Welcome To Hell: A Dunkirk review.

Directed by: Christopher Nolan.

Starring: Fionn Whitehead, Tom Glynn-Carney, Jack Lowden, Harry Styles, James D’arcy, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy.

There have been many remarkable films that have been made that tell the stories of the brave men & women that fought in the many conflicts of the Second World War, some better than others, some played for patriotic grandeur and some taking a more sensitive and thoughtful look at the awful situations those people found themselves in, some falling somewhere in between. The prospect of a World War 2 movie in the hands of an auteur like Christopher Nolan was always going to be an enticing one but how well he would handle a real world, non-fantasy narrative remained to be seen.

I don’t think it is bold in the slightest to call Dunkirk, from a technical standpoint, Christopher Nolans finest film to date. Charting the extraction of troops from the French coastal town of Dunkirk and comprising 3 narrative strands, each running for a different length of time 1. The Mole (land): a week , 2. Sea: a day and 3. Air: an hour, jumping back and forth between the narratives as they meet and intertwine each other, it is dazzlingly handled by Nolan. Dunkirk is truly, beautifully shot, powerfully so. From the stark imagery of soldiers lining the wind strewn beach as the sea blows in foam, to the breathtaking aerial photography and the spine chilling futility of it all illustrated in a shot of a soldier simply giving up all hope and wading out into the sea, will stay with you long after the film has ended. It is perhaps rightfully so that the film should be so visually arresting as there is very little dialogue In Dunkirk, relying more on imagery & mood to convey the plight of these men. A lot of Dunkirk’s strength lies in its sound design and pounding Hans Zimmer score. German fighters screaming out of the sky to Zimmer’s ticking, almost ambient accompaniment, married in perfect unison make for even more tense viewing.

With minimal dialogue, the cast of Dunkirk deserve even more praise than could usually be afforded. The younger cast members, Fionn Whitehead, Harry Styles & Tom Glynn-Carny in particular all superbly convey the desperation, fear and spirit of the young men in that terrible predicament of fighting for their very survival and in the protection of their own. The older, more seasoned cast members, the likes of the ever amazing Mark Rylance & Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy and Kenneth Branagh all give reliably strong supporting performances also.

Dunkirk is an intense, beautifully shot, expertly crafted ode to the enduring “Dunkirk spirit” of troops in that fateful May of 1940, an intimate yet sprawling testament to the men & women that fought, died and survived. In Dunkirk, Nolan may very well have delivered his opus and that is not a plaudit that is offered lightly, this really was a breathtaking and deftly delivered piece from an absolute master of his craft operating at the peak of his game. If you can, try and watch Dunkirk in IMAX as it was intended to be seen, you will not regret the experience.

The Doctor Is In: My thoughts on the historic announcement of the 13th Doctor.

The announcement of an actor deciding to leave the role of The Doctor is a heady bag of emotions, you’re sad to see a familiar and much loved face go, you wonder what the future might hold for the character and perhaps most importantly, who the hell is taking the role next. It’s all change for Doctor Who moving past this years Christmas special, head writer & showrunner Steven Moffat is also leaving at the same time as Peter Capaldi and Broadchurch’s Chris Chibnall now assumes that mantle and with it, the task of heralding the new Doctor, the face of a new era for a much loved and revered show. Today the announcement was made for the person taking the role of the 13th incarnation of the titular Time Lord and it was probably the most historic and divisive announcement in the shows long tenure on our screens.

Following the final of the Wimbledon men’s competition, we cut to a trailer of a hooded figure walking through woodland. A key materialises in the persons hand as they remove their hood to reveal……. Jodie Whittaker, the 13th Doctor, she smiles before stepping into her Tardis. Goosebumps are an understatement. After a history of 54 years of The Doctor being a male character, we now have our first female Doctor and I couldn’t be happier with the choice of actor for the role. Firstly, this shouldn’t come as that much of a shock to regular viewers of the show, the fact that regeneration can change a Time Lord’s gender has been a canonical plot devise for a good few years now ever since Michelle Gomez took the mantle of The Master, or should that be Missy, at the end of Peter Capaldi’s first season, a decision that in hindsight was made to test the waters for what was to come a few short years later. So, it’s no short leap of faith to accept a female taking a role that up to this date has been male right? The ground work has been laid, it is a canonical concept that isn’t diverging from the science of the show, so why did the internet break in two at this announcement?

The predominant naysayers are long term fans, by this I mean people who have watched Doctor Who long before to its 2005 resurrection. They are angry and in some cases I have witnessed from male fans on Twitter, offensively indignant to the historic announcement. Does such an reaction mark a very real, thinly veiled vein of sexism & misogyny amongst some of the shows fandom? In some cases, unfortunately yes. That’s not to say I have seen nothing but this kind of reaction, I have seen some very intelligently, well worded and thought provoking responses against the news of the casting and have indulged in some good natured debate on the matter also, but it can not be denied that a very ugly face of the fandom of Doctor Who has reared its head and it’s not pretty, we can only hope the volume of such discourse will dissipate when the angry people in question get it all out of their system.

Now to the lady of the hour, Jodie Whittaker is a stalwart of quality British TV following appearances in Marchlands, Charlie Brookers Black Mirror and Chris Chibnal’s much celebrated Broadchurch, she is an actor of great strength & diversity, much like every other actor who has assumed the mantle of The Doctor and I believe she will gel brilliantly in a brave new era of the show, the times they are a changing. My personal opinion on the announcement is one of optimism, I openly welcome a woman assuming the role, its canonical, it makes sense and the actor in question is excellent, couple this with the amazing Chris Chibnall showrunning and there is a hell of a lot to be excited about going forward in Doctor Who. The pieces are now in place, we have our showrunner, we have our Doctor now all we have is the wait for her first appearance in the role this Christmas.

Cine pig: An Okja review.

Directed by: Bong Joon-ho.

Starring: Ahn Seo-hyun, Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, Jake Gyllenhaal, Steven Yeun, Lily Collins, Giancarlo Esposito.

Plot: For 10 years, young Mija has been caretaker and constant companion to Okja, a G.M “super pig” at her home in the mountains of South Korea. But that changes when the multinational conglomerate Mirando Corporation takes Okja for themselves and transports her to New York, where an image-obsessed and self-promoting CEO has big plans for our titular piggy. With no particular plan but single-minded in intent, Mija sets out on a rescue mission.

The current trend of bringing high profile films to debut on the Netflix streaming platform has been a decidedly choppy affair, there hasn’t been that many so far that haven’t been bellow par at best. You can find gold on there though and just by viewing the trailer for Okja, you can tell that it is something special. Starting as an almost live action Studio Ghibli-alike proposition and ending on a heart wrenching and soberingly thought provoking note, Okja is a film that is not only wonderfully original Spielberg-esque tale of the bond of friendship but also a thoughtful exploration of the morality of genetic modification and the treatment of animals for mass production in the food industry, miraculously doing so without being right-on or as condescending as an angry protester.

Okja is a delightful creation, kinda like a big hairless guinea pig but with big flappy ears and the temperament of a curious puppy. It is a tremendous feat of CG design to imbue in something created in a computer, such a sense of humanity in its screen presence, you’d have to be a little dead inside to not fall in love with this gentle giant. Okja may steal the limelight but that’s not to take anything from the human cast, Ahn Seo-hyun imbues the young Mija with a wonderful innocence and a strong bond in her relationship to Okja and resolve in rescuing her friend, a bond any animal lover can relate to. Paul Dano gives fine support as a softly spoken animal rights activist, Tilda Swinton as morally dubious twin CEO’s and the most marmite role of Jake Gyllenhaal’s career as a screeching, gesticulating zoologist who walks a tightrope of annoying the hell out of you and admiring just how much he throws himself into playing this grotesque.

Do not be put off by its format, the fact that it didn’t get a widespread cinematic release in no way reflects the quality and message of this frankly remarkable film. It is a delightfully original and affecting tale of the bond between humans & animals and how that bond comes with a responsibility and duty of care. It may not be as family friendly as it might seem to be initially but that doesn’t make it any less of a rewarding & thought provoking viewing experience. Highly recommended.

Okja is available to view now via Netflix.

Look Out!: A Spider-man: Homecoming review.

Directed by: Jon Watts.

Starring: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Jon Favreau, Zendaya, Donald Glover, Tyne Daly, Marissa Tomei, Robert Downey Jr.

Plot: After his showdown with Captain America’s divigent Avengers, Peter Parker starts to get to grips with his persona as Spider-man and the risk that comes hand in hand with it.

Before the unveiling of Captain America: Civil War in 2016, the news broke that a deal had been reached between Sony, who owned the film rights to Spider-man, & Marvel Studios to allow the web slinger to appear along side his other Marvel cohorts onscreen. A million fanboys whooped in unison as Spideys cinematic output under Sony had been patchy at best, now was Marvels turn to handle him and give him new cinematic life. His appearance in Civil War was well met and Tom Holland received praise for his performance, how would he fair carrying his own film though?

Very well it would seem. Spider-man’s first screen outing under the Marvel Studios banner is a resounding success. Coming back to the Marvel fold as allowed their team of writers and super producer Kevin Feige to come up with something pretty darn excellent. Yes, this is ANOTHER Spider-man reboot, but most importantly it is a reboot that actually works across the board, no weak links or over egging of the pudding, it is absolutely spot on and I couldn’t be happier. Their are many a cameo appearance from other Marvel characters, we get not one but two incarnations of The Shocker, Prowler, Hobgoblin (if Parkers BFF Ned is actually Ned Leeds) and a brief appearance by Mac Gargan. They may not be massively noticeable character cameos but totally add to the feel of the film when you spot them.

Tom Holland completely owns the role, he is goofy without being overly annoying, utterly believes as Parker & Spider-man and bounces superbly off his supporting cast particularly Michael Keaton’s Vulture, again a lesser known villain from the rogues gallery but one that work great in the context in which he has been placed and with an actor with the chops that Keaton has, it was a work of genius on the casting front. We also have the perennially overlooked Marisa Tomei taking over the role of Aunt May, played younger than she ever has been but done so well by Tomei. We also get great extended cameos from Marvel stalwarts such as Jon Favreau & Robert Downey Jr to cement the background of Spidey now being firmly in the MCU which is a nice touch.

Spider-man: Homecoming is a resounding success that bodes very well for the Sony/Marvel deal and future appearances of the character in the MCU. Homecoming is engaging, well written, superbly cast and above all, it’s massively fun and without a shadow of a doubt, the strongest Spider-man film since Sam Rami’s Spider-man 2, perhaps even surpassing it, time will tell with repeated viewings. Already proving this latest incarnation of the character bounces well off the current crop of Marvel characters he’s appeared with, I can’t wait to see his inclusion in the forthcoming Infinity Wars films and appearing alongside a greater cast of the MCU.

Night Terror?: A It Comes At Night review.

Directed by: Trey Edward Shults.

Starring: Joel Edgerton, Christopher Abbot, Carmen Ejogo, Kelvin Harrison Jr, Riley Keough.

Plot: Situated in a remote house away from civilisation, a man, his wife and son live an ordered and cautious life as an infectious disease has taken hold of the world. When a desperate family arrive seeking refuge, paranoia & mistrust threaten to change everything.

There has been a polarising change in horror in recent years, becoming less dumb and more thoughtful. Recent releases such as The Babadook, The Witch, I’m The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House and the forthcoming A Ghost Story have all staked a claim in providing its audience with a much more artfully & lovingly crafted film experience than the braindead, multiplex horror fare that has been vogue for so long. It Comes At Night is another worthy of being mentioned alongside those films.

It Comes At Night is a classy lo-fi psychological drama relying heavily on interaction between its characters and knowledge of what has befallen the world to create an unsettling and claustrophobic tale. Rather than relying on outright horror, gore and jump scares, It Comes At Night creates an aura of permeating dread, paranoia, mistrust and a question raised that with the prospect of harm coming to our loved ones, what are we prepared to do to protect them with the risk of losing our own humanity. I suppose in many respects it may be inaccurate to describe It Comes At Night as a horror In the traditional sense considering its main conceit, this isn’t some fanciful malignant virus that turns its host into a snarling monster hungry for human flesh, it is a much scarier concept of an unnamed lethal infection and the fear that comes with the possibility of becoming infected. The principal character all wear gas masks and gloves when disposing of those who have succumbed to it, the very real fear of being the next to become infected hanging over their heads. With the modern day threat of very real super viruses such as Ebola existing, it makes the film’s narrative all the more believable and scary.

With a minimal cast, the film relays heavily in their believable performances. Joel Edgerton as the family patriarch is excellent, gruff and distrusting, preoccupied with the safety of his own family, great support turns from Carmen Ejogo and Kelvin Harrison Jr and set more on edge with the arrival of a family in need played by Christopher Abbot, Riley Keough and Griffen Robert Faulkner respectively, Abbot & Keough giving great, desperate performances as a family just trying to survive the same as any other would in their situation.

I would highly recommend this film to those with a love of psychological thrillers. The claustrophobic, slow burning tension coupled with a tightly written story of protecting those you love no matter the cost is a winning formula when delivered this deftly. It may not be a scare a minute thrill ride but it is a classy and measured drama none the less. Highly recommended.

Oh Baby!: A Baby Driver review.

Directed by: Edgar Wright.

Starring: Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Lily James, Jon Bernthal, Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx

Plot: “Baby” is a young, talented driver who’s skills are utilised by a crime boss who employs him as getaway driver for his various heist crews. Propelled by the momentum of his own personal soundtrack, how long before it all goes wrong?

Edgar Wright is a director for me that can seemingly do no wrong, I have followed his career from my teen years watching Spaced after nights out on the beer, sat round with mates viewing “The Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy” of Shaun Of The Dead, Hot Fuzz & The World’s End and being a comic book reader, freaking out that he got the directing gig for the adaptation of Scott Pilgrim Vs The World. To say that I am a fan of Edgar Wright’s would be an understatement so I may be accused of going into this review for his latest film Baby Driver a little biased, however, when a film is this well conceived, choreographed and directed, the praise is gonna flow!

Penned & directed by Wright, Baby Driver tells the story of a young man with a freakish aptitude for driving who is in the employ of a crime boss due to running up a debt with him, to pay off his debt he drives getaway in heist crews at his boss’s behest. “Baby” was involved in a car accident as a child that left him with a permanent case of tinnitus, to combat this he constantly has music playing to drown out the ringing in his ears via a selection of iPods to match his mood. 

Like Wright’s work prior, Baby Driver is delivered with the visual flair, confidence and conviction of a seasoned, professional action movie director, this is however Wright’s first foray proper into the action genre which makes it all the more impressive. The stunt driving in this film is simply off the chain, at times damn near balletic, its incredible and captured beautifully, all the while set to one of the strongest movie soundtracks I have heard in years. Edgar Wright fully understands the importance of music in film, the music in Baby Driver feels important, it drives the story, no pun intended, being just as integral as any other facet of the production. Be it our introduction to Baby’s considerable talents set to Bellbottoms by Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, a heist getaway to Hocus Pocus by Focus or a one on one car duel/ballet to Brighton Rock by Queen, Baby has good taste in tunage. Meticulously selected and presented with what’s occurring on screen in perfectly curated unison, it’s an absolute joy and certainly a soundtrack I’ll be adding to my record collection.

As with most Wright projects the cast is excellent. Ansel Elgort as the titular Baby slays the part, effortlessly cool and idiosyncratic and too good for the world in which he has been dragged into, you root for him throughout the duration, hoping he makes it out the other side. Lily James’s Debora makes for a likeable paramour to Baby, a character with an aesthetic that almost feels as though she has popped out of a David Lynch movie, my one qualm being that she is not given much of an opportunity of being fleshed out other than being a love interest which is a shame. The criminal element of the film is made up of a damn impressive roll call, Kevin Spacey, John Hamm, Jon Bernthal, Eliza González and Jamie Foxx, all decidedly dastardly and unlikable, the perfect foils to want to see Baby escape from.

I can safely say that Baby Driver is one of the most effortlessly cool, intelligently written, insanely choreographed and fiercely original action films I have seen in years, it really is an incredible piece of work that shows Edgar Wright is more than capable of handling a big budget, bums on seats popcorn movie and does so in his own indomitable way. This is the kind of movie The Fast & The Furious wishes it could be, a wealth of brains to back up the brawn and more genuine, uncontrived heart than I have seen in the genre in a very long time. Baby Driver is hugely deserving of any praise coming it’s way and I am confident will be a top end fixture of many a best of 2017 list, it will almost certainly be on mine.

The Hollywood Dream: Interpretations of Mulholland Drive.

In 2001, David Lynch released Mulholland Drive, a lavish, perplexing dreamscape of a film and a film that laid itself wide open to countless levels of interpretation as to exactly what is going on. It all starts fairly conventionally, suckering is into thinking it has some kind of wholly conventional mystery formula in its narrative as the amnesiac “Rita” is aided by the well meaning aspiring actress “Betty” to piece together who she is. This facade of linear narrative is flipped completely on its head a little over halfway through to find the characters now with completely different names and relationships to one another, “Betty” now revealed to be Diane, a jaded, washed up actress on the brink of collapse following an affair with established actress Camilla who in the first half of the film was “Rita”. Why are these people different characters at different points in the film? What is the purpose of the sinister Club Silencio? What was inside the blue box? These are amongst the many questions drummed up by Mulholland Drive.

The most logical, but by no means correct analogy is that “Betty” is Diane’s dream self, a bright and optimistic aspiring actress who’s life is created from aspects of Diane’s own waking life and driven from her perspective, Her real life that is not worth living anymore and she is instead haunted by a life that isn’t her own. There are of course other numerous layers that could be piled over and over analysed to the point of madness for example, many of the things experienced in the first half of the film could be explained away as non-sequiturs or even as the skewed logic of dreams. The real point of Mulholland Drive, as with a lot of David Lynch’s work is that it is open to your own interpretation, there is no right or wrong answer to what you perceive is going on. The best advice that can be given is submit, go with the flow, be swept along by it, by the end your head will be swimming with questions but I’m also going to wager that it will also be brimming with theories and interpretations of events and may Illicit many a return viewing but I feel it would be folly to over analyse something that doesn’t exist to be viewed to such a degree.

Mulholland Drive was released to rave reviews in 2001, hailed as one of Lynch’s strongest works to date that also won the director the prestigious Prix de la mise en scène at that years Canne film festival. Time has not dulled the allure of the film and it is still viewed to this day in many circles not only as one of Lynch’s strongest offerings but also as one of the greatest films of the 00’s, a plaudit that I wholeheartedly agree with.