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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: 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

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

Film Review: Snatched

“What I Need Is An Amazing Adventure…”

In a world where American comedy is usually as effective as a chocolate teapot, Amy Schumer undeniably is up there with the worst that particular side of the continent has delivered over the course of the past few years, with her venture onto the big screen with releases such as Trainwreck burdening millions with her screechy Americanised tones and hysterically dull sensibility which really doesn’t compute with my idea of an effective comedic personality, particularly in a day and age in which memorable comedies are quite hard to find. Co-starring this week in Snatched with Hollywood legend Goldie Hawn, mother of Kate Hudson and partner to the awesomely cool Kurt Russell, Schumer once again proves that her particular brand of comedy just doesn’t work within the cinematic atmosphere, resulting in a performance which ultimately solidifies the notion of her inability to create laughs through a tired and cliche-ridden narrative which attempts to turn the vulgarity up to eleven in order to distract the audience from the utter boredom which encompasses the events on-screen. Goldie Hawn, what on Earth are you doing in this movie? I guess a gas bill must be due sometime soon. Ker-ching indeed.

After being dumped by her rock and roll boyfriend, Schumer’s unbelievably annoying leading character decides to make the most of her pre-planned trip to South America by inviting her feline-loving mother (Goldie Hawn) with a penchant for over-protection and questionable sculpturing techniques. Cue loud and completely unnecessary scenes of alcoholism, party music and nudity, Snatched is the type of 21st century so-called “comedy” which adds to the argument that the good times have most definitely come and gone in regards to its’ respective genre. Whilst Hawn seems to be there only for the sake of financial inducement, the film really doesn’t paint a sympathetic picture of its’ leading character, resulting in a warped sensibility which desires her captors to actually go through with their sickening plan and dispose of their prisoners as swiftly as possible. If this was indeed the case, the audience would have been spared from a 90 minute bore-fest whose only redeemable character is the poor U.S state department official who gets forced to help save their lives. Maybe next time mate, just forget the rescue and leave them to it.

Overall Score: 3/10

Catch-Up Film Review: Fifty Shades Darker

“No Rules, No Punishments And No More Secrets…”

As proven by the release of Park Chan-Wook’s marvellous mystery thriller The Handmaiden and the return of Paul Verhoeven with Elle, the genre of erotica within contemporary cinema is still well and truly kicking, with each of these respective releases using elements of romance and explicit sexual imagery to a degree which is both interesting and original but more importantly used to a degree which makes sense within the overall narrative of the movie. In the case of the first Fifty Shades movie only two years previous, the fundamental issue was that not only the script unbelievably cliched and cringey, it was also so agonisingly dull, with the infamous tales of sexual naughtiness which was rife within the E. L. James novels not exactly transposing onto the big screen and coming off as something worth the time. Inevitably, with the ridiculous amount of money in which Fifty Shades of Grey managed to take, a sequel was never in doubt, but with a director as noteworthy as Glengarry Glen Ross director James Foley in charge, could Fifty Shades Darker be a sequel which surpasses its’ awfully defunct predecessor?

In a sentence; not really, with Fifty Shades Darker annoyingly continuing the utter dullness and dreariness which encompassed the original, whilst its’ snigger-inducing narrative and awful dialogue proves to its’ respective audiences that nothing at all was learnt from the criticism of first film except for going along with the notion that the cheap, uninteresting sex scenes are obviously only there as the true appeal of a movie which attempts to hammer in some sort of story around it in order for it to be considered something resembling a film. As for the movie’s other issues, the drama within the story is entirely anti-climactic, the romance is wooden and ridiculously unbelievable and with a supporting cast which includes Rita Ora and a cheque-swiping Kim Basinger, Fifty Shades Darker really doesn’t have much going for it except for arguably a much better leading performance from Jamie Dornan whose portrayal of the highly intense and weirdly paranoid billionaire playboy is at least not entirely woeful in the grander scheme of things. With one more Shades film in the pipeline, the time can not come soon enough to end the raspberry jam of erotica once and for all.

Overall Score: 3/10

Film Review: The Promise

“Our Revenge Will Be To Survive…”

Whilst I can admit to not always being a fan of outside arguments and discussions regarding the arrival of a new cinematic release, due simply to the fact that after all is said and done, a film is only a film, the controversy revolving around Terry George’s The Promise is one which has been an undeniable eye-catcher ever since its’ first release way back last year when the ever-popular IMDB rating system was apparently being hacked and improperly used by those accused of awarding the film a measly one star out of ten in a subversive tactic which was regarded as a orchestrated campaign to derail the release of the movie by Armenian genocide deniers. Tough stuff I know, and whilst this may or may not be the case, it did seem strange that a film in which had only been watched by a minuscule amount of audiences at pre-release screenings within festivals seemed to have such a negative reception with over 50,000 one-star ratings being awarded to the film before its’ intended wide-spread release date. As for the film itself, The Promise is unfortunately nowhere near as interesting as the events preceding its’ release, tackling a harrowing and shocking subject matter and lacing it with sub-par levels of drama and a leading love triangle which verges on the edge of cringe, resulting in a picture which potentially could have had the same impact of a movie such as Son of Saul but with trying narrative twists and awful set design, ends up being a complete and utter bore.

Of the many problems with the movie, the film’s choice to focus primarily on the leading trio of the dodgy accented Isaac, the walking contradiction of Le Bon and the always awesome, Christian Bale, is a fundamental movie killer with neither of the characters really having enough development or admirable traits to which an average movie audience can relate with in order to find them interesting. Putting all of their chips on the figure of Oscar Isaac’s Mikael, a character who not only decides against marrying his future betrothed in favour of a love affair with the wife of a respected journalist but essentially destroys the life of both said wife and said journalist respectively with his ignorant involvement in getting between them, the audiences involvement never really gets going and the sickening sights of forced drama when the saccharin sweetness of the romance pauses in favour of seemingly out-of-place violence is really quite aggravating to behold. From my point of view, you simply cannot comprehend a 12A rated movie based upon genocide and then fill it with a soppy love story and expect the audience to get on-board with it, and whilst this is exactly the decision those behind the creation of The Promise have got behind, I cannot shy away from the fact that it was not the film I was after regarding such a underdeveloped strand of history and with a narrative as corny as the one holding together Terry George’s latest, I take no pleasure in stating that I am probably right.

Overall Score: 4/10

Film Review: Their Finest

“They’re Afraid They Won’t Be Able To Put Us Back In The Box When This Is Over, And It Makes Them Belligerent…”

Directed by Lone Scherfig, the creative mind behind films such as The Riot Club and the Oscar nominated drama, An Education, Their Finest, based upon the 2009 novel, Their Finest Hour and a Half by British author Lissa Evans, seemingly begins a cycle of early 20th century war biopics which are set to be released this year, with highly anticipated releases such as Churchill and Christopher Nolan’s unbelievably exciting take on Dunkirk coming to a theatre near you over the course of the next few months or so and whilst Scherfig’s latest is arguably not in the same wide-spread level of appeal as the latest Nolan release or a film depicting one of Great Britain’s most influential figures of recent history, with a cast which includes the bravura acting talents of Gemma Arterton, Eddie Marsan and Bill Nighy, the groundwork for excellence has somewhat already been established. The question remains therefore whether the finished picture matches the ability of its’ leading stars and whilst Their Finest is indeed a charming low-key drama, one which is laced with a full swing of tea-swigging Britishness, the final flurry of its’ second act doesn’t hold the interest of the first and dwindles into a movie which is wholly admirable but ultimately inconsequential.

 Perhaps the biggest criticism of Their Finest is it being a film which once again is a solid example of a movie which doesn’t have enough actual meat on its’ bones to run the course of its’ two hour runtime, utilising narrative avenues which don’t exactly work in the long run, such as the inclusion of Jack Huston as Arterton’s underdeveloped partner, in order to enforce a dramatic subplot which although sets up the film’s leading romantic element, could have been cut out entirely and averted the risk of the dreaded clock-watching from its’ audience. On the contrary, the film does boast a overarching feel-good narrative which is bound to leave its’ intended audience “weeping in the aisles” as stated by Bill Nighy’s excellent portrayal of the fame-addicted presence of ageing actor Ambrose Hilliard, whilst Gemma Arterton continues the argument that whatever she is in she is always top of the class no matter if its’ fighting zombies in The Girl With All The Gifts or battling the sexist and wholly misogynistic ways of 20th century Britain in her role as Welsh writer Catrin Cole. Ultimately, Their Finest is a enjoyable fluffy drama which tells a story and tells it admirably well aside from a few notable exceptions but with a cast as reliable as the one on its’ books, it never really was going to fail.

Overall Score: 7/10

TV Review: Doctor Who Series 10 Episode Three – “Thin Ice”

“I’m 2000 Years Old And I’ve Never Had The Time For The Luxury Of Outrage…”

As previously mentioned in last week’s review of “Smile”, the latest series of Doctor Who definitely has an air of Classic Who surrounding it, taking the blueprint set by early stories in the 1960’s and 70’s where mystery and intrigue are the leading force of a narrative in which although is rife and based in science fiction, is ultimately an A to B through-line of which audiences of all ages can understand and enjoy. In contemporary comparison, recent years have seen particular episodes of Doctor Who come undone by the vast array of knots certain scripts tie themselves due to silly plot points and the endless issues of dwelling with notions of time travel, yet with “Thin Ice”, the fun factor is very much back in place, with the eerie element of the unknown horror acting as a common thread between each of the episodes so far this series with water-based stalkers and emoji-crazed robots being traded this week for a murderous entity which stalks its’ prey underneath the frozen footpaths of the 19th century River Thames. Who’s up for Piranha, Doctor Who style?

Whilst the threat of a gigantic hidden alien life form, one hidden in the confines of the surrounding area in which our favourite Time Lord seeks to venture upon is nothing exactly new, the charm and nostalgia factor which arises from seeing such harks back to days gone by when the BBC’s prop department consisted of a rubber suit and fluorescent laser beams in their attempts to portray a wide range of life forms and whilst the overall narrative behind “Thin Ice” is standard to say the least, the relationship between The Doctor and Bill is once again at the forefront of an episode which seeks to identify what weaknesses are there when the two of them are faced with such a deadly menace. Witnessing death for the first time within the story, Bill’s reaction to such conveys a deeper sense of characterisation than previous companions couldn’t manage throughout their tenure and her questioning of The Doctor’s violent past was an interesting side note, particularly for die-hard fans such as myself. With issues of race, power and responsibility all arising within the course of one 40 minute episode, “Thin Ice” is an interesting episode which continues and solidifies the solid relationship between its’ two leading stars,

Overall Score: 7/10

TV Review: Doctor Who Series 10 Episode Two – “Smile”

 “Hearts Though, Why Two? Does That Mean You’ve Got Really High Blood Pressure..?”

When esteemed writer Frank Cottrell-Boyce was first introduced into the land of all things Doctor Who back in 2014 with Series 8’s “In The Forest of the Night”, it is indeed safe to say that the reputation which preceded the author of literature such as both novel and screenplay for Danny Boyle’s Millions was not exactly lived up to, creating a story in which, let’s just say, won’t rank up there with the best the entire history of Doctor Who has had to offer up over the course of its’ fifty year run. Returning this year with “Smile” however, Cottrell-Boyce is the first sacrificial lamb to throw an attempt at writing a tale for the Doctor’s latest companion Bill, whilst reuniting with Capaldi for an episode in which although will never be regarded as a Who classic, is a solid enough second attempt for Cottrell-Boyce, with “Smile” having a successful double edged-sword which combines the classic formula of the original 1962 run amidst a narrative which is clearly designed to poke fun at contemporary technological vices in a manner which ultimately feels like a low-key and child friendly version of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror. 

In regards to the echoes of Classic Doctor Who stories, the idea of the Doctor visiting a future alien settlement and coming across not only an unsettling evil presence but a life-changing decision regarding the fate of the entire human race, perhaps the most obvious similarities are shared with both the Tom Baker led “Ark In Space” and “Robots of Death” with the former sharing the idea of human survival whilst the latter having a similar foe in the form of murderous artificial intelligence, albeit represented in completely different forms with the creepy green coated look being replaced with robots which communicate solely with the help of everyone’s favourite messaging pastime; emoji speak. Once again, Pearl Mackie is impressive as companion Bill, asking the right kind of questions which are seeped in human ignorance regarding the existence of alien space-races and the complexity of time-travel, whilst the practical design of the episode is impressive, with the leading robot foes being something in which could easily be heading in our direction come the near future. Whilst the story does indeed seem to jump the shark come the end, with the final resolution a complete and utter cop-out, “Smile” is a strong enough episode and continues to set the groundwork for an impressive central partnership between the Doctor and his newly found companion.

Overall Score: 6/10