The Beguiled (2017)

I’m unsure what it is at the moment, but period dramas are becoming my highly anticipated films of the year. The first instance was My Cousin Rachel, and the second is Sofia Coppola’s latest venture with The Beguiled.

Set in the 1800s during the American Civil War, the film had the promise of being a rather tense affair. It’s clear that Sofia Coppola’s has adoration for costume pieces, especially after Marie Antoinette but also the use of clothing and accessories in less-than-forgettable The Bling Ring.

It has to be said though, the opening forty or so minutes of The Beguiled do slog their way through the narrative as it tries building toward the tense and gripping affair it looked to be. As the Civil War is underway, the placement of the school in Virginia is excellent, as you hear to not-so far off gunshots and explosions as the war rages into it’s third year.

But with that comes a certain sense of innocence, as Amy (Oona Laurence) hums a playful tune whilst looking for mushrooms to pick. Amy stumbles across the injured John McBurney, (Colin Farrell) an injured Corporal of the Union army, who happens to have deserted the war effort. With good intentions, she brings him back to Miss Martha’s school, which causes an immediate disruption to the school.

Although the film does stand at around an hour and a half, it is a slow burner to begin with, which makes it feel longer. But Coppola dresses the screen with this aforementioned adoration of the dresses and the setting of the house, interior and exterior. The cast all eventually come into their own as they fight for the affections of Corporal McBurney, which does reach breaking point. The tension between Edwina (Kirsten Dunst) and Alicia (Elle Fanning) is brilliant, especially as Elle Fanning channels her performance from The Neon Demon.

Each of the girls within the school is given apt time on screen, with the large chunk revolving around Miss Martha, (Nicola Kidman) Edwina and Alicia. Farrell is given enough time to spin his web within the house and what began as resentment for the ‘Yank’ soon became affection as each of the girls begin tussling for his attention and affection.

Her choice to leave the screen almost devoid of music for the first forty to fifty minutes really helped accentuate the wartime effort that engulfed Virginia. The natural noises mixed perfectly with the placement of Miss Martha’s home and often at times gave it a claustrophobic feeling as the film progress towards it’s climax. But when the tension of the music kicked in, it elevated the screen tenfold.

My only issue with the film is that opening forty minutes. Once it is past this hump and John McBurney incites the line ‘vengeful bitches’ The Beguiled really comes into it’s own. Especially with the performances from Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst and Elle Fanning as they try to play off each other. Sofia Coppola continues the trend of having intriguing female characters and created enough of a story to keep it’s head above water going into the final half of the film. And that last shot is just gorgeous.

Transformers: The Last Knight (2017)

Back in 2007, Michael Bay bought the robots in disguise to the silver screen in great fashion. I personally really enjoyed watching these metallic behemoths battle whilst the screen was bathed in a glossy finish during the first instalment. Fast-forward ten years and Michael Bay is still going with this franchise with his latest instalment of Transformers: The Last Knight.

Unfortunately, my enjoyment has been evaporating quickly as the franchise now trundles into into it’s fifth segment. Bay seems to be up to his old tricks with his fast-paced and sometimes unintelligible narrative as Mark Wahlberg returns as Cade Yeager, but after the events of Tranformers: Age of Extinction he is currently in hiding with Bumblebee and other familiar faces, including Grimlock, the dinosaur robot.

I’m unsure where they keep coming up with ideas for the Transformers franchise, but it is seemingly picking points in history and making it Transformer-y. 

This time? The legend of King Arthur. 

After Transformers: Age of Extinction, Transformers are being hunted by TRF, regardless of their factions. Bay does some show incredible feats of world building as he shows cities demolished and the derelict areas where Transformers are hunted. It’s in one of these broken cities that Cade is given a metallic talisman, which carries the same symbol as the Arthurian knights in the glorious action-packed opening segment.

All the while, there is a storyline involving an Earl of Folgan (Anthony Hopkins), keeper of the secret regarding the history of Transformers on Earth, but also a girl that finds herself without a home after her Transformer companion is killed by the TRF. And of course, much like the other four Transformers films, Bay jet sets the film across the world from London to the South Dakotan badlands and Cuba.

At this point, I was unsure which direction Michael Bay wanted the film to go with Anthony Hopkins jabbering away at Mark Wahlberg and Laura Haddock. Hopkins believably seemed as though he had a screw loose during this segment. This naturally bought about a few laughs, and his leprechaun butler Cogsworth. Bay’s choice of jokes was odd though as some landed but more missed. He often pointed at things throughout the film and directly laughed at them in cringeworthy fashion.

Transformers: The Last Knight doesn’t try and stray away from the framework that has already produced four films, as Michael Bay still includes earth-shatteringly loud action sequences but also having that attractive female for leering purposes. This time Laura Haddock takes on this role as Viviane.

I will say, I was enjoying Transformers: The Last Knight. That was until my popcorn ran out. The film is just mind-numbingly packed to the brim with action with abundance of slow-motion sequences and of course because it’s a bay film, explosions galore. However, as I mentioned, once the popcorn runs out, the patience does too. The film is shy of three hours, and it feels it every step of the way.

And the problems do not stop there. The narrative is just nonsense and often found myself at a loss with where the film was heading, especially with the whole Witwickian lore and how it somehow segwegged into the battle between Unicron and Cybertron. And it’s not often I notice, but the ratio was all over the place as the film jumps from one ratio to the next. Of course with action films, the performances are never going to be the centre of attention, but when the performances are dialled in with cameos thrown in for nostalgic reasons, it becomes a bit of a farce.

That being said, the action sequences were enjoyable as the Transformers punched and shot at each other, but this can’t carry a film for near enough three hours. Transformers: The Last Knight wasn’t certainly the worst film I’ve seen, but it definitely wasn’t the best. It was just complete, sometimes enjoyable, nonsense.

My Cousin Rachel (2017)

It’s always a worry when I highly anticipate a film because with that enters a certain sense of trepidation. My Cousin Rachel had me anticipating it and I couldn’t wait for it’s release. Adapted from Daphne du Maurier novel (which I haven’t read) by Roger Michell, it had promise of a fantastic mysterious period drama.

And this mystery is the strong undertone felt through My Cousin Rachel as it opens with Philip (Sam Claflin) openly questioning “Did she? Didn’t she?” and quickly recounts a young Philips life. He takes residence at his cousin Ambrose’s estate after being left an orphan at a young age. In this opening segment there is a lack of a female presence, so much that Philip retorts ‘women weren’t allowed in the house, only the dogs’.

And Roger Michell really begins to divulge the screen by having the sprawling English countryside to the dark and dingy estate, really emphasising the boisterous attitude of Ambrose and Philip. This opening segment also gives the opportunity to pry into the character of Philip as he’d rather spend time on the grand estate of Ambrose’s than learn at school.

But also the hatred that slowly consumes Philip as he learns of Ambrose’s relationship to Rachel via the means of letter as Ambrose spends the winters in Italy in an attempt to get better. This opening 20 or so minutes slowly becomes brilliant as Rachel isn’t introduced other than the throwaways comments from people regarding her appearance, weight and height.

That is until Rachel arrives in England. This is where the film sets itself apart in two areas. The first part being Philips consuming hatred and loathsome attitude towards Rachel, and then the second being the infatuation and spell-like bliss Philip finds himself in.

But as I mentioned, this mysterious undertone carries itself quietly throughout the film and leaves you guessing throughout. Quite constantly. And it all centres around this ‘did she? Didn’t she?’ as she recounts her love for Ambrose, whilst the letters from Ambrose suggest otherwise. Rachel Weisz plays Rachel perfectly and this consistent mysterious air that surrounds My Cousin Rachel has stayed with me. And the question remains, did she kill Ambrose?

This is only but helped by the believable infatuation of Sam Claflin’s Philip. His puppy-dog gaze as he dismisses his earlier thoughts without a moments notice is brilliant. Unfortunately, the narrative does trot toward an unsurprising ending considering the events that unfold, but the brilliance of the characters by Weisz and Claflin do help it over that final hump.

Iain Glen and Holliday Granger do help the picture progress, especially as Nick Kendall (Iain Glen) becomes surprised and mentioned that Philip has become infatuated by Rachel. Their role in My Cousin Rachel becomes intriguing as they serve as confidants, but also a neutral party between Philip and Rachel, but they help narrative move through it’s 100+ minute runtime.

Although the music helped the mysterious manner of My Cousin Rachel, it did at times take me out of the film with the same laborious tune over and over. Aside from that and the aforementioned foreseeable ending the film didn’t have much to not enjoy. Roger Michell really does indulge himself with this picture and creates some gorgeous shots, including the short of Rachel and Philip walking out into the snow. The costume design really worked well as Rachel is constantly in black, almost as though she is in mourning, which helps with the intrigue of the did she, didn’t she element throughout the film.

I did enjoy My Cousin Rachel, but didn’t love it. It did work to a large degree with the intriguing mysterious narrative throughout, but the clear stars would be Weisz and Claflin in the leads, as they simply stole the show. This is only helped by the Roger Michell’s devotion to the costume period drama that My Cousin Rachel becomes and the crawling shots of the English countryside.

Baby Driver (2017)

There is something that is just brilliant about films containing car chases and heists, this is probably why the Fast and Furious franchise is incredibly successful. But whilst the Fast and Furious is entering the realms of ridiculousness, Edgar Wright’s newest venture Baby Driver remains grounded.

And it also contains one of the funniest opening sequences, as Baby (Ansel Elgort) jives in his getaway car to Bellbottoms whilst the heist crew wreck havoc inside the bank. What is toe-tappingly infectious soon becomes heart-poundingly exciting as the crew evade the police around Atlanta. The camera placements within this sequence plant you straight in the action and Ansel just looked comfortable behind the wheel.

What was surprising was that usually the narrative of car chase films are often just driven (pardon the pun) by the flashy cars and heists. Not Baby Driver, this film had heart and it stemmed from Baby as he cares for his foster father Joe. (CJ Jones) And this is surprising from the stern-faced Baby driving the Subaru around Atlanta, to this care-free young man dancing around the kitchen making his foster father a peanut butter sandwich.

Baby suffers from tinnitus, so he soundtracks his own life with an abundance of iPods that depend on his mood. He uses music to drown out the constant ringing, but this produces some extraordinary scenes within the film. From the first coffee run where he is dancing down the street, to action sequences that are perfectly timed with the music.

The power of soundtracks have become something to behold as Guardians of the Galaxy paved the way in this modern age, but Baby Driver is head and shoulders above with the aforementioned perfect use.

As the film is based around Baby being the getaway driver for Doc (Kevin Spacey), what I wasn’t anticipating was the film to have genuine characters throughout, especially as Baby and Debora (Lily James) develop a relationship, to which Lily James and Ansel Elgort share great chemistry as the young lovers.

And Wright makes sure each character has their time on screen, from the small role of Griff (Jon Bernthal) to Jon Hamm in a meatier role as Buddy, which was great down the stretch. I soon realised that Jamie Foxx was playing the same character as Eddie Jones in Horrible Bosses, but in Baby Driver his character Bats had something extra that wasn’t apparent in Horrible Bosses.

As well producing some incredibly comedic scenes, namely the Mike Myers mix-up, Edgar Wright also made some tense sequences in Baby Driver. This is probably exemplified by Kevin Spacey channeling Frank Underwood as Doc as he quietly threatens Baby into driving for him again.

“And err, your waitress girlfriend’s cute.. Let’s keep it that way”

Edgar Wright is fastly becoming one of my favourite directors to watch, as he is just producing some incredible films in recent memory and Baby Driver is no different. He has mastered the perfect blend of action and narrative, and didn’t need to rely on people explaining the narrative. He had everything nailed down to a T, from the characters to the music and the narrative having enough to envelope you in the story.

All the characters had great chemistry and I thought the narrative took a brilliant and largely unforeseen turn with the characters. The film is just short of two hours, but I could have happily watched it continue for another two hours. Baby Driver is fast-paced when it needs to be, and also manages to take it’s foot off the pedal when necessary. It is helped by everyone chipping in on the acting front, but when it is backed up by the soundtrack and that masterful blend of action and narrative it shows. Baby Driver has become one of my favourite films of the year so far, and all I wanted to do was go back in and see it again.

Churchill (2017)

Often it is said that Winston Churchill is the greatest Briton in history after successfully leading Great Britain through the tribulations of the Second World War. And it seems as though 2017 is becoming the year of films about Britain during the wars, as we’ve already been treated to Their Finest and Dunkirk coming out soon.

Jonathan Teplitzky takes on the legendary historical figure of Winston Churchill, with Brian Cox playing the extremely influential Prime Minister. Often with films that have their subject based around the war efforts, they become bogged down in the spectacle of bringing the war to the silver screen. What was enjoyable about Teplitzky’s take on this is he didn’t rely on this at all.

The only reference to the troops on the western front is at the start when Churchill takes a solemn stroll on the beach awash with the blood of the troops. Now it’s no shock that Winston Churchill was a great speaker that could rise the nation to their feet with a few choice words, and that culminated in his D-Day speech with the legendary words “we will never surrender”.

And that is where Teplitzky’s film takes place, in the lead up to the D-Day landings. And this is where Brian Cox as Winston Churchill takes centre stage and really sinks his teeth into this role. He looks the part as the grizzled Prime Minister that is at a loss during the war effort and cannot stomach that Eisenhower has taken over command of the Allied forces. He constantly chews on his cigar and wears the bulldog-chewing-a-wasp look that is just exceptional.

As I mentioned, Churchill was a powerful speaker but what I wasn’t anticipating in Churchill was the long monologues. Don’t get me wrong, Brian Cox was incredible in this role, but these monologues often lost my focus as he fought the high command on their proposed D-Day strategy.

The narrative divulged a largely unknown story and the butting of heads by Churchill and the rest of the high command for the allied forces regarding the D-Day Landings. Churchill strongly opposed this strategy, which caused riffs between him and his wife Clementine (Miranda Richardson) who was brilliant as the woman that supported the hulking man.

Churchill was a good, strong-willed film that fell down sometimes under the weight of it’s own monologues. The central performances between Brian Cox and Miranda Richardson were brilliant and bought to life this legendary character.

The narrative was enjoyable as it does explore a story that was unknown about one of most triumphant moments in the Second World War. But with the weight of the monologues that dragged through the 98-minute runtime, the film does feel a bit longer. As with the powerful monologues it has been said that maybe Churchill would have been better suited for the stage, and it’s clear to see why after Cox’s evoking performance.

Churchill was enjoyable for Brian Cox’s embracing the character of Winston Churchill and it becomes an up-lifting film that showcases the British attitude. This attitude was exemplified by Churchill’s assistant Miss Garrett (Ella Purnell) who believed in Winston to lead them through this war, but also being terrified at the thought of losing her fiancé. Churchill showcased a variety of great performances and exemplified how good Winston Churchill was as an orator, regardless of the dragging monologues. But will Churchill be the best film in the year of British war films? That I’m not so sure about, especially with another Churchill film coming soon.

the bomb

the bomb was another film that I managed to catch at Sheffield DocFest, but something struck a chord with me when watching it as I went back to see it again. (and again later on streaming service through DocFest) And I believe it comes down to sheer audio and visual experience that is the bomb.

It opens in the quite a bizarre way but remains strangely captivating, with a compilation of army parades whilst music pumps. What starts as innocent footage of army parade soon descends into the parading of vehicles and nuclear weapons that is at the disposal of the armies nowadays. But the opening sequence becomes quite seductive as the weapons of mass destruction are paraded whilst The Acid thumps in the background and finishes almost in celebratory fashion as snapshot footage of rockets being fired fills the screen.

As the scene changes, The Acid’s music becomes quite intoxicating as it drives the bomb from one scene to the next. It should be noted that the bomb doesn’t feature a traditional narrative, but rather a compilation of archival footage throughout the sixty minutes of running time, whilst The Acid back the footage with their music.

With the help of this archival footage, Eric Schlosser, Smriti Keshari and Kevin Ford bought to life this audio and visual experience about nuclear bombs. But what becomes the triumph within this film is that the awareness they are bringing to the forefront about the dangers of these bombs that isn’t necessarily common knowledge. This message isn’t forced down your throat either, but shows enough footage for the audience to engage in their own way.

Whilst the opening scene thumps away in this seductive way, the footage of the nuclear weapons failing contrasts that strongly. The failing weapons have an abundance of mishaps, from misfires to failing to stay the course and some even falling from the sky as they fail to take off. This contrast is really powerful, especially as it is a far sight from the innocent-looking parade captured earlier.

the bomb brings an awareness of the dangers of nuclear weapons, but the way in which this message is presented is the thing that stays with you. You are not force-fed information, but rather the visual and audio experience of the bomb really sticks with you. It’s structure is perfect as well as it shows the contrast from Oppenheimer creating the first bomb to the aftermath of the Japan bombing in the Second World War in some painstakingly striking footage.

Schlosser, Keshari and Ford, with the aid of this structure found a way to tell the story about nuclear weapons keeping it informative and enjoyable, but most importantly, thought-provoking.

Sheffield DocFest 2017: The Work (2017)

On Tuesday evening DocFest hosted it’s award ceremony and announced that the winner of the audience award was The Work. This same film actually picked up the Grand Jury prize for documentaries at South by Southwest film festival, which is really unsurprising considering The Work is potentially one of the most emotionally raw and profound documentaries I have seen in a good while.

Twice a year Folsom State Prison allows members of the public to join with inmates of the prison in an intensive group therapy session for four days. Their aim is to discover lost emotions, or gain closure on sensitive subjects they may not get the chance to do before. The key to this working is that no man is forced to vent or divulge information, but if they offer something the group come together, inmate and civilian alike, to help them move past the all too familiar suppression.

The result of this group therapy? An absolute pressure cabin of four emotionally raw days.

The Work follows three members of the public, Charles, Brian and Chris as they engage in this intensive group therapy session whilst seeking help from the inmates, primarily Vegas and Dark Cloud. But rather than having it centralised through these characters, the inmates alliances are left at the door as they begin to support each other in the group.

This allows for some incredibly footage as Vegas helps Kiki break down his proudly built masculine armour as he pleads that he just wants to cry. The group immediately swarm the former Asian gang member and coach him to tap into his emotions. This becomes a common occurrence throughout as the inmates and civilians alike tread this similar path, each with difference stories to tell.

The group engage in emotional and physical exercises as they help one another, but also themselves to harness the emotions they have been suppressing. The Work becomes incredibly moving, but an interesting look into masculinity as it explores different stories from Dark Cloud’s horrid past, to the intense embrace that captures the rapid heartbeat that matches the audiences after the intense scene.

Jairus McLeary and Gethin Aldous have managed to effectively capture an emotionally raw film, but filmed it in such a way that the audience almost feel they are sat in on the circle, as you hear the screams and anger from the other groups in the sessions. The fly-on-the-wall filming really works, and The Work is incredibly engaging with the beginning and end results of all those involves in the sessions.

There is an emotional intensity that is so high, it begins to envelope you as you share the emotions with the group, from Kiki’s breakdown to Dark Cloud’s intense internal battle and Chris’ profound breakthrough. Rehabilitation of inmates at prison has always been a testy subject, but Jairus and Gethin proudly finish The Work with anyone that has been through this programme, has never returned to prison, which speaks volumes about the program. After the ninety minutes of viewing, it’s clear to see why as you genuinely feel and see people change through the four days of the intensive group therapy.