Mulan – Review

Cert – 12, Run-time – 1 hour 55 minutes, Director – Niki Caro

As the war against the increasing threat of Northern invaders demands more troops a young woman (Liu Yifei) disguises herself as a man, running away to join China’s Imperial Army in place of her elderly father (Tzi Ma)

Like many films of recent months Mulan has faced a long journey to the screen. After multiple push-backs amidst the Covid-19 pandemic the film finally finds a home away from the silver screen, on Disney+. Which is a shame, because Mulan is a film made for the big screen. Its immense detail, mixed with Niki Caro’s direction, creates the look and feel of something akin to a true epic. And much of the action throughout the film carries the same feeling. Carefully constructed and laid out often you find yourself with your eyes glued in awe to the screen as Liu Yifei’s Hua Mulan boldly faces battle, skilled with wits as sharp as her sword. The entertainment factor is high from start to finish within this film, bringing the viewer in for an enjoyable ride from start to finish throughout the fast flowing running time.

But, this is much more than a piece of entertainment. This remake of Mulan is a well-told, well-craft story. Keeping some of the themes of the original bringing in tweaks and additions that help to build a new style and tone, keeping thing fresh and engaging. The standard story is still there Mulan finds herself disguising as a man, running away and joining the Chinese Imperial Army so that her elderly father (Tzi Ma) doesn’t have to go and fight, being the only male in the family. Therefore, in disguise as Hua Jun, Mulan finds herself surrounded by a multitude of boisterous, somewhat rowdy men – one from each family. Each one having to be quickly trained and disciplined to fight the ever growing threat of Northern invaders, led by the vengeful Bori Khan (Jason Scott Lee), with the assistance of Xian Lang (Gong Li), a powerful witch with the ability to overcome entire forces with her shape-shifting abilities.

These aren’t typical Disney villains, and are certainly different to those of the original Mulan film. They are scarred and pose a harsh force to the heroes of the film. A promise that’s ingrained within the violence of the battle sequences and fights. Sparingly used and precisely laid out the 12 rating is lived up to, and again offers something different. There’s a fine streak of mild intensity and drama to the combat sequences. Using the connection that you’ve formed with Yifei’s protagonist. Like her, and those that she’s around, you’re thrown into this new situation, feeling the high stakes always at play; especially for the central figure as she is, of course, having to hide herself in such a situation where you’re almost always in sight of other people. Yet, it’s difficult not to root for such a strong and well-formed figure. Wanting to see her succeed, knowing she has each situation in hand. All leading back to that entertainment factor that spawns from the levels of investment that you have with the film and the characters within it.

With everything that the film has to offer in terms of action, plot, character and everything else the piece never feels slow or as if it goes on for too long. You simply sit there at the spectacle on offer, immersed by the detail in each element and the pure entertainment factor that it emits. This might not be the full-on straight, direct no laughs action-drama that some might have hoped for. There are one or two mild laughs to be found in some scenes, in a similar vein to the 1998 animation on which this remake is based, alongside Guo Maoqian’s original work The Ballad Of Mulan, and a fair share of them are successful in raising a mild chuckle. However, gone are asides to Mushu and Cri-kee, as Caro has stated mostly for the sake of realism, but it allows for the attention to be back on the flowing dramatics of Mulan’s journey. She is the main focus of the film after all. The titular intelligent warrior with whom we have the connection with, and experience the majority of the film through the eyes of. Defying the expectations of those around her and traditional roles this isn’t your traditional Disney film, or indeed live-action remake. This is something different. Something bolder with style and flair. It might be made for the big screen but it’s still captivating on the small screen.

Carefully crafted in each department, brought to life by Niki Caro’s sweeping direction, Mulan isn’t just a strong piece of entertainment; it’s a well told story with engaging characters and fine action. All solidifying the stakes, and the viewers engagement, with an effective, and equally detailed, style that fully brings you into the world and tone of the film.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I’m Thinking Of Ending Things – Review

Cert – 15, Run-time – 2 hours 14 minutes, Director – Charlie Kaufman

When travelling through a blizzard to meet her boyfriend’s (Jesse Plemons) parents (David Thewlis, Toni Collette) a young woman (Jessie Buckley) begins to experience warped events that make her certain that she should end her relationship

One of the key lines of dialogue in Christopher Nolan’s Tenet is “don’t try to understand it, feel it”. The same advise could be given towards Charlie Kaufman’s latest piece of human observation, taking the form of a quasi-relationship-horror. However, it’s sometimes difficult to properly be able to engage with and ‘feel’ lengthy conversations as part of a long car journey in a blizzard. The conditions are harsh, cold and icy. Jessie Buckley’s character finds herself trapped in a cramped space – heightened by the box-like aspect ratio in which the film is shot in – with her boyfriend Jake (Jesse Plemons). She’s already sure that her relationship isn’t going where, finding herself repeating the words “I’m thinking of ending things” over and over again in her head. The reason for the car journey is so that she can meet Jake’s parents (played by David Thewlis and Toni Collette) for the first, and possibly last, time; she states early on that it’s unlikely that Jake will ever meet her parents, they don’t even know that he exists. Yet, here she finds herself on a long car journey in snowy conditions from the city to an isolated farmhouse.

For the majority of the car journeys – one of which makes up the first 25 minutes of the film – the audience is seemingly locked outside of the car. The camera sits outside of the windows; the wipers monotonously going back and forth brushing the never ending white downfall that seems to come from nowhere. As the film’s somewhat mysterious protagonist, burdened by a multitude of equally mysterious spam phone calls, is locked inside, the viewer is locked outside simply as an observer. The conversation is limited and struggling. Jake certainly isn’t the most exciting person in the world – and this is something that Buckley’s voiceover, which fills a lot of the film, makes note of. It’s this voiceover that throughout much of these scenes the viewer is able to connect with, it’s the through world into most of the film’s events.

Much of the film is made up of extended scenes and moments. Aside from the conversations in the car there are almost real-time scenes around a dinner table or at a roadside ice cream shop. Through this the realism and humanity of the film is brought through, especially the way that it delves into relationships. However, unlike the likes of Anomalisa and Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, both of which were penned by Kaufman, there’s a slight horror tone to the film. As things become warped and twisted within the home of Jake’s parents the look into the relationship seems to be put aside for the sake of looking at eerie events within the household, and the behaviour of Thewlis and Collette’s exceptionally performance characters. Not just their off the cuff comments such as “Billy Crystal’s a nancy” or their loud somewhat raspy gasp filled laughs that linger for a while after the joke respectively but their general physicality and appearance that seems to change, evolve and devolve around every corner; as if each new room is in a different time period.

It’s fair to say that there’s a lot being said within Kaufman’s screenplay, and his direction style – assisted by the dimly lit cinematography of Cold War cinematographer Łukasz Żal. At some points it feels as if he’s commentating on the state of Hollywood, or even the film industry as a whole, and the way that it treats relationships. The ideals that they present of a female mindlessly following and supporting the male, passively observing their accomplishments in multiple genres, despite what may happen. The extent to which this commentary comes into play is mostly in the very latter stages of the piece, as the film’s focus screams to herself, after the torment that has come beforehand, “it’s hard to say no… it’s easier just to say yes”. Yet, such readings and themes come, as already mentioned, later in the film. Before then there’s a gradually drawn out tangle of ideas and situations, some working better than others. When in the car things are slow, it’s hard to engage with them – perhaps that’s the point? But when in the farm grounds, at the ice cream shop and almost anywhere else there’s a bit more detail and energy to the piece, even if everything happening is a bit of a confusing mind-twist.

Once everything is over and done with, or as could be perceived to be the case anyway, it’s sure to take a while for everything to sink in. It might not exactly be something that can be properly comprehended and understood, but there’s enough detail and style in there, attaching to unconventional styles of horror and beyond;. All of this done in a way that only Charlie Kaufman can, almost always looking at the idea of human reactions; emotion, or perhaps lack of emotion. Each scene assisted by top performances from each member of the small but stunning cast. Led by a sublimely subdued performance from Jessie Buckley, capturing the tone of each scene and moment almost perfectly; even if the viewer’s connection isn’t quite as present in that moment she still manages to excel and capture the true essence of the moment, getting across what her character is thinking, even if her voice sounds like she’s hiding this by demonstrating other feelings to those around her. You might not know what’s happening during each scene or be able to connect with the film at all times, although during some of the genuinely scary isolated farmhouse scenes especially you’re probably not meant to, but you’ve always got Buckley’s performance to rely on to get across the feelings of each scene while still allowing you to make up your own mind as to the reason behind what’s happening, if you can find one within the sometimes empty drifting conversations and monologues.

While Charlie Kaufman’s traditional themes are certainly present within his latest observation of relationships and the human mental condition it isn’t his most accessible or engaging feature. The cast are on top form but the connection isn’t always there during some of the more isolated sequences, even if the unique scare factor and viewpoint are effective in others.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Phineas And Ferb The Movie: Candace Against The Universe – Review

Cert – U/ Recommended for viewers aged 6+, Run-time – 1 hour 26 minutes, Director – Bob Bowen

Young inventors Phineas (Vincent Martella) and Ferb (David Errigo Jr) venture into space to rescue their older sister (Ashley Tisdale) from alien abductors.

It seems like there’s been well over 104 days of self-isolation and nothing’s come through that could end it. But, the biggest problem during this pandemic has been finding a good way to spend it. However, now arrives Phineas And Ferb The Movie to hopefully relieve some lockdown blues. Disney’s hit show Phineas And Ferb ran for seven years with just as many adults enjoying the animated antics of the two titular stepbrothers as they built the likes of roller-coasters, giant robots, beaches and even a jet sized paper plane in their back garden (47% of the shows audience was said to be adults). Creators Dan Povenmire and Jeff “Swampy” Marsh were initially reluctant to return to the characters, however when asked to make a film about the duo for Disney’s streaming service Disney+ they realised that they missed the pair and pressed ahead with making another feature length outing – having previously made a TV Movie in the form of Across The 2nd Dimension.

In many ways Candace Against The Universe acts simply as an extended version of a standard 22 minute TV episode. The general formula and structure is roughly the same, although perhaps with a few more songs than usual and yet there’s a similar feeling. The general simplicity somehow helps the film with it’s short 86 minute run-time. Phineas (Vincent Martella) and Ferb (David Errigo Jr) find themselves jetting off into space to rescue their older sister Candace (Ashley Tisdale) after she finds herself abducted by aliens. Joined by their friends and the evil Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz (Dan Povenmire); who regularly finds himself fighting the stepbrothers pet platypus Perry, although everyone else is unaware of the alias of Agent P, and finds his daughter Vanessa (Olivia Olson) also having been abducted, the group venture off into the depths of space.

Meanwhile Candace finds herself finally being seen and heard on a far off alien planet. Being known as The Chosen One she makes friends with the alien leader Super Super Big Doctor (Ali Wong), alongside holding the respect and adoration of the other aliens, from the welcome singers with their lengthy introduction numbers to the hard-pressure masseuses. There’s plenty within the film to keep it going throughout the run-time and never does it forget the Saturday morning cartoon style and feel that it holds so well. It knows what it is and what it wants to do and it succeeds and doing that and then some. Because of this there are plenty of laughs to be found within the various antics that unfold, managing to find new jokes instead of repeating the same ones – although some running gags from the show do make successful appearances. From the likably cheesy musical numbers to the references to one character bringing a canoe along for the journey there is a fine sense of comedy for the film.

Fans of the source show, both young and old, are sure to have a good time with this. The spirit and value are present and every member of the cast and crew have clearly had a great time being a part of this project. It shows and is emitted to the viewer for the duration of the film. And for those who aren’t aware of the show there’s still something to be found that can entertain and amuse. It’s delightfully daft and spot on in terms of it’s style and humour. Who cares if it’s simplistic? Even if it does feel like an extended episode that doesn’t get in the way of it and if anything helps it with its style. From the very start to the very end with each short musical burst, each fourth wall break and every new device and gadget – including a Chicken-Replace-Inator, one of the many outlandish inventions of Dr. Doofenshmirtz – there’s plenty of entertainment and humour to be found within this. Escaping to the far reaches of space, sometimes at twice the speed of light, this is perhaps the perfect post-lockdown film treat.

Keeping that Saturday morning cartoon style at its core Candace Against The Universe has a fine sense of humour to amuse everyone young and old. It might feel like an extended episode but this is a fast-flowing, entertaining slice of cartoon fun. It knows what it’s gonna do today and has a lot of fun while doing it!

Rating: 3 out of 5.

She Dies Tomorrow – Review

Cert – 15, Run-time – 1 hour 26 minutes, Director – Amy Seimetz

A recovering alcoholic (Kate Lyn Sheil) is adamant that she is going to die in a days time. While those around her initially think this is part of her withdrawal they soon feel the same, creating a contagious feeling of anxiety.

Anxiety spreads. Or at least the effects of it are felt by those who may not find themselves experiencing it. Writer-director Amy Seimetz has claimed that She Dies Tomorrow is based on her experiences of the way that people have reacted to stories of her own anxiety attacks in the past. The central figure of the film, Amy (Kate Lyn Sheil) is certain that she is going to die in a day. Initially her friend Jane (Jane Adams) puts this down to Amy recovering from alcoholism, and having drunk that night. However, as she leaves Jane begins to also feel the weight of fear and worry that she too is going to die the next day. Soon, the spread of imminent death begins to spread and a wave of anxiety and paranoia overcomes multiple people.

There’s an interesting visual representation of anxiety within the film. The light switches from red to blue, like American police lights. There’s a feeling of worry as if the character’s have done something wrong, although unaware of it, and something bad is coming right around the corner; although instead of the police it’s death. The camera focuses directly on the face of each individual as their faces gradually contort into expressions of emotion or terror, or even shock and realisation. Everyone reacts in a different way and the emphasis on this by the performances add to the film’s nature. It might seem like a slow-burn, although the run-time is only 86 minutes long, but there’s certainly enough detail and stylistic representation in there to keep the viewer seated for the short amount of time that the film lasts for.

The slow burn nature in a number of ways helps the film. It heightens the strain and tension that some of the characters feel. The gradual release of emotions. As anxiety hits the close-ups on their expressions almost seem to turn to slow motion, although this isn’t the case it’s because of the levels of detail there and the specific reactions of each character that the impactful feeling comes around and almost strikes the viewer too. Slightly shaking them with a mild chill each time a character has to face the unknown; the belief that they are going to die tomorrow.

While the spread of fear and the way that it impacts characters is interesting the connection that you have with these figures isn’t quite as strong. Initially there seems to be a chaptered, almost anthology style, nature to the narrative. Each character almost seems to have an allocated space of time, leaving the others in either the background or simply left out until either returned to or not seen again. Amy is very much the centre of the piece, her story is the centre and the spawn for all of this. And yet as the film switches to Jane Amy’s story simply ceases for a period of time. Only returning once another chunk of the film is out the way. You don’t exactly forget that she exists, or what her story is – although the story is relatively light in the film, not that that’s a bad thing – this is a film about impact and spread more than anything else, and those themes are handled well and with an interesting style thanks to Seimetz’s direction. However, the lack of a proper connection with the characters does mean that the impact of the film’s events and ideas isn’t felt as largely as it possibly could be. Fortunately there’s plenty of style and provocatively striking imagery and ideas to keep the viewer in their seat and within the world of turbulence and chaos that the film creates for its characters.

There may not be a strong connection with the characters, but the detail and style of She Dies Tomorrow is plenty enough to keep the viewer seated throughout its unique and almost dizzying effective slow burn run-time.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Hope Gap – Review

Cert – 12, Run-time – 1 hour 40 minutes, Director – William Nicholson

After almost thirty years of marriage Edward (Bill Nighy) decides that he is unhappy and decides to leave his wife, Grace (Annette Bening), inviting their son (Josh O’Connor) round to hopefully lower the impact of his actions.

“Just because there’s no blood it doesn’t mean it’s not a murder” spits Grace (Annette Bening), slouched in her chair in a crumpled pile of loss and despair. She’s still hurt by her the decision of her husband, Edward (Bill Nighy), to walk out and leave her for another woman on their 29th wedding anniversary. Initially when she’s told of this Grace remains somewhat hopeful. Although distraught she still sees a life with her husband, trying to get him to stay, surely everything can’t go out the door. However, as things become more real her pleads become more and more desperate. Surely 29 years haven’t just gone to waste? “You mustn’t take it all, you’ll kill me” she begs as her paradise, much like her happiness, begins to crumble around her.

The couple live in Seaford, a small, quiet coastal town filled with memories for them both. Yet, while for Grace it represents her calm contented life and nature for Edward it displays a silent emptiness. For almost three decades he’s stood around unhappy, believing he’s never had a proper connection to his wife. All of this comes to his realisation when he meets another woman, the mother of one of his school students. While Bening’s performance tends to fluctuate Nighy’s remains the same throughout much of the film. He’s serious and restrained, avoiding major displays of emotion. He says things as he sees them and shows his stresses through this way, while Grace’s stresses are shown through her gradual cracking. Although one of the questions throughout the film is what will this breaking out reveal? Will it be a more fragile, emotional figure, or will it be someone who finds the strength to move on and overcome such experiences, as some of the figures in the poetry that she compiles manage to do.

While all of this is happening the film spends little time with Grace and Edward’s son Jamie (Josh O’Connor). Edward invites Jamie round when he decides to walk out in the hope that his presence will lower his mother’s response to the event. The impact on Jamie is little dwelled upon. He seems to be more there as a messenger between his parents as they begin to feud. The emotional connection and understanding isn’t with him as much due to the lack of detail within his character, while there isn’t a great deal of detail and substance within the film as a whole, limiting the possible connection with each of the three primary characters, affecting O’Connor the most – despite still giving a fine performance.

Writer-director William Nicholson’s screenplay isn’t as detailed or in-depth as some of his previous works, which include the likes of Les Misérables, Breathe and the Oscar nominated screenplays for Gladiator and Shadowlands. As a whole Hope Gap is a relatively simple film. While making the film unfortunately quickly forgettable for the time it’s on it serves as something perfectly fine. While in some respects it could be viewed that the simple nature of the film is its downfall in others it could be seen as a strength. While it does mean that it feels somewhat lacking, like we’ve seen the film a handful of times before and it does sometimes create a barrier for connecting with the film and its characters it can also be viewed as something that does back the characters up. Adding to their natural feel and makes the feeling of their separation more real. Hope Gap covers the traditional basics of a divorce drama with a fairly slow pace, but getting out just before things go on for too long; with not a great deal to add. A feeling that is established early on and is continued throughout the run-time of the piece.

Hope Gap is a relatively simple, unforced, middle of the road divorce drama, perhaps more for the silver screen audience than anyone else, and it’ll likely be a hit with them. The performances are fine, and there are some moments of sharpness that bring the viewer in, but for the most part the simple, basic nature of the piece is its biggest downfall.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The New Mutants – Review

Cert – 15, Run-time – 1 hour 34 minutes, Director – Josh Boone

When Danielle (Blu Hunt) is taken into a hospital for teenage mutants to come to terms with their abilities the other residents (Anya Taylor-Joy, Maisie Williams, Charlie Heaton, Henry Zaga) begin to experience their worst nightmares come to life.

Many years ago in an age before lockdown there was said to be a mysterious film. A bold, new, darker leaning that would explore new reaches of an already greatly explored universe. Yet, such a feature was never unveiled to the world. Delays and pushed back re-shoots befell The New Mutants and it seemed as if it would never see the light of day. But now, despite a long journey to the big screen it appears that the film has found a light at the end of the studio shelf, even as cinemas are still starting to reopen amidst a global pandemic.

One of the core reasons for the delay of Fox’s final addition to their X-Men universe was simply down to the response from test screenings. Many of the reactions came back stating that the film was purely “okay”, and so re-shoots, often rumoured to have never been scheduled due to the busy nature of the cast, were announced in the hope of improving the film and lifting it up a bit more. However, such plans never went ahead and the film by most accounts appears to remain in its original state. A finished product that is, as the test screenings came back, “okay”.

Advertised as being a more horror orientated film within the X-Men universe the film sees a group of teenagers residing within a hospital designed to help young mutants deal with their growing powers. There they learn to control their abilities with the help of the only member of staff, constantly referring to her unnamed superiors, Dr. Reyes (Alice Braga). However, as new patient Danielle (Blu Hunt) arrives things begin to change for the other gifted youngsters (Maisie Williams, Anya Taylor-Joy – plus dragon Lockheed, undeniably one of the best elements of the film – Henry Zaga, Charlie Heaton). Each one begins to witness their worst nightmare, terrifying events from their past that continue to scar them in the present day. Or, at least the characters seem to find such moments terrifying. Meanwhile the viewer is left in a state far from fear. The moments of horror are brief and few, seeming as if they’re building up to a jump scare and then walking off before the expected conclusion.

The film isn’t void of engagement, although some occasionally basic and clunky dialogue does stop a connection being formed with some of the characters, the performances themselves are for the most part perfectly fine – at a number of points, especially in the first two thirds of the film, you find yourself simply watching what’s happening and not really feeling much in response. However, that doesn’t stop the last 25 minutes; where the film properly gets going and reveals some fairly solid entertainment factor, from holding some interest. As the film becomes more action-orientated, and the world building properly comes in, leading on to the expansion of a universe and sequels that will probably now never arrive; mostly due to Disney’s acquisition of 20th Century Fox and the rights of such mutant related properties now going to Marvel. And in some ways this is a shame because when the film properly introduces such elements it’s at peak engagement and continues to flow with more ease from there.

After almost two and a half years since its initial release date The New Mutants might not exactly have been worth the wait, but neither is it an entire letdown. While the majority of elements are fine enough and the film goes by with enough ease, a 94 minute run-time is to be commended, the better elements are left until the final stages of the film. The horror may not exactly stand out as anything effective, but there are still some interesting elements during the film, ideas that attract your attention, even if for short bursts before everything properly comes together. The focus on powers helps with this, and when they become useful and properly used, instead of appearing during more cliche moments, the film properly works and has something to actually hold on to. But, for the most part while the film struggles between horror and powers there’s still something to just about hold onto and find interest in. Throughout the film the teens are kept in the hospital grounds thanks to a strong invisible barrier put there by Dr. Reyes, a limited cast and restricted set aren’t exactly barriers for the film, but there certainly are some there. Leading to a feeling similar to that which arose roughly three years ago, a time when a YA film of this standard may have just about been considered somewhat out of date. A feeling that this is perfectly fine, if a bit dusty from being sat on the studio shelf for so long.

It’s been a long wait to see The New Mutants on the big screen, and most of it might be quickly forgettable. Yet, there are still some interesting points and moments over the course of it. Like the powers of the main characters it takes a while to properly reveal itself. It’s a fairly easy watch and at the end of the day exactly what you would expect from the description “okay”.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Get Duked! – Review

Cert – 15, Run-time – 1 hour 26 minutes, Director – Ninian Doff

Four students (Samuel Bottomley, Viraj Juneja, Rian Gordon, Lewis Gribben) find themselves being chased by a group of gun-wielding hunters as they try to complete their Duke of Edinburgh award in the Scottish Highlands.

The Duke of Edinburgh award is designed to “take delinquents out of the city and into the countryside”, according to an advert for the scheme that opens Ninian Doff’s feature directorial debut Get Duked! However, what the award possibly doesn’t often include is being chased by gun-wielding hunters (including Eddie Izzard) who believe that they must “kill the vermin so the crops may thrive”. The vermin being the 16 year olds who find themselves shuffling through the Scottish Highlands in the hope of completing the award. Three quarters of the group find themselves volunteered by the headteacher of their school to take part in the expedition after an incident involving the toilet block of the school turning into an inferno. Thus Dean (Rian Gordon), Duncan (Lewis Gribben) and the self-titled DJ Beatroot (Viraj Juneja) are stuck in an endless range of hills and fields with the only person in the school who wanted to actually take part in the expedition, Ian (Samuel Bottomley). It’s easy to see that there’s a divide between the group, or at least a distance between one and the rest.

As the four set out Ian begins to believe that his hopes of earning the award are never going to become reality. Early on after being left alone by their teacher (Jonathan Aris), who reassures them that the trail itself is very dangerous – unaware himself of the masked killers that will be chasing his pupils down – the map is ripped and used to roll up drugs, while DJ Beatroot seems more focused on promoting his rap album – entitled Cocktales, you can guess what every track is about – to all the local farmers. It’s such ideas that you would almost expect from a comedy initially entitled Boyz In The Wood. The film isn’t necessarily one-note, there are a fair share of different gags held within it, however it doesn’t quite manage to raise the laughs that it perhaps hopes for. The group with which we spend the majority of the film’s rather short run-time with certainly aren’t unlikable, and this is a film with which you don’t have to have a connection with the characters to find the humour – you certainly aren’t laughing ‘at’ them, although the main figures do appear to stem from a place of parody, labelled by some as satire. Perhaps it’s the nature that their antics, like the film’s narrative, do sometimes seem somewhat by the books, and at times slightly predictable.

Yet, there is still some humour to be found within the film. The local police, whose biggest worry is a thief raiding the bread bins of everyone in the area, suddenly find themselves tracking down a group of insane zombies, paedophiles and terrorists – all stemming from the chaos spawned by the boys trying to save their own lives in the hills of the Highlands. There are some laughs to be found within such characters, perhaps the most that the film creates, and there are still some that come from the main characters. And it should be made a point that Get Duked! does contain a type of humour that may not appeal to all, there are likely to be many people who will find the ration-made weapons and defences, and occasional drug-addled escapes and traipses of the mostly reluctant teens funny. But, there is the chance that this film won’t play out to everyone’s comedic tastes, partly due to the sometimes, though far from always, predictable nature of some gags, and a couple of the film’s events as a whole.

There are certainly some amusing moments within Get Duked! And the overall execution certainly isn’t frustrating. But, it’s potentially going to have a mixed reception from audiences. It does feel like somewhat familiar territory as a whole, in terms of both plot and humour; and that is perhaps the biggest barrier that the film creates, creating a sort of distance from the viewer, but the avoidance of one-joke humour is something that helps the film along. Stopping it from becoming boring or excessively predictable. There are some points that work, however at the end the finished product doesn’t seem to work quite as well as it could.

Get Duked! ultimately suffers from its by the books, familiar style. While there are one or two amusing moments dotted throughout these mostly come from side characters. It avoids a one-note feel, however the laughs unfortunately aren’t overly present on this expedition.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Tenet – Review

Cert – 12, Run-time – 2 hours 30 minutes, Director – Christopher Nolan

After encountering bullets that have the ability to act in reverse The Protagonist (John David Washington) finds himself on a mission to stop what could be World War Three.

It’s become expectation when it comes to a new Christopher Nolan release that you go in knowing almost nothing. In the case of Tenet you also almost leave knowing almost nothing. The time-meddling writer-director’s latest venture sees him tinkering with the idea of reverse time. The film’s central figure, known as The Protagonist, (John David Washington) finds himself investigating mysterious bullets that seem to act backwards, moving in reverse – the power behind these reality defying objects could potentially lead to World War Three. When properly encountering the bullets for the first time The Protagonist is told “don’t try to understand it, feel it”, and this is almost the advice that Nolan is giving the audience. Don’t try to understand or keep track of the plot, just loose yourself in it. And luckily there’s just about enough within Tenet to allow this to happen.

Tenet is easily Nolan’s most complex work so far, and may potentially prove to be his most divisive. It’s easy to get lost and confused by the plot and what’s actually happening in the film however the director and his team, made up of a number of new faces compared to his regular collaborators, manage to create something thrilling enough to keep you seated for the duration of the two and a half hour run time. For months we’ve been advertised action scenes and chases that defy the regular workings of the real world and that’s certainly what we get. The thrills are definitely present and possibly even more frequently than any previous Nolan feature, including the entries in his Dark Knight Trilogy. Tension is heightened by Ludwig Göransson’s thrillingly paced score. With certain moments and phrases that sound as if they’re being played in reverse they bring back the true nature of this film, the threat that’s being faced and bring the viewer in even more.

As the second half of the film arrives the heavy plot build-up and details gradually begin to decrease and the viewer may find themselves not just watching the film but beginning to become more involved and engaged with what’s happening. They’re actually in the world of the film – and the various action scenes, often the more extended moments of the film that feel less like world-hopping and scene-jumping than one or two scenes before hand start to feel like after so long, contribute to this feeling. Admittedly there are still might not make sense, but once you’re in you mostly stay where you were, as the scale and twists and turns of the film only grow in stature and grandeur.

Yet amongst all of this the quieter – or at least less explosive – points are never forgotten. There are relationships that are explored, including a key central point that leads to many of the film’s key decisions and events. In fact such connections are the catalyst for many of the larger moments in the second half of the piece, and continue to act as fuel during them, amongst everything that goes on it’s such points not being forgotten that almost truly keep you in your seat while the world seems to go to greater chaos. You might not overly connect with the characters, although the performances in the leads of the film are all on quality form, as is to be expected from such a stellar cast (which includes the likes of Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki and Kenneth Branagh – with a somewhat questionable accent), but you can certainly emote for them and feel the pressure that they face. And with Nolan repeating the height of the threat that is being face – described as being worse than nuclear holocaust – the stress is translated to the viewer not just through shouting but through the panic felt. Add to that Göransson’s score and Hoyte Van Hoytema’s immersive cinematography, helping to define a number of the film’s various layers and details.

After a key mind-twisting set-piece Pattinson’s character asks The Protagonist – a name that creates almost as much mystery as the film itself – “does your head hurt yet?” To which Washington’s spy responds “yes”. At this point the audience may no longer be frantically trying to keep up with things, after they almost get a bit too much a bit earlier on, but it could reflect the feelings of some viewers. Tenet is certainly a lot, in terms of both plot and scale. Yet, there’s always something with occasional well-placed reminders and cuts to pick up on that keep you seated. The run-time certainly doesn’t show itself and this does go by fairly quickly, and it’s down to the, as always, creative work of Nolan’s team and the visuals and feelings that they help to conjure up within the viewer. The quicker you fall into the film and just watch what’s happening and don’t focus too much on the plot the more likely you are to enjoy the film. It’s best to bear in mind the advice that it gives you early on “don’t try to understand it, feel it”.

Tenet is undoubtedly Christopher Nolan’s most complex film so far, and it could very well work out to be his most divisive too. With individual technical elements that combine to keep you there, and thankful reminders of the basics of what’s happening you’re kept in your place during the finely flowing run-time for a thrilling, action-packed and mind-twisting ride. Get past the confusion of the plot and there’s a lot to like about this thriller – a genre which this definitely lives up to.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The One And Only Ivan – Review

Cert – PG/ Recommended for viewers aged 6+, Run-time – 1 hour 35 minutes, Director – Thea Sharrock

A gorilla (Sam Rockwell) who has spent almost his entire life working as part of a circus of animals discovers his talent for painting, and dream to escape.

It’s been said before that if the performances are good enough a film is lifted in quality, something which may very well be the case with The One And Only Ivan, the latest Disney+ feature, having skipped a cinematic release. This isn’t to say that the film itself would be bad otherwise, there’s certainly a fair deal in there to like, but the performances are very much what bring the viewer into the big top world of the film. Most are voice performances, bringing to life the CG animals that reside within a small circus enclosure within a shopping mall. Bryan Cranston leads them as the circus-master, introducing their small tricks; such as a ball-balancing seal (Mike White – who wrote the screenplay for the film, based on Katherine Applegate’s childrens book of the same name), a baseball playing chicken (Chaka Khan) and the standard balancing elephant (Angelina Jolie – who also served as a producer on the film). However, the star attraction of the show has always been Ivan (Sam Rockwell). While back in the day Ivan’s roar and might brought in crowds of ticket buyers now it seems as if the magic has gone from the smallest big top in the world, only filling a limited, and scattered, amount of seats.

Times are tough and the circus needs to find some way of coping or else there’s a risk that it’ll go bust, meaning that Cranston’s Mack will be separated from Ivan – who he has effectively brought up, Ivan having spent almost his entire life with humans – and the other animals. And so, in comes a new star attraction, baby elephant Ruby (Brooklynn Prince). Of course it’s at this point that themes of jealousy begin to be introduced within Ivan. He was the headline act and now his time in the spotlight is being reduced with each performance, the applause no longer his. It almost seems as if this could be Toy Story with animals, however screenwriter White and director Thea Sharrock manage to avoid this by slightly changing some strings. The film begins to look into Ivan’s other relationships and talents, his past. When handed some old crayons and paper by Julia (Ariana Greenblatt), the daughter of another employee at the circus, Ivan discovers his talent for drawing. While those around him don’t initially recognise what his doodles are, particularly his best friend; stray dog Bob (Danny DeVito – arguably the highlight of the film – bringing in a number of chuckles throughout), Julia does, and with this a wave of inspiration comes to both him and the circus.

Ivan’s past is delved into, and while there aren’t a great deal of flashbacks what is revealed is his desire to escape. To be free in the wild, and to bring all the other animals with him – each with only some mild personality trait due to a relative lack of screen-time. It’s around this point, and particularly around the second half of the film, that things begin to get somewhat formulaic. As this becomes a more prominent point it almost seems as if one or two short ideas are tacked on to properly ensure that the film is of feature length and crosses the 90 minute mark. Yet, even if this is the case there’s no denying that the film is watchable. There’s an appeal to it, to the characters, that brings you in and you do find yourself engaged and interested. Maybe it’s the humour. Perhaps it’s the lightness that it holds, and the feeling of something close to a traditional, almost stripped back, Disney film that it emits. Whatever it does it works, and a fair deal of these feelings could all be brought back to the performances. Performances that just welcome you in and simply allow you to be drawn to the characters, understand them and have a relatively relaxed 95 minutes with them.

This certainly isn’t anything new and revolutionary, although in some aspects it is a nice change from Disney, not just in the way that the CG animals actually have emotion in their faces. But, it is nice to see something like this from the studio, something calmer and more traditional. The air to it is inviting and welcoming and you’re able to simply sit there and drift off into the ‘wild’ – although far from chaotic – big top world of the one and only Ivan. One that, perhaps much like the circus itself, will likely delight the kids and also provide something of interest and definitely a step or two above just plain amusement for the adults.

It might seem formulaic at times but the performances from the starry cast of The One And Only Ivan are enough to bring you in for a finely stripped-back, relaxed and well-handled tale straight from the vein that we know as Disney.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Babyteeth – Review

Cert – 15, Run-time – 1 hour 58 minutes, Director – Shannon Murphy

Fifteen year old Milla (Eliza Scanlen) begins to form a relationship with twenty three year old Moses (Toby Wallace), while her parents (Essie Davis and Ben Mendelsohn) disapprove, they want her to be happy due to her suffering from cancer

Throughout Shannon Murphy’s directorial debut Babyteeth each new stage in the life of fifteen year old Milla (Eliza Scanlen) is headed with what seems to be a chapter title. Almost every one is written in the past tense, or foreshadows what is to come. Yet, like those around her, the audience is seemingly prepared for each event but is never quite ready, often being taken by surprise and feeling the emotional impact of what happens. Milla is suffering from cancer and is going through another round of chemotherapy, which begins to cause a decline for her – potentially removing her from school.

However, while still at school during a chance encounter at a train station she meets 23 year old Moses (Toby Wallace), a drug-addict who has recently been evicted from his family home. It’s not long until a bond between the two grows and a relationship forms. Milla’s mother (Essie Davis) tells her “that boy had problems” to which she responds “So do I!” The two figures connect due to the ways in which they feel disconnected from the outside world and those around them. As the relationship grows Milla’s parents begin to disapprove, yet don’t want to disappoint their daughter, especially knowing that they too have their own issues – which they perhaps don’t want Milla experiencing.

This is an honest film where every character has their own personal issues and problems. Everyone has room to grow; perhaps linking to the title of Babyteeth, although Milla does still have one of her own left. Despite this personal growth isn’t on the minds of most characters, their main worry is how and when those around them will better themselves for their own benefit, still having to bear through their own issues. Every character is looking for their own bit of happiness, which they very rarely seem to find. But, when Milla does find happiness she knows it, she briefly looks at the camera with a small smile and a glint in her eye knowing that things are going well for her. Opposed to this whenever she’s uncomfortable and things are clearly not right her gaze specifically avoids the camera, it doesn’t go near it. During one scene where she lets a fellow student wear her wig her vulnerable, less-confident state it shown. She literally forces herself up against a wall during this moment of vulnerability and insecurity – which she doesn’t really show to Moses, instead expressing herself with her wigs, of various different styles and colours, a new one as she seems to progress to more confidence during her relationship.

All the performances add to the honest that the film holds. The four central figures (Scanlen, Davis, Wallace and Ben Mendelsohn) all bring in great deals of emotion, particularly during the final half an hour of the film where things begin to be left open without foreshadowing for the viewer, truly heightening the impact. Everything feels authentic and brings you into the film, connecting with each character. This is particularly in the second half of the film as you’ve warmed and connected to each character and understand the situation that they find themselves in. It might take some time, but once you feel a part of the film you’re there and truly feel the impact of the punches that it pulls, and these are powerful punches.

It all eventually comes together to create something engaging, emotional, surprising and with a truly grand impact. You feel for these characters because of the honest reality that they depict. It’s what forms a connection and the top performances only heighten this feeling and the effect that the film has. Because, much like ourselves, these characters all have their own individual problems, ours might not be the same, but we sympathise with these figures as they try to succeed and move ahead with their lives, trying to find some happiness. Which makes it all the more better when Scanlen turns to the camera and gives a warmed smile, reflecting similar feelings to the audience, letting them know that things are going to be alright.

You might not be fully connected with the film until the second half, however before then you’re shown a genuine and thoughtfully produced story looking into the lives of wonderfully performed, honestly imperfect characters, who much like the titular Babyteeth all have room to grow. All building up to true emotion that the audience, like a number of the characters, are told about, but are never truly ready for.

Rating: 4 out of 5.