Just Mercy Film Review

Just Mercy is a plea for justice and mercy in a world which has none.

It’s based on the work of Bryan Stevenson, a Harvard graduate who chose to move to Alabama and work for a small salary to help examine the convictions of men on death row…men who in some cases were not guilty at all. And yet the system strained every sinew to keep them in jail, seemingly for the crime of their skin color.

How this hasn’t been nominated for Oscars I have no idea. Michael B. Jordan is incredible as Bryan Stevenson even if he doesn’t seem to have a romantic or social life outside of the central narrative. But by film, Jaimie Foxx completes his redemption back to proper actor as Walter McMillian, one of the wrongly convicted men that Stevenson attempts to save from execution.

One thing that got a wry smile out of me was that Stevenson keeps being told that the town he has come to is where To Kill a Mockingbird was written and that he should check out the local museum dedicated to it before being told about the latest breach of his clients civil and legal rights.

Yes, the irony goes completely over their heads.

Beyond that, sadly, this is a film that I’ve seen before and will, even worse, see again in the future and whilst it’s really well directed and acted there’s not really anything here that you haven’t seen before and yes, I smiled at the funny bits, had a tear in my eye at the sad bits and got angry at the bits that I was supposed to get angry at. But I wanted a few things explained to me.

Because the film is so focused (and rightly so) on it’s central outrageous narrative that the organisation that Jordan and Brie Larson (who’s character is in dire need of more screen-time and development ) seems to have new staff seemingly growing out of the mildew on it’s walls as we never see them hiring anyone. And, pretty much every character needs more development. This is one of the VERY few films that could do with another ten minutes on the run-time.

It also feels like it’s pulling it’s punches slightly with regards to the race aspect of this story. There’s one crank phone call at the start of the film and then it’s never really brought up in detail again.

Just Mercy is an incredibly well acted piece of cinema telling a tragic true story that sadly still happens today. How Foxx and Jordan aren’t up for Oscars I’ll never understand but I feel that had it taken it’s time to develop it’s characters a little more then it could have had more of the emotional impact that it’s clearly going for. There’s not much more it could have done right and I do recommend it but there were just a few little niggles that kept this from greatness.

My Score- See It

Ford v Ferrari/ Le Mans ’66 Review

So here’s one of the questions at the heart of Le Mans ’66 (Ford V Ferrari sounds like the worlds dullest boxing match and wasn’t the title that this film was gifted with in the civilized world.)

How do you make an underdog out of one of the largest and wealthiest corporations to have ever existed when it’s going up against an almost bankrupt competitor?

You don’t.

For most of Le Mans ’66 Ford is the villain and  Ferrari is off to the sidelines which is actually a pretty cool idea as it allows Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon playing someone with minimal backstory and seemingly no social or sex life outside of the narrative) teaming up with Grade A jerk and mindbogglingly brilliant driver Ken Miles (No relation) played in a soon to be Oscar nominated performance by Christian Bale as someone from an as yet undiscovered but constantly moving part of the ‘North’ of England to be the underdogs constantly battling corporate America in a bid to deliver something that was hard enough to begin with.

Perfect.

The other question at the heart of Le Mans ’66 is… how do you make a pretty niche story that should really be of interest only to Top Gear fans, get a budget of 100 million dollars (plus advertising) and then make a profit?

Well, you can’t really go wrong with the good old underdog story, also you get some really like-able actors in, you keep the tone relatively light, have some of the greatest car scenes since Mad Mad Fury Road, allow enough time for the narrative to breathe and there you go.

Now I’m not the biggest car guy (I don’t even drive) but even I was held spellbound by this film as it powered through an epic story whose two and a half hours just flew by with seemingly no fat too cut.

I will say however that to call some of the secondary characters flat is a bit of an understatement. There’s also a really weird issue with the characterization of  Henry Ford II, who gets introduced in a way that makes me wonder if somewhere out there a kids film is missing it’s villain. He then turns into something of an easily manipulated dunce which felt a bit out of place but, then again, beyond Batman no-one gets any real depth or characterization.

Not that it matters really, this is a film about the car races and the people that make the cars race, those magnificent men and their driving machines who make the whole film work. And boy do they make the whole film work. Their tense, exciting, unpredictable and remind us that Motorsport used to be dangerous and there was always a chance that you weren’t coming back from a race, which adds an edge to the utterly thrilling race sequences.

Its a film about people driven attain a goal, fighting seemingly impossible odds to achieve something that’s one one level completely meaningless but to these guys is the holy grail. Whilst it doesn’t really produce characters for the ages (seriously, half the Ford execs are about two scenes away from being foiled by a gang of pesky kids) it also holds some of the best race scenes I think I’ve ever seen and in a film like this- that’s enough.

Check out this film (which even my seriously uninterested in car films wife loved), pick your jaw up off the floor, campaign to get Bale another Oscar, check out 2016 documentary film, The 24 Hour War if you want to know what really happened- it’s even crazier than what was on screen and I’ll see you next time.

My Score- See It 

Hotel Mumbai Review

The 2008 Mumbai attacks (also referred to as 26/11) were a series of terrorist attacks that took place in November 2008, when 10 members of Lashkar-e-Taiba, an Islamic terrorist organisation based in Pakistan, carried out 12 coordinated shooting and bombing attacks lasting four days across Mumbai. The attacks, which drew widespread global condemnation, began on Wednesday 26 November and lasted until Saturday 29 November 2008. At least 174 people died, including 9 attackers, and more than 300 were wounded.

Eight of the attacks occurred in South Mumbai at Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, Mumbai Chabad House, The Oberoi Trident, The Taj Palace & Tower, Leopold Cafe, Cama Hospital, The Nariman House, the Metro Cinema, and in a lane behind the Times of India building and St. Xavier’s College.

The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel was specifically chosen by Lashkar-e-Taiba, a terror group who attacked multiple targets, for an attack so that it will be “striking a blow against a symbol of Indian wealth and progress”. The hotel was attacked on 26 November 2008, during which material damage occurred, including the destruction of the hotel’s roof in the hours following. Hostages were taken during the attacks, and at least 167 people were killed, including many foreigners. The casualties were mostly Indian citizens, although westerners carrying foreign passports were singled out.

Hotel Mumbai is a dramatic recreation of these events, with the focus mainly on the attacks that happened on The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel (known locally as the “Taj Mahal Hotel” or the “Taj Palace Hotel” or simply “the Taj”. No flashbacks, no scenes showing the mastermind behind the attacks, just the attacks.

In a way, I was reminded of the migraine maestro himself- Paul Greengrass’s  masterpiece of the 9/11 attacks United 93. (That’s the one without Matt Damon) There as well, we had the gritty camerawork, the complete lack of John Mcclane style heroics (as such actions will just instantly get you and everyone around you killed) insane levels of getting everything right- I mean a significant amount of actual dialogue in the film was repeated verbatim being taken from original transcripts of actual intercepted mobile (cell) phone calls during the 2008 siege, including calls between the ten terrorists and their handlers!

Sadly though, one thing United 93 has that Hotel Mumbai doesn’t is that the cast was a bunch of nobodies which meant that you were able to deeply immerse yourself into the story and feel the terror that our mostly unnamed characters were feeling. Except in Hotel Mumbai, we find enough star power to light up both Holly and Bollywood. I mean there’s no plot armor here but given that most of the characters are flatter than a jelly baby that’s just had a disagreement with a steamroller it distracts from the sheer terror of the situation.

Now, that’s not to say that there aren’t scenes in here that aren’t terrifying- there are, scenes showing people trying to hide from the terrorists desperately trying to keep a screaming baby quiet whilst a man with a gun is but a few millimeters away.

But not all of our characters are flatter than some tracing paper that had a run in with Godzilla, we find our films center in Dev Patel’s Arjun, a devoted family man who works in shoes that are too small and giving himself countless blisters in the process because he has no other choice and Patel gifts him with effortless likability but again, maybe that’s because he’s the only character who gets any real development. I mean, what was the point of casting Jason Issacs enjoys as a misogynistic Russian? Comic relief? Ham fisted arc? Or did Dolph Lundgren just not get back to you in time?

Look, I don’t want to take away from Hotel Mumbai, I get why these characters are thin, in life and death situations you aren’t going to be telling complete strangers your life story, are you? I liked how the terrorists went from joking kids to merciless killers in the blink of an eye, I loved the complete lack of flashbacks and the fact that the violence isn’t glamourised or dramtised, instead it’s just shown as horrific. I loved the way that the terrified survivors are always on the verge of turning on each other or how we see the police trying desperately to get a handle on the situation.

All I would ask to make this film better would be to remove the stars- he stories contained within are strong enough on their own and develop it’s characters a bit more. Aside from that I defiantly think that you should

My Score- See It Now

Kursk/ The Command review

Normally I love watching submarine films. I mean the long lamented genre of siege films is my favorite and the idea of taking a siege mentality, putting it in a giant windowless cigar tube, with the knowledge that even a sneeze could sentence you and 100 other people to death from some unseen enemy is, to my mind a recipe to great movies. And U571.

Normally….

Because normally I’m not watching Kursk or The Command in the US or Kursk: The Last Mission in the UK. Normally I’m not watching a story which should not need to be told because there’s absolutely no reason for it to have happened.

Normally I’m not watching a film and getting Chernobyl flashbacks. You remember Chernobyl, right? Literally the greatest TV show ever made and, unlike Breaking Bad a TV show that you actually should put next on your to binge list. (I’m starting Breaking Bad next week, I swear! On my script guys life!)

Because all of the issues flagged up in that show are flagged up here, despite the Cold War allegedly being well and truly over by that point.  Over, according to the papers but not in the mindset of those high enough up the food chain to accept the offers of help that came in thick and fast, instead choosing to rely on outdated, inefficient machinery that didn’t have a hope in hell of doing what they needed it to do.

Then you have the people back at home, desperate for information who, instead are being fed useless out of date slogans and information that’s so irrelevant that the people delivering it might as well not have bothered.

However, unlike Chernobyl (which was so realistic that the only people who got a bit miffered were the Pro-Kremlin media which continues to deny the extent of the disaster at Chernobyl, saying it has been exaggerated, with state-run media scoffing at the “myths,” such as large numbers of leukemia. Segments of the Russian government were so unhappy with this program that state TV channel NTV is producing its own more “patriotic” account of the events, involving a wholly fictional storyline based on a conspiracy theory that a CIA agent was in Chernobyl to sabotage the plant.)- I can’t wait. But Kursk defiantly takes a more fictional route- the end results still the same but the way we get there is slightly different than what happened in reality.  Because otherwise it would be even more depressing.

Anyway, the plotline (in case you haven’t guessed 420 words in) is that during a Russian naval exercise in the Barents Sea two explosions severely damage the submarine. Twenty-three sailors survived the crash and desperately waited for help to arrive while their oxygen ran out minute-by-minute. It’s cold, it’s grey, it’s depressing and it’s one of the most affecting film I’ve seen in months.

I do have some issues with the film in the Colin Firth (whilst playing a smaller role than the ad campaign would have you believe) is somewhat distracting in the role because a story like this is strong enough that it doesn’t need star power, it’s simply distracting. It’s the same with Léa Seydoux who is a fine actor but I feel that casting an unknown would have lent the story more resonance. Also, toning down the melodrama might have helped somewhat, with the increased time being used to focus on the people trying to save those desperately trapped under the sea, as well as those trying to use their limited resources to get more time for the rescue that they know is coming if they can just hold out a little bit longer…

Kursk/ The Command/ Kursk: The Last Mission is a film that doesn’t pull it’s punches or attempt to quell it’s anger at the fact that every decision that was made was wrong, and (at time of writing) no-one has bee brought to justice. There’s no Hollywood style bombast or moments, just real people trying to make the most of a horrifying, nightmare, situation. I mean, the characters aren’t for the ages (the guys on the sub are pretty interchangeable) but I  liked them, I liked their sense of camaraderie, the way that they kept each other sane in the most terrifying circumstances imaginable. The effects were passable and, on the whole, this was a story that needed to be told, I just think that they needed to take out the star names, maybe stick closer to reality and treat this as an entry point to a fascinating story.

My Score- See It. 

Tomb Raider Review

Alicia Vikander, what exactly do you think your doing? Are you trying to prove to your husband that you can have a big budget based on a video game hopefully start of a  franchise misfire as well as him?

Because you don’t do stuff like this. You do amazing performances in small art house films that are seen by maybe 15 people (but everyone claims to have seen). Did you learn nothing from The Man From UNCLE or Jason Bourne? 

Anyway, today’s failed attempt to launch a cinematic universe…

Oh, you thought that this was just an attempt to launch a Tomb Raider franchise? Oh, my poor sweet summer children. Do you not know that producer Adrian Askarieh has told IGN in an interview that he may oversee a film universe with Just Cause, Hitman, Tomb Raider, Deus Ex, and Thief? And good luck bringing those very different games into one consistent film universe.

Because it’s not like this film has set the box office alight and where it not for the copious amounts of notes I took during the screening this might well be the shortest review of all time.

Because it’s completely generic and plays like one of those cut-scene movies you find on YouTube for those who like to avoid the hassle of playing the actual game but want to see all the cutscenes.

Except the CGI was better in those cut-scene’s than in the actual Hollywood blockbuster that I’ve just seen. Also, for a person seemingly without superpowers, Lara can take punishment that I swear would drop a terminator.

She’s pretty bland as well. We learn next to nothing about her and she does the old Indiana Jones trick of being at the same time completely irrelevant to the plot whilst at the same time really helping out the bad guys.

Vikander is amazing as Lara Croft, but she’s one of those actresses who could’t give a bad performance if she tried and even manages to make something of the very limited material she’s given here. As does Dominic West playing Lara’s dad  Lord Richard Croft who might as well be called the objective marker for all the personality he has. It’s obsessing over his disappearance that’s Lara’s only defining character trait and drives her. Yeah, forget all of the ‘Gap Yah The Movie’ jokes the preceded this film, call it ‘Daddy Issues The Movie’.

Even the plot description from IMDB   “Lara Croft, the fiercely independent daughter of a missing adventurer, must push herself beyond her limits when she finds herself on the island where her father disappeared.” Contains two references to the man and if your wondering about her mum…. she gets mentioned once, doesn’t appear in a single frame of film and I’ve spent more time on her than the damn film.

Anyway, Lara goes to a mythical island to find out when her dad is making a new season of The Wire and then has to save the word from an ancient cult called ‘Trinity’ which is trying to use an ancient Japanese Emperor to wipe out/ take over the world. And she has to do it all without cracking a single joke.

I’m serious! The only time we get anything close to a comic relief character is when Nick Frost wanders in from a different film for an irrelevant two minutes, upsets the Grim Nolanesque tone and then wanders off again leaving nothing but a sense of vague confusion in his wake.

I mean, I re-watched the original films this last week (Thanks IPlayer!) and there’s a sense of fun and wonder and Jolie having fun whilst enjoying a nice break from acting. But there’s none of that here. Viaknder is too good an actress to slum for a paycheck, she’s intense and driven but this is a film that needed a but more fun in it.

The action sequences have all been done before and most of them have more CGI than actual CGI cut-scenes, except it’s all really obvious. The fight scenes are generic, no-one gets any development except, bizarrely for the villain who’s just some bloke that wants to go home after being suck on an island for seven years. He’s got a couple of henchmen who apparently regard shooting people as the height of bad manners and some slave laborers to show that he’s evil. As opposed to some overworked bloke who just want’s to go home.

I mean maybe I’m asking too much from a director (the magnificently named Roar Uthaug) who hasn’t worked since 2015 when he made  The Wave, allegedly the first disaster movie made in Norway and Scandinavia, which holds 68 on metacritic and reads like something that would be perfectly at home on ScyFy.

At the end of the day, this is a perfectly acceptable, workmanlike film. It comes on, is pretty dull and unimaginative, and then it goes away again. It’s one of the better video game movies and better than last years Assassins Creed but that’s really not saying much. Stay home, play the video game again and ask yourself what Einstein arranged for it to be released the week before Pacific Rim 2: Rim Harder and A Wrinkle in Time.

My Score- Skip It

Detroit Review

Director Kathryn Bigelow was inspired to unearth this event by the Ferguson (MO) riots (Aug. 2014) where an unarmed black teenager was fatally shot by a white police officer.

And in a way, that’s the most depressing thing about Detroit. update everyone’s fashion sense, throw in a few smartphones and you could very well be setting this in 2017. The more things change…

Now, for the 12 people who actually watched The Hurt Locker, for which Bigelow won the award for Best Director; and, as of 2017, The Hurt Locker is still the sole film by a female director to win that Award. Your going to find a very similar shooting style.

Because using a style she first adopted with The Hurt Locker, director Kathryn Bigelow deployed three or four cameras at a time, keeping them in constant motion around the actors. Bigelow preferred to light the entire set to give the performers more flexibility to move around. She didn’t block a scene for the camera by plotting out a series of close-ups and wide shots, instead filming everything in a few takes to keep the emotions as raw as possible. “After two or three takes, I have it,” she said.

Or, if your having trouble with that, try imagining a Jason Bourne movie made by your history teacher.

Essentially, we are given a limited understanding of the situation and then dropped in the middle of things and left to get on with it. Characters don’t monologue about their past or have little phrases about them appear on screen the first time they turn up meaning that at times it’s a little disconcerting trying to work out who everyone is and how they’ve come to be here and empathizing with them can be difficult to start with although towards the end if your not screaming with silent rage at the screen then I don’t know what to say.

Because it’s easy to mock Detroit and make Robocop jokes but, the film shows us a world where a police officer can shoot a man and be back on the beat a few hours later. Where brutal violence is seemingly consequence free depending on the color of your skin. And again, it would be almost effortless to update this to 2017.

Essentially, this movie is based on the Algiers Motel incident during Detroit’s 1967 12th Street Riot, which prior to this film I’d never heard of. And that’s quite a limiting idea when you think about it. Taking a citywide riot which was an inevitable result of systemic racism and took place over several nights and choosing to focus on it’s most notorious aspect- that three teenage civilians, all of them black, were beaten and killed by police. Nine others—two white females and seven black males—were badly beaten and humiliated by members of a riot task force composed of the Detroit Police Department, the Michigan State Police, and the Michigan Army National Guard, and a private security guard.

Now that is still a lot to work with and  Bigelow does a good job of getting all the characters in one place, and then forcing us to watch as the ensuing brutal events emerge almost inevitably as no-one seems willing or able to stop a train that left the station long ago.

Now, i’m not normally a fan of the Jason Bourne style of shooting a film but here it seems a perfect fit. It’s gritty and raw, making it seem like no character is safe or, if they do escape that the events of that night will stay with them forever.

Detroit can seem a little dry at times and spending ten minutes fleshing out the characters before the film gets going proper would have helped the emotional gut-punch that happens throughout the second act. It does nothing wrong, but it could have done more things right.

And why it was released at the height of blockbuster season is simply beyond me.

It needs ten more minutes to be spent developing the characters in the first act and ether another 15 minutes on it’s third act or to spin that off into a different film.

As is?

It’s a solid film but more workmanlike than the passion project this needed to be, with material that sadly seems like it won’t be out of date in another 50 years.

My Score- See It 

 

The Big Sick



“The Best rom-com this decade” screamed the poster

“The best date movie of 2017” was the follow up.

“97%” Said Rotten Tomatoes.

So, I decided it was high time to treat the light of my life to something she doesn’t do very often and take her to the cinema! After some nice Thai and a few cocktails we settled in to watch a pretty funny romantic comedy.

It’s not 97% but even an old grouch like myself can state that it’s a hell of a lot better than most of the romantic comedies I’ve sat through. Its the old story of boy meets girl, boy loses girl, girl falls into coma, boy hangs around with her family whilst dealing with the expectations of his.

And it’s funny, we were both laughing away at various points but sadly, the scenes where we were clearly supposed to have tears in our eyes we just didn’t. Part of the issue is in the main character Kumail,  played by Kumail Nanjiani who also co-wrote the script and upon who’s experiences the story is based.

I’ll be blunt. If his character had gotten any wetter I could wring him out every time I needed to water the garden. Look, I’m English and most days I apologize for getting up but even I don’t apologize as much as this guy. I’ve met doormats with more spine and jellyfish who can do heartbreak better than the main guy. He’s great in the funny scenes and his stand-up looks pretty good, but whenever he’s required to actually act, he’s as wooden as my desk.

Which, given that he’s in almost every frame of this film is kind of an issue. And, the massive amount of screen-time he’s given means that the other characters really don’t have any chance to develop beyond one note characters. You’ve got the mum who just wants her son to marry a nice Pakistani girl, a dad and brother who are sort of there and even Emily, the girl at the center of the film doesn’t really get much development. She’s studying to be a therapist, and er…. can apparently afford a seriously nice apartment whilst a student.

Like I say, I did laugh a lot at this film and it’s a better date movie than almost anything out at the moment but the second best movie of the year after Get Out? What am I missing?

The dramatic scenes fall flat because I don’t know any of these people and the main guy has trouble doing anything that’s not looking awkward and apologizing. Is it in the clash of cultures? And how Kumail has found himself torn between two cultures and now has to chose between the life he wants and the life his parents want for him? Ok, SO DEVELOP THAT IDEA!!!! Or an idea! Is it that he didn’t know what he had until it was gone and is now being a better boyfriend to Emily now that she’s in a coma then he ever was when she was conscious? Then DEVELOP THAT IDEA!!! Is it about her parents trying to cope in a strange city with a strange man whilst their only child lies dying in a coma from a mysterious disease? Great, except House finished years ago.

This film has so many good ideas that it can’t seem to make up it’s mind as to what it wants to be about. It made me laugh but not care, characters beliefs and personalities seem to change on a moments notice and the culture clash comedy seems neutered.

But maybe my heart is just a Norwegian Blue that’s pining for the fjords or i’m culturally insensitive or I ask too much of quite a simple and really well meaning film about finding yourself. and working out what  you want to do with this journey called life.

I just wished that the film could have found some teeth and done something slightly deeper than it actually did. But to my mind, Bend it like Beckham did this sort of culture clash comedy better all the way back in 2002.

A good laugh but a shallow as a puddle and with a leading man who struggles at times The Big Sick is more of an upset stomach.

My Score- If Nothing Else