Mudbound

Mudbound (Dee Rees, 2017) 4/5

Based on the celebrated novel of the same name by Hilary Jordan, this film chronicles Mudbound_(film)the experience of two soldiers returning home from World War Two, Jamie McAllan (Garett Hedlund) and Ronsel Jackson (Jason Mitchell). The only difference between them is, one is white and the other black. From this relationship, we are introduced to their respective families. Jamie’s brother Henry (Jason Clarke) moves his wife Laura (Carey Mulligan) and their children to the south to start a farm. Whilst Ronsel’s family live on the land and are held together by his mother Florence (Mary J. Blige).

At first glance, the narrative is not something we haven’t seen before and there are allusions to ‘Mississippi Burning’ and ’12 Years a Slave’ with the civil rights movement and race relations continually bubbling under the surface. However, what is unique here is that this plays much more like a classical 1950’s melodrama than an ultra-gritty post-modern critique. This is mostly seen through the relationship dynamics of both families, whereby they struggle to provide a living, under the weight of an expectant harvest.

Dee Rees follow-up to the independent darling ‘Pariah’ strips everything down to a simple story of friendship between two soldiers and how they are looked upon by their society at home. Unsurprisingly, Ronsel is looked down upon and Jamie is welcomed back a hero. This creates the tension that makes the film so worthwhile, as nothing is made explicit, and most of the racism is represented through Jamie’s grandfather Pappy McAllan (Jonathan Banks). Laura and Henry are at best ambivalent and at worst ignorant to these troubles.

The real winner here is actually Mary J. Blige who produces a stellar performance as the strong matriarch, who, much like her music, powers into the narrative. It will be somewhat surprising if she doesn’t get some awards attention for this role (Hollywood does love a crossover Star does it not?!).

In sum, Dee Rees film, produced entirely through Streaming giant Netflix is tragic, thought-provoking and a powerful piece of cinema that highlights just how important – and detrimental – familial ties can be.

 

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Murder on the Orient Express

Murder on the Orient Express (Kenneth Brannagh, 2017) 3/5

It’s becoming abundantly clear that this film isn’t just a big budget one-off adaptation of Murder-on-the-Orient-Express-New-Film-Poster.jpgan Agatha Christie classic. Hollywood rarely decides to produce a film unless it has legs, or in this case, a firm set of wheels. This is the fourth incarnation of the Hercule Poirot mystery whodunnit and it has been given a serious upgrade. Not only does it all look beautiful but there is a whacking great big cast here of well-known European and American actors. Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, Willem Dafoe and Kenneth Branagh in the title role all stand out in their respective parts. As such, in an age where Marvel and DC are fighting for superhero supremacy, are we now looking at the resurgence of another franchise: The Agatha Christie whodunnits?!

I guess, what is lacking here is just sheer originality. I have to admit that I couldn’t actually remember this particular story (I’m more of a Marple fan really), but as the narrative progressed it did all become very familiar. Michael Green’s script lends most of its strength to previous adaptations from the BBC and others to fill the screen. His relationship with Ridley Scott is palpable as he wrote Alien: Covenant and Blade Runner 2049, both of which were produced under the Scott Free production banner. It just all seems like this project at times was phoning itself in, bringing in the new crowds as well as Christie devotees. At times, it lacked the pace of previous versions and the ‘twist’ just isn’t climactic enough. That being said, there are some amazingly beautiful set pieces here.

Jim Clay’s (Woman in Gold, Children of Men) production design is faultless as is Haris Zambarloukos’ (Thor, Cinderella (2015)) cinematography. Both of which, create a great sense of time and space and focus on the most important character, that of the train itself. Indeed, these are actually some of the films strong points as within the close quarters of the cabins is precisely how the tension increases and the murderer is revealed.

In sum, this adaptation of the Murder on the Orient Express breathes new life into the literary classic. However, by adding new stars into the mix and increased technology, the actual story becomes stilted and a bit turgid.

 

 

 

 

War for the Planet of the Apes

War for the Planet of the Apes (Mat Reeves, 2017) 5/5

Matt Reeves conclusion to the extremely successful rebooted Planet of the Apes cannon WAR-FOR-THE-PLANET-OF-THE-APES-_-Poster.jpgis a triumph. Crossing the boundary between Science Fiction and the War genre, this concluding film is spectacular.

Continuing where we left of with Dawn, Ceasar (Andy Serkis) is leading his band of merry primates in the forest within a hidden retreat. However, danger is upon them in the form of The Colonel (Woody Harrelson), a tyrannical leader of a sect of the American Army.

As the film progresses, there are stellar fight sequences, breath taking cinematography (thank you, Michael Seresin) and hard hitting themes that are handled with great sensitivity through Reeves’ and Mark Bomback’s screenplay.

When it was announced that there was a reboot of this franchise in the works in 2011, I was sceptical based on the amount of failed projects with the same agenda. However, what have made these films different is that there was a measured and assured narrative that understood how to make parralels with real life conflicts. Not only war, but genocide and the plight of animal rights. Within this final instalment, communication becomes an integral part of the story whereby the virus has regressed the human population of their ability to speak. This is relayed through the introduction of the character Nova, a little girl who has lost her speech.

In essence this trilogy has been clever, on the button and bends the expectations of genre and special effects. The strength of War lies not only in the aforementioned, but it’s unwavering attempt to portray any type of aggresion as wrong and that compassion still plays a vital role in our current society.

Transformers: The Last Knight

Transformers: The Last Knight (Michael Bay, 2017) 2.5/5

Michael Bay has two specialties. Blowing up stuff and, well, blowing up stuff bigger. In the last four Transformer movies the story has taken a back seat for amazing special effects and extravagnt fight sequences. Is the latest instalment any different? Absolutely not.

However, I refuse to grill this film compNieuwe-poster-Transformers-The-Last-Knightletely, simply because, Anthony Hopkins is present (Hello, it’s friggin’ Hannibal Lecter!). Indeed, it is quite clear that he is having a whal of a time here, providing some great comic moments.

Following on from the last film, Optimus Prime is now floating through space to go home and meet his creator. However, when he reaches his home planet, he encounters Quintessa, a sorceress who wants to destroy Earth to rebuild their own planet. Upon meeting her, Optimus is brainwashed and forced to do her bidding. Back on Earth, Mark Wahlberg is forced to contend with new Government agencies who are hating on all Autobots.

In essence, this addition to the franchise has everything an 8 year old would love. Loud noises, flashy cars, explosions and naughty robots saying silly things. As it progresses, it becomes clear that Bay and his crew are making it up as they go along. So far, as to entrench the mythology of the films with King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table (sigh).

In sum, this latest installment will deplete your braincells, but it’s quite flashy and fun in parts. Although be prepared for a eye watering time length as it stands at 149 minutes.

The Mummy

The Mummy (Alex Kurtzman, 2017) 2.5/5

Tom Cruise. Love him or hate him, he knows how to market himself and the films that heThe_Mummy_(2017) is in. Usually however, they are fresher adventures with a much greater need to rexamination. With the last film in this franchise The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor receiving a rather damning response, Kurtzman’s reboot can’t quite improve on this either.

As the introduction to the Dark Universe, where Universal are resurrecting all of their favourite monsters of the past, it isn’t an altogether smooth ride of quality. The intentions seem to distance itself from the previous Brendan Fraser-Rachel Weisz starrers, however, by stripping away the camp self-awareness of these, you are left with a bit of a damp squib.

The screenplay by David Koepp, Christopher McQuarrie and Dylan Kussman feels like they all had very different visions and in the end is a tad muddled. There is no consistency in tone, characters seems to be flailing around the desert and London is destroyed in a sand storm for no apparent reason (where did the sand even come from?).

Sofia Boutella throws herself admirably into the role of Princess Ahmanet, but there is very little to flesh out of a character that is half dead to begin with.

In sum, this first installment of the Dark Universe is a little bit fumbling. Tom Cruise is simply Ethan Hunt in the desert and in order for this particular franchise to succeed, please can we have a more coherent plot?

Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman (Patty Jenkins, 2017) 4/5

Never send a man to do a woman’s job. This should be DC Comics new mantrWonder_Woman_(2017_film)a when it comes to their own cinematic universe. I have to admit, I was sceptical after viewing the previous instalments of Batman V Superman (a little bit silly) and Suicide Squad (all over the place central). However, this is the most coherent addition to their canon yet and it deserves all of the praise.

Let’s start with the backstory. For a starters, what makes this more interesting is that we haven’t seen this character before (not recently, anyway). Gal Gadot inserts herself into the lead role and is so perfect in the role that is hurts.

Alan Heinberg’s script has something that other DC films have been lacking and that is humour. The whole tone is a lot lighter at times and this makes it an even more enjoyable experience. Lucy Davis is a treat as Etta Candy, the lovable secretary of Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor.

In sum, this is not only a film about female empowerment, but it is also a darn good superhero film that makes up for it’s lackluster predecessors. I hope and pray that this will be the beginning of something great for upcoming DC films and that there will be an increase in the number of blockbuster films with a female protagonist.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (James Gunn, 2017) 4/5

Marvel just has it in the bag when it comes to tongue in cheek adventures. Unlike the GotG_Vol2_postermore stoic DC (although, they are showing signs of improvement), there is an effortlessness to all of these films.

James Gunn’s new franchise was a little bit off kilter when it was first announced. Like the black sheep to the main films of The Avengers stars. However, with this sequel, it has really come into it’s own. With the addition of Kurt Russell in a pivotal role as well as Pom Klementieff as Mantis. These aid in the continual humour that actually surpasses the original as volume 2 is a lot more sure of itself.

Gunn’s script also delivers more insight into the core crew’s backstory and makes everyone gel a bit more throughout the narrative. As opposed to the underwhelming Alien: Covenant, this did exactly everything and more than it needed to.

In sum, this Marvel black sheep is now a well and truly a part of the main family, but still has the edginess to stand on it’s own.