“See, We Pay And You Write Songs, And Then You Make A Ton Of Money. And Then We Take Most Of It…”
With Danny Boyle being the subject of a very big hoo-hah after departing the much troubled project which is Bond 25, his latest venture in the form of Yesterday couldn’t be further from a tale about a cold-blooded British spy with a penchant for the ladies. Based around a screenplay from Richard Curtis, the acclaimed writing mind behind stalwart Christmas movies including Love Actually and Notting Hill, Boyle’s latest challenges you to hold back all levels of sanctimonious sniffing and imagine a world in which the iconic voice of The Beatles never existed, a movie which features Himesh Patel (Eastenders) in the lead role of Jack Malik, a passionate and wholly unsuccessful singer-songwriter whose only long-term dedicated fan is his manager and close friend, Ellie, as played by Lily James (Baby Driver). After a worldwide blackout, Jack is the victim of a nasty traffic collision and awakens to discover that neither “The White Album” or “Abbey Road” ever existed, resulting in him deciding to rip off the famous words of Lennon and co. in order to stake a claim of fame for himself.
With a central idea which is in itself slightly ludicrous, Boyle has managed to deal with particularly out-there screenplays throughout his career, whether it be the mind-bendingly confused state of a film like Trance or the more down-to-Earth, family friendly Millions, a film with a central idea which in this political climate seems a million miles away, and with a first act which joyously announces all the lead characters, including Jack’s oblivious parents and Joel Fry’s (Game of Thrones) maniacal roadie, Yesterday begins in interesting and heartwarming fashion, particularly when the first chords of famous Beatles tracks are seemingly heard for the very first time by Jack’s close family and friends. As soon as Ed Sheeran turns up however, the film moves from low-key niceties to schlocky, sentimental nonsense, taking the worst parts of Love Actually and turning them up to eleven as the film evolves into a Beatles inspired love-in with added saccharin sweetness whilst seemingly forgetting the greatness of a first act which in all its’ absurdity still managed to feel real, and with a final curtain which made me nearly gag at the sheer audacity of attempting to make everyone grab the nearest tissue, Boyle’s movie is a messy, violently polished work of tosh which just happens to have a great first act which saves the piece from being a total disaster. Plus, they didn’t even mention the best Beatles song; HELTER SKELTER, COMING DOWN FAST!
Overall Score: 6/10
“I’d Like Very Much To Write About You. Your Society…”
Winning the award for most convoluted title of the year so far, Four Weddings and a Funeral director, Mike Newell, returns with The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, a big screen adaptation of Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows’ 2008 novel of the same name which sees Lily James’ (Cinderella) awfully well-spoken but deliriously likeable Julie Ashton, a well-to-do and moderately successful English writer, venture over to post-war Guernsey in order to embed herself into the titular organisation as research for her next literary project. With a cinematic sensibility which reeks of similarity when it comes to moderately successful contemporary Second World War dramas including Their Finest and Churchill, Newell’s latest is a ridiculously twee and wickedly harmless romantic drama which revels in its’ overt Britishness and an unbelievably predictable and paint-by-numbers screenplay, one which seems to be primarily designed to please audiences admiring the film with a slice of cake and cup of Earl Grey on a light and breezy Sunday afternoon.
With an opening twenty minutes which introduces James’ Ashton, the audience is made privy to her recent literary successes and close separate relationships of professional and personal boundaries with both the attentive, publisher figure of Matthew Goode’s (Stoker) Sidney and the charming American soldier, Mark Reynolds, as played by Everybody Wants Some!! highlight, Glen Powell. After receiving a letter from Michiel Huisman’s (Game of Thrones) farmer type, Dawsey Adams, under the umbrella of the titular gang of Guernsey residents however, Ashton swaps war torn central London to the rural heart of post occupied Guernsey where she attempts to unravel the mystery of Jessica Brown Findlay’s (Black Mirror) missing society founder, Elizabeth McKenna whilst slowly falling for the rough and rugged winner of most attractive cinematic farmer ever in the form of Huisman’s Adams. With a supporting band of merry well versed actors including Penelope Wilton (Doctor Who) and Tom Courtenay (45 Years), Newell’s movie never alleviates from being anything other than perfectly fine, and whilst at times the predictability weakens the film’s final product, the film forever linked with one of the worst titles ever just about ticks over.
Overall Score: 6/10
“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
“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
“I Do Not Know Which I Admire More. Your Skill As A Warrior Or Your Resolve As A Woman…”
Based on the best-selling novel of the same name, Burr Steers’ adaptation pretty much adheres to the ridiculous nature of the films’ title. You guessed it folks, it’s Pride and Prejudice, just with added zombies, added gore, and a comedic element that owes much to the performance of the Eleventh Doctor himself, Matt Smith, whose turn as the incredibly pompous and teeth-shatteringly annoying Mr. Collins is the stand-out performance in an otherwise flat and simplistic zombie-fest. Although the film manages to get the Pride and Prejudice side right, with the major plot threads and notions of wealth, class and a rafter of prejudices all being adhered to within the films’ rather over-long runtime, annoyingly, the zombie side of things begin to feel rather repetitive and irksome after a while, with continuous bouts of zombie-killing goodness not strong enough to contain the attention it believes it deserves. With this in mind, the final act of the movie in which we witness the apparent end of days with a Land of the Dead level of zombies, ultimately becomes a rather tedious set of affairs resulting in the audience leaving the cinema with a bad taste of wondering whether a lot more could have been done.
Sam Riley and Lily James both impress as the films’ two leads, with both having enough lavish set pieces and script to sink their teeth into as it were, yet cameos from Game of Thrones centrepieces Lena Headey and Charles Dance are rather shallow and ultimately, unremarkable. Although strapped with a BBFC applied 15 rating, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies easily could have been turned down a notch or two in order to gain the much desire 12A rating, a classification which not only would have suited more of its’ key audience, but would have definitely benefited from getting the wider audience it may need to be regarded as a box office success. Away from speculation and guesswork however, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies ultimately passes the time rather harmlessly, but is ultimately less memorable than the best-selling text on which it is based upon.
Overall Score: 5/10
The Little Glass Slipper
“Not another remake of a Disney classic in order to tear the little money we have away from us”, I hear you all scream! And to be fair, before watching Kenneth Branagh’s “re-imagining” of the well-known fairy tale, I had that exact view, even after being pleasantly surprised of it having a cast that includes Game of Thrones’ Richard Madden, Cate Blanchett, Stellan Skarsgård and the always brilliant Helena Bonham Carter. My pretty pessimistic view of Cinderella was soon put to bed however, with the film succeeding in being everything that I wanted it to be, whilst simultaneously reminding me of my childhood where Disney films played a constant, and important, part of my early cinematic years.
As everyone knows the story behind Cinderella there is really not much point in giving a plot synopsis, but I will say how happy I was at seeing how much the film stuck to the original telling from the 1950’s animated classic, something of which has seen to sway away from “re-tellings” recently such as within Into the Woods, which although wasn’t terrible, didn’t really do it for me in attempting to do something a slightly bit different. Sometimes sticking to your roots isn’t such a bad thing, and I think that is one of the reasons the new Cinderella is so strong. Yes, everyone knows the story, but I would rather the film stuck to the story everyone knew instead of heading in a completely different direction, particularly when it is such a beloved fairy tale such as this. Bonus points for that then.
Even more bonus points for the casting too, with Lily James doing a rather grand job in such an iconic role, supported by the ever-smiling Richard Madden as the spouse-searching Prince Kit, and the ever-evil Cate Blanchett who once again shines as an actress, chewing up the scenery as the evil stepmother, Lady Tremaine. For the short time she is on screen, Helena Bonham Carter as the Fairy Godmother (of course) also shows why she is the go-to kooky character actress too, shoving down the scenery instead of chewing it, only adding more evidence to my opinion that she should just move to a world ran by Tim Burton and Disney. To be honest, I would probably move there too.
In conclusion, Cinderella beat all my previous expectations of it hands-down, proving that if done correctly, a story as strong as Ella and her glass slipper, can never be broken. Not only is the casting spot on, but the pretty much perfect runtime maintains its’ sense of sheer wonder throughout, ending on a note that can only make you leave the cinema smiling. If there ever was a blueprint for future live-action Disney remakes, then Cinderella has surely secured itself as just that. Cinderella, you can go to the ball.
Overall Score: 8/10