Monday, May 13, 2019


This film is utterly without merit, joy, wonder or intelligence  It is a shameless cash-in on a tired franchise, without any of the majesty of the original.  Even worse, it teases us with memories of that film with an early cameo from Jeff Goldblum and a late cameo from BD Wong. Worst of all, it wastes the talents of arthouse director J A Bayona, who made the exceptional A MONSTER CALLS

In this new instalment, a few years after the dinos go bonkers on Isla Nubar, a volcano threatens to make them all extinct again. Goldblum's rational scientist argues for this but reformed park exec Bryce Dallas Howard now wants to rescue them as living creatures deserving of our help. In doing so she enlists the help of ex-lover and dino handler Chris Pratt, and is funded by James Cromwell's dying billionaire and ex partner of the park's original founder.  Of course, the moral of this series was always that the real monsters weren't the killer dinos but the evil capitalist bastards who sought to exploit them. And so it goes with this non-surprising plot-twist.

The whole thing is over-loud, over-long, emotionally involving and lacking in intelligence. Avoid.

JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM is rated 12A and has a running time of 128 minutes.

Sunday, May 12, 2019


Mads Mikkelsen is absolutely gripping as the protagonist in debut feature director Joe Penna's austere and impressive ARCTIC. This lean film begins in media res, with a downed pilot hunting for fish and eking out at existence in his crashed plane. The pilot seems capable and self-reliant but all the same one wonders at his mental rather than physical health.   The pilot's hand is forced when another plane crashes and its horrifically wounded pilot clearly cannot survive without proper medical health.  And so he makes the heroic decision to drag her to the coast and hopefully rescue, through extreme cold, over crevasses, in the path of a polar bear, and at great risk to his own survival.  Through it all we get the same moral quandaries thrown up for real in Kevin MacDonald's superb doc TOUCHING THE VOID.  Should Mikkelsen's character abandon the injured woman to save himself? How much of a risk is worth taking to survive? Do you risk everything to maybe be seen?

The film stands on Mikkelsen's deeply humane performance and the beautiful cinematography from DP Tomas Orn Tomasson shot on location in Iceland.  We also get a beautiful score by Joseph Trapanese (THE GREATEST SHOWMAN) - utterly essential in a film where the characters barely speak.  The result is an austere film that nonetheless is deeply moving and provocative. At once full of almost impossible questions and the majesty of nature but also deeply personal.

ARTIC has a running time of 98 minutes and is rated PG-13. It played Cannes 2018 and is now on release in the UK in cinemas and on demand. 


CHRISTOPHER ROBIN comes to our screens with an impeccable pedigree.  It's director, Marc Forster, has previously explored the inner lives of iconic British children's authors with FINDING NEVERLAND. And its screenwriters have both written and directed award-winning films - whether Alex Ross Perry with HER SMELL or Tom McCarthy with SPOTLIGHT.  It also stars three charismatic British actors - Ewan McGregor as Christopher Robin; Hayley Atwell as his wife; and Mark Gatiss as his venal boss.  And the animation is really lovely - the characters of Winnie The Pooh are fluffy and cuddly and voiced by actors that truly bring them to life!  

And yet, despite all this, the movie just fails to spark interest or emotion.  Maybe its because the opening scenes of a work-worn middle-aged Christopher Robin take so long to establish. Maybe it's because we only see Christopher returning Pooh to the Hundred Acre Wood and having fun with all his childhood friends about an hour in. Maybe it's because even when his daughter meets the animals there still doesn't seem to be any real sense of joy in the film.  And without that, all we really have is a rehash of the story of MARY POPPINS. So, sadly, this is one to avoid. 

CHRISTOPHER ROBIN is rated PG and has a running time of 107 minutes.  It is now available to rent and own.


There's no meta humour in PETER RABBIT that will appeal to adults - no smart-arse wise-cracking pop-culture snark.  This live-action animation combo is a very old-fashioned slapstick comedy with a warm heart, earnest and charming in equal measure.  

The film opens with Beatrix Potter's iconic mischievous rabbits - Peter (James Corden), Flopsy (Margot Robbie), Mopsy (Elizabeth Debicki), Cotton Tail (Daisy Ridley) and Benjamin (Colin Moody) poaching scrumptious carrots from Mr McGregor's garden before escaping to his neighbour the lovely Bea's house.  When McGregor senior dies, Peter thinks he's victorious and can move back into the house once occupied by his beloved parents. The only problem is that Mr McGregor's nephew (Domnhall Gleeson) moves in and falls for Bea (Rose Byrne). Of course,  the OCD neat-freak McGregor Jr can't admit he hates the rabbits for fear of losing Bea, so the two sides engage in a covert slapstick war that's a bit like Home Alone with the rabbits as Macauley Culkin and McGregor as the trespasser. 

The resulting film is predictable and hokey but nonetheless beautifully animated, heart-warming and genuinely fun.  

PETER RABBIT has a running time of 95 minutes and is rated PG. The movie is available to rent and own.


What an absolute shame! With so much female talent in front of and behind the lens, I was expecting great things from Amy Poehler's directorial debut. But sadly, her story of a bunch of middle-aged women taking a holiday in Napa is dull and humourless, despite a script penned by, and many actresses from, the SNL stable. Poehler stars as the highly strung organiser of the weekend break in a beautiful house owned by Tina Fey's weirdly unemotional owner.  Both she and the ladies' husbands warn that the girls are bound to fall out and - in a sadly predictable and gender-stereotypical way - they do.  So while we get some moments of drunken bonding we also get plenty of passive-aggressive quibbling.  It all reaches its nadir when drunken Maya Rudolph sings in a wine bar and when poor Jason Schwartzman is forced to play a thinly written earnest chef cum driver.  There's really nothing new original or funny here.  Frankly, if you want to watch authentic, funny and moving depictions of female friendship you'd be better off watching the superb adult animated comedy TUCA AND BERTIE, also released on Netflix this weekend. 

WINE COUNTRY has a running time of 103 minutes and is rated R.  It was released on May 10th on Netflix. 


Remember back in 2015 when that terrorist nutter tried to cause chaos on a high speed train to Paris, but an Englishman a Frenchman and some Americans took him out?  Well, Clint Eastwood has made a film about the attack, taking the interesting angle of looking at how the three Americans grew up, in order to cast some light on why they took that courageous decision to have a go.  Eastwood is even more experimental - shockingly so - in that he casts the three real life men - Anthony Sadler, Alek Skarlatos, and Spencer Stone - to play themselves. The result is a film that is disarmingly simple, direct, authentic and surprisingly affecting. 

As the film opens we see the three men as kids, getting into scrapes at school, being split up as one leaves for school in another town.  You get the feeling that they're just normal boys, albeit boys brought up with strong mothers and for one of them at least strong faith and a strong sense of (military) service.  There's a kind of simplicity to their basic human decency and - at the same time - their almost moronic banality. They sound like most twenty something friends, when they're ordering beers and food in a Dutch bar with a raging hangover. To be sure they can't act - but that's kind of the point. That extraordinary things can happen to ordinary people.  But not all ordinary people react in the way these boys did.  Military training helps. Knowing your way around a gun probably does help, as much I hate to say it. And having strong moral values that compel you to insert yourself into the situation probably helps.

To be sure, Eastwood's brand of folksy patriotism and family values will grate on some viewers. I found myself having to detach myself for the allegory that could be made to a kind of interventionist military pro-gun policy.  But it's hard to be cynical when faced with such common decency and bravery. And as much as I was irritated by the lack of focus given to the French and British men who also fought back, I guess that's just the nature of the beast. And after all, Eastwood does give the final most emotional speech to a real life Francois Hollande. And I honestly did shed a tear when he spoke about humanity countering terror. 

THE 15:17 TO PARIS is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 94 minutes. It is available to rent and own.


For a very long film, CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD has a lot of characters with very few lines, and even less to do.  There's the troubling casting of a pretty Asian woman as a mysterious but almost mute Nagini.  There's Ezra Miller (WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN) as the troubled, mysterious but almost mute Credence.  Even the lead character, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) says little except in a cryptically shy mumble, his eyes shyly averted from his interlocutor's face and yet somehow aimed at their boobs. 

For a very long film, CRIMES OF GRINDEWALD also seems rather rushed and haphazard.  Scenes end in a jarring manner, mashed up against the next one. There's a feeling that things are happening in between that have been left on the editors floor.  Things that would help us understand what the frack is going on.  It's been quite some time since I've had to google the ending of a film to figure out what just happened, but I had to with this film on two counts!

So what's actually going on? There's a powerfully magically destructive kid called Credence. He may be able to take out Dumbledore (Jude Law).  Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) is a kind of fascist anti-muggle bastard who's escaped prison and now wants to manipulate Credence into helping him take out Dumbledore.  It's not clear why Grindelwald can't go after Dumbledore directly. But maybe it's for the same reason that Dumbledore has to use his proxy - Scamander - to go after Grindelwald - because the two have a blood oath not to attack each other. Apparently this is because they used to be gay lovers. I know this because of the interwebs, rather than from anything the film might helpfully tell me.

What the movie actually consists of is a bunch of different characters wandering around Paris trying to find each other.  This is all very dull. What makes the movie worth watching are two things - first the absolutely ravishing costume and production design evoking an inter-war Paris - and the occasional moments of emotional impact - mostly revolving around the character of Leta Lestrange (Zoe Kravitz.)  Leta is, like Credence, filled with self-hate and conflict. She's an old school friend of Newt, engaged to his elder brother, anxious about some childhood guilt, and flirting with joining Grindelwald.  By contrast, the less I had to watch Redmayne's Scamander - a bag of cliched tics and mumbles - the better. And his purported love interest - played by Katherine Waterston - is a charisma vacuum.  Dan Fogler is far more engaging as the muggle comedy sidekick but is criminally underused. And as for his lover, Tina Goldstein (Alison Sudol channelling Marilyn's breathy high-pitched voice), it's not clear why she would react to not being allowed to marry a muggle by following a fascist who wants to enslave muggles.

Not much of this movie makes sense.

FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 134 minutes. It is available to rent and own. 

Sunday, May 05, 2019


I'm not sure if the sequel to the 2013 monsters vs robots gonzo action flick PACIFIC RIM was particularly "long-awaited" by anyone, especially when it became known that Guillermo del Toro had left the project to direct the Oscar-Winning THE SHAPE OF WATER.  Still, I rather enjoyed the loud gonzo silliness of the original and was mildly interesting in what the follow-up would be like despite its distinct lack of Idris Elba's hotness. The sad truth is that the sequel is a pretty humourless affair, with less of the carefree silliness of the original, and all to commercial a feel to it.  Directed by TV Hack Stephen S DeKnight of SPARTACUS fame, the film is efficient rather than joyous. And a final act twist that flatters the Chinese market is nakedly entrepreneurial. But the most disappointing part is the sheer lack of charisma from STAR WARS' John Boyega. He plays Stacker Pentecost's son, living in the shadow of his father's martyrdom and unwilling to step up to that responsibility Aragorn-stylee, until surprise surprise, humanity is once again under attack.  This film suggests that Bpyega's not yet capable of carrying a movie on his own but there is some fun to be had from Burn Gorman's camp self-conscious overly annunciated performance as the science-nerd Scotty who makes the tech work just in time. 

PACIFIC RIM: UPRISING has a running time of 111 minutes and is rated PG-13. It is now available to rent and own.


Bill Holderman's directorial debut and Erin Simms screenwriting debut comprises a rather gentle but pleasant rom-com aimed at the sixty-something market.   The conceit is that four long-time friends have a regular bookclub, and reading Fifty Shades of Grey re-awakens their interest in sex, dating and love.  Diane Keaton plays a people-pleasing grandma being bullied by her patronising kids into moving closer to them and away from her friends, not to mention a potential new love interest played by the still hot Andy Garcia.  Mary Steenburgen plays a married woman desperate to re-inject some sex into her otherwise happy marriage.  Candice Bergen takes the leap into online dating despite the knock to her self-esteem from her ex's twenty-something new fiancee. And Jane Fonda plays a successful businesswoman who finally allows herself to admit that she needs love in the form of Don Johnson.

It turns out that the issues plaguing sixty-something women are not that different from those affecting their younger counterparts - the inability to be vulnerable, balancing work and relationships, getting over an ex, getting over low self-esteem. As a result this movie was actually more relatable than I'd thought.  Moreover, from what I've seen from friends parents, their is an alarming tendency to co-opt one's parents lives and assume that they have nothing going on - and a need for the grandparents to reclaim their independence. 

The downside is that it also turns out that a sixty-something rom-com has also the same genre cliches as a twenty-something one - the meet cutes, the final act reconciliations.  But I feel that if you take this film for what it is, you'll enjoy the ride. 

BOOK CLUB has a running time of 104 minutes and is rated PG-13.


I'm so far behind on Marvel movies it's an embarrassment but I blame peak TV and the relentless churning out of these rather similar films.  In catching up I had all my worst fears confirmed with this ANT-MAN sequel.  Paul Rudd returns as the smart-ass superhero in the ant suit - a kind of cut rate IRON MAN or DEADPOOL.  Why do all superhero movies now have to have a wise-ass hero?  Evangeline Lily returns as his partner/romantic interest, THE WASP.  Both are working to rescue her mum slash Michael Douglas' ex-Shield scientist's wife, played by an almost scarily well preserved Michelle Pfeiffer, trapped in some super-magical alt-realm.  Problem is, there's an evil baddie woman after them - out for vengeance - and only magical mum can save her.   

What then follows is a movie that self-consciously tries to tug on our heart strings.  Isn't Paul Rudd cute playing a hands-on father?!  Isn't it so adorable how he co-parents with his lovely ex (Judy Greer) and her huggable hubby (Bobby Canavale)?!  Isn't it cute how Michael Douglas' scientist joshes his daughter and Antman about getting together. Isn't it entirely predictable that  Laurence Fishburne's evil villain scientist is actually rather decent and that magic-mum is gonna cure the vengeful baddie who isn't gonna be that bad after all?

In other words, this is a really banal anodyne film, film of try-hard goofy humour and self-conscious feel-good vibes. The action sequences are predictably CGI driven, dull and silly. That said, Paul Rudd is funny doing his Paul Rudd thing and Michael Pena as his side-kick is funny too.  Just not enough to justify a two-hour run-time.

ANT-MAN AND THE WASP has a running time of 118 minutes, is rated PG-13 and is available to rent and own.


Catching up on a few releases I missed last year and the first is MAMMA MIA! 2, the inevitable follow up to the phenomenally commercially successful ABBA jukebox musical turned movie. I must confess to a lot of fondness to the original with its top tier hits, performed with elan by the elder cast members - notably a very campy Meryl Streep, always superb Christine Baranski and Julie Walters.  The added surprise was that Amanda Seyfried, playing the young girl wondering which of her mother's one night stands was her real father - had a superb singing voice. It would take a cynic indeed to resist the original movie's charm.

Sadly the sequel doesn't quite live up to the original's infectious joy. Partly that's because a lot of the best songs have already been used up - so that the occasional hits seen here are diluted with some B grade material.  Partly it's because Lily James, playing the young Streep, just doesn't have a strong singing voice to compete with Seyfried - and neither competes with a last minute cameo from Cher as their mum/grandma.  Partly it's because all the young actors in the flashback scenes to Meryl Streep's wild years have to do impersonations of how their elderly versions would act and it's hugely constraining. So we have Lily James not acting as her character but impersonating Streep's exaggerated somewhat awkward dancing - and we have all three young men impersonating Firth, Skarsgard and Brosnan from the original film.  Of the three Harry Skinner does the best as Young Harry, perfectly imitating Firth's stilted delivery.  But a few fun impersonations and a stellar Cher cameo do not a movie make. You'd be better off the just watching the end credit performance of Super Trouper on youtube.

MAMMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN is available to rent and own. It has a running time of 1hr 54m and is rated PG.


Zac Efron is absolutely perfect as US serial killer Ted Bundy - a man who appeared kinda ordinary looking on photos but whom so many women described as charismatic and handsome. That charisma and handsomeness lured them into a false sense of comfort, and at least 30, to death and dismemberment.  Not that we see much of that in a film that is superb in its period detail and at showing the charming side of Bundy, but shies away from showing what the judge in this case calls his utter lack of humanity. The result is a lopsided film that does a disservice to his victims and (of course, this matters far far far less) to the audience.  Yes, we DO need to see his charm, but we also need to see the horror. Perhaps the problem is that the film is based on the memoirs of his fiancée, so she wouldn't have known that stuff, but my goodness, the director Joe Berlinger sure does having directed the multi-part Netflix doc on Bundy. So why not work with Michael Werwie, the adaptor of those memoirs, to show the parallel story of Bundy's interiority.  Otherwise, the movie as it stands, feels odd, and the final scene confrontation between Bundy and his long-time fiancee feels unearned and fake. Similarly, director Berlinger could easily have contrasted the sunny, warm-toned courtroom scenes, presided over by an avuncular and wry John Malkovich with a more gritty, nasty reality - a reality that contrasts with and interrogates Bundy's psychopathic charm.  Sadly, all we're left with are some good performances in a misguided film.

EXTREMELY WICKED, SHOCKINGLY EVIL AND VILE has a running time of 110 minutes and is rated R in the USA and 15 in the UK. It is on release in Netflix worldwide except the UK where it is available on Sky Cinema On Demand and in cinemas.  It played Sundance and Tribeca 2019. 


Sergey Loznitsa's DONBASS is a strange surreal examination of the Russian agitprop and invasion of east Ukraine in 2014. This might seem like a niche arthouse topic but given all our concern with potential fake news, bots, twitter accounts and whatnot influencing our elections in the West, the film has a horror show urgency to it. 

It opens with people running through town fleeing troops, but it turns out that they're extras being directed in a video shoot to create a fake news blast. This is the kind of maddening fakery that occurs throughout the film to create a feeling of sickening unmooring from the truth. Later on a rich businessman is shaken down by local troops.  He owns his car? Fine. Prove it by handing it over to the local militia to use for their war effort.  All of these short stories add up to a sense of Kafka-esque craziness.  But then, every once in a while, one of these crazy stories in interspersed with one of simple suffering and its jarring and all the more moving.  There's one particularly awful one where we're taken inside a small, dark, damp shelter housing many families. Our guide is a smart sparky kid proudly showing us his "room" - the upper bunk bed in a room full of many such beds, with damp trickling down the wall, and everyone dressed in multiple layers of clothes to keep warm.   The overall impact is brutal, provocative and compelling. This is must-watch cinema. 

DONBASS has a running time of 121 minutes. It played Cannes 2018 where Loznitsa won the Un Certain Regard directing prize.  It opened last weekend in the UK in cinemas and on streaming services.