its’ eye-watering levels of on-screen references, levels which makes The Cabin in the Woods look like a passing fling with its’ respective horror genre, but too a staggering amount which by the half-way point does become overly tacky and cheap. With an entire segment dedicated to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, the set-piece is a real bottle spinner in regards to how one might respond, with my own personal obsession with Kubrick’s masterpiece resulting in a subverted distaste to seeing our on-screen heroes quickly pop through the Overlook Hotel, music cues and all, and instead making me think how I would rather be watching The Shining instead. With Ready Player One a movie which Spielberg himself has coined as the most difficult movie he’s worked on since Saving Private Ryan due to the staggering levels of visual effects, the CGI battle scenes really aren’t worth the time, particularly in a final act which boarders on George Lucas style dullness and a complete lack of character engagement when at least eighty percent of the film is spent inside the OASIS itself with digitally designed “avatars”. With Ben Mendelsohn once again resigned to Rogue One style typecasting as the film’s one-note central antagonist and a ear-scraping level of exposition heavy dialogue, Ready Player One certainly has more negative aspects than positive, and for a director who time and time again has proven that giant gargantuan science fiction spectacle is part and parcel of his day job, Spielberg’s latest annoyingly doesn’t hit the heavy heights we are all very much used to.
Overall Score: 4/10
“You Cannot Reason With A Tiger When Your Head Is In Its’ Mouth…”
Proclaimed by many as history’s greatest Briton, the enigmatic presence of Winston Churchill has been the focus of much filmic and televisual escapades ever since the conclusion of the Second World War, and whilst there has been a continued succession of recent releases over the past few years or so detailing similar events, Joe Wright’s (Atonement) latest, Darkest Hour, is a much welcome, audience pleasing history lesson which details the rise of Churchill’s ascent into the role of Prime Minister during the early years of the Second World War. Propelled by a staggeringly dramatic and joyously brilliant career defining performance by Gary Oldman (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), Wright’s movie covers similar ground obtainable in the likes of Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk in it’s detailing of Operation Dynamo, Lone Scherfig’s Their Finest in regards to the period detail of war-torn Britain, and of course, Jonathan Teplitzky’s own depiction of the great man in last year’s Churchill in which Brian Cox’s (Manhunter) own portrayal was similarly well received, and whilst the overall picture doesn’t succeed in attempting to offer something new to the already overcrowded war drama genre, Wright’s direction and management of Oldman’s performance results in undoubtedly the definitive portrayal of Britain’s most iconic and favoured wartime leader.
Filled with wit, solid dramatic timing and an uncanny usage of famous characteristics and mannerisms, Oldman’s performance is one of immense proportions, an awards touting tour de force which of course utilises to full extent a generous helping of makeup and costume design, but crucially one which doesn’t come across as something of a caricature in its’ depiction of the more obvious Churchill behavioural patterns. Managing to fit in everything from the mumbling, slobber fuelled and sometimes completely incomprehensible dialogue to the constant yet important prop of the infamous cigar, to which Oldman’s own admission caused a touch of nicotine poisoning, the performance is the reason many will flock to the cinema to see the movie, and whilst Oldman’s transformation is remarkable, the change isn’t so dramatic that the actor inside is weighed down too much for his original talents to be indistinguishable. Concluding in a similar manner to Dunkirk with the show stopping “We shall fight on the beaches” speech, this time presented within the grandiose halls of the House of Commons, Darkest Hour is the sort of Oscar bait drama which although seems primarily to be a showcase for the brilliance of its’ leading actor, still manages to be a well played and thoroughly enjoyable piece of cinema, and with Bruno Delbonnel’s (Inside Llewyn Davis) smokey cinematography and a well measured orchestral soundtrack to move it along, Wright’s latest is the kind of awards pushover that’s not trying too hard to make you enjoy your stay and for that alone, Darkest Hour is a solid thumbs up.
Overall Score: 7/10
“We Have Hope. Rebellions Are Built On Hope…”
In a year in which summer blockbusters have been somewhat below par, and that’s putting it nicely, we close 2016 with another venture into the galaxy far, far away, with Rogue One attempting to bridge the gap between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope with a merry mix of old and new characters and a storyline which delves into the theft of the infamous death star plans, the red herring-esque of a plot device which paved way for the entire Star Wars universe. With Gareth Edwards on directorial duty, the man behind Monsters and the rather awesome recent reinterpretation of Godzilla, Rogue One is a much darker and melancholic tale than perhaps we have seen previously in the Star Wars canon but one which also contains the adventurous thrill ride we have come to expect, culminating in a final act which ranks up there with the best visual experiences not only in the Star Wars universe but in the variety of blockbusters within the modern era of cinema.
Although narratively Rogue One begins in a striking sense of anti-climax in comparison to other Star Wars movies, we are swiftly introduced to Jyn Erso, a disconnected wanderer who is captured by the rebellion in order to help seek out her father Galen (Mads Mikkelsen) who is at the heart of a mysterious weapon development for the pre-A New Hope Galactic Empire, ruled over by the key figures of Ben Mendelsohn’s Director Krennic, a digital reincarnation of Peter Cushing’s Tarkin and of course, the menacing Sith Lord, Darth Vader, whose appearances are brief but terrifyingly effective. When Rogue One eventually kicks into gear around the half hour mark, the sense of joy many fans get from re-watching the classic original adventures fuels the journey into a truly classic tale of outlandish planets, wildly inventive alien beings and enough canon nods to leave fans beaming with joy. With Felicity Jones embracing the lead role of Jyn as a mix of Lara Croft and Princess Leia herself, she inevitably has the meatiest role of the movie alongside undeveloped performances from the likes of Mikkelsen, Whitaker and Diego Luna but the real magic of the movie is in its’ fan appreciation, answering questions the canon has had for decades and proving the Star Wars universe is an endless pit of cinematic possibilities, particularly when they are as successful as Rogue One.
Overall Score: 8/10
Into The Wild
I recently took up the chance to add to my ever-increasing film knowledge and finally, after years of them being on my “to be watched later” list, sitting down and indulging in “The Man With No Name” Trilogy, the classic Western trio of movies including The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, featuring Mr Macho himself, Clint Eastwood. Although my knowledge of “Spaghetti Western’s” in general is pretty limited to say the least, Sergio Leone’s magnum opus’s were pretty darn good and has led me to search out and broaden my horizons when it comes to this particular genre. How fate has intervened therefore with the release of Slow West this week, a action Western thriller featuring the brilliant Micheal Fassbender (Prometheus, Shame), Kodi Smit-McPhee (Let Me In) and Ben Mendelsohn (The Place Beyond the Pines) whilst being directed by first-timer John Maclean. With the limited amount of Westerns that are released in the current cinematic environment, Slow West had the opportunity to shine and bring fresh life into my newly-found genre of movies but with Clint Eastwood thoroughly in the back of my mind throughout, it had an uphill challenge from the start.
The premise of Slow West is one that is very reminiscent of the Coen Brother’s True Grit (and obviously the original, of which, I haven’t seen) whereby the hunt for the wanted is the main direction of the character’s goals with McPhee’s Jay and Fassbender’s Silas essentially being carbon copies of Mattie Ross and Rooster Cogburn respectively, if for a little gender change on one part. In the case of Slow West however, the hunt for the wanted is due to the absence of love in contrast to the absence of cash with Jay searching the West for his long-lost love whilst Silas constantly being at his side acting as his protector and guide. Although the film contains strong levels of action and violence throughout, it was the underlying sense of black comedic value that made it hold its’ ground so astutely, with it being very reminiscent of Joel and Ethan Coen as well as Wes Anderson, particularly in moments that could arguably be classed as entering the ground of “zany”.
The film’s bright demeanor throughout contrasted the fundamental dark tones of the movie in which murder, betrayal and violence are particularly rife, only adding credence to the notion of the films’ aim in making light of such matters by mixing in a strong comedic undertone which, for the most part, was its’ strongest moments. Fassbender is ace once again in a leading role whilst young McPhee produces a strong performance as the heartbroken teen lost in the wild. Aside from a rather predictable ending and falling on rather similar territory in terms of the Western genre, Slow West was an enjoyable addition into the Western catalogue of movies, propped up by the strong element of dark humour that was prevalent throughout.