Military Wives – Review

Cert – 12, Run-time – 1 hour 52 minutes, Director – Peter Cattaneo

When their husbands and wives go off to fight in the war in Afghanistan a group of women form a choir to take their minds away from worry.

Director Peter Cattaneo may be best associated with his 1997 feature debut The Full Monty. The film was a big hit at the BAFTA’s and even managed to pick up nominations in the Best Picture, Director and Original Screenplay categories at the Oscars. When it comes to slightly obscure underdog comedies it’s often the film that many will call back to, the term “feel good” also being frequently used in the same sentence. And Military Wives does have similar hints to the director’s possibly most famous film; minus the nudity and most of the men, and with a fair deal more singing.

Inspired by – “inspired by” being the key detail, this is a largely fictitional story – the Military Wives Choir, famously formed by Gareth Malone in the BBC series The Choir: Military Wives, the story follows a group of women whose husbands and wives have gone off to fight in the rising Afghanistan war. Lisa (Sharon Horgan) has been appointed to lead the activities for the women in the hope of taking their minds off of the worries of what their partners are going through. However, it seems that the activities mostly consist of getting drunk in an evening and coffee mornings. That is until, during a brain-storming session led by Kristin Scott Thomas’ uptight, proper and mistrusting Kate, the suggestion of singing is thrown up.

It’s not long until the various members of the Flitcroft military wives singing group/ choir (the label is disputed between Kate and Lisa) are being run through their scales and being split into altos and sopranos – while one specific member is left in their own group (the running joke being that they can’t sing, which somehow manages to be consistently amusing). However, there’s disagreement between Kate and Lisa on what should be sung. While Kate would prefer hymns such as Morning Has Broken it seems that Lisa and the choir would rather sing The Human League. Throughout the film the pair disagree on what the aim of the choir is. Are they singing for themselves or other people? Is the purpose to entertain or create something more personal? It’s such feuds that begin to bring in the elements of drama that make the film the dramedy that it is.

Mix in the fear of the wives as they struggle to keep contact with their partners, “every time the phone rings, every time the bell goes. I mean, how do you cope” asks particularly young wife, married just before her husband went off to fight so that she was next-of-kin, Sarah (Amy James-Kelly). The worries of the other wives aren’t shown widely, apart from in group scenes of sympathy and comfort, the main focuses are certainly Kate and Lisa. Both of whom have their own struggles. Kate lost her son Jamie in the last tour and is still recovering, watching shopping channels on her laptop and buying any items she sees, from glass kettles to inflatable mattresses that can hold large amounts of weight. Meanwhile Lisa is struggling to properly connect with her daughter (India Ria Amarteifio).

For the large part Military Wives is very by-the-numbers. It’s fairly safe and middle-of-the-road. You see the trailer and what you see there is pretty much what you get with the film, and possibly a slight bit more. The “feel good” British underdog story. But, the most important thing is, is works. The humour does work, with a number of good chuckles scattered throughout, and the drama while relatively mild, keeping it to the 12 rating that the film has, does have some effect. When it all comes together everything manages to make for a perfectly fine, and rather enjoyable film. It’s just about what you expect it to be and in some ways it’s better for that being the case. Nothing feels overblown, and the film just about avoids being syrupy and overly-sentimental. The emotion is certainly there and while it isn’t exactly anything to open the tear-ducts of the audience there’s certainly a mild hit during one or two scenes. And, of course, when you throw in the humour the film is certainly an enjoyable one.

There’s a fair deal to like about Military Wives. It’s certainly what you expect it to be, but for that you get a fair deal of humour and some decently placed drama. The film is certainly not brilliant, but it is a good enough watch before the mass big-budget blockbusters flood the multiplexes this summer. And, it is a worthwhile watch made with heart and humour; something which is held closely by the film and comes across in its tone and all-round feel. Yes, it might be fairly by-the-books and simplistic, but that’s what brings in what many have described as the feel good tone. And for what it is Military Wives is in tune enough to be an enjoyable enough time with an audience at the cinema.

Led by some good performances and a good communal spirit Military Wives works because its finely tuned heart shows itself to be in the right place. Coming through in the humour and hints of emotion that are displayed from start to finish.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Color Out Of Space – Review

Cert – 15, Run-time – 1 hour 50 minutes, Director – Richard Stanley

When a mysterious object crashes into the garden of a family’s newly moved into countryside home the land and wildlife in the area begins to mutate

Back in 2018 the world said that Nicolas Cage couldn’t possibly get more Nicolas Cage (although we are yet to see The Unbearable Weight Of Massive Talent) when it witnessed the utter blood-soaked madness of whatever Mandy was, word’s can’t really properly describe it. And in many ways that’s the truth. So, where does Cage go after Mandy, via one or two other roles and voicing superheros in the likes of Teen Titans Go! To The Movies and Spider-Man: Into The Spider-verse? To an adaptation of an H.P. Lovecraft novel, of course!

The mad state of cosmic horror that this adaptation of Color Out Of Space almost seems to have been perfectly tailored for Cage to act as he wishes, with it still fitting in with the tone of the piece. As the ground around the quiet countryside farm of the Gardner family begins to mutate and change into an almost unnerving shade of purple everything around them, including themselves, begins to become more absurd, but more importantly fearful.

One of the interesting things about Richard Stanley and Scarlett Amaris’ screenplay, and Stanley’s direction, is that it guides the viewers through various stages over the course of the film’s acts. Instead of having everything fly off the walls in the first 20 minutes there’s a gradual build-up to the film. Dwelling on the elements of cosmic horror and the slow release of the increasing effects that the crash-landed object from space are revealed there’s a sparing feeling to the film. Something which adds to the tension and actual horror that the piece holds. This is something that at times is genuinely unnerving; especially when it comes to the lingering elements of body horror, which also never feel too much, or too abrupt. There’s a specific point that the writers and director guide the audience to throughout the film where they flick the switch and all hell breaks loose. However, there’s build-up to this point. The fact that the viewer is taken to this point helps to push the context and make it enjoyable instead of just feeling as if it’s there for the sake of having everything go insane and, as some might say, ‘pure Nicolas Cage’.

One of the ways in which this is done is by the changes in the characters. The central family who are having their lives and newly moved into home invaded begin to show two different personality types. Their normal ones, scared at the effects that the titular colour is having on them with its attack, and the one that the colour almost seems to force upon them. A harsh, angered personality, or sometimes a silent, secluded one in constant pain. As the characters begin to flick between the two personalities the conflicting behaviours lead to an increase in tension. Any personality could appear at any moment, especially with Cage’s character, who the impact is the strongest, yet most delayed, on.

When mixed with Steve Annis’ cinematography and the visual effects, showing bright purple’s and violet’s in somehow the darkest of shades, leading to a sense of mistrust and further unease. The feeling that everything isn’t right is known when this strange and mysterious object lands in the front yard of this out-of-the-way cabin. However, the idea is established when such colour schemes and ideas are played with. The visual style of the film while simple is undoubtedly effective and brings the viewer further into the film. Further into the fear and entertainment factors and simply taking them along for the ride, and it’s very much this guidance, pacing and the gradual nature of the film that make it as enjoyable, entertaining and even tense and scary as it is.

In fact Color Out Of Space may be one of the most welcome surprises of the year with just how good it is. It’s easy to just pass off a Nicolas Cage film with this kind of look – at least in the final 20 minutes, when the madness is certainly deserved and warranted – as something tacky and almost Direct-To-DVD. It’s the type of thing he seems to have become associated with. However, as the actor seems to be entering into a new stage of his career, after what we saw in Mandy, and his much discussed future slate of films (including his potential franchise return in National Treasure 3), it’s certainly time that we again reassessed our view of him. There’s a lot to like about Color Out Of Space, and indeed Cage’s performance, which isn’t to distract from the rest of the cast, which includes Joely Richardson and even Tommy Chong, who all also put in a good turn. It’s well-paced, tense, well-told and knows how to build up to the point when it flicks the switch and exactly what to do when it finally does. Not to mention the fact that it has a genuine fear factor with a number of scary and highly unnerving moments.

Director Richard Stanley, along with co-writer Scarlett Amaris, creates a finely paced cosmic horror that once it finally flicks the switch it feels warranted, deserved and a step-up from the already tense and unnerving nature of the rest of the film which even manages to hold a somewhat unsettling colour palette.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Jenna Suru ‘The Golden Age’ Interview

Writer, director, producer and actor Jenna Suru joins me to discuss her upcoming feature debut The Golden Age – which is premiering at the London Independent Film Festival later this month.

The Golden Age can be followed through its Twitter account. Tickets for the premiere on Friday 13th March, followed by a Q&A with Jenna, at the London Independent Film Festival, which the film is opening, can be booked here.

Jenna can be found through her Twitter.

For those interested in the songs that Jenna requested they can be found below;
Revolution – The Beatles
(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction – The Rolling Stones
Heal The World – Michael Jackson

Dark Waters – Review

Cert – 12, Run-time – 2 hours 6 minutes, Director – Todd Haynes

A corporate environmental lawyer (Mark Ruffalo) takes on one of the biggest chemical companies in America when it’s revealed that they’re poisoning the water of a town in Virginia

Dark Waters is a shocking film, there’s no denying that. There’s something about seeing the rotted teeth and insides of a cow, due to poisoned water, that only begins to start off the true effects of chemical giant Dupont dumping chemicals into the water of Petersburg, Virginia; affecting the health and lives of those living there. As you learn more about the company over the course of the film it’ll possibly make you think twice before next using a frying pan – even if not made by part of the company – or even drinking water. But, Dark Waters doesn’t dwell on the shock and affects of the knowing poisoning. Instead it focuses on the way it pushes and frustrates corporate environmental lawyer Robert Bilott (Mark Ruffalo).

Bilott finds himself representing farmer Wilbur Tennant (Bill Camp) after 190 of his cows are killed from the water in the stream that runs through his farm. While the film has a number of good performances from big name stars it’s Camp who steals the show in every scene in which he appears. Robert finds himself going against not only one of the biggest chemical companies in America at the time, if not the world, but also one of the companies that his firm, of which he is close to being made a partner of, represents. When the repercussions of this lead to tense relationships with those around him, including with his wife (Anne Hathaway) things begin to take a turn for the worst; especially when it comes to the severity of the full extent of Dupont’s actions.

As with Tom McCarthy’s Best Picture winning Spotlight back in 2016 sometimes the most action can be found in someone running to a photocopier, or possibly in this case Ruffalo foraging through stacks of old documents in order to find data and evidence relating to Duponts actions. There’s a fair deal of tension to be found within such events, especially within the way that director Todd Haynes captures this with limited, yet effective camera use. Often using a wide-shot or birds-eye-view to capture the enormity of the situation at hand.

Despite this Dark Waters lacks the tension, or perhaps suspense that a film like this seems to want. It doesn’t quite have the captivating intrigue of a film like Spotlight, or other legal dramas in a similar vein. While there are some interesting points there are occasionally moments which seem to pander or go on for too long, leaving the gap until the legal disputes – the highlights of the film – much longer. It’s such legal moments, battles in court and the true focus on the feuds between the company and citizens and lawyers, and indeed lawyers within the firm having something of a civil feud, that are the most interesting. Bringing the viewer into the world as Ruffalo’s situation becomes increasingly tense and prolonged over many years.

A prolonged feeling is something which does lie in some of the scenes of the film. Some seeming slightly too long and giving the film a feeling that it might be a bit too long itself. This is admittedly a slightly slow-burn, and while in some scenes this is effective in others it does seem to hinder the progress. Scenes that could do with slightly faster pacing to heat up the ‘action’ that’s unfolding on-screen. To further intensify the situation and make for a more engaging and intriguing story. While there’s a fair bit to enjoy within the film, there’s a fair deal that could be improved with some fast pacing, which is possibly the biggest downfall of the film. While the performances, direction and screenplay as a whole are good. The overall pacing is somewhat slow at times, which does prove damaging during some scenes and the overall feeling of the run-time of the film. There’s a fair deal of interest and intrigue in the film, however there are one or two things that prevent full impact.

Dark Waters is definitely an interesting film, and there are a number of shocking moments. However, the slow pacing of some of the non-legal moments do prevent from a full-punch impact.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The Invisible Man – Review

Cert – 15, Run-time – 2 hours 4 minutes, Director – Leigh Whannell

After escaping an abusive relationship Cecelia (Elisabeth Moss), believes that her ex-boyfriend (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), who has recently committed suicide, is somehow stalking and terrorising her in an invisible form.

The Invisible Man is a title commonly associated with the ghouls and grim reapers of 1930’s horror cinema, amongst other classic Universal monster horror titles. We’re used to seeing the figure with his face wrapped in bandages, with thick glasses in the middle and donning a suit or smoking jacket, alongside the standard gloves. However, in an age where horror is becoming more of a social commentary, taking elements of every day life and intensifying them for effect – look at the likes of Get Out, Unfriended and even Hereditary – The Invisible Man preys on the idea of fear of what we cannot see.

In the extended opening sequence we see Elisabeth Moss’ central character, Cecelia (Elisabeth Moss), attempt to silently escape from the lavish shore-side home of her boyfriend, Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). The scene is filled with tension, her actions and behaviour suggest that she’s escaping an abusive relationship, her desperation and the fact that the house is flooded with CCTV adding to this. However, when she escapes there’s no relief, this is only the start, and we know it. Something is bound to go wrong, or rather get worse, and so the rest of the film is equally suspenseful.

As Cecelia is getting back on her feet, going out into the world after finding shelter in the house in the friend (Aldis Hodge) of her sister (Harriet Dyer), she finds out that her ex has committed suicide. However, after this news she finds herself being stalked and terrorised by an invisible force which she believes to somehow be her ex. Cecelia who after escaping from her life of isolation and domestic abuse already obsessed with a fear of being stalked and observed round any corner, or through any camera now fears that there’s something, or someone, watching her in every room. As attacks begin and her relationships with other people are tested Cecelia slowly begins to break down. The abuse she suffered when in a relationship restarts, both physically and mentally.

As her other relationships are viciously torn apart the horror of the film doesn’t lie in jump-scares – although there are a number of effective jump-scares throughout the film – but in the high levels of worry and unease that are in almost every scene. As Cecelia’s mental state begins to deteriorate the true extent of the horror is shown. This is not a film that examines a descent into madness; Cecelia is never mad, she’s desperate to end people perceiving her as mad. The audience knows that there is something following her, that’s made clear, it’s those that don’t believe her. And when mixed with Elisabeth Moss’ commanding central performance the nature of the film is often genuinely horrifying. How can you tell how good her performance is? When her hands shake with fear it looks real instead of forced, as is often the case.

Moss shows mass levels of fear that only increase as the titular monster seemingly lingers in every corner, despite not being present even the audience can somehow see it. Her screams and tears are far from the cliches of a number of female characters in horror films, especially in the likes of classic 1930’s Universal titles – after all we are now far from this age, and this is proof that the times have been changing for the better. This is a slightly unconventional character for this style of film, however the background and arc make for a unique and engaging piece. Bringing the viewer in with an interesting study on her behaviour and responses.

The idea of the fear of what we can’t see is effectively used and never feels gimmicky. Especially during moments of attack the impact of the film is often flinch inducing, even when nothing bad is happening. Thus creating the high levels of unease and worry that linger in every corner of every room – somehow making open spaces all the more tense.

Director Leigh Whannell shoots a number of action sequences from the possible perspective of the unseen attacker, however even this is sometimes doubted as he could be anywhere in the shot, or through CCTV cameras. By doing this the action and horror are escalated, Whannell having experience in both fields with his previous film Upgrade, and work on the Insidious franchise; of which he directed the third instalment. Combining both, often at the same time, he makes for an even more intense and almost edge-of-your-seat set of events. Overall the entire cast and crew manage to create something truly unique and suspenseful within The Invisible Man. Bringing a new style and edge to the modern trend of socially inspired horror films. Carrying tension, worry and pain throughout, led by a fantastic performance from Elisabeth Moss, this is truly something special, and not to mention fantastically tense and terrifying.

Elisabeth Moss dominates as the lead in this wonderfully unique, carefully crafted take on The Invisible Man. Something highly, and successfully, contemporary, this is a horror about the monsters of domestic abuse, a theme which is strongly held throughout and helps to add to the suspense and worry that the film so tensely holds.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Portrait Of A Lady On Fire – Review

Cert – 15, Run-time – 2 hours 1 minute, Director – Céline Sciamma

A painter (Noémie Merlant) closely observes a bride-to-be (Adèle Haenel) in order to make a portrait for her wedding without her knowing.

Portrait Of A Lady On Fire is a work of art that communicates its points through a story about communication through art. Many of the interactions between the two central characters, Marianne (Noémie Merlant) and Héloïse (Adèle Haenel), are based around various arts; such as song, writing, storytelling and; more than anything else, art. The reason that the two meet is due to Marianne being commissioned to paint a portrait of Héloïse for her upcoming wedding. However, Héloïse is not to know about this, so Marianne must observe her closely by day in order to create the portrait in secret. 

As the two begin to spend more time together their relationship, instead of getting closer, begins to open. The beauty of writer-director Céline Sciamma’s screenplay is that it never asks ‘will they, won’t they?’ It asks ‘when will they?’ Throughout the film the viewer is left in breathless suspense as the pair wait for their moment to show their feelings. The question is how and when. From the moment they meet it’s clear that there’s love and passion between them, the film doesn’t hide this – and neither do the truly mesmerising performances of both Merlant and Haenel. Love and passion which burn bright throughout the film in a deeply poetic manner. If there’s a film that sums up the idea of something being ‘poetic’ it’s very likely this. 

With a rather small cast there’s a minimal amount of dialogue. A number of scenes simply focus on Marianne sketching the rough outline for her painting, or carefully sweeping the colours onto the canvas. Even the character’s longing gazes and the lingering shots of the wonderfully shot landscapes – thanks to the stunning cinematography – manage to keep the viewer in awe throughout the entire film. There’s an honest delicacy that lies throughout the entire film when it comes to Sciamma’s direction. What brings this honesty is the fact that this is clearly a film told entirely from the female gaze – almost every single figure who appears in the film is female. They understand what the film is aiming for, what Sciamma wants to achieve with the finished piece and the collaborative effort shines. Forming a stunning feature that captivates the viewer from the the very start to the very end. It would be very easy to spend many more hours with these two characters, in fact even just in the world of the film through the gaze that events are seen through.

Throughout there are many moments that feel reminiscent of Julian Schnabel’s At Eternity’s Gate (one of the best films of last year). However, instead of focusing on the harsh and angered breakdown, exclusion and isolation of the main character, Portrait Of A Lady On Fire focuses on the increasing adoration and revealing passion that the film displays. The moments of silence as sometimes all that can be heard are the natural surroundings, such as the crashing of waves, are some of the most effective moments of the film. The feeling that everything in the film is naturally happening and that what you’re watching is truly in the moment adds to the breathless suspense and hope that you feel all the way through the relationship. Everything comes together in the best possible way to create something authentic, genuine and heartfelt.

Never do any of the actions on-screen feel rushed or hesitant. Everything is perfectly timed and balanced so to emphasise the characters. The detail that they have, made stronger and more powerful by the fantastic performances, and their arcs make for a compelling study. Bold, passionate and caringly made by all involved. Portrait Of A Lady On fire is itself a genuine work of stunning art. 

Portrait Of A Lady On Fire is a work of art made with heaps of care and passion from all involved. Told from a unique and honest female perspective this is a stunning piece, the light of which will likely continue to burn brightly onto a number of best of the year lists.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Emma. – Review

Cert – U, Run-time – 2 hours 4 minutes, Director – Autumn de Wilde

Emma Woodhouse (Anya Taylor-Joy) delights in her life of matchmaking friends and family, while dealing with her complex relationships with the men around her.

Director Autumn de Wilde’s previous experience mostly relates to music videos for rock artists. The likes of The Raconteurs, Florence + The Machine and Beck are prominent, and in some cases frequent, collaborators. So, making a feature debut with an adaptation of a Jane Austen romantic-comedy novel might seem to be something on almost the complete opposite end of the scale, but, with all this aside de Wilde’s feature is mostly a success.

The titular Emma Woodhouse (Anya Taylor-Joy) is described in the opening text, alongside almost all of the advertising, as “handsome, clever, rich”, and this is very much how those around her seem to view her. She’s the respectable, high-class figure in all social circles. Communicating more with those of lower classes she sees herself as something of a matchmaker for her friends and family, never having not had success when forming relationships for other people. Where her slightly testing relationships lie are with those of a similar status to her own. Especially with Johnny Flynn’s Mr. Knightley, who appears to disapprove of what seems to be Emma’s vanity and refusal to marry, despite seemingly always putting herself first, even when being a matchmaker for others.

From the off it’s made clear that this is a ‘quirky’ period comedy. The frequently appearing score made up of jaunty strings screams this, and from the start almost begins to set up the feeling of a long and forceful feature. The wit is quick, almost too quick. As Bill Nighy interacts with his daughter (Taylor-Joy) in the opening scenes, and questions the local vicar, Mr Elton’s (Josh O’Connor) pronunciation of innocence – “Inn-know-sense” – the fast nature of the humour, mixed with the fact that such moments are nothing more than brief flashes lead to the joke’s either being missed or just lacking a response. And for much of the first 20-30 minutes of the film the screenplay seems to aim for nothing more than humour, which never properly takes off. Leaving it all feeling rather flat and lacking, meaning the viewer can’t properly connect with it.

The narrative of the film is shown through the four seasons. And the way the film feels seems to follow the style of the seasons too. Starting in Autumn things are a bit damp and slightly trudge along, however as we get closer to summer you begin to warm to the film – no pun intended – and enjoy it that bit more. Overtime, as the elements of drama and romance come more into play there’s more to like and engage with. Emma’s relationships become slightly more layered than the simple points for humour they initially appear to be. Even her relationship with Miranda Hart’s loud Miss Bates – constantly talking about the smallest of details in the letters from her relation – becomes something slightly deeper and more thoughtful as the film progresses, in fact one picnic scene in particular where the two have a key interaction is a highlight of the film. Hart’s character becomes far more than a shouty hopeful socialite and the actor herself more than the almost typecast figure that people have come to associate her with.

Throughout the film, as she tries to form a relationship for her friend Harriet (Mia Goth), Emma comes across her own complications with men. There are conflictions as she tries to set Harriet up with Mr Elton, who appears to be infatuated with the school-girl, despite Harriet clearly having feelings for local farmer Mr. Martin (Connor Swindells). Meanwhile Emma’s own relationship with Mr. Knightley wavers and she herself appears to take a slight shine to the often underseen Frank Churchill (Callum Turner). This is a film made up of multiple not quite complete love triangles, mixed-messages, misunderstandings and general complications relating to the idea of love and relationships. Much of which forms the tone of the film and helps to eventually bring the audience into the film. In fact it’s as the film develops such a plot and the themes are pushed more that the humour dies down, although still present, and seems to balance out. The mild chuckles, while not exactly frequent, are present and help to make the piece that bit more pleasant and enjoyable. The quirks of the characters, shown by the performances, show a bit more than just a rough design and help to also progress the narrative and the viewer’s engagement in the piece.

By the end the characters and their relationships feel enough to form something satisfying by the end, even when responses and eccentricities do begin to branch into the absurd, something rather fitting for the film. Much like the relationships that are being formed the film realises that this isn’t a gradual process and everything can’t be quirky and joyful from the very start, it needs to take time and have some detail and development. Once that starts that’s when things truly begin to hit right. The pacing, humour and balance of themes begins to even out and the film becomes that bit more enjoyable and satisfying. While it starts off as a bit much eventually Emma. calms down and becomes something rather likeable.

Like the lead character Emma starts off as rushed, joyful with/at itself and hoping for the best from the start. But, as the film progresses it gradually becomes more detailed, thoughtful and engaging thanks to the hints of character and plot development and detail that it introduces.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Sonic The Hedgehog – Review

Cert – PG, Run-time – 1 hour 39 minutes, Director – Jeff Fowler

After loosing his teleportation rings Sonic the hedgehog (Ben Schwartz) must find his way to San Francisco to get them back before he’s captured by a drone-wielding inventor employed by the government (Jim Carrey)

“What if we were back in the 90s but also, simultaneously in hell”, This tweet very much sums up the largely negative reactions to the first trailer for the big-screen adaptation of one of Sega’s biggest titles and figureheads, Sonic The Hedgehog. Most of this outrage was directed towards the design of the titular alien. After all he looked nothing like the standard design that gamers have gotten to know so well since his first appearance back in 1991. Therefore the film found itself pushed back by almost two months so that the VFX could be altered and the appearance of the lead made to look more like that in the games. When the new trailers were released fans seemed to be happy, there was hope for the film.

The one thing that the response didn’t change towards was Jim Carrey as villain Dr. Robotnik, a government agent sent to capture Sonic after he causes a large power outage. It seemed that many people were looking forward to seeing Carrey not only back in a big role after so long, but also back to what appeared to be his usual chaotic self. There’s no denying that he was one of the major drawing factors of the film. He’s also undeniably the best thing about the film. His pure energy and general performance does its best to lift the heavy weight of an otherwise tired and severely lacking film.

It’s established early on that Sonic (Ben Schwartz) is an alien, having arrived on Earth through golden rings that act as portals to other places. When he’s hunted down on discovered for his intense speed he moves on to another place, after Earth he’s got one more place, a world with no life apart from the mushrooms that grow on it. However, it seems that things are going well in the quiet town of Green Hills. He observes day to day life in the town, binge-reads his collection of The Flash comics and looking in on the life of police officer Tom Wachowski (James Marsden), or as he’s known to Sonic ‘Doughnut Lord’, and his wife Maddie (Tika Sumpter), ‘Pretzel Lady’.

After years of going unnoticed – apart from the local branded ‘Crazy Carl’ who goes ignored when it comes to his sightings – Sonic is discovered by Tom. After being shot with a tranquillizer and noticing Tom’s San Francisco shirt Sonic’s rings fall through a portal and land on one of the city’s biggest buildings. It’s not long until the two find themselves embarking on a road-trip with Robotnik hot on their tails, being sent out to capture the suspected alien after he causes a mass power outage during a game of one-man baseball, where he plays all members of each team. In many ways this could be seen as a standard set-up for a film of this nature, especially a buddy film, which this very much falls under the category of. And it’s the base that everything else builds up from. Making for an overall standard and rather basic feature.

With a central figure known for the high speeds that he can reach this idea doesn’t really seem to have much done with it, only really for the sake of plot necessity – of which there are a number of elements that are there for the sake of coincidence. Surely this should be a character filled with spark and energy? Instead he just comes across as rather bland and two dimensional – as do most of the characters. The full extent of this shown in an early sequence where Sonic runs with a tortoise in his hands set to Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now. Carrey truly does have a great deal of heavy-lifting to do, but unfortunately he’s not enough to carry the film out of the slow drudge that it is. In fact even kids, who are possibly the core audience for the film, might not have much to clinch onto over the course of the 99 minutes that the film is to be endured for.

There seems to be a complete void of humour, no jokes land and almost every single one has been used before in similar stories. Occasionally the film appears to call back to the likes of Alvin And The Chipmunks – with it’s quirky, out-of-place lead character – and even Hop (not just because of the James Marsden connection). In fact even during moments where Sonic’s speed is shown in comparison to everything that’s happening around him such instances simply feel as if they’re taken directly from Quicksilver in the X-Men films. The finished product simply feels lazy and lacking in any form of required energy or draw. The only feelings it creates are those resembling boredom (some parents may even find themselves dropping off) and even possible irritation. While the characters might be smiling and having a good time the feelings are far from shared by the audience. There’s a slight sense of hope during the opening sequence as we see Sonic rush through an island landscape identical to the ones that he’s known for speeding through in the iconic games, but all of this is dropped very early on as we land on Earth and the fact that this is yet another lacking tale of the talented CG outsider and his friend who’s striving for more sets in.

While the redesign might have helped make the title character look better, and Jim Carrey is a highlight, Sonic The Hedgehog ultimately crashes due to an intense lack of energy, stamina and originality.

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Dolittle – Review

Cert – PG, Run-time – 1 hour 41 minutes, Director – Stephen Gaghan

When Queen Victoria (Jessie Buckley) suffers from a gradual poisoning Dr Dolittle (Robert Downey Jr) is sent on a voyage to find the one thing that will cure her

Talking (and singing) animals really don’t seem to be going well for Universal. Cats was a universally panned box-office bomb that, aside from the odd jab, seems to have been mostly forgotten, even the nightmares have begun to fade away. Now, comes another story with talking animals, voiced by a similarly all-star cast, and the man that can talk to them, Dolittle. Once again, it almost seems weird to think that the cast were brought on by the script, in fact the conclusion that some wouldn’t be mistaken for would be the fact that the likes of Robert Downey Jr, John Cena, Rami Malek, Emma Thompson, Selena Gomez, Marion Cotillard, Kumail Nanjiani and more were paid a large sum of the $175 million budget – it certainly couldn’t have all gone on the CG animals and ocean landscapes. But, this isn’t something to throw-up presumptions and accusations, this is, after all, a review, not a blame game with a lack of knowledge in such areas.

Speaking of the largely A-list cast that lines the film Michael Sheen is also present as Dolittle’s rival, Dr. Blair Müdfly – the joke being that people pronounce his last name as ‘mudfly’, and he apparently hasn’t got a chin. At some points when hearing Downey Jr speak as the titular Dr. Dolittle it almost seems as if he heard Michael Sheen’s Welsh accent and decided to copy it. However, when he speaks the accent produced almost seems as if it’s been badly dubbed over the movement of his lips in post-production, alongside sounding like a mixture of various other British accents. That is when he’s not grunting or squawking to animals, Dolittle’s ability essentially makes him a translator, which makes for some slightly awkward scenes when his new apprentice, Tommy Stubbins (Harry Collett), also tries to adopt this skill. In fact even from one of the opening scenes, an extended sequence of Dolittle attemping to play chess with Rami Malek’s gorilla, Chee-Chee, where the chess pieces are mice with headgear on, while speaking in various different animal tongues, sets the tone for what the film is likely to be. While the two opening scenes for mild context show some hope in the end the film ends up as a bit of a mess.

Dolittle lives in hiding from the rest of the world after the death of his wife, Lilly (Kasia Smutniak). However, when the Queen (Jessie Buckley) calls for his help after being poisoned he emerges back into the world to go on a voyage to find the only thing that will cure the mostly unconscious monarch. However, first he must travel somewhere else to find a journal in which lies instructions on how to find the island on which the tree that grows the fruit grows on. What seems like something relatively simple somehow manages to get deeply tied up and borderline confusing. This might be because of the messy nature of the film, and the generally uninteresting nature. And while all this is happening Michael Sheen is trying to get the cure before Dolittle by the order of Jim Broadbent’s Lord Thomas Badgley, a figure who you would never once begin to guess was secretly villainous so that it comes as even more of a shock when the film reveals for the second time that he’s the villain, as if thinking it can get a response like it’s the first – it almost seems as if the writer’s forgot about the character – the audience certainly did – and needed to make note of this element again.

When it comes to the attempted humour things never properly takes off – one moment where John Cena’s polar Bear, Yoshi, states “one day my Dad went out for a pack of seals and never came back” you don’t know whether it’s meant to be humorous, serious or even both. While there are some elements that work, and points where the film is at least bearable and just about watchable before the humour and awkwardness sets back in, including the costume design which at least adds something, the overall feel is somewhat uninviting. There’s not a great deal to connect with that brings the viewer into the world of the film. Mix in some rather lacking performances, the heart just doesn’t seem to be there from anyone, this almost seems to be a project to pass the time until the next big role that’s to come along. Even star-power can’t help but lift the screenplay, something just above a selection of ideas but not quite beyond the second draft. It all combines to make a rather un-enthralling, sloppily made trudge through messy and lacking material.

Rounding off Dolittle’s messy themes and style is the fact that it doesn’t seem to know whether it’s a family film or just a film for young-kids, the climax involves bagpipes being removed from a mythical creatures rear-end. This is a very different film for writer-director Stephen Gaghan, who’s previous works consist of more adult dramas like Traffic, Syriana and 2017’s Gold – which had a somewhat lukewarm-poor response, but I personally really liked – his take on a family film seems unsure. His screenplay, written with occasional sitcom and animated TV show writers Dan Gregor and Doug Mand, feels as if there is trepidation around what the tone and feel of the film should be, further pushing the idea of a second draft feeling. There’s a great deal missing from the film. Much like the boats that feature throughout; the script, and film in general, and in need of further construction.

Seemingly stuck in the second draft Dolittle is a mixture of unengaging characters, adventure that lacks in thrills and a number of poor attempts at jokes, the most stable thing about it might just be Robert Downey Jr’s wobbly Welsh accent.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Birds Of Prey (And The Fantabulous Emancipation Of One Harley Quinn) – Review

Cert – 15, Run-time – 1 hour 49 minutes, Director – Cathy Yan

After being dumped by The Joker, all of Gotham city is after Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie). The only way for her to end this is by finding a diamond which hides details of a mass fortune.

There’s something rather delightful about seeing Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), one of DC’s most recognisable villains/ antihero’s, waiting longingly as she watches an egg sandwich being made in a greasy corner-shop-cum-cafe. As bacon and cheese that’s probably six months out of date are piled on it’s made to seem that this glorified snack could easily replace The Joker on the first day of her newly single life. The last time we saw Robbie’s Quinn was in the dismal grit and greyness of 2016’s Suicide Squad. From the start it’s proved that this is a very different character to the one that seemed to be nothing more than a rough idea or thought – all down to poor scripting – four years ago. Sat in brightly-coloured clothing with a wrap made of streams of almost luminous plastic Quinn is truly starting afresh in her latest big-screen appearance.

What else do we find her doing to cope with being dumped by the clown prince of crime? The usual; going to clubs and getting drunk, sitting at home eating cereal and watching Looney Tunes, buying a pet hyena – which she names Bruce – and also driving a lorry full-speed into, and thus blowing up, the chemical factory where her relationship first properly began. However, Harley’s easy new life is abruptly put to an end when the rest of Gotham city finds out that she’s no longer under The Joker’s protection, and it turns out that there are a great many people who hold more than just a small grudge against her. None more so than Ewan MGregor’s fittingly camp crime-boss Roman Sionis, sometimes known for his persona, Black Mask (making him look like the Masked Magician). Sionis makes it his mission to hunt Quinn down and be the one to claim full victory by killing her.

However, things take a turn when Harley finds herself enlisted by Sionis to find a highly valuable diamond which holds the details to a strong fortune. And so, with almost everyone in the city, the police, Sionis and all his men after her Quinn and the audience are all set-up for a hilarious, action-packed ride. In fact, when you mix in the various fourth wall breaks and the often bouncy personality of the central character, alongside various fourth-wall breaks and flashbacks, there’s an air to the film that almost begins to remind you of Deadpool. And even with this in mind Birds Of Prey is a very different film in terms of its style and energy. Style and energy which overflows from the film, leading it to successfully connect with the viewer and simply bring them further into the world that’s created – one which shows a further advancement in terms of variations of tone and feel for DC.

While one her own Harley is a strong character, raising a number of laughs and simply being a source of pure entertainment, the supporting cast is not to be overlooked. With the likes of Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rosie Perez, Jurnee Smollett-Bell and Ella Jay Basco all creating a kick-ass ensemble cast there’s no stopping the true force of the finished piece. Each figure, whether police detective or crossbow-wielding assassin, has their own unique personality (even if Winstead’s Huntress does seem to have only a short amount of screen-time, especially when compared to the rest of the cast) that’s clearly defined and makes for an even stronger group, especially during fight sequences. In many ways the true strength of the film lies in the fight sequences, where the worth is proved and the levels of care and passion that have gone into the production are truly revealed. And it’s in something rather simple. The fact that during fight scenes character’s don’t simply just go straight for a punch and a kick, or even just a kick in the nads, there’s clear signs of carefully constructed choreography that help to ramp up the impact of many of the film’s violent moments. Some of which do leave a slight wince on the face of the viewer, alongside a potential audible expression of pain.

All throughout the film the fingerprints of a cast and crew that are passionate about what they are making, wanting to make something good with strong female characters. This is very much a film for and about empowerment, while also still fitting in with the standard comic-book adaptation films that have continued to grow in number since the start of the last decade. And Birds Of Prey manages to be both this things while never shouting about that fact, it just gets on and does it, and it does it rather well. It’s a hugely enjoyable time and also very funny. Much of which comes from Christine Hodson’s screenplay – Hodson previously wrote the first good Transformers film, Bumblebee, and is also signed on to write DC’s upcoming The Flash and Batgirl films; if this is the case then the future of DC is very much in safe hands, especially with their current track record. When brought to life by still relative newcomer, this is her second feature, Cathy Yan’s precise direction. Yan, and the cast, clearly understand the tone that Hodson’s screenplay aims for and by bringing it to life they create an utterly engaging, brilliantly constructed and all round fun action film. Filled with some brilliant fight sequences, entertaining characters – who you can even just watch casually go shopping and be entertained by it – and plenty of style, sparkle and colour to make it something that feels unique and original to the comic-book genre!

Harley Quinn’s aim to start life anew is also in many ways a re-imagining of the character. Amongst all the finely choreographed action and passionate girl-power themes, which can be enjoyed by anyone, there’s clearly a great deal of care that’s gone into the film from all sectors. Fun, entertaining, stylish, and not to mention colourful Birds Of Prey is truly a fantabulous emancipation!

Rating: 4 out of 5.