“Dunkirk” Review

maxresdefaultDirected by: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Fionn Whitehead, Tom Glynn-Carney, Jack Lowden, Harry Styles, Aneurin Barnard, James D’Arcy, Barry Keoghan, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy
Plot: Trapped on the beaches of Dunkirk with their backs to the sea, thousands of British and Allied troops face an impossible situation as the enemy closes in.

In a summer dominated by superheroes, giant robots, minions and pirates, it’s rather surprising to say that the summer’s strongest picture (and perhaps the strongest picture of the year so far) is Dunkirk.

Based on the real events from 1940, Dunkirk is a beast of a film; showcasing not just the heroic evacuation, but the terrifying horrors of the war itself. Splitting itself into three chapters told non-linearly, Dunkirk focuses on three parts of the famous evacuation; The Mole focusing on the land, The Sea focusing on the boats coming to help and The Air focusing on the RAF with each chapter following a different group of characters. This is an excellent approach, as it allows the film to cover the widest range of the story it’s telling with three very different groups of characters; a small group of British soldiers desperately trying to survive, a Mariner, his son and his son’s friend sailing a small boat to aid in the evacuation and two RAF pilots desperately trying to hold off the German bombers to give the evacuation time. For this reason, no character really emerges as the main character of the film. This is truly an ensemble piece.

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Perhaps the easiest way to describe Dunkirk is that it’s three interconnecting short films presented non-linearly. Those expecting a more conventional narrative may be disappointed.

Time plays a very big role within the film itself, from the ticking clock that is ever present within the film’s soundtrack, signifying how little time there is to evacuate, to Farrier (Hardy) using time to estimate how much fuel he has left in his plane after his fuel gauge is damaged all the way to the film telling us how much time each chapter covers (The Mole covering a week, The Sea covering a day and The Air covering an hour). This in turn creates a massive sense of urgency within the film; relentless pacing really makes the audience uneasy and anxious at all times, with moments that should feel safe instead leaving us fearing the next inevitable strike by the Germans.

By far the strongest of the film’s three chapters however is The Sea; which very easily could have been its own film. The Sea is carried by strong performances by Mark Rylance as a Mariner trying to aid the evacuation and Cillian Murphy as a rescued shell-shocked soldier desperate not to go back to Dunkirk, at any cost. The Sea is a fantastic piece of filmmaking in its own right and will likely go on to be one of the most memorable parts of the film for most audiences.

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The Mole meanwhile is relentless in its showcasing of the horrors of war. Following three soldiers; Tommy (Whitehead), Alex (Styles) and the mute Gibson (Barnard) desperately trying to find a way out of Dunkirk and back to England as soon as possible, The Mole almost feels like a horror movie at times. The German forces, ever present, are never actually seen instead only identified as sudden gunshots and flying bombers. This makes the Germans feel like an almost supernatural force, constantly hunting the trio. The Mole is bolstered by some of the film’s most tense sequences and some wonderful performances from young actors Fionn Whitehead, Harry Styles and Aneurin Barnard. Barnard in particular impresses due to having no lines of dialogue. Styles also impresses with a strong performance, perhaps indicating he could have a big career outside the music industry. Whitehead is also great and manages to carry The Mole very well as a very easy to root for protagonist.

The Air is home to most of the film’s action sequences, namely highflying (and lowflying) dogfights above the beaches of Dunkirk. Mostly carried by two actors; Tom Hardy and Jack Lowden, this story is the shortest of the three but is home to some of the more memorable moments. The dogfights have to be seen to be believed and are utterly thrilling to watch. If you can, definitely seek out a large format screen to watch the movie in, either IMAX or Dolby Cinema, as these sequences are worth watching on the biggest screen possible. Hardy and Lowden do excellently enough and Hardy in particular stands out very well, delivering a great performance despite nearly all of his scenes being confined to a small cockpit.

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One of the more surprising things about Dunkirk is how it doesn’t glorify the events taking place. Unlike other war movies which are often more sentimental and patriotic, Dunkirk never shies away from just how horrifying the events were. For there is no denying the events at Dunkirk were a disaster. And that is perhaps a more fitting genre for the movie. It’s not a war movie. It’s a disaster movie that just happens to focus on a disaster that occurred during wartime. While this does not mean the movie doesn’t have its patriotic moments, which it does, the movie just chooses to focus more on the horror, disaster and tragedy of Dunkirk than anything else. Which works just right for the movie.

On a technical level, Dunkirk is a masterpiece of filmmaking. Nolan has gone on record saying that the film used as little CGI as possible and it shows. This is a grand scale production the likes of which is rarely seen today. The film is awe inspiring to see and helped along by actually filming at the locations where the events happened. The cinematography, costumes, props, everything looks so real and raw that it’s almost difficult to tell yourself “It’s just a movie” at times. Helped along by Nolan choosing to film on 70mm film and IMAX cameras, as well as a Dolby Vision pass (which sadly can currently only be seen in select cinemas capable of displaying it until the film’s 4K Ultra HD Blu-Ray release) all of which makes Dunkirk a visual feast for the eyes.

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Dunkirk’s sound mix is also fantastic. Despite Director Christopher Nolan showing an aversion to sound mixes higher than 5.1 (meaning Dunkirk has no 7.1 or Dolby Atmos mix as is typical for most movies nowadays), Dunkirk still sounds amazing. Bullets suddenly spring out of nowhere, bombers and spitfires fly overhead, explosions are heard all around. There’s no doubt about it, this is Nolan’s best sounding movie.

There are many words I could use to describe Dunkirk, but I think only one encapsulates everything I could say about the film; masterpiece. Dunkirk is a feat of filmmaking and easily one of Christopher Nolan’s best films, perhaps even better than The Dark Knight. Nolan has proven himself a master of filmmaking once again and one of the best living directors working today. Dunkirk is a relentless, raw, horrific and pulse-racing experience; one that will thrill, shock and grip audiences worldwide. Dunkirk is not just the greatest film of the summer, but the greatest film of 2017 so far – and it is unlikely to be topped.

10/10

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“Transformers: The Last Knight” Review

transformers__the_last_knight_wallpaper_by_the_dark_mamba_995-dbbaftjDirected by: Michael Bay
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Anthony Hopkins, Josh Duhamel, Laura Haddock, Santiago Cabera, Isabela Moner, Jerrod Ca
rmichael, Stanley Tucci, John Turturro, Gemma Chan
With the voice talents of: Peter Cullen as Optimus Prime, Frank Welker as Megatron, Erik Aadahl as Bumblebee, John Goodman as Hound, Ken Watanabe as Drift, Jim Carter as Cogman, Steve Buscemi as Daytrader, Omar Sy as Hot Rod, John DiMaggio as Crosshairs, Tom Kenny as Wheelie
Plot: Optimus Prime has disappeared. Autobots and Decepticons alike are being hunted down. The Autobots and their human friend Cade (Wahlberg) find a mysterious talisman that holds the key to the location of a powerful artefact. Hunted by Megatron, Cade and the Autobots must place their trust in Sir Edmund Burton (Hopkins), guardian of the secret history of Transformers and in Oxford Professor Vivian (Haddock). As the evil sorceress Quintessa (Chan), with a brainwashed Optimus in her control, approaches intending to destroy Earth; the race is on to find the artefact, which is the Autobots and humanity’s only hope of saving the planet they call home.

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I’ll put it this way. If you’re not on the Transformers bandwagon yet, Transformers: The Last Knight is incredibly unlikely to convert you. Despite being the first film from Paramount’s Transformers Writers Room (a team of writers plotting out the next few movies in the series), The Last Knight fails to offer anything significantly new, which makes it a very hard movie to review. So much of the movie feels so familiar that it struggles to find its own identity. But that said, I did enjoy it. Now, does that mean I would say Transformers: The Last Knight is a good film? Probably not. Would I watch it again? Yes I would. Despite the film’s inherent problems, there are things to enjoy here. Does The Last Knight heavily signal that Michael Bay should move on from the franchise to allow the series to find a new voice and carve out a new identity? Yes. Definitely. But does that mean Transformers: The Last Knight is the cinematic abortion other critics have made it out to be? Well that answer is a little more complicated.

It’s very easy to focus on what’s bad about The Last Knight. It’s a Frankenstein of a film at times; with characters and plot elements dipping in and out of the story and being forgotten about every time they’re off screen. Iconic characters such as Optimus Prime and Megatron are largely forgotten about for most of the film’s runtime; Optimus himself disappears after a few short scenes in the first act and doesn’t appear again until the start of the third act (which is about an hour or more of the character being off-screen). In fact, this happens with other characters at an alarming rate. The heavily marketed Isabelle (Moner) likewise disappears for most of the film, as do the rest of the Autobots. To say the film is called Transformers, the only Transformers who emerge with a significant role in the film are Bumblebee and new character Cogman. And this is perhaps the largest problem with The Last Knight, one that has been steadily growing worse as the series has gone on; the Transformers themselves are being reduced to side characters in their own franchise, despite the fact that the Transformers themselves are much more interesting characters than the humans the film focuses on so much.

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During a fight late in the movie, Megatron tells Optimus “We were brothers once!” continuing on from the reveal the two were brothers in the first movie. However, this dynamic has never been explored in the movies and indeed, this is the first time it’s been mentioned since the reveal in the first film. Wouldn’t exploring that dynamic between Optimus and Megatron, two brothers who are opposite sides of the same coin, be a much more interesting relationship to explore than Cade and his daughter, who doesn’t even appear on screen due to Nicola Peltz not returning for more than a voice cameo? It’s not even an issue of the voice actors not being good enough, Peter Cullen and Frank Welker have been the official voices of Optimus Prime and Megatron for over 30 years.  It’s confusing that a more interesting storyline is being continually pushed to the side. Since Paramount is actively searching for a new director for Transformers 6, it might be worth them finding a director who actually wants to make the Transformers characters in their own movies rather than the set dressing they are for most of The Last Knight.

The film also squanders its potential. The film’s most interesting element; the secret history of Transformers on Earth, is glossed over. The idea that the Transformers have been shaping human history since the Dark Ages is a fascinating one and flashback sequences of Autobots fighting alongside King Arthur and his knights and fighting the Nazis in World War 2 is incredibly imaginative stuff. It’s just a shame it amounts to less than 5 minutes of the movie and ultimately doesn’t have much bearing on the plot apart from the origins of the film’s McGuffin and a running joke involving a Transformer disguised as a pocket watch that apparently killed Hitler. A lot of thought went into the movie lore, so it’s a damn shame not to explore it. A WW2 set prequel with Bumblebee fighting Nazis is so much more interesting than yet another sequel.

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Another plotline that is squandered is the heavily marketed “Nemesis Prime” storyline. With Optimus having very little screen time, it’s hard for the storyline to take any effect. More scenes of Quintessa slowly brainwashing Prime would have gone to good lengths to resolve this, but instead Optimus is apparently instantly brainwashed and doesn’t appear again until he arrives on Earth as “Nemesis Prime” at the start of the third act. While the heavily marketed fight between Nemesis Prime and Bumblebee is excellent, being one of the more entertaining sequences in the film, there’s no doubt that the emotional attachment required for this scene is missing due to the film limiting Prime’s screentime and not allowing Bumblebee to show any character development at all. And after this, we are left no time to dwell on events because the Autobots quickly charge off to fight Quintessa for another lengthy action scene with no time for the characters or the audience to have a moment to breathe.

I am wondering if Transformers: The Last Knight would have been better served being divided into two films; one dealing with the Nemesis Prime arc and the search for the artefact (Transformers: Nemesis perhaps?) and another dealing with the rest of the Quintessa storyline. Doing this would have perhaps helped the film feel a lot less cramped than it does and allowed the valuable time for the characters and story to breathe.

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As for the human characters, they’re a mixed bag. Wahlberg’s Cade is very much the same as he was in the preceding film and shows no change of development across the film making it very hard for audiences to invest in him as a protagonist. Haddock’s Vivian however is much stronger and there are times where I wished the film was more focused on her instead of Cade; Vivian has more personality and plot relevance. While the film makes great leaps and excuses to keep Cade around, Vivian is always naturally part of proceedings. Despite a few moments where Vivian is reduced to nothing more than her looks (when he meets her Cade calls her “British stripper lady” due to her dress), Vivian does manage to emerge as one of the strongest characters in the film.

As for the heavily marketed Isabella, she doesn’t actually do much apart from be an audience viewpoint character for the first act. After that she vanishes from the film for most of the second and third acts, which raises the question as to why she was even included. While the character shows promise, despite being an obvious knock off of Star Wars’s Rey, it’s confusing that a human character that’s barely in the film was heavily marketed – and indeed heavily marketed as a feminist character. It’s strange then that Michael Bay’s attempts at a feminist character would be quickly abandoned and side-lined for most of the film. Perhaps Isabella was a very late addition to the story, meant to set up a larger role in future sequels and spin-offs?

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The real star of the show though is Anthony Hopkins. Hopkins has a blast in the role and emerges as the film’s funniest character, again making you wonder why the film isn’t about him instead of Cade. Hopkins gets the biggest laughs in the film; from giving police cars and Decepticons the finger during a high speed car chase, to telling Cade and others to “shut up” (including the British Prime Minister) to casually apologising to a poor museum clerk as Cade and Vivian jump over the barriers to reach a submarine of great importance, “Young people today. They just really like submarines”. Hopkins has so much fun in the role that I’d be lying if I said he wasn’t the best thing in it.

Other actors from previous Transformers films make a return, but their role is so minimal or has so little impact it’s barely worth mentioning them. Josh Duhamel returns as Lennox, but despite having a lot of screen time doesn’t actually do anything of importance. John Turturro returns as Agent Simmons and despite being heavily hyped only appears in two short scenes (bizarrely featuring two Autobots trying their best to get him to play football with them) making his return feel slightly pointless but worth it for a shouting match with Hopkins’s character that is hilarious. Stanley Tucci however is wasted in only one scene. While Tucci is excellent in the film, he does not reprise his character from the previous film instead playing Merlin in the prologue. Tucci is hilarious in the role but I couldn’t help but wish he had a larger role making Transformers: The Last Knight the second film this year to waste Tucci in a mostly secondary role after Beauty and the Beast.

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Gemma Chan is decent as villainess Quintessa but never actually gets enough time to play around with the character. After a few scenes in the first act, the character vanishes until the third act when she simply stands around spouting vaguely threatening sci-fi nonsense leading her to be the most underdeveloped antagonist in the series so far and feeling almost like an afterthought.

The action scenes, as ever, remain enjoyable, if incredibly exhaustive. Bay doesn’t seem to know when to call cut, leading the action scenes to drag on. And on. And on. And on.  Eventually it gets to the point where the action stops being entertaining and you become slightly aware how much all these explosions are extending the films already bloated runtime. With each action sequence feeling the need to “outdo” the last, it almost tricks you into thinking the film is nearly finished with some sequences only for the film to go on for another half hour. With perhaps a stricter hand in the editing suite, the action sequences could have been something special. That said however, a climatic action sequence in a zero gravity situation was surprisingly inventive.

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The real star of the films however remains Steve Jablonsky’s scores and his score for The Last Knight is no exception. Perhaps his finest score for the series yet, Jablonsky reprises old themes (including the main theme for the films not heard since the second movie) and creates several new great ones; all of it culminating in the beautiful track We Have To Go, which deserves a listen.

The special effects are gorgeous however. The Transformers are beautifully designed, even obsessively so. Lots of detail is worked into these characters along with attempts at making each character distinct and memorable; to the point where a Suicide Squad-esque run through of Megatron’s team of Decepticons seems included purely to show off all the different character designs.

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Transformers: The Last Knight is exactly what it sets out to be; another entry in the series. No more. No less. For this reason alone, I can’t really fault it. It achieves exactly what it wanted to be. On a filmmaking level it falters. The film is too long, has too many underdeveloped ideas and characters, suffers from having too much going on for one film (to the point where characters just vanish from the film for periods of time) and seems to continually misunderstand exactly why people want Transformers movies, namely for Transformers. But the film does have some great action sequences, some great ideas (even if they aren’t developed) and sets a good framework for the series going forward (without Michael Bay). With Transformers 6 and 7 planned as well as various prequels and spin-offs, The Last Knight is certainly not the last Transformers film, but it certainly heralds the last Michael Bay Transformers film. The Last Knight hammers home how outdated and out of touch some of Bay’s thoughts and ideas are. While Bay may claim his films are for “teenage boys”, there’s no denying teenage boys have much better choices today. In a world where Marvel dominates with high quality film after high quality film, making films just for teenage boys won’t cut it. Transformers needs to… well transform and prove there’s more than meets the eye to this franchise. As it is, The Last Knight is a passable entry in the franchise, one that will entertain fans and those who have enjoyed previous entries. However, with slightly sexist attitudes to some female characters, an underdeveloped plot and characters and not offering anything really different from previous entries, anyone looking for anything more may want to look elsewhere.

4/10

“Wonder Woman” Review

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Directed by: Patty Jenkins
Starring: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, Connie Nielsen, Elena Anaya, Lucy Davis
Plot: Before she was Wonder Woman, she was Diana, princess of the Amazons, trained to be an unconquerable warrior. Raised on a sheltered island paradise, when a pilot crashes on their shores and tells of a massive conflict raging in the outside world, Diana leaves her home, convinced she can stop the threat. Fighting alongside man in a war to end all wars, Diana will discover her full powers and her true destiny.

DC has had a very troubled time lately. After their Superhero mash up Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice received a very mixed response and Suicide Squad received an even worse one, it seemed DC’s cinematic universe was in trouble before it had even begun. Thankfully, like a miracle, help has arrived in the form of Wonder Woman. A common criticism of the current wave of superhero films is certainly the lack of female led ones. So a lot of pressure was on Wonder Woman. Not only did it have to save audience hopes for the DCEU, but also prove to a sexist film industry that female led superhero films directed by women were viable investments.

So it’s with great happiness I say that Wonder Woman is not just the best film in the DCEU by a long shot, but it’s also one of the best superhero movies of recent years. If not of all time.

Patty Jenkins brings a beautiful, inspiring and thrilling picture to the screen. Jenkins, who had previously been attached to direct Thor: The Dark World for Marvel before dropping out, proves herself to be a perfect fit for the superhero genre. Jenkins manages action spectacle with ease and yet also brings an earnestness to the picture, framing everything from the action to the quieter more emotional scenes. Jenkins also doesn’t shy away from the horrors of World War 1. While working within the constraints of a film that has to be suitable for families, Jenkins manages to showcase the horrors of the First World War, never sugar coating it. Seeing the war from the eyes of an outsider, really manages to make a comment on the human race. Diana is unable to believe we’d all be killing each other with weapons such as mustard gas of our own accord. She decides that humanity must be under the influence of an evil villain with great power and it’s the moments when she has to face that humans sometimes do just want to hurt others for no reason that are some of the film’s best.

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This is helped along by Gal Gadot. Gadot is one of the best castings in the superhero movie genre. Gadot’s performance is wonderful, no pun intended. Delivering the heroine’s action brilliantly and yet also capturing her heart perfectly, it’s hard to imagine another actress doing as good a job as Gadot in the role. Gadot’s performance is the heart of the film, playing the character with an earnestness that makes her inseparable from the character. Much like Robert Downey Jr as Iron Man, this is truly one of the perfect superhero castings. It’s difficult to describe just how brilliant Gadot is as the character. Gadot brings Wonder Woman to life in such a way that she’s truly inseparable from the character on the comic book page. Gadot has defined the character on screen so well that I don’t envy whoever will have to play the character in the inevitable reboot in 30 years or so, although I would be open to Gadot playing the character as long as she possibly can.

Gadot shares wonderful chemistry with her co-star Chris Pine. Much of the movie rests on the two, and they pull it off perfectly. The performance here might be one of Pine’s best in his career with him delivering a very passionate and humorous performance. Steve Trevor would not be as charismatic or as fun with someone else in the role. But Pine also delivers the quieter and more emotional parts of the character very well, delivering some very touching scenes with dignity.

The cast is rounded out by excellent performances, with David Thewlis, Danny Huston and Elena Anaya being particular stand outs of the movie’s supporting cast. Thewlis gives a great performance for his limited screen time, while Huston and Anaya impress as the villains with Anaya giving a surprisingly complex performance as Doctor Poison. While Poison may not be the film’s main antagonist, Anaya manages to give the character a degree of complexity that makes me want to see more of the character. Maybe DC should cancel one of those many Batman spin-offs and make a Doctor Poison movie if the character doesn’t return in Wonder Woman 2?

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Perhaps the most wonderful thing about Wonder Woman is how utterly hopeful it is. Despite being set in perhaps one of the darkest periods in our history, the film somehow manages to find love and hope in the darkness. Diana is a brilliant heroine, one that audiences of all ages can look up to. Seeing her journey from a young woman eager for glory to a hero for all to aspire to is magnificent to see on screen. Wonder Woman manages to deliver a more hopeful and inspirational tone than Man of Steel and similar to Captain America: The First Avenger, the film gives us a truly inspirational hero who manages to shine a hopeful light during a dark moment in history.

A lot has to be said about how well made the film is. Visually, the film is a showcase. The mouth waters thinking of the film’s UHD release. The film features a lot of incredibly striking images which, along with some great editing, makes Wonder Woman a visual feast for the eyes. With her Lasso whipping away, shining brightly, the action scenes are truly beautiful to watch. An epic final battle on an exploding airfield has to be seen to be believed.

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Wonder Woman is also incredibly funny. While previous DC movies were criticised for either their lack of humour or trying too hard to be funny, Wonder Woman manages to find a perfect balance. The film is genuinely funny, with jokes working on multiple viewings and helped along with excellent comedic timing from the cast. Lucy Davis is a particular comedic standout as Etta Candy, getting most of the film’s biggest laughs. Gal Gadot however shines once again with excellent comedic timing and the two bounce off each other brilliantly. Once Chris Pine is added to the mix, things become even better. While the film isn’t a joke fest, it’s great to see DC no longer being afraid to actually have fun in their movies.

It’s hard to describe exactly how much I enjoyed Wonder Woman. So much so that I’m struggling to write this review. I loved the film, yet I just can’t place my finger on what exactly it was that made me love it so much. Was it Gadot’s performance? Was it an excellent script? Was it Patty Jenkins’s directing? Or was it some magical mix of the three? I’d hasten to wager that the reason the film turned out so well was simply because it was all the right elements coming together in exactly the right way to create what can only be described as an inspiring and thrilling film that restores hope for DC on film and, hopefully, paves the way for more films like it to come.

9.5/10

“Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge” Review

Directed by: Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg
Starring: Johnny Depp, Javier Bardem, Geoffrey Rush, Benton Thwaites, Kaya Scodelario, Kevin McNally, Orlando Bloom, Stephen Graham, David Wenham
Plot: Captain Jack Sparrow finds the winds of ill-fortune blowing even more strongly when deadly ghost pirates led by his old nemesis, the terrifying Captain Salazar, escape from the Devil’s Triangle, determined to kill every pirate at sea…including him. Captain Jack’s only hope of survival lies in seeking out the legendary Trident of Poseidon, a powerful artefact that bestows upon its possessor total control over the seas.

Pirates of the Caribbean is a strange franchise. In 2003, it was lunacy to believe that a film based on a theme park ride could spawn one of the most popular film franchises of all time and one of cinema’s most popular characters; Captain Jack Sparrow. And yet, here we are 14 years later for the fifth instalment in the franchise that, much like its hero, somehow manages to strike treasure despite having the worst luck imaginable.

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Salazar’s Revenge (titled Dead Men Tell No Tales stateside), is very much an attempt by the Pirates of the Caribbean team to take a The Force Awakens-style approach to series. Namely by picking up several years after the last instalment, taking the franchise back to its roots and framing the story around a younger cast who may or may not be descendants of existing characters while beloved fan-favourites make their return.  How successful this attempt is may vary depending on how much you enjoyed previous instalments. But coming from someone who enjoyed all 4 previous instalments, Salazar’s Revenge provided a nice course correction for the series after it went slightly wayward in the last instalment On Stranger Tides which suffered from there being no real plan for the series post-At World’s End. Instead, Salazar’s Revenge feels more like it’s setting the stage for bigger and brighter things going forward. In layman’s term, it’s clear by the end of Salazar’s Revenge that Pirates of the Caribbean 6 is the movie Disney really wants to make, but Salazar’s Revenge is the movie they have to make in order to get the characters and story to the required positions.

Which isn’t to say Salazar’s Revenge is inconsequential. In fact, it’s perhaps one of the more entertaining entries in the series. Despite a very rough opening half hour, during which the movie jumps around setting up multiple plot lines and characters making it hard to invest, the movie manages to kick things into gear and manages to be incredibly entertaining throughout the rest of its runtime with healthy mixes of action and comedy. Which isn’t to say the first half hour is laughs and action deprived, it just never quite gels together up until an escape scene involving a guillotine. It’s at this moment, along with perhaps the funniest moment in the film that everything just seems to snap together.

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What follows then is pretty much the movie equivalent of going on the theme park ride itself. Its fun, it’s thrilling, there’s laughs and it’s over before you know it. You want to get back on right away, but even then you feel something is missing. Much like the ride, there’s lots to see but very little to connect with. We spend too little allowing us to connect with our new leads Carina (Scodelario) and Henry (Thwaites), which is a shame as both show signs as being incredibly strong characters. Even Javier Bardem has very little time to make much of an impression as villain Salazar. Bardem gives a good performance, but the film seems to show an aversion to giving Salazar screen time. Despite the Pirates series offering up some very memorable antagonists, Salazar doesn’t make much of an impression. Perhaps this could be rectified in future instalments? Or… dare I say it… an extended cut of the film? Despite Disney’s aversions to such things.

Instead, most of our time is spent with Captain Jack Sparrow. To which there isn’t much to say. Let’s face it, you either like Depp’s zany performance or you don’t. There’s very little to say apart from; here’s more of it. The real star of the film however is Geoffrey Rush as Captain Barbossa. Barbossa is, far and away, the franchise’s best character and Rush clearly has a blast playing him. It’s hard to imagine anyone else in this franchise is having more fun making these films than him and the film gives him plenty to play with. There’s even moments where you wonder why the film isn’t about Barbossa instead of Jack. Indeed, the film the trailers showed; implying Barbossa was going on an epic journey to find Jack is probably a more interesting film than the one we got.

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But, despite these positives, Salazar’s Revenge has problems. As well as the rough opening half hour, the film struggles with an incredibly predictable plot. While this is an issue of the film taking a “back to basics” approach, it’s a little disappointing to see the series rely too much on the franchise clichés. Likewise, there’s something slightly off with the characterisation of the returning characters; Jack is a little too wacky, Jack’s crew is a little too bumbling for instance. Perhaps this is due to a new writer taking the reins of the franchise from Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio (Rossio’s script was nixed by Depp). Hopefully the characterisation will be more consistent in future instalments. Also the film squanders the return of Orlando Bloom. Bloom, relegated to two very short scenes in the film, should have been given a much larger role in the film. While Bloom’s scenes are great and fan pleasing, it’s a shame to see the franchise’s once hero relegated to nothing more than a glorified cameo.

Salazar’s Revenge is a fun and exciting, yet unremarkable, entry in the long running franchise. Those who have enjoyed previous entries will have a good time and the film won’t convert those less than enthused with the series. That said, Salazar’s Revenge does have its merits. Despite the flaws, there’s something undeniably charming about the whole thing. It’s funny and it’s engaging. And it’s very very hard to not have a huge grin on your face when watching Jack Sparrow being pulled along at high speeds on a boat by a zombie shark.

6.5/10

“Alien: Covenant” Review

Directed by: Ridley Scott
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Cudrup, Danny McBride, Demián Bichir, Carmen Ejogo, Amy Seimetz
Plot: The crew of the colony ship Covenant, bound for a remote planet on the far side of the galaxy, discovers what they think is an uncharted paradise, but it’s actually a dark, dangerous world. When they uncover a threat beyond their imagination, they must attempt a harrowing escape. The crew encounter the planet’s lone inhabitant, the android David (Fassbender) sole survivor of the Prometheus expedition. But is he a friend? Or could he be worse than the horrors they are escaping?

Alien: Covenant is a strangely titled film. Its title seems to suggest this film will adhere closer to the franchise roots yet in practice the film is more a sequel to prequel/spin-off Prometheus than anything else. While this isn’t inherently a bad thing, it might be best for one to temper their expectations when embarking on this entry. Not to say there isn’t lots of Xenomorph action, there’s plenty, but the film does also continue the story Ridley Scott began back in 2012.

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But that doesn’t mean to say the film answers all of Prometheus’s lingering questions. The true motives of the Engineers are, for now, still a mystery. The answer of what happened to Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) is shocking and horrific, yet also serves as a way to close the book on that story. For now at least, the mystery of the Engineers will remain just that. Instead, Covenant feels more like a course alteration; for the first time in decades, it feels there’s a definite plan for the future of the franchise. With Scott planning at least two more films (with Scott confirming one of them will lead directly into Alien), perhaps it’s a good thing the answers aren’t coming now. For only an unskilled storyteller would reveal all their mysteries in one go. This film is content with peeling back the layer of mystery just a little, to give us a glimpse of how horror’s most iconic intergalactic killers came to be.

Various Alien sequels all attempted to do various things with the creatures, yet if Covenant proves one thing it’s that no one tops the master. The Xenomorphs, here with several new variants such as Neomorphs, are once again frightening. Teaching a lesson to all the Alien wannabes out there (such as Life released a few months back), Scott takes a masterful touch to the body horror we all know and love. For without a doubt this is the goriest of the Alien films. From a scene early one where one of the creatures decides to burst from the host’s back rather than the chest, you know this is going to be something different.

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So it’s in fact surprising the creatures don’t get as much screen time as you’d think. Not to say the creatures feel underused, but they play second fiddle to various other aspects of the film. But when the creatures are the focus, they’re a joy to watch on screen. It’s been so long since we’ve seen the Xenomorphs in action on the big screen (not counting the dismal Alien vs Predator films), that every second they’re on screen is a blast. Hopefully we’ll be seeing plenty more of them to come.

But ultimately, the creatures are surprisingly not the main draw here. The main draw for certain is Michael Fassbender’s David. David was the best thing about Prometheus and the same is true here. David, in his years of isolation, has apparently developed a bit of a god complex and it’s the scenes David shares with fellow android Walter (also played by Fassbender) that emerge as the strongest in the film, including a rather surreal moment where David kisses his counterpart. As David slowly tries to corrupt Walter to his way of thinking, the audience is forced to ask themselves; is David just a robot who’s gone a bit mad or has he actually developed his own being, his own purpose? At what point does David stop being a robot and start being a person? For, like Pinocchio, David no longer has any strings holding him down and is a “real boy”. All these questions and ideas are so interesting, that one almost wishes there were less Xenomorphs and more David.

Katherine Waterston meanwhile shines as Daniels, this film’s Ripley stand-in. Daniels is more emotionally vulnerable than Ripley, leading to a great contrast between the two. Waterston calls to mind Ripley from the original film, inexperienced, scared and fighting for her life. Daniels is a very capable protagonist and one very easy for audiences to root for. If Waterston doesn’t return for Covenant’s sequel, it will be a wasted opportunity.

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Another emboldening aspect is just how gorgeous the film looks. From the New Zealand location shots to the gorgeous sets of a destroyed Engineer settlement to the grungy hallways of the Covenant (which bring to mind the industrial feel of the Nostromo from the original), every set is packed with detail and beauty. While the film doesn’t play on colour all that much (a definite attempt to tone the colours down as much as possible is apparent) it doesn’t stop the film itself from looking beautiful. After seeing the film, I understand why the decision was made to release a horror film in IMAX. Because the film deserves it. Hopefully a HDR colour grade on the UHD Blu-Ray release will make the film pop even more.

Special mention must also go to the film’s sound mix. Like any good horror film, sound is an essential tool of the film. It provides an envelopment experience that can’t help but draw you in. Jed Kurzel’s score is also a high point, especially for nods to Jerry Goldsmith’s original score for Alien.

Alien: Covenant then is not only a worthy entry in the franchise, it’s one of the best. Outshining Alien 3 and Alien: Resurrection, Covenant takes its rightful place as the true next instalment in the Alien series. Following Prometheus of course. Beautiful, disgusting, terrifying and shocking all at the same time, Alien: Covenant emerges as one of the strongest films of the year so far and, perhaps, of the summer season overall. I look forward to seeing how Scott shepherds the franchise onwards over the next two films.

9/10

“Their Finest” Review

their-finest-movieDirected by: Lone Scherfig
Starring: Gemma Arterton, Sam Clafin, Bill Nighy, Richard E Grant, Jeremy Irons, Jack Huston, Paul Ritter
Plot: A former secretary, newly appointed as a scriptwriter for propaganda films, joins the cast and crew of a major production while the Blitz rages around them.

Despite its period setting, Their Finest is perhaps one of the most topical films of the year, dealing with many current issues like the treatment of women in the film industry and even the treatment of writers (the recent threats of a writer’s strike in Hollywood are still fresh in people’s minds).

For indeed, if anything, this film is about how essential writers are to the filmmaking machine. Especially women writers. The way the film approaches this is unique, with Catrin (Arterton) in fact being incredibly offended she’s only been brought onto the project to give it a “female voice”. This makes an incredibly risky, yet much needed, message about the current trend of diversity; that diversity should only happen if it’s right for the story and not happen just to satisfy a corporate need and that diversity for diversity’s sake could in fact be more offensive (like the recent Iron Fist controversy). Likewise, Catrin’s role in the film is under looked and undervalued at first and her thirst to add some true feminism to the film, by making the film’s female leads the actual heroes in their own story, is laughed at by the other writers because, as they say, “the man is the hero”. And yet, when the film is in trouble, they all realise that Catrin’s ideas were right all along.

Yet summing this up makes the film sound like a typical “girl power” film, this really isn’t the case. All this is delivered with a real sense of authenticity that makes everything feel valid. And, thanks to some surprising twists and turns in the story, things don’t turn out quite as you’d expect. It seems fitting that, even though there’s multiple mentions of films being edited real life, the hardships Catrin is forced through seem almost cruel in comparison. But yet, this brings into contrast the diluted reality film presents to the world; shying away from the “boring” or “disappointing” parts.

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All this is helped along by a positively spiffing script from Gaby Chiappe, with snappy dialogue and character work helping draw audiences into the world of the story and brought to the screen beautifully by director Lone Scherfig. The film casts a dreary miserable world inside the London Blitz, but certain areas such as the writing office and the locations used in Devon show a brighter, livelier side to the country representing the enjoyment and fulfilment Catrin finds in her work. The film also moves along at a lively pace, never once feeling slow or boring.

Framing itself around a love story blossoming in war torn England, the film relies heavily on its cast to see it through. Thankfully they are more than up to the challenge. Gemma Arterton gives an earnest yet restrained performance as Catrin, never overplaying nor underplaying a moment. Arterton is an under looked talent within the industry and impresses in every role she’s cast in. Her on-screen romantic partner Sam Clafin also shines, with the two showing chemistry you could almost believe was real and making the characters a couple you root for to succeed. Who knew eating chips on a dock would be one of the year’s most sweetly romantic scenes?

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But the real star of the film is Bill Nighy as actor Ambrose Hilliard. A genuine scene stealer, Nighy is having a blast in the role and is easily its most memorable aspect. As the grumpy aging actor, Nighy is endearing and hilarious in the role proving why he’s one of the country’s greatest acting talents. He also shines in the film’s more tender moments, sharing wonderful moments with Catrin and delivering the film’s big heart.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about the film is how surprisingly and greatly moving it is. The film’s ending sequence, when Catrin sees the completed film for the first time, is enough to bring tears to the eyes in a wonderful and touching sequence. Throughout the film, the head honchos ask for a film with more “optimism yet authenticity”, little do they know that they’re starring in a film that delivers both in ample amount. Catrin’s journey is a touching one, yet one that is ultimately inspiring and will hopefully inspire many hopeful female filmmakers in years to come. It’s remarkable then, that in a time where superheroes, giant robots and whatnot draw audiences into seats, that a small film about a struggling female scriptwriter in WW2 England can be not just a joy to watch, but also one of the most inspiring and deeply moving pictures of the year.

8/10

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Review

Directed by: James Gunn
Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Sylvester Stallone, Kurt Russell
Plot: Set to the all-new sonic backdrop of Awesome Mixtape #2, Marvel Studios’ “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” continues the team’s adventures as they traverse the outer reaches of the cosmos. The Guardians must fight to keep their newfound family together as they unravel the mystery of Peter Quill’s true parentage. Old foes become new allies and fan-favourite characters from the classic comics will come to our heroes’ aid as the Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to expand.

At a pivotal moment just before the start of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’s third act, Nebula (Gillan) snarks to the group “All you do is shout at each other. You’re not friends.” To which Drax (Bautista) responds “No. We’re not friends. We’re family.”

For that is the central theme of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2: Family. It’s a theme that’s interwoven into most aspects of the film, its plot and the characters. From Peter’s (Pratt) relationship with his father Ego (Russell), to his relationship with Yondu (Rooker) who raised him, to Gamora’s (Saldana) relationship with her sister Nebula, to the strange bond Drax forms with Mantis (Klementieff) to the team’s bonds with each other and more, it’s a central feature of the narrative. The theme forms the emotional core of the film. It’s an opinion I’ve long stood by that the best stories can always be traced back to one identifiable theme and it holds true here. By sticking to the theme of “family”, Writer/Director James Gunn crafts an excellent tale where all the required emotional beats hit perfectly.

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Gunn takes the decision to have the characters drive the story of the film rather the plot. This is a brave decision and one that works in the film’s favour. By devoting more time to the characters, it allows the emotional connection we’ve already formed with them in the previous film to deepen, allowing us to become invested not because we want to know what happens in the story but because we want to know what happens to the characters. Gunn takes the decision to split the Guardians up for much of the film’s runtime which, like in The Empire Strikes Back, allows the characters to grow and runs less chance of them being “lost in the mix” as it were. For, if anything, this is a character piece above all.

This leads to some excellent character work in the film. Everyone; Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax, Groot (Diesel), Rocket (Cooper, Yondu, Nebula etc. all get a chance to shine. Gunn clearly knows and loves these characters well, as no one feels short shafted at any time. If the first film was about the forming of the team, this film is about why the team works so well together.

Of particular note is the character dynamic between Quill, Ego and Yondu. In terms of the family theme, “nature vs nurture” comes into play here with Quill being forced to choose between his father and the man who raised him. Or, as the film puts it, his father and his “Daddy”. In several scenes throughout the film it’s portrayed clearly that even though Ego may be Peter’s father, Peter is Yondu’s son. It’s this dynamic that forms the emotional centre of the film and is ultimately it’s most powerful.

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The film is also incredibly funny. It may in fact be the funniest MCU film yet. Which makes the film an unusual thing. It’s a deep, emotional character study and also a fun, laugh out loud action-comedy. In short it’s everything Suicide Squad wishes it was. I joke, I joke. A little. The humour in the film is brilliant. It would take the hardest of hearts to not at least crack a smile during the film at some point. But the humour doesn’t detract from the emotional moments. In fact, it probably makes them hit harder.

Special mention has to be made to perhaps the film’s best character; that being Baby Groot. Not only is he utterly adorable, the pint sized version of the talking tree is also a scene stealer of the best variety with him getting most of the film’s best laughs. A sequence in which, due to Groot being a baby and not quite understanding, Yondu and Rocket grow increasingly exasperated as Groot fails again and again to bring them an item they need left me in stitches.

Visually, the film is utterly beautiful. James Gunn has implored fans to try and see the film on IMAX or Dolby Vision screens and you can see why; the film just looks fantastic. There’s excellent use of colour throughout. It may be cliché to say, but the film’s visuals really need to be seen to be believed. If Star Wars: The Last Jedi doesn’t get there first, I’d say the film is easily a lock for the best visual effects Academy Award. With James Gunn reportedly requesting Disney to release the film on the Ultra-HD Blu-Ray format, hopefully that comes to pass so the film can receive its Dolby Vision/HDR grade on home release allowing the film to look even better than it already will.

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The film’s cast are also a standout. The actors have clearly grown into their roles and as soon as the film starts, it feels like they’ve never been away. Pratt, upon whom most of the film relies on, is a standout delivering a wonderful performance. Michael Rooker also leaves a great impression as Yondu, taking every chance to make more of the extended screen time he gets in this film. I could be here all day listing every member of the cast and talking about how great they are, but I’ll limit down and simply say everyone was great. The entire cast was clearly having a ball making the film and it shows. This is probably one of the strongest ensemble casts in the MCU so far and hopefully here’s to many more films with this cast. New addition Kurt Russell does an excellent job as Ego, while Elizabeth Debicki, despite her limited screen time, makes a good impression as Ayesha who will hopefully be returning for future installments.

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Overall, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a blast. It’s fun, it’s witty, surprisingly touching and emotional. While it may not be as fresh or as unique as the first film, it is every bit as fun and entertaining. Its stronger emotional centre helps the film rise beyond its predecessor in those respects. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is an enthralling epic that will leave you laughing, crying and eager for more.

9/10