Saturday, 24 June 2017

Wonder Woman (12A)

It has taken me far longer than is normal to write this review.

Yes, life has been as nuts bonkers as ever - but even as I catch up with everything this weekend, I still find myself leaving this one til last.

And I'm not totally sure why.

I think part of my problem has been the reaction to the movie.

It has been lauded and praised from just about every quarter for being directed by a woman, having a strong female lead, being the best DC film yet...

But all of these things seem to gloss over the many flaws the film has.

For a start, saying it's the best DC film is like praising your four-year-old for finally drawing a horse that looks like a horse rather than a kangaroo with gout.

Basically the bar wasn't exactly high.

And for that, we should send a Hard Stare in the direction of Zak Snyder, who helmed the recent Superman atrocities.

Then there's the male lead - one Chris Pine. You may have seen him in the Star Trek reboots.

Don't worry if you didn't, he's playing exactly the same character here.

And the story's not all that, to be honest.

The origin stuff, where Diana comes from, is brilliant.

But sadly, it's not long before we end up in World War I and the whole thing goes all Captain America. Up to and including a shield.

Interestingly, all the writers credited on the film are men...

Then there's the star of the show, Gal Gadot.

Having been introduced in Batman vs Superman (where she was the best thing in it by a country mile), much has been made of the fact this is the first female action hero.

She's not.

Ripley, Alien. Need I say more?

That's not to take anything away from Gadot, of course, but it seems worth mentioning.

I'd also like to chuck in a mention for Lucy Davies here, too.

Barely mentioned in the pieces I've read, she is responsible for most of the laugh-out-loud moments the film has.

Her understated performance and perfect comic timing gel brilliantly with Gadot's 'fish-out-of-water' Diana while also highlighting just how wooden Pine can be.

Patty Jenkins also deserves all the praise she's been receiving.

Now because she's a woman, but because she's done a damn good job directing Wonder Woman.

Having already proved her talents with Monster (not to mention a few episodes of Arrested Development, The Killing and, erm, Entourage), she takes a leaden script and injects pace and humour where she can.

The final scene is basically taken from Iron Man, but again that's a writing issue - the Big Battle is well handled and makes you feel like you're in the heart of the action.

Even the bits clearly done with 3D in mind aren't too annoying or invasive.

If there's one complaint, it's that the final third of the movie is as dark and dingy as Snyder's previous DC offerings, and it would have been nice if that could have been avoided - but I appreciate that would have required a bit of a re-write.

Overall, Wonder Woman is the best of DC's big screen offerings, but as I've already said that's hardly high praise.

It's too long, it gets a bit dull in the middle and the final battle scenes are entirely predictable - but these are all tropes of Snyder, who should never have been handed the creative reigns in the first place.

It's great that Wonder Woman is breaking box office records, and it goes to show that women are not cinematic Kryptonite.

It would have been nice if the knuckleheaded fanboys could have got their heads out of their arses last year when Ghostbusters came out, of course, but hey - better late than never I guess.

Starting this review, I thought I knew what I was going to say - but, as I've thumped my keyboard next to two snoring pooches I think I may have changed my mind a bit.

I still don't think, as a film, it's as good as others have said - but the more I think of the flaws in the film and realise the genders of those involved, I'm warming to it more and more.

I think I may have to go and watch it again quite soon...

Baywatch (15)

I want to be very, very clear from the outset - seeing this film was not, in any way, shape or form, my idea.

For a start, it stars The Rock (not a fan). Then it stars Zac Efron (not a fan). Finally, and you may have missed this important point, it's Baywatch.

Did you ever see the TV show? Did you?

And they made a movie of that?

Oh yeah, this was going to be a real relationship tester. This could even be the last time Someone would get to pick a film...

But then the film starts. And there are a few chuckles.

Then a few more.

Then another one.

And within 20 minutes, enjoyment is being had. Positive feelings are being experienced.

This is actually FUN!

Because, and this becomes apparent very quickly, not only are the cast clearly having a blast running about in those famous costumes in slow motion, but this film is made with genuine affection for the source material.

Now, granted, we're not creating high art here, and the TV show was dumb as a sack of Trump University certificates, but that really doesn't matter when what we have here is a thoroughly enjoyable comedy.

The plot (bad people doing bad things must be stopped) is thinner than a really thin thing on a very thin day, but again this really doesn't matter.

But this is being played for laughs.

And much like 21 Jump Street before it, Baywatch is as much lampooning the TV show as displaying great affection for it.

And to his eternal credit, Dwayne Johnson absolutely shines as Mitch Buchannon (the role that made The Hoff the star he is today).

He has a surprisingly deft comic touch, and with the likes of Jon Bass alongside him helps inject a lot of the lighthearted moments - all played with a very straight bat.

Now the real stars of the original show were always the women.

Not because of their acting talents, let's be honest.


Casting centred on how well they filled out those iconic red suits.

And to be fair, the female cast this time around are not unpleasing on the eye.

However, they come with the added bonus of actually being able to act - and act well.

Ilfenesh Hadera, Kelly Rohrbach and Alexandra Daddario (who even looks a tad Yasmine Bleethie) are all up to the task of giving their male counterparts a run for their money, and again clearly having a lot of fun doing so.

There is, of course one, tiny fly in the ointment.


OK, I get that he looks buff and ripped (and whatever other phrases you young folks use these days), but he's acted off the screen by the sand for crying out loud.

His is the one character with a back story. The one character with actual depth. And yet he manages to look like he won the part in a charity raffle.

To be honest, though, that is really a minor gripe, and Baywatch is so much fun that even Zac fails to spoil it.

Now, let's be clear about this - this is not a great film.

The plot, as mentioned, is near non-existent and the budget clearly went on the cast rather than the special effects.

But none of that really matters when you're sitting in your seat just grinning from ear to ear.

In fact, towards the end I was so caught up in the action that I actually got tense while someone fumbled under a boat for plot reasons.

Now that was never meant to happen.

Recently, there have been a few films that I was really looking forward to but left feeling disappointed.

To go in to a film expecting nothing and come out grinning was nothing short of a miracle.

Sure, Baywatch won't change your life - but there are far worse ways to spend an evening.

My Cousin Rachel (12A)

Before we start discussing this film, I feel there is something I should disclose something.

I have, in the past, been in abusive relationships, and have been subjected to both physical and mental abuse.

I don't say this to garner any pity or sympathy, rather to flag up that such a background could impact how you view My Cousin Rachel.

Based on the Daphne Du Maurier novel, it tells the tale of a man who falls for his cousin's widow - who may or may not have killed her husband.

Much of the post film chatter has focused on the whole 'did she, didn't she' aspect of the movie, which is something I'm not really able to engage with as I came to my own conclusions very early on.

And I can't decide if my own experiences led me to my conclusion, or if there were less-than-subtle signifiers through the film.

In a recent interview, the film's star - Rachel Weisz - said she had made her own decision before filming began, thus shaping how she portrayed the central character.

And, I have to say, she plays Rachel perfectly.

She is at once strong and vulnerable, and if it wasn't for her there really would be no need to watch this film.

Not that it's a bad movie - it's perfectly fine, and very well directed - it's just that it's too long and more than a smidge dull in parts.

Part of the problem lies with Sam Clafin.

As Philip, who got taken in by his cousin as a child and grows up to inherit the estate, the film is pretty much seen through his eyes.

It is he who suspects Rachel. It is he who then falls for Rachel. It is he who goes on to fear he is being poisoned by her.

The only problem is, he has absolutely no screen presence.

He utterly fails to convince as a man being torn apart by his emotional conflicts, instead coming across as a child having a tantrum.

And this is where the film falls down.

Up against Weisz's performance, you need someone equally as strong, as commanding, who can hold their own during the dance of the relationship.

As it is, he's the wettest thing in this film - a film which features several downpours and soggy sheep.

He's even out-acted by Tim Barlow's Seecombe, whose role is to literally stay in the background and mumble yes and no.

And this is nothing short of criminal.

Because away from him, this is a good film.

It looks stunning, the indoor scenes are sumptuous as are the landscapes, there are some genuinely gripping moments and a few chuckles and laughs.

Somewhere in here is a dark, tense tale of obsession and passion.

Sadly, on exiting the cinema you are left wondering which field they left it in.

Think I might go back and give the Richard Burton version a go...

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Mindhorn (15)

Us Brits have something of a checkered past when it comes to comedy on the silver screen.

For every gem Richard Curtis delivers, someone thinks Sex Lives Of The Potato Men or Lesbian Vampire Killers is a good idea - so approaching with caution is only sensible.

Also factor in Julian Barratt and Simon Farnaby (who have devoted cult followings) doing an Isle Of Man version of Bergerac (as yer parents, kids) and there was very chance Mindhorn was going to be quirky at best...

But no.

Instead what we get is delightfully British comedy that actually has proper laughs and jokes in it, and doesn't make you want to hind behind the sofa until it stops and goes away.

The story could only come from a British mind, too.

Barratt plays washed-up actor Richard Thorncroft, famous for playing TV detective Mindhorn and precious little else.

Then a serial killer threatens more deaths unless Mindhorn is brought on the case - and hilarity genuinely ensues.

The plot is nuts bonkers, but that's half the fun here. The absurdity of the situation is taken way past its natural extremes and it's seriously a joy to behold.

Barratt plays the deluded waster to perfection, everything being done with a straight bat - which is what makes the comedy so good.

Often the temptation is to ham it up, flagging every gag with cheerleaders and a full band, but a good comedy lets the audience find the laughs - and that's very much the case here.

The story is just told straight, Barratt, Farnaby and their assembled star cast (Kenneth Branagh, Andrea Riseborough, Steve Coogan, Russell Tovey, Simon Callow, Harriet Walter) all bringing their A-game to the party.

Setting it on the Isle Of Man is also a genius move.

Bergerac, for those too young to remember, was set on Jersey, John Nettles (off of Midsomer Murders) playing the titular copper solving crimes on a weekly basis.

The influence is clear and acknowledged, and bringing it to a different tiny island allows for such great scenes as a chase through an annual Mindhorn parade and a shoot-out on a small ride or two.

This sort of thing really couldn't work in any other setting.

It also allows for Thorncroft's massively overblown ego to be shown in sharp relief against such a tiny community.

In so many ways, this film shouldn't work.

It's niche to say the least, plus it's awash with in-jokes about actors and their self-obsessed view of the world, but somehow Barratt and Farnaby fashion a good cop caper that works on more than one level.

And crucially, it's funny.

A British comedy.


And not done by Richard Curtis.

Whoever thought that was possible?

For once, I'm really hoping for a sequel.

Their Finest (12A)

There's an old adage among devotees of Wittertainment that if it's advertised on the side of a bus, a film is probably bobbins.

But then reviews of Their Finest started coming in, and it seemed that this rule had finally been broken.

There was also word that this was Bill Nighy's finest (no pun intended) performance for some time.

So it was with some excitement and remarkably little trepidation that we settled down to enjoy this World War II tale.

It's got Nighy, Gemma Arterton, good reviews, we were in safe hands here...

And in one sense, we were.

Telling the story of the making of propaganda films during the war, Their Finest looks at the role of one woman in a male-dominated environment.

It's also a look at what happens to fading stars and how films were made back then.

And on all those fronts, it hits the spot.

Nighy, as moth-eaten forgotten star Ambrose Hilliard, is good. At his best though? No.

His best is still About Time.

Here he's playing the same Bill Nighy you've seen in countless other films, and while that sounds like a criticism it really isn't.

Like an older Hugh Grant, he's very good at what he does - but 'range' is never a word you'd attach to him.

But as a crusty actor trying to rekindle his career in a world that's not bothered who he is, he portrays Ambrose with his trademark style and deft touch.

Arterton, however, is on another level.

With a wonderfully diverse CV (if you haven't seen The Disappearance Of Alice Creed, do - and soon), she has already proven herself to be a quality actress - and here she's no difference.

Playing a woman trying to pay the bills while her artist husband struggles to ply his trade, Arterton captures perfectly the struggles of domestic life in a city being bombed on a regular basis.

Her interplay with Nighy is also great to watch, as the growing role of women meets the stubborn guard of the Old Ways.

And it's arguably their relationship that is at the heart of Their Finest, as they both grow to see the other's point of view without losing ground on their own beliefs.

Just shows it can be done.

And the film itself looks lovely (usually a backhanded compliment, granted, but not here) - the feel of the period being brought to life wonderfully.

Sadly, though, it's not a film of any great depth.

Yes, it could be argued that it's capturing the style of the time - but films have moved on, and there should be a way of telling this tale without the more two-dimensional ways of old.

And this is where the film struggles.

As good as the central performances are, and as well-handled as the lighter moments are, none of that prevents the attention wandering about half way through.

There's no grit, here, no heft.

Which means that by the time the dramatic stuff starts happening in the final third it's really hard for the audience to get out of cruise control and start re-engaging with the action.

Put this film on BBC2 on a Sunday afternoon, and sure, you'll enjoy it.

You'll pop out occasionally to make a cuppa and let the cat out (and then in again, then out, then...) without really missing much and all will be well with the world.

But as a cinematic experience, you're left wondering quite why you made the effort to leave the house.