Gunpowder Milkshake – Review

Cert – 15, Run-time – 1 hour 54 minutes, Director – Navot Papushado

After betraying her firm, assassin Sam (Karen Gillan) must protect herself and eight-and-three-quarter-year-old Emily (Chloe Coleman) against an elaborate criminal world.

There’s a sketch by Australian comedy group Aunty Donna in which the three main faces of the team refer to and treat books in a library as if they’re drugs. Secret whispered exchanges amongst the shelves occur in reference to just how many pages a particular book might have. “Pages? There’s no way of knowing. They’ve not found a way to do that” responds the librarian, pointing to the number in the top corner. It’s a sketch that came to mind a handful of times during a selection of ‘library’ scenes throughout Gunpowder Milkshake. As Karen Gillan and Carla Gugino discuss ‘books’ – a slight pause just before each mention of the disguised term for guns – at the far desk of the expansive room you can’t help but begin to wonder whether the obviousness is coming across in just the delivery or whether the dialogue itself seems almost forceful. As if it doesn’t think the audience will get the point.

This moment contrasts greatly to the later scenes set in the same ‘library’. As forces charge down the open space between the door and the desk Gillan, Gugino, Angela Bassett, Michelle Yeoh and Lena Headey do serious battle. Guns, hammers and axes blazing! In fact such fights take up a large part of the film’s second half and yet pass by with ease due to the enjoyment to be found within them. It’s during such moments that co-writer (alongside Ehud Lavski) and director Navot Papushado allows his film to breathe. During the first half of the piece as we see Gillan’s Sam turn her back on the firm she works for in order to save eight-and-three-quarter-year-old Emily (Chloe Coleman). Very quickly she finds herself being hunted down by Paul Giamatti’s other contract killers and henchmen, alongside a large range of figures from an elaborate criminal underworld.

It’s an underworld with so much potential, shown lightly in scenes set in the ‘library’ and a spotless underground doctor’s surgery. It’s a fascinating world that you want to see and know more about, grabbing your attention in a way similar to that of The Continental in the John Wick series. However, particularly in the first half, Gunpowder Milkshake seems so focused on having each scene simply focused on plot and moving things on that there’s little room for much else. Even brief action sequences, infused with the neon visual flair of the piece, seem somewhat cut down – and perhaps overpowered by the music used in the background. As things shift into the second half the piece the style slightly shifts to focus more on the action, letting it have more space and flow a bit better alongside becoming more the main focus. Events occurring through that rather than the various conversations and slight actions of characters.

While you do wonder why the rest of the film couldn’t have quite been like this, it’s still watchable beforehand, the second half certainly has its high entertainment value. Things feel less in-your-face and slightly steadier as the cast are allowed to unleash stylish (although of a different sort – more about the wider elements of the piece rather than primarily the look/ lighting), and undeniably violent fight tactics all in order to protect Coleman’s occasionally amusing, completely innocent character. Coleman, while not always getting a great deal of lines and having to compete with a lot of established acting talent, does well to not get drowned out and helps with some of the film’s lighter moments – continuing after the positive surprise of last year’s My Spy. This particularly showing her skill when the few, scattered attempts at humour throughout the film don’t always land.

In fact most of the supporting cast don’t get a great deal of screen-time but still just about manage to have an effect at some point, perhaps because of the star-power they exude during a handful of scenes. Put to good use during the lengthy library fight with its escalating action that continues to hold your attention and keep you situated within the piece. It acts as an engaging set-piece that while seeing wave after wave of villains pour through the door with a rainfall of bullets and blood manages to avoid an overly repetitious feel. It’s perhaps the highlight of the film, especially coming after the heavily plotted first half. Definitely a film of two halves, the elements, style and focus appear to change throughout them. While the overall product is decent viewing it does sometimes seem as conflicting as the idea of a gunpowder milkshake itself.

To get to the entertaining set-piece action, where the film finally gets chance to properly breathe, you do have to get through the heavily plotted first half of Gunpowder Milkshake. And while you’d like to explore the criminal underworld more there’s amusement enough in this occasionally conflicted actioner.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Respect – Review

Cert – 12, Run-time – 2 hours 25 minutes, Director – Liesl Tommy

Biopic following Aretha Franklin (Jennifer Hudson) from her early days singing in her father’s (Forest Whitaker) church, trying to assert her own style and voice against the input of those around her, including her abusive husband (Marlon Wayans).

It seems odd to think about it, but Aretha Franklin often feels like the support in her own biopic. Not just because in some scenes the men around her appear to hold the power over her career, putting there side of things across rather than letting Franklin speak her mind. Sometimes it’s the case that the film appears to focus more on those around Franklin, or the things that happen to her, rather than her responses and own personal thoughts and feelings. There’s clear respect for the iconic figure within the piece, however sometimes this gets caught up in just what’s shown. Certainly things don’t feel wholly sanitised (definitely not in the way Bohemian Rhapsody was), but the film does sometimes feel as if it shies away from depicting a fuller extent of her battle with alcoholism, and especially her abusive first marriage to also-manager Ted White (Marlon Wayans).

With Franklin sometimes pushed to the side, or a point being made about how she was silenced, Jennifer Hudson’s portrayal of the Queen of Soul doesn’t always get chance to truly emerge. You don’t realise just how great she is when only given two or three lines of dialogue. However, when given a larger slice of detail, or simply being allowed to belt out a tune you realise the true extent of Hudson’s performance. It’s reasons such as this why scenes in various music studios are the highlights of the film. As Franklin and the musicians around her mould and work on the structure on songs such as the titular Respect so that they have her own distinct style. It’s these moments that work the best in terms of engagement and keeping the viewer in their place.

The rest of the film doesn’t exactly feel like a textbook biopic – this tone feels just about avoided. And certainly things are fairly watchable throughout, even if you would like for them to be dwelled upon slightly more. Such a feeling stops the film’s nearly two and a half hour run-time from being felt, managing to pass by well enough without ever feeling overlong. And perhaps much of this is down to the effectiveness of Hudson’s performance when she’s given the room and opportunity to truly shine. When reaching the Amazing Grace finale there’s a real chills-down-the-spine, lump-in-your-throat feeling as she belts out the song with a real passion. It’s a passion that’s there for most of the songs that feature in the film, even when used as slightly in-your-face anthems (Think).

“Music’ll save your life” Franklin is told in a formative moment at the piano in her childhood. And that certainly appears to be the case for Respect. It’s the music and the way it comes across that definitely helps the film. There are some good supporting performances throughout, particularly from Forest Whitaker as Franklin’s father and they further help to keep the film going and the viewer engaged. There’s enough present within the piece to carry it along well when it doesn’t quite let Hudson take the centre stage that her portrayal of Franklin should be getting. There’s an odd feeling to such scenes, which border most on a textbook styling. However, when it comes to the musical sequences that act as the real highlights of the film, it allows for Aretha Franklin’s style to truly emerge and shine, picking Respect up and that for the central figure herself not quite getting in the way as much as in the more serious scenes of the piece.

Respect for Aretha Franklin breaks its way into her story making the much more serious elements of her life appear somewhat sanitised. However, when exploring her musical style, and allowing Hudson to give a great performance, the film begins to hit, even if sometimes leaning towards power-anthem stylings.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Copshop – Review

Cert – 15, Run-time – 1 hour 47 minutes, Director – Joe Carnahan

A rookie cop (Alexis Louder) finds herself trying to prevent complete destruction and multiple deaths when recently arrested Teddy Murretto (Frank Grillo) is hunted down by a competing hitman (Gerard Butler) and psychopath (Toby Huss).

It feels like it’s been a long time since we last saw something in the same vein as Copshop. A film where most of the cast of characters seem to somehow know each other, impacting on their intentions as we try to decipher who’s telling the truth. Or even one that leads to a grand action shootout. Perhaps the last we saw was Ben Wheatley’s excellent Free Fire. However, even that had a fairly different style and feel to it. Leading the cast of Copshop we have Alexis Louder’s rookie cop, Valerie Young. After a relatively quiet day things rapidly change on arresting Teddy Murretto (Frank Grillo). Hot on his tail are hitman Bob Viddick (Gerard Butler – pulling off a not-too-bad American accent this time around) and serial-killer Anthony Lamb (Toby Huss). With the three separated by cell bars and high-security, bulletproof doors the police station quickly becomes a high-risk zone where everyone is fighting for their own life while getting at the throats of others.

While we stay with Louder for most of the film, she’s clearly built up to be the main character, it’s not always easy to connect with her due to the fact that sometimes there are so many characters in various different locations. The film jumps from place to place, or rather character to character, and it’s not always easy to connect with one specific figure, or anyone for that matter. When Louder is leading the scene she sometimes finds herself taken over by the likes of Grillo and Butler as they argue and bicker about who is actually right, who should be believed and who’s more likely to allow Officer Young to survive.

It’s clear the film appears to know that it’s busy. Just over halfway through it dispenses of many minor characters to focus on the feud between the main four or five figures at the heart of the film’s events, and a handful of newly introduced story elements. And just before the final stages this certainly feels like a rather jumpy film. As already mentioned it doesn’t allow for connection with the various figures that we see, and often the same goes for the attempts at somewhat dark humour every now and then. Things generally feel as if they could be better depicted in a short film, allowing for things to be slightly snappier and for the energy that the film seems to want to be properly reached.

Despite some well done action in the final stages of the piece, you definitely feel the drama and stakes of the large-scale (in terms of the events in the film at least) final battle and slightly wonder why the rest of the film couldn’t have been in this fairly unrestrained way. Things generally feel slightly overlong and staggered, not helped by the different locations of characters within the one police station. It prevents the potential of the film from truly coming forward, avoiding the entertainment factor that it could have – perhaps something which is boosted by the fact that it feels like something released a few years too late. Things generally feel lax and disjointed, preventing Copshop from having much effect whilst it’s on. While it doesn’t completely feel like a lengthy build-up Copshop does sometimes find itself trapped in the bars of its own cell, trying to have its voice heard over those of its handful of central characters.

Despite an enjoyable finale everything before it makes Copshop feel too busy to be able to properly engage and connect with its various characters, competing for attention in the different locations they find themselves in.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Malignant – Review

Cert – 18, Run-time – 1 hour 51 minutes, Director – James Wan

After having survived multiple successive traumas, Madison (Annabelle Wallis) begins to delve into her unfamiliar past for answers to a series of grisly murders that aren’t just happening in her dreams.

As various characters over the course of James Wan’s latest directorial outing (with a screenplay by Akela Cooper), Malignant, battle against the mysterious, shadowy antagonist of the piece there’s an almost video game quality to the action. It’s boosted by a narrative that slightly changes from scene to scene – sometimes leaning more towards mystery or action than the grisly horror that the murders that lead to these other tones demonstrate. While it doesn’t feel as if we’re seeing any side-quests or missions there is the feeling of a slightly different film and tone being introduced when a new key piece of information is revealed in the story – and there are plenty of reveals throughout the almost two hour course of the piece.

For the most part we follow Madison (Annabelle Wallis). Having suffered multiple successive traumas, including miscarriages and an abusive relationship, she finds herself tormented by a new ghostly figure. Paralysed in the middle of the night and forced to witness gruesome murders what she initially believes to be a harsh nightmare is quickly revealed to be reality. It’s unexplained how she’s able to view these murders, her home transforming into whatever room in another location the death occurs in, however the answer may lie in her strange and unfamiliar past. Admittedly, a number of these elements come in somewhat later into the film – at least this feels to be the case – and it adds to the busy feeling nature of the piece overall. While there are plenty of good scenes and elements throughout – including some engagingly stylish camerawork from Wan – things don’t always properly gel together.

The horror certainly works. The increasingly bloody murders undeniably strike a fearful chord; including some particularly well-executed body horror in the consistently twisting third act. It makes up for the cheesy dialogue that sometimes enters such scenes, some of which is spoken right before a cut. Whether such dialogue is meant to be received in a somewhat ironic eye-rolling way is uncertain, but with the dark tone that’s set-up throughout the rest of the film it seems perhaps to not be the case. What it pairs up better with is the more uneven elements of the film that slightly stagger to the next scene as things progress towards the big final showdown – which potentially comes after a showdown with a bigger response and more spectacle.

There’s a slight mixture within Malignant. The horror works well, and the mystery manages to take it some way, however not everything manages to gel together properly. The fear factor is gradually lost as the plot comes more into play, or rather expands and gains more detail. Things begin to almost collide and run over each other creating a group of loosely fitting layers; some connecting better than others. As the plot grows things come a bit more off the rails and despite some good scenes and ideas it’s not quite enough to stop things from gradually beginning to slow down and stagger as the ending nears.

James Wan’s latest horror outing has plenty of effective darkness and gore, however sometimes its mystery and action elements can overpower and create a mixture that doesn’t always sit entirely well together.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Cinderella – Review

Cert – 12, Run-time – 1 hour 52 minutes, Director – Kay Cannon

Aspiring dressmaker Ella (Camila Cabello), finds both love and her dreams, forbidden by her stepmother (Idina Menzel), coming closer when attending a ball held for a prince (Nicholas Galitzine).

Cinderella famously gains her ridiculing nickname from her stepsisters (Charlotte Spencer, Maddie Baillio) noticing that young Ella (Camila Cabello) is constantly covered in dirt and, primarily, cinder. Yet, somehow, this latest retelling of the story manages to make this feel like a lazy, eye-rolling addition. One to go alongside this year’s earlier “your name is Estella, not Cruella”. It goes alongside plenty of on-the-nose, again more so than Cruella, popified musical numbers to simply drive the point to an immovable depth in the ground. The prince (Nicholas Galitzine) who wants somebody to love, belts out a rendition of – you guessed it – Somebody To Love. He thinks that the mysterious Ella in front of him is Perfect and so takes three minutes to sing this to her.

However, while Ella certainly has feelings for Prince Robert her heart mostly lies somewhere else. She aspires to own a shop in the local market where she can make and sell dresses – turning her passion into full-time work. Unfortunately she finds herself under the rule of her stepmother (Idina Menzel), threatening to marry her off to nearby, awkwardly flirtatious vegetable salesman Thomas (Rob Beckett). Yet, thanks to the magic and command of Billy Porter’s unfortunately limitedly used Fab G, Ella is transformed for one night, able to go to the ball which the king (Pierce Brosnan – acknowledging the reason for his lack of musical numbers) is holding in the hope of finding the prince a wife so that he can take over all the land down to the sea monster at the bottom of the map. Royal marriages, after all, are for land gain rather than love; and this shows in his own marriage to Minnie Driver’s Queen Beatrice.

It’s a starry cast, which also somewhat oddly features an array of British comedians such as James Acaster, Romesh Ranganathan and Ben Bailey Smith. It also seems that a lot of the money went into the cast. The few moments of CG in the film aren’t great, but sometimes the sets can seem slightly cheap too. No amount of brightly-coloured large-scale dance/ musical number can quite distract from it. Although, during such sequences your mind does focus on the forced nature of the songs and at times what appears to be rather poor lip-syncing. In a film that clearly wants to bring you in to the loud, in-your-face numbers to have as much of a joyous time as the cast’s teeth-filled smiles are displaying. However, they become increasingly tiring and at times painful as they begin to push the close-to two hour run-time of the piece. Perhaps the film would be shorter if the town crier (Bailey Smith) didn’t come along to retell information we had just seen in the scene just beforehand.

While some of the performances are fine and realise the general tone of the film, and Cabello in her first lead acting role certainly comes out fairly unscathed performance-wise, none of them are able to do justice to the script. With lines of dialogue that feel as clunky and forced as the introduction of the musical numbers things simply feel too obvious. Add to that certain twists and turns for characters along the way and their priorities throughout things can seem a little bit mixed up, especially towards the latter stages of the piece once the ball is finally over and done with. It appears that the film is aimed at a very young audience (despite somehow having a 12 rating from the BBFC) who really, really like modern/ modern sounding music. This Cinderella retelling may very well work for them, however for any older viewers who have to sit through the film there’s little present to please amongst the many loud, autotuned songs and unsubtle points it makes in dialogue breathers.

This is a modern-reaching and attempting retelling of Cinderella. However, that means a lot of loud, in-your-face musical numbers and statements that all lack subtlety and engagement value.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Annette – Review

Cert – 15, Run-time – 2 hours 21 minutes, Director – Leos Carax

As his career spirals downwards, stand-up comedian Henry (Adam Driver) finds his marriage to rising opera star Ann (Marion Cotillard) becomes increasingly tense and distanced.

Annette takes the idea of people bursting into song at any possible moment and runs with it. The latest film from co-writer (alongside Sparks brothers Ron and Russell Mael – who also provide the songs and story) and director Leos Carax features Marion Cotillard’s Ann musically soothing herself while giving birth. Before this we witness her and Adam Driver’s Henry serenading each other while committing the act that often nine months later leads to a birth. It’s all part of the theatrical nature of the lives that the two live. The lines between their lives on and off the stage are blurred. Henry is a successful stand-up comic while his wife is a rising opera star. There’s a theatricality to many of their surroundings, things seem specifically set out, and some areas – even outside of their home – feel almost like a specifically laid-out soundstage. It adds to both the seemingly intentionally artificial nature of many of the film’s elements and the feel that this could work on the stage.

Perhaps the most obvious artificial point of the film is the wooden puppet which takes the role of the couple’s child Annette. It’s hoped the the baby girl will help relieve tensions and distance within their marriage, however it seems that this is not the case. As Henry’s career begins to rapidly decline, his reputation plummeting, things simply get worse for the pair. It’s at this point, almost half-way through the film’s 141 minute run-time, that he truly becomes the central figure of the piece. A growing battle forms between him and Simon Helberg’s, until this point underseen, musician; credited as ‘The Accompanist’. As this line of narrative grows and expands, truly taking form and becoming the main detail of the film things pick up quickly. Beforehand the relationship between Driver and Cotillard’s characters is the main drive and while it’s fine to watch it does feel as if it’s the main thing that pushes the run-time.

There’s only quite so far that the series of extended fever-dream-like scenes can go before more is needed. And it does feel as if they go on for a bit too long until things properly get going again with the details of the plot. It’s also at this point that while the stage-like nature is still present – partly thanks to the music that Sparks provides and the way in which it’s used – things appear to also open up as Driver’s character develops, or in some cases fails to. His attempts to cling onto fame and some form of life on the stage are engaging to see, it becomes increasingly evident that the women in his life are being used to progress his own fame; despite the fact that it appears the opposite is happening.

As the plot goes on and Henry becomes more and more desperate the character becomes a more interesting figure. Just how far will he go in using those around him? And indeed the events that he causes have the same effect on the viewer. It’s clear that the more the film uses its plot, and the effects of Cotillard’s character and performance which lie throughout, the more engaging it is. It plays around with the elements that it forms in the lengthy first half. Continuing them and breaking them almost at the same time, completely aware of its artificialities. Recognised in the music, the look, style and feel of the piece. While it might have a theatrical feel that could allow it to work just as well on the stage, established from the opening number, there are still plenty of cinematic elements to allow this to come to life on the screen – a much advertised dance scene in the stormy sea is a true spectacle. And in many ways acts as the hammer to truly break the glass between the stage and screen styles that the film plays with.

Aware of its intentionally artificial elements throughout, Annette truly develops when exploring the actions of its characters in the second half of its lengthy theatrical course.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings – Review

Cert – 12, Run-time – 2 hours 12 minutes, Director – Destin Daniel Cretton

After believing to have remained hidden for years Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) is brought back into his father’s (Tony Leung) ancient kingdom and dynasty-toppling organisation, The Ten Rings.

Marvel’s big action sequences have become things of punch-the-air spectacle. Cheer-inducing battles of increasingly grand scales. It makes the response to the opening stages of their latest feature, Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings, perhaps, even more unexpected. You sit there in open-mouthed wonderment as Tony Leung’s Wenwu and Fala Chen’s Ying Li appear to performed a smoothly choreographed dance together rather than an actual fight. Set against the backdrop of a peaceful, brightly lit, pool in the middle of a secluded forest it’s visually striking in multiple ways – as is the case for many of the fight scenes throughout the film, all paying tribute to martial arts classics in their slight American blockbuster-ised way.

Much of the entertainment value is pushed by the likability of leading man Simu Liu. Having hidden out in San Francisco as Shaun for the best part of a decade, he is brought back to his life as Shang-Chi, heir to The Ten Rings; a kingdom-destroying organisation set up by his father (Leung). Initially tagging along for the journey is best friend Katy (Awkwafina). The two everyday figures (perhaps the most the franchise has seen in central roles up until this point, perhaps discounting Tom Holland’s Spider-Man) make an enjoyable pairing and provide plenty of entertaining humour along the way. It contrasts well with the action and more dramatic content of the film – particularly in regards to the darkness surrounding Leung’s finely performed antagonist. It’s a shame that there are occasional clashes between the comedy and the more serious elements of the film. Humour, while being successful, does seem somewhat misplaced at times and acts as a slight snap away from the film for a brief second when placed in the middle of a scene.

Where the film succeeds in terms of its narrative is in the fact that it doesn’t feel like a general original story. The fact that Shang-Chi is already aware of his background and is re-entering a world allows for a feeling that we’re already aware of some of these characters, requiring less formalities and that things can get going much quicker while still not moving without the audience. From there the stylised fight sequences and the family story at the centre form something rather compelling and engaging. An interesting new step within the MCU that begins to show its more Marvel style colours in the third act. Things begin to feel much bigger during the final major battle of the piece. While not anything that removes you from the onscreen events or causes a distance there does seem to be a slight shift in style and tone – even if one of the final fights still has a real energetic push behind it and that martial arts tone back. Such events, despite their creativity and continuation of the idea that this is all indeed part of legend, do also feel as if they push the run-time on a bit.

Particular character flashbacks in the later stages of the film do cause some slight disconnect, and its perhaps these that truly make the film feel that little bit longer. Not by too much, perhaps 10-15 minutes, but enough to make it feel as things could be that little bit tighter. And yet, for the issues that do arise there’s still plenty of inspired action taking place in this latest entry into Marvel’s universe. Simu Liu, alongside Awkwafina and the many other new entrants into the franchise – including Meng’er Zhang as Shang-Chi’s sister Xialing, perhaps the most surprising thing about the film is that this is her debut role! – is a welcome figure and you’ll be awaiting what he does next, both in and out of the franchise. In fact, this is echoed for much of what appears in Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings. There’s plenty of scenes, ideas, content and sequences that stand out amongst the rest of the MCU that show a continually changing landscape for the franchise, experimenting with different genres in each new entry. And while it might have some slight structural issues and dip into more conventional areas for the franchise in its final stages, there’s plenty of style throughout this film to keep it powering through.

Perhaps a bit on the long side as it begins to dip into more conventional action and stakes, there’s still plenty to enjoy within the style and energy of Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings. A film filled with plenty of great performances from largely newcomers to the MCU who you’ll definitely want to see again.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Our Ladies – Review

Cert – 15, Run-time – 1 hour 46 minutes, Director – Michael Caton-Jones

Going to Edinburgh for a choir competition, a group of Catholic school girls intend to spend the day drinking and hooking up with the locals.

It’s been a long road for Our Ladies to reach a proper big screen release. Since premiering at the London Film Festival in October of 2019 it’s faced a number of understandable delays. However, its anticipated freedom into cinemas perhaps matches the feeling of the central group of students let loose in the open world. Taken as part of the choir of their strict Catholic school we see the close friends arrive in 90s Edinburgh with the aim of drinking, hooking up and getting as much of a taste of adult life as possible.

Alongside the actors who clearly understand their characters writer-director Michael Caton-Jones forms a group with clearly individual personalities. While we see most of the film’s events through Orla (Tallulah Greive), trying to push her own boundaries and make the most of her life while going through cancer treatment, there’s still plenty of time to see the likes of loud and outspoken partier Manda (Sally Messham) and quiet, secret-holding Finnoula (Abigail Lawrie). The time that we spend with the group of friends is largely enjoyable. And while the film begins to feel slightly jumpy when seeing them split up into different bars and clubs in the area there’s still amusement to be found within their interactions and conversations. For much of the film we are simply seeing these characters obtain the freedom that they’ve been wanting for so long. A vast difference to the small, eventless Highlands town they live in.

It’s in the town where the film begins to dip. The impacts of the events in Edinburgh, of course, follow the students back home. With there being at least six stories to wrap up, and points to cover from when they split off and regrouped so many times, the final stages, and indeed build-up to them, do feel somewhat busy. Almost seeming to try and continue the narrative while begin to bring it to a close at the same time. There’s not exactly a clash, but it does add to the busy feel that’s present, as you begin to disengage with the film and to some extent the on-screen relationships.

The run-time feels pushed. Even if Our Ladies were to just be cut down by ten minutes things would likely pass by that bit more quickly and easily in the final stages. However, the before time runs out the bonds between the characters can still be felt. There’s a selection of fine performances from the ensemble that leads the piece and that truly creates your connection with them and the amusement that the film provides. There are plenty of laughs to be found within the characters and the places they claim to be willing to go to for the things that they want. It’s the performances that help lift up the piece and keep it going even through some of the slight dips in the return home. Bringing about the laughs and the entertainment it truly appears to be the title ladies who act as the biggest and best draw of their own film.

While the film might dip a bit when busy with the slightly extended effects of the partying there’s plenty of humour and entertainment to be found throughout within the performances that bring Our Ladies to life.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Candyman – Review

Cert – 15, Run-time – 1 hour 31 minutes, Director – Nia DaCosta

After finding inspiration in the urban legend of Candyman for an art project, Anthony (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) unleashes a new onslaught of killings in now gentrified Chicago.

“A story like that lasts forever. That’s Candyman”. Nia DaCosta’s quasi-sequel to 1992’s Candyman demonstrates the timelessness of urban legends. It places itself firmly in the modern day. Its events, settings and style all feel completely modern, helping to flesh things out and engage you within the world in which darkness is once again unleashed. It’s brought back by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II’s Anthony, an artist struggling to find his next piece. However, on discovering the legend of Candyman his inspiration is jumpstarted, forming the beginnings of a downwards spiral into a world of bloodshed and dark mystery.

DaCosta’s atmospheric use of the camera, tracking Anthony’s movements and the towering streets of gentrified Chicago create the feeling that he’s constantly unsafe. Always in danger in the busy, open streets of the hive-like city. It sets in an unsettling feel. Putting you on edge over the course of the short 91 minute run-time of the piece. When it comes to gore things are kept relatively light throughout, however when it does appear it’s certainly effective. The most impact is often from what you don’t see rather than that which you do – although there is still plenty of effective slasher scenes and slight body horror to further shake you. It shows the world that Anthony has entered and what could become his fate as he becomes increasingly panicked that he is being stalked by the Candyman – hidden really well in the background mirrors of many scenes. A scene set in an entirely mirrored lift is tense even before Anthony has completely entered it.

We see Abdul-Mateen’s character delve into an increasingly mad state, worrying his girlfriend, Brianna (Teyonah Parris), and those around the pair; such as her brother. Troy (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett). His behaviour, much like his art, becomes much more chaotic and unpredictable. The only thing that’s certain is his obsession with this local myth – fuelled further by Colman Domingo’s sinister dry cleaners owner. Yet, we follow Anthony on his investigative journey as he appears to become a part of the very thing that he’s investigating. There’s an intriguing and chilling narrative here that keeps you captivated within its details. Both in terms of the narrative and visuals. Your eyes are kept in the centre of the screen, almost looking the characters in the eyes in complete seriousness as they stand in the centre of many a symmetrical setting. DaCosta’s direction is fantastic as she brings to life every scene and piece of scenery. Forming a true sense of current-day tension that calls back to the original film well through creative use of shadow puppets – be sure to stay throughout the credits!

Everything combines to create a fine sense of atmosphere to this continuation, rather than updating, of a story that is expanded thanks to the exploration of urban legend. It makes the most of its setting and the things that have changed in the nearly 30 years since the release of the original film, and the threatening figure who still looms. The city is his domain and it’s apparent that it’s only a matter of time until things get worse. Each killing shows this, each more intense than the last. Each one built up to overtime and allowed to have an impact rather than being shown for the sake of it and just moved on from. At a short 91 minutes this is a well-paced film that, while potentially needing a few more minutes in the twists and turns of the shocking third act, there’s plenty of detail packed into this iteration of Candyman. A new take on the tale that knows exactly what to do with that very story. A true atmospheric and tense challenge to say his name, if you dare.

Nia DaCosta forms an atmospheric modern horror that truly puts you on edge as each great performance enhances the already high detail of this fine expansion and exploration of an urban legend.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Censor – Review

Cert – 15, Run-time – 1 hour 24 minutes, Director – Prano Bailey-Bond

A film censor (Niamh Algar) living through the video nasties era is haunted by a violent film which seems to match with the disappearance of her sister.

“It’s not entertainment Mum. I do it to protect people” says Enid (Niamh Algar) about her job as a film censor. Protecting people appears to be increasingly at the fore of her role as horror after horror is added to an extensive of list of video nasties that would otherwise corrupt anyone who watches them. VHS copies of The Evil Dead and Driller Killer are thrown into boxes, confiscated and banned. Meanwhile other horror titles are severely edited to remove as much violence, gore and cannibalistic content as possible. However, it never seems to be enough as more and more increasingly disturbing content is sent through the censors office. One particular title, which she’s particularly requested to oversee, crosses the line into personal relevance for Enid when it appears to match the disappearance of her sister a number of years before.

Delving into personal horror Algar’s finely performed otherwise sensible, tough-censoring figure begins to research other films by the director to find out as much as she can. Her parents have been ready to move on, obtaining a death certificate for their lost daughter, however Enid fights as much as she can hoping that her sister is still alive. As the films that Enid watches become more relevant to her life the lines between the fictional horror – featuring some fine recreated stylings of films of the era – and her own experiences become much less clear. They begin to merge into one, helped by co-writer (with Anthony Fletcher) and director Bailey-Bond’s knowledge and observances on the genre which help to heighten the escalating horror over the course of the piece.

Much of the horror comes in the third act as the lines becoming non-existent. The look of the piece begins to look like a bordering on tattered under-the-counter VHS copy of one of the many banned titles that we see throughout the film. Enid’s behaviour becomes more unhinged and she almost appears to be playing a character in one of these films. The final 20 minutes of the piece’s short rather quick-passing run-time are truly the highlight thanks to the artistic style that has gone into them. It forms an engaging and intriguing set of events that are built-up to well, if sometimes slightly quietly in comparison. All carrying on from the idea that “horror is already out there in all of us”.

Things may be slightly quiet in the build up to the excellently handled finale of Censor. However, they still hold a fair deal of interest within the story, enhanced by Bailey-Bond’s attention to detail and styles calling back to the video nasties that her film revolves around. When paired with Algar’s great central performance there’s certainly an engaging film here that culminates in a wonderful display of the central character’s gradually declined and panicked state. All set against the detailed backdrop of an increasing need to protect people against the threat of corrupting violence within video nasty scares.

Censor’s excellently observed final 20 minutes is built up to with a detailed, if slightly quiet, build-up. All containing a great central performance from Niamh Algar.

Rating: 3 out of 5.