Prey – Review

Cert – Recommended for ages 16+, Run-time – 1 hour 40 minutes, Director – Dan Trachtenberg

Comanche hunter Naru (Amber Midthunder) finds herself defending her tribe against an advanced alien predator (Dane DiLiegro) designed to kill the strongest opponent it can find.

Following on from 2016’s 10 Cloverfield Lane director Dan Trachtenberg returns to bring another perspective spin to a franchise. The original 1987 Predator is a classic piece of tension building about being hunted and preventing the attacker from winning. For the first half of Prey – taking the story to 1719 and following Comanche hunter Naru (Amber Midthunder) – Trachtenberg, who came up with the story alongside screenwriter Patrick Aison, focuses on the central figure hunting for an unseen figure. She’s uncertain of what waits for her in the nearby wilderness, but knows for sure that the recent roar of a ‘thunderbird’ and strange attacks and sightings are of something unfamiliar. Perhaps a predator stronger than any she, or anyone in her tribe, has seen before. Attempting to track it down she takes it upon herself to take the being down before it attacks the rest of her tribe.

Throughout this search, where we still see brief shots and moments with the initially invisible Predator (Dane DiLiegro) attacking the likes of nearby wolves and snakes, Trachtenberg makes the most of highlighting the wide open space which surrounds Naru. There are plenty of engaging shots of the landscapes to help establish Naru’s hunt, yet reinforcing the idea that the Predator – which she is yet to see – could be anywhere; again leaning away from the original film which manages to highlight the exterior environment while keeping a feeling of entrapment amongst the trees and crowded growth of the area in which Arnold Schwarzenegger feels trapped in.

However, while we commonly think of Schwarzenegger facing the advanced, both in terms of fighting skills and weaponry, alone, Midthunder spends much of the time with fellow Comanche fighters. Trying to prove both herself as a warrior capable of fighting just as well as the men in her tribe – including brother Taabe (Dakota Beavers) – but also the existence of the alien threat. While on the one hand this helps add to the handful of action sequences where the bow-and-arrow and tomahawk-equipped humans take on the precision-dart-firing alien it also slightly detracts from perhaps the highlight moments of seeing Midthunder’s character both explore the world around her and also take part in the action. She certainly gets her moments, but it’s more a case of wishing that there were more of them throughout the film due to the highlights that they serve as.

As the hunting tone of the first half switches to a more hunted feel in the second there’s, as you might expect, an increase in the amount of interactions with the Predator. There’s a level of suspense to be found in each one while keeping them fairly restrained and unshowy – bringing about a style which would perhaps come across with more spectacle on the big screen. While brief these moments are certainly enjoyable, and slightly differ from the build-up and initial search and hunt that we see Midthunder’s character go on. The film as a whole doesn’t seem to change tone or style, more just a slight shift in focus as the search turns into planning and adapting on how to escape and defeat the kitted-out otherworldly creature. It makes for good, certainly gory – the film is sparing but effective with its bursts, splatters and gushings of dark crimson and neon green – entertainment for the time that it’s on, with certain shots and moments likely to stay in the mind a little while afterwards.

It’s certainly interesting to see things pan out, with the idea of a Predator arriving 300 years ago and doing battle with basic handmade weapons of the time avoiding feeling like a novelty. It’s a properly formulate idea which is developed by the characters, particularly Naru, and the hunts and battles that make up the film – particularly allowing the central figure to prove herself on multiple fronts early on so that that doesn’t become the core focus of the film. It’s her vs the Predator and we know that. The film makes it clear. Simply bringing the historical spin to things while still playing with familiar elements of the franchise there’s an enjoyable time to be had with Prey – which has fun with its title and the different angles from which it can be seen throughout the film.

While you might wish the see more of Amber Midthunder going it alone, or up against the Predator, Prey still provides a solid piece of entertaining action, with effective build-up and shots of the open landscape before the hunter becomes the hunted.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Thirteen Lives – Review

Cert – 12, Run-time – 2 hours 27 minutes, Director – Ron Howard

Retelling of the 2018 Tham Luang rescue of twelve Thai children and their football coach from a rapidly flooding cave.

Much like the actual rescue itself Ron Howard’s retelling of the 2018 Tham Luang cave rescue feels quite gradual. It’s not so much that it shows various different perspectives – it just about manages to avoid jumping about between various perspectives as we largely follow British cave divers John (Colin Farrell) and Rick (Viggo Mortensen) – more that it details many of the setbacks faced amongst the heavy rainfall in the are, which leads to rising flooding in the cave where twelve Thai boys and their football coach are trapped. Yet, this gradual feeling generally avoids losing your interest in the piece, particularly once it begins to focus more on the efforts of John, Rick and their various colleagues, and those around them who have answered the call for help from all around the world.

However, this build-up and depicting of adversities and delays does eventually have its impact when the film as a whole starts to feel a bit on the long side. At almost two and a half hours, with the final hour dedicated to the core rescue effort itself, the run-time certainly begins to be felt at various points throughout the film. There’s a level of interest to be found within the rescue, even if initially it’s described and discussed so much that it initially starts off somewhat slowly, and the way in which it is executed, but a feeling still remains that the film is pushing its run-time beyond a more comfortable level. It causes the eventual rescue to feel drawn out – perhaps as we’re focusing mostly on the rescuers instead of also seeing as many occasional points from politicians and others who are involved in trying to free the titular thirteen figures trapped below.

While the gradual pacing is still present it almost feels different to what comes beforehand, perhaps more down to the fact that we’re seeing a few hours condensed into one instead of almost three weeks condensed into 90 minutes. It’s not a major issue, and again doesn’t detach you from the film, but does perhaps serve as another reason as to why the rescue, and eventually run-time, feel drawn out. Luckily, there’s consistency in Howard’s direction and the way in which he captures the events. At times it feels like he’s keeping things naturalistic, sometimes attempting to come through in the dialogue of William Nicholson’s screenplay, to push a near-documentary style – having made a handful of documentaries in recent years. It works on some levels, particularly when it comes to the up-close nature of the rescue sequence, and a number of key discussions between various parties involved in the early stages of the rescue in regards to just what should be done and who should do it.

Such stylings help to bring you in to the story that’s being told, more focusing on the rescuers rather than those being rescued. With that the light documentary-like touches help to connect you and further engage you in the events as they gradually unfold – the thought processes of the characters, particularly Farrell and Mortensen’s divers, coming across in the lingering shots and moments as things develop slowly for them. Such stylings may change slightly in the final hour as the actual rescue pans out, but there’s still a generally interesting nature which keeps you in place as the rescue takes place, detracting from the slightly overlong run-time.

There’s a fair deal of interest to be found within the gradual pacing of Thirteen Lives, getting across the feelings of the central rescuers, but it leads to the run-time feeling pushed, particularly in the slight shift of the final-hour rescue.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Bullet Train – Review

Cert – 15, Run-time – 2 hours 6 minutes, Director – David Leitch

A group of strangers, all with links to crime organisations, find themselves looking for a briefcase holding $10,000,000 whilst on a bullet train.

Perhaps one of the things least expected from Bullet Train, the latest action flick from director David Leitch, is a running gag about Brian Tyree Henry’s character’s – codenamed Lemon – fascination with Thomas The Tank Engine. He carries around a set of stickers and will gladly list the names and personalities of each of the trains from the children’s TV series, to the confusion of those around him. He claims that the show has taught him about friendship and kindness, alongside helping him to read people and understand their true motives. It certainly seems to have helped as he tries to decode the various assassins and criminal minds around him on a bullet train where multiple figures are after a briefcase holding $10,000,000, each for different reasons which somehow link back to those who are also trying to obtain the case.

These various figures are led by Brad Pitt’s Ladybug. A figure who believes he is cursed with bad luck and is looking to gently get back into the crime game with a nice, easy ‘smash and grab’ – perhaps even avoiding the ‘smash’ – led by his commander Maria (the voice of Sandra Bullock). However, what starts off as a fairly easy job soon spirals into chaos as Ladybug is trapped on the train defending himself against knives, guns – which he refuses to use himself – bottles, a giant mascot and an irritated conductor amongst other things. Despite much of the action taking place on the train the film manages to avoid feeling restricted by its one-location multi-carriage setting and moves along through its compartments fairly well.

The action itself is rather stylish, carrying a standard Leitch vibe perhaps more in line with Deadpool 2 and eventually Fast And Furious: Hobbs And Shaw than the likes of John Wick and Atomic Blonde. This partly comes through in the comedic tones that are dashed throughout. The opening stages are played out more for comedy than anything else, an attempted joke inserted into most instances – the running Thomas The Tank Engine gag seems funnier to the creatives than anyone else. It’s a shame that the humour never quite takes off throughout the film. There are a couple of mild chuckles and exhales of amusement here and there, but nothing proper in terms of actual laughs. It causes the earlier sequences, where we’re still being introduced to the characters – getting through various flashbacks and recollections and lengthy not-quite-montages which intercut conversations between characters happening at the same time to construct one long scene/ sequence – to feel overshadowed by the comedic attempts, leaking into covering up the action.

Once out of the way of the various introductions and build-up of relationships and motivations things begin to move along a bit more smoothly. It certainly takes a bit of time for things to pick up speed, but eventually there’s enjoyable viewing to be found as characters begin to share more scenes together, and there are less separations in general meaning less jumping from carriage to carriage with each new scene or moment. It also allows for things to generally move along with more ease, and therefore the action to take a bit more of a centre stage as it appears to quietly become a bit more pivotal, and generally more enjoyable. While this does start to lead it to a rather messy third act where various ideas are thrown into the mix at once until things, almost literally, come off the rails there’s still an enjoyable enough nature to things as the end nears that you can just about excuse things, even if one or two narrative decisions would be better off having not been made. It may take some time to get going, and the final destination might be a bit messy, but eventually there’s an enjoyable enough film within Bullet Train to warrant watching once the stylish, fairly light yet undeniably bloody, action begins to play a more key role in the proceedings.

Once the characters begin to come together and the action becomes more prominent over the comedic attempts there’s decent enough viewing within Bullet Train. It might start to get messy in the third act, but thanks to the style it’s just about excusable.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Not Okay – Review

Cert – Recommended for ages 16+, Run-time – 1 hour 40 minutes, Director – Quinn Shephard

Aspiring writer Danni (Zoey Deutch) is thrown into the influencer sphere after creating a narrative that she survived a recent terrorist attack in Paris, whilst at her New York home.

In the case of writer-director Quinn Shephard’s Not Okay being placed by Disney, under the Searchlight Pictures label, directly onto Disney+ there are a number of positives to this decision. One prominent plus being that of the pause button. There’s no denying the difficult watch that pans out over the 100 minute run-time as Shephard consistently increases the levels of discomfort we experience in each scene, as the actions of central figure Danni (Zoey Deuth) – who we’re warned about before the studio logos even roll as being “an unlikable female protagonist” – lead her to spiral into further depths of cringe and wince inducing lies.

Alongside being an endurance test, although worthwhile watching without using the pause button, home viewing is perhaps a fine option for those more prone to audible reactions. On numerous occasions I found myself gasping, groaning and blurting, urging the central figure to just stop talking! Amongst exasperated sighs of simply “oh no” and “stop”.

During one key scene we see Danni attend a survivors group. Her story is that she has survived a terrorist bombing in Paris whilst attending a writers retreat, hoping to develop her skills to make it from photo editor to writer for the online publication she works for, Depravity. However, Danni was in fact still in New York, simply Photoshopping picture to make it seem as if she was in Paris in the build-up to the attack. The only reason she’s gone to group therapy is in the hope of getting information for a realistic sounding article she plans on writing. It’s a painfully uncomfortable scene in the context of why she’s really there, especially in regards to how naturally the rest of the group – including shooting and bombing survivors – seem to open up and discuss their experiences with trauma and how it’s stayed with them. All expertly handled by Shephard’s excellent direction which subtly manages to build up the levels of cringe-related tension and discomfort throughout the film as Danni begins to trend on various social media platforms and live the life of a famous influencer – the one she’s long-dreamed of.

Part of Danni’s fame comes from her growing friendship with young school shooting survivor Rowan Alred (Mia Isaac), a passionate activist calling for gun control and more response from politicians. We see her delivering occasional speeches and spoken word performances which strike an emotional chord as she angrily blasts her words into the microphone and through the speakers around her. Whilst not making eye contact with the camera you can feel a fiery connection to what she’s saying and experiencing, the panic that instantly hits her eyes as a lockdown drill alarm begins in her school, a set of passionate points which command the screen whenever the call is being declared.

Yet, it’s a call which simply further fuels Deutch’s character’s lies and sprawling narrative of what it was like for her to survive a tragic event which she was not a part of. Yet, amongst the drama and tragedy that Danni digs herself into personally there are still occasional scatterings of humour here and there. Rarely seem to be directed from her, apart from in the early stages before the string of lies begins, but more from those around her – and indeed their reactions to her. Such points are well blended into their respective scenes and manage to not disrupt the flow which is formed, while also in some ways increasing the overall tone and style of the film as it tracks Danni as she stops considering whether she should stop as she sees how she’s benefitting from her false narrative.

As we pass the hour mark things do begin to lean away from the discomfort and more into a clearly visible direct line to the ending. Her actions are less focused and frequent as the expected developments – which are teased at the very start of the film as she sits in front of her laptop watching death threats and abuse hurl towards her in a rapidly doomscrolling Twitter feed – come into play, crashing into her growing web. This certainly doesn’t stop the overall quality of the film from faltering. It’s still well handled and engaging, and certainly allows for a bit more light to be shone upon Isaac and her performance, just on a slightly calmer plain. Perhaps the biggest success of the final 40 minutes, however, is the fact that sympathy isn’t really created towards Danni. It’s more in regards to those around her, even in confrontational scenes. While there may be some as the internet pile on begins and we see the abuse that she’s subjected to it’s certainly not delivered en masse in an instant – showing the restraint and effectiveness within both Shephards screenplay and direction.

There’s a strong film within Not Okay. One which certainly makes for a tough watch due to the intense levels of increasing discomfort brought about by the actions of the central character. However, that discomfort feels intentional and is undeniably effective in keeping you engaged in the film, while also at a distance from the central figure who you can’t help but loudly urge to stop her actions on many occasions. It’s an engaging, if fittingly trialling, piece of work which pulls its elements together well for an effective, sometimes enjoyable amongst the drama and tragedies, time.

With a plot which only really properly becomes familiar as things start to calm down, Not Okay is an excellently pitched endurance test in almost painful discomfort from the subtleties of Quinn Shephard and her cast and crew.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Joyride – Review

Cert – 15, Run-time – 1 hour 34 minutes, Director – Emer Reynolds

After running away from his dad (Lochlann O’Mearáin), 12-year-old Mully (Charlie Reid) finds himself on the run in a stolen taxi, not just with a wedge of cash but also new mother Joy (Olivia Colman) and her baby, who she plans on taking to a friend to care for.

Within the first five minutes of writer Ailbhe Keoghan and director Emer Reynolds’ Joyride we see 12-year-old Mully (Emer Reynolds) steal a large sum of charity money from his father, steal a taxi – which he seems to be able to drive perfectly – and engage in a confrontation with the still-half-asleep woman in the back of it. Yet, perhaps the most surprising thing that happens before any of this is the fact that he confidently performs a rendition of Minnie The Moocher in front of a pub full of people. It’s at an event to raise money for a charity which heled his mother as she was battling cancer. However, Mully’s dad (Lochlann O’Mearáin) intends on keeping the donations for himself, it’s hinted that he owes money to other people – plans which go out the window as soon as his son snatches the wad of cash out of his hand outside the pub.

Initially Mully’s aims are to travel to his aunt’s house, however as the woman he has kidnapped, who we soon learn to be called Joy (Olivia Colman), takes over the wheel with her own determination the route changes to her friend’s home, a fair few more miles away, where she intends to drop off her newborn baby, also in tow, somewhere where she will be cared for and properly looked after. Then, it’s off to Lanzarote. Wherever they end up going there’s certainly plenty for the polar-opposite pair of very sweary – the film certainly earns its 15 rating for the frequent dropping the f-bomb alone, although it does die down as things go on – figures to bicker about along the long country backroads of Ireland. There’s an enjoyable nature to the duo who manage to pull off an authentic feel to the bond that begins to grow between them. These are two central performances which largely helps to carry the film and bring you in.

Humour is what fuels the first half of the piece. Yes, there may be some familiar jokes but they’re pulled off well enough by Colman and Reid who both deliver fine performances – it feels odd, and perhaps obvious, to say, but Reid himself genuinely feels as if he is playing a 12-year-old. You believe that this is a child conversing with Colman’s new-mother, even amongst the confidence and experience that he displays, after having largely looked after his own niece growing up. It perhaps adds to the chuckles along the way and your general connection to the film.

Of course, there are dashes of seriousness and drama here and there, and for the most part they’re dealt with rather well. It’s when they become to central focus in the second half where you have to properly resettle into things. Not as they begin, but once you realise that this is not the prominent tone which the film is going for and that the more comedic leanings have been put aside for now. Then, once your settled in to this new tone things begin to alternate within the closing stages and form a tonally conflicting finale; again, the performances manage to hold the film up. There are certainly quieter moments dropped in here and there which manage to blend in well – there’s a really lovely set of scenes involving a brief appearance from Tommy Tiernan – but as the tone almost solely becomes dramatic things begin to slightly slip off the road.

Luckily, at only 94 minutes long; and filling that run-time fairly well, there’s a largely enjoyable, and fairly breezy, nature to Joyride – at least when it comes to the more comedic elements and conversations between the finely-performed central pairing as they travel across the Irish country. The drama may sometimes cause some disruption and clash as it alternates with the more familiar elements of comedy, or begins to dominate as the overall tone and focus, but there’s still decent enough viewing to be had. Largely thanks to the performances which lead the piece which keep you engaged and interested in the way things are going to pan out for the characters – after one particular moment early on, perhaps unconsciously, leads you to think a tense convention may be ticked before going the other way. It may have its conflictions, like the two main characters, but generally Joyride manages to come together to create an enjoyable piece of viewing.

While the drama and comedy may conflict when alternating, or overtaking as the predominant tone, there’s a generally enjoyable nature to Joyride thanks to the two engaging central performances from Reid and Colman.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

DC League Of Super Pets – Review

Cert – PG, Run-time – 1 hour 45 minutes, Directors – Jared Stern, Sam Levine

When Superman (John Krasinski) and the rest of the Justice League are kidnapped by a vengeful guinea pig (Kate McKinnon) his dog, Krypto (Dwayne Johnson), assembles a team of superpowered pets to save them.

There’s an undeniably starry cast leading the latest Warner Brothers animation within the DC sphere. Keanu Reeves even makes a brief set of appearances as Batman, something which some fans have been lightly anticipating since the casting was announced. However, in this case while there may be big names popping up here and there to lend their voices to various iconic superheroes the focus is very much on their pets, namely Superman’s (John Krasinski) loyal hound Krypto (Dwayne Johnson). When his owner, alongside the rest of the Justice League, is kidnapped by a revenge-seeking guinea pig (Kate McKinnon) Krypto takes it upon himself to lead a team of recently escape, and newly superpowered, shelter pets in order to save both the Justice League and perhaps the world.

Amongst the grouping, who even with their powers are initially more intent on reaching the much-discussed ‘farm upstate’, are fellow invulnerable dog Ace (Kevin Hart), size-shifting super-fan pig PB (Vanessa Bayer), scared electric squirrel Chip (Diego Luna) and speedy, sweary – although censored it still feels somewhat odd and out of place to hear amongst the rest of the film – Merton (Natasha Lyonne). It’s up to them to take down McKinnon’s Lulu, especially after Krypto’s powers are taken away, and her band of mutated classroom guinea pigs – who themselves discuss tactics and how fire powers will work with ice in one of the more amusing moments of the film.

There’s potential for a number of good jokes here and there through League Of Super Pets, and they do begin to show their head at times, however it feels as if the film is more focused on leaning into its voice cast than anything else. The emphasis on the starry names who have signed on to voice various characters removes some of the potential humour, and also seems to make way for more display of a lack of originality within the film. From the opening scenes you can pretty much tell exactly where the film is going to go and how things are going to develop and turn out. All within the first ten or so minutes, after which things truly begin to dip as the boxes are ticked and your boredom increases. Even moments that could have comedic potential and seem like good ideas gain little response due to what they’ve been surrounded by; and the general focus of the film.

If the film were to focus solely more on the pets then there may be something slightly more enjoyable, especially with certain jokes being cracked lightly jabbing at comic book movies – Ace tells Krypto at one point “if you want to be alone why don’t you go some place uglier?” when he escapes to ‘the best view in the city’. It’s not quite Teen Titans Go! To The Movies – one of the best and funniest animated, and superhero, films in recent years, gloriously sending up the genre from all angles – but it certainly has potential to be mildly amusing. Yet, with various points jumping back to the trapped Justice League members, an imprisoned Lex Luthor (Marc Maron) and Lulu – McKinnon’s character, stealing the show thanks to her vocal performance, seemingly getting more screen-time than a number of recent MCU villains – the titular League Of Super Pets just about avoids feeling like communal, or rather ensemble, support in their own film.

By the time the token seriousness is brought in as part of a flashback sequence the tone that’s attempted to be struck just feels disingenuous and falls before it even has time to properly start. It simply feels present to add to the conventional arc that the film follows. Ticking another box along the way. Further proving the point that you can tell where things are going to go from around the ten minute mark when we’re still being introduced to the central characters. It pushes the thought that plot, character and even jokes aren’t the overall focus of the film as it simply seems to try and push its big name voice cast more than anything else, as if that forms its most appealing feature. There may be some good ideas here and there and signs of potential, however much of it gains little response due to the rather bland and tiresome surroundings.

DC League Of Super Pets hints at the film it might be early on and proceeds to tick pretty much every box of expectation afterwards. Pushing its starry voice cast over anything else there’s few laughs to be found within this rather tiresome team-up.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Where Is Anne Frank – Review

Release Date – 12th August 2022, Cert – PG, Run-time – 1 hour 40 minutes, Director – Ari Folman

Kitty (Ruby Stokes), the imaginary friend who Anne Frank (Emily Carey) wrote to in her diary, finds herself released into the streets of near-future Amsterdam, trying to find her missing friend.

Anxiety isn’t quite the right word to use when it comes to describing initial feelings towards Where Is Anne Frank. Nor is hesitant interest a pinpoint term. Whatever the right description may be for the first stretch of this animated feature, written and directed by Ari Folman, thoughts circle the mind as to just how the film is going to pull its concept off as we follow the imaginary friend who Anne Frank wrote to her her diary, Kitty (Ruby Stokes) come to life, roaming the streets of “a year from now” Amsterdam in search of her best friend. She’s confused and uncertain as to where to go in search for Anne, especially when everything around her seems to be plastered with her name – from the local theatre to the nearby school and bridge.

It’s within the pages of Anne’s diary, which she takes from the Anne Frank House, where Kitty initially finds her friend (voiced by Emily Carey). However, this is all in the past as we see Anne write to Kitty about hiding away from the Nazis in the secret apartment above where her father (Michael Maloney) worked. In some ways we see two films play out, gradually pulling together shared themes in ways that admittedly feel somewhat on-the-nose, at least when it comes to certain single lines of dialogue summing up the points of view of certain characters and what’s going on around them. However, on remembering that perhaps the target audience for this film is more family orientated, bearing the children in mind, there’s perhaps a more excusable feeling to such moments.

This being said, the film certainly doesn’t lean away from hiding details and events. There’s a darkness to it that helps it to get its points across, and frame them well for the younger audience. While initial threat is shown for Anne and her family in the form of towering Nazi soldiers, drenched in black and emblazoned with dark red swastikas and a white, emotionless mask-like face – it’s a simple design which is undeniably effective – the film dives deeper and feels better for it. “For all of history people have always found a minority to blame for everything bad that’s happened” Anne explains to Kitty as the latter views parallels in the modern world. A subplot involving refugees in Amsterdam begins to unfold in the not-quite-present. Mostly developing in the latter stages, after having been briefly referenced in the more on-the-nose, we can see where this is going details beforehand, there is again something interesting played out, especially in the way that Folman speaks to his audience.

Perhaps his, and his film’s, biggest connection is formed when it’s clear that certain things have been let go. The film lets go of itself and fully remembers the potential target family audience. It largely happens in the ‘a year from now’ sequences where things begin to develop and move along faster, creating a sense of interest in Kitty and the way in which she explores Anne’s impact on the world around her, the words which have echoed and those which need to be heard again – sometimes the same at once. It brings us to a central theme of “do everything you can to save just one single soul”. Something which is broadened in the past, where most points develop for later reference in the world which Kitty is scouring for any sign of her friend – and evasion from the police as they begin to search for her and the stolen diary.

There’s an early scene where Anne appears to parade down a street, cheerful music playing and colour blaring from the screen. She’s surrounded by people, largely those who she claims were in love with her at one point before the war broke out. It feels slightly odd when initially placed into the film, considering what it felt like it was building up just before and is part of what sets in the initial thought process as to how the film is going to handle its themes and elements. However, it’s quickly followed by a deeply contrasting description of the darkness the title figure’s world was plunged into by the Nazis. The freedom which was removed for her and many other Jews, and the lives that were put at risk. While they might sow an initial seed of slight uncertainty a number of moments within Where Is Anne Frank develop into something slightly bigger and more thoughtful.

It’s a matter of letting things develop and allowing for later reactions – again, the idea of the past echoing into the future, where a number of the best elements lie and the film works best for the family audience. It generally makes for an interesting piece of work which works best when you, and indeed the film itself, remember who the target audience is, and it feels like it may work rather well in speaking to them. While for other audience it might take a bit of time to properly click with the film and settle in to it there’s still a good piece of work delivered which forms interest in what it does and the way in which it uses its elements and forms a narrative, being particularly effective in the second half.

It may appear to be slightly on-the-nose at times, but this is part of the way in which Where Is Anne Frank begins to speak to its potential target audience, forming an interesting narrative with its elements. It might take a bit of time to settle into and realise its patterns and tones, but eventually there is a worthwhile watch alongside the message/s that are trying to be sent.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Gray Man – Review

Cert – 15, Run-time – 2 hours 6 minutes, Directors – Anthony Russo, Joe Russo

After uncovering dark secrets during a mission a CIA agent (Ryan Gosling) finds himself being hunted around the world by a merciless rogue agent (Chris Evans) and his team.

Long associated with the superpowered hero, Chris Evans appears to relish the opportunity to play the moustachioed bad guy. Mercilessly ordering any innocent people who dare get in his way, even if unknowingly, to be shot as soon as possible. He’s the kind of informally-clothed villain to sit and watch such events unfold from his enclosed, high-tech control room, giving casual orders while he sips his alcoholic beverage of choice. It’s all part of the way in which he plays up the ‘enjoying being bad’ villain role that the he’s been given by directors Joe and Anthony Russo and writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely – who spent much time with Evans in the realms of the MCU.

Yet, Evans’ Lloyd Hansen is still a character unafraid to get his won hands dirty, and appears to look forward to it. Especially when it comes to bringing in an anonymous CIA agent known as Sierra Six (Ryan Gosling). We follow Six being hunted around the world after having discovered a series of dark secrets whilst on a mission, secrets which many higher ups don’t want leaked from the USB device which he has obtained. While much of this is held in the first 10-15 minutes you don’t quite feel the real chase element of the film starting until almost 30-40 minute into the piece. What comes beforehand feels slightly slow and wandering, trying to get characters to and through other locations so that things can properly pick up.

Even the action in the build-up to this feels relatively lacking. Perhaps being watched on the small screen a sense of spectacle is removed, creating a sense of disengagement. You don’t quite feel the impact of a place effectively being ripped in half whilst crashing mid-flight, it simply feels a slightly, if chaotically, rambling addition to the build-up. Where the film succeeds most is in the quieter moments that provide context and further insight into certain relationships within the film – particularly that between Six and the niece of the man who got him out of prison and into the CIA (Billy Bob Thornton), Claire (an enjoyably confident, if written-as-plot-device Julia Butters).

It certainly feels as if most characters are written mostly as devices to move the narrative forwards. Luckily, this isn’t quite a glaringly obvious point which burdens the film and is further lightened by the fact of good performances from the likes of Regé-John Page and Ana de Armas. Performances which come through best, as with the film in general, during the quieter less-action based scenes. In terms of the action the more restrained sequences are where things truly land an impact. Simple first and knife fights, which actually make up a large part of the major confrontations, gain more of a reaction than the larger set-ups of group operations causing chaos in the middle of a city.

Yet, such sequences still manage to have a point of general interest held within them. It keeps things moving along and means that the viewer doesn’t feel shut out or majorly disengaged once more solidly engaged in the feature and the globetrotting narrative that it depicts. There are a number of things to like about The Gray Man, particularly once it gets going and most of the elements have been established. It might take some time for this to happen, but it’s generally worthwhile in the end. Perhaps not an epic spy thriller spectacle, although some of this may be down to having not been viewed on the big screen where a number of sequences feel like they belong, but still solid enough viewing for what it does eventually deliver, helped by the more restrained elements which allow the more confrontational elements of the central hero-villain chase come through.

Whilst finding its footing The Gray Man feels wandering, however as it solidifies itself with more restrained sequences things begin to pick up, allowing for more to come through in the central chase and a number of the action sequences, particularly the closer ones, which follow.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Where The Crawdads Sing – Review

Release Date – 22nd July 2022, Cert – 15, Run-time – 2 hours 5 minutes, Director – Olivia Newman

A young woman (Daisy Edgar-Jones) living alone in a North Carolina marsh finds herself put on trial in front of a town who look down on her, for the murder of a man (Harris Dickinson) she was in a relationship with.

“Whenever I stumbled the marsh caught me” claims Kya (Daisy Edgar-Jones), a young woman who has spent much of her life raising herself, after growing up with an abusive father (Garret Dillahunt), in the expansive marshland of North Carolina. It’s been the place where her small, tucked away home has been a place of solitude and safety away from the nearby business and increasing modernity of the local town. A town which for years has spread rumours and myths about ‘the marsh girl’ – a figure who could very well be the missing link in human evolution. Such rumours make her the prime suspect in the murder of local man Chase Andrews (Harris Dickinson) – who she also once had a relationship with.

As the town instantly takes against Kya once more it appears that only one man is willing to support her, lawyer Tom Milton (an, as expected, excellent David Strathairn). As he, and the state, present evidence and the trial unfolds we see various flashbacks into Kya’s life, and her two key relationships with Chase and fisherman Tate Walker (Taylor John Smith). From the opening there’s a compelling story to be told. There’s something almost indescribable about just how much your brought in from the simple tension of a police chase via boats through the marsh, helped by the understated direction of Olivia Newman. While this feeling might calm down as the film goes on and we explore Kya’s relationships there’s still a consistent style and tone to the piece that keeps you engaged and interested in the general goings on which refrain from asking you whether you think the central figure did the murder or not, simply showing you the events of her life in the build up. Only really raising the question in the brief moments of the court trial and the points that link to the flashbacks, etc.

Where the film succeeds most is in its performances. The likes of Edgar-Jones, Strathairn and Sterling Macer Jr and Michael Hyatt as a couple who own a small shop within the marsh all bring home many of the dramatic points of the film and help to power them through, lifting them up and keeping the viewer interested and engaged. It’s also perhaps reason why the modern day elements, which admittedly Macer Jr and Hyatt appear little in, contain some of the strongest points of the film. This may be down to the fact that I’m just a sucker for a courtroom drama, but the ways in which the performances, if briefly, get to shine and take part in the developing nature of the trial are just fun to play along with and see unfold – especially from Strathairn whose closing statement has lead the trailer for the film (alongside publicity for the film containing an original song by Taylor Swift).

It takes a little bit of time to actually hear Kya properly speak. When she does the first words that come form her mouth are “people forget about the creatures who live in shells”. It’s an idea that the film plays with and echoes throughout its relatively easy 2 hour run-time. Kya is seen as an outsider by nearly everyone around her, made to feel like an outside and even more lonely than she already is. This comes across rather well and certainly sets up a number of the themes and ideas that play out within the plot and the relationships which are formed by the central character throughout the film, and are pivotal to her overall character and development. Helped by Edgar-Jones’ central performance and a strong cast of, if minor in screen time, supporting faces there’s enough to keep you engaged and interested within the central focus of Where The Crawdads Sing.

While it might lose its compelling edge after a little while Where The Crawdads Sing remains a consistent and engaging drama lead by a selection of strong, if brief, supporting performances which help to lift up the well-established themes and ideas surrounding Edgar-Jones’ excellent central character.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Brian And Charles – Review

Cert – PG, Run-time – 1 hour 30 minutes, Director – Jim Archer

Attempting-inventor Brian (David Earl) combats the loneliness of his isolated life in rural Wales by building a robot (Chris Hayward) from the items lying around his house.

You pretty much know the kind of film you’re in for with Brian And Charles as soon as central figure, attempting-inventor, Brian (David Earl) reveals the name of his home as Ploxgreen Cottage. It’s a case further set in stone when he reveals his cabbage bin, a bin exclusively for cabbages, and a fridge full of butter. “Is this interesting?” he asks the camera crew which follows him throughout the mockumentary. The answer should be no, but it’s certainly enjoyable to see a film and character go into such levels of simple quirk from the very start.

Brian’s various inventions almost seem to be uncertain to himself. While some are made to help the local community, just down the road from his isolated cottage in the Welsh countryside, others appear to come to his mind with no real context. Regardless he begins to assemble to bits and pieces lying around his house, and some items from the local area, to scrap together his latest creation. The one with perhaps the most thought is an invention more for himself than anyone else. A robot with a mannequin head and washing machine tummy which mutually agrees to be called Charles Petrescu (co-writer, alongside Earl, Chris Hayward).

There’s a childlike nature to Charles as he first begins to explore the world around him, better known as Brian’s house and garden. It makes for a number of amusing conversations between the pair, particularly when it comes to an argument about whether Charles can sit in the front of the van or not when going out for a trip. There’s plenty of easy-going, whimsical British humour running throughout the film, and it makes for a better connection with the characters. Perhaps more so Brian thanks to the brief time we spend with him before. David Earl gives a great performance as the isolated loner, talking to few people apart from June at the shop (Cara Chase) and equally shy Hazel (Louise Brealey). Yet, Brian appears to be very much content with his life and moves from one thing to another with relative ease, always trying to look on the bright side. When first looking up his robot creation he reflects “building a robot is much like making a cake. You start off wanting a Victoria sponge but end up with a blancmange. That’s alright, because I like blancmanges” truly keeping the highly British quirkiness at heart.

When it comes to the ways in which Brian and Charles eventually interact with the world around them, especially a tense relationship with nearby farm owner Eddie (Jamie Michie), that’s where the more familiar elements of the film come through. Certainly in the second half you can feel the more conventional lines being tread and despite the humour that’s present it’s not quite enough to be distracted from the recognisable nature of such elements. It’s perhaps assisted by the fairly simplistic nature – not necessarily a bad thing – of the largely followed base idea of a man and his self-built robot companion, one which certainly looks different to most other robot companions we may have seen in TV and films over the years.

At 90 minutes the film as a whole is quite short, and certainly knows exactly what it wants to do or where to go. It’s based on an 12 minute 2017 short film of the same name. And while not overly outstaying its welcome the feature adaptation, largely in the third act, does begin to feel as if it might have been better suited as a TV special rather than anything else. Yet, there’s still enough to enjoy and chuckle at within the likably slightly odd sensibilities of the characters and the way they fit into the world around them, and indeed that which they have created and filled with cabbages. It’s when focusing on the thoughts and feelings of the characters, whether reaching for humour or something a bit more sentimental, that the film works best – particularly as it looks at Brian and his reactions to the companionship that he’s gained and found, and the pride and confidence he finds in himself for having pulled off this achievement.

Much of these moments come across in subtleties within Earl’s performance, and indeed the film as a whole, and yet manage to create an effective impact that fits into the rest of the film. It may slip into familiarity which slightly weighs it down, but there’s still plenty to like about the quirks and oddities that are on display from the very start. This is a film that knows exactly what tone it wants to achieve with its content and characters and does that rather well, without ever feeling as if that’s all that it’s got going for it.

While it might be slightly weighed down by its more conventional elements there’s plenty of highly British quirks and oddities to enjoy from Brian And Charles, not forgetting the more sentimental elements, including within David Earl’s top performance, which carry things along nicely and avoid feelings of just quirk.

Rating: 3 out of 5.