The Last Bus – Review

Rating: 12A Cast: Timothy Spall, Phyllis Logan, Ben Ewing and Natalie Mitson. Directed by Gillies MacKinnon Written by Joe Ainsworth Length: 86mins

The last bus follows Tom, a retired engineer, who, upon losing his wife decides that he wants to make one last, long bus trip. After a tragedy early on in their marriage, the pair moved from Lands End up to John O’Groats and the film picks up with Tom as he sets about making the trip back down to the most southernly part of England to wrap up the story of their love. 

In theory, this Brit-flick should be a warm, relatively easy watch; pulling at the heartstrings of it’s audience as they follow the elderly hero as he sets off on his nostalgic journey. Unfortunately, for me it just didn’t translate. Although it was a short film, I was checking my watch, it just didn’t move quite as smoothly as I’d hoped and I found it quite disjointed. Each new scene brought a whole new drama, it almost became funny as every possible thing that could have happened to Tom on his trip, does. 

Having said this, Timothy Spall plays Tom with integrity and commitment. He doesn’t present the total cliche of ‘cute old man’, which at least makes the character a bit more of a ‘real person’. We are allowed to feel his heartbreak and confusion as he negotiates the trip. It was a nice touch to have the memories of Tom and Mary’s relationship when they were first married, it broke up the action and allows the audience to connect with the pair and their experiences.It’s through Tom’s memories that we find the film’s emotional core – why he and his wife moved from Cornwall to the most northern point of the UK and the reasons for some of his stop-offs.

It’s a shame but this film just doesn’t hit the mark, it’s a slow mover that feels like drama has been added simply to push the story along. The writing feels lazy to the point that even with fantastic actors, there is only so much that could be done. Not worth a watch in my opinion. 

The Green Knight – Review

Rating: 15
Cast: Dev Patel, Barry Keoghan, Alicia Vikander, Sean Harris and Joel Edgerton
Directed by David Lowery
Length: 130mins

Another film caught up in the unfortunate delays which have affected so many releases in the last year or two, ‘The Green Knight’ has finally been able to hit the big screen and be appreciated by audiences across the world. A promising, if fairly typical A24 trailer built a great amount of anticipation for the latest release from up-and-coming director David Lowery, hinting at a twisted and unsettling adaptation of the classic medieval tale of Gawain and the Green Knight, and in many regards the film managed to deliver on its promises.

Firstly, a review of ‘The Green Knight’ wouldn’t be complete without an appreciation for the incredible visuals which define the story. Capturing the mythological nature of the film through a wide range of techniques, cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo brilliantly conveys the themes and aesthetic through visuals alone. The often barren and untouched landscapes which Gawaian travels across are shown with an eye for detail that feels reminiscent of Terrence Malick’s filmography. Another key aspect which Palermo delivers on is his ability to show the status of a character simply through positioning of the camera and their framing within the shot. Dev Patel’s introduction as a young man not yet come-of-age within the first scenes of the film are reinforced by the way that the camera is used, and immediately shows the audience what to make of him.

Speaking of Patel, his performance is another of many great ones from the last few years. Mark Kermode described his body language in 2018’s ‘David Copperfield’ as Chaplin-esque, and Patel carries this same energy and attention to detail into ‘The Green Knight’. As his character develops throughout the narrative, so does the way in which he presents the character of Gawain, beginning as an inexperienced but slightly overly confident boy, and developing into something else entirely after experiencing one hardship after another.

David Lowery is not a director known for his conventional approach to filmmaking or narrative, and will often tell stories in a way unlike many I’ve seen. His slow and hypnotic ‘A Ghost Story’ from 2017 entrances the viewer through its use of simplistic, yet beautiful visuals and story. With ‘The Green Knight’, a more extravagant and action-oriented fantasy tale, Lowery once again thinks outside the box, and delivers brilliant moments within the story that turn all expectations the audience could have had on their head. However, in terms of pacing, the film does suffer as a result, with the final act delivering a very interesting ending, but one which the audience feels like they have to work towards, slightly diminishing the satisfaction of a final resolution somewhat. Despite this, I wouldn’t criticise the director for what he’s trying to do, as I think it’s great to have filmmakers working today who are willing to challenge conventions.

‘The Green Knight’ is a must watch for anyone with a love for beautifully filmed fantasy stories, and I’m sure even those who aren’t interested in such things would still get a lot from it. Dev Patel and Barry Keoghan are both excellent, and I would recommend not giving up the chance to see this one on the big screen.

Last Letter From Your Lover – Review

Rating: 12A Cast: Shailene Woodley, Joe Alwyn, Felicity Jones, Nabhaan Rizwan and Callum Turner. Directed by Augustine Frizzell Written by Nick Payne, Esta Spalding and Jojo Moyes (based on the book by) Length: 110mins

Last Letter From Your Lover, a 2021 release based on the book of the same name, promises a good old fashioned romance switching between two timelines which focusses on two different couples. Boasting an array of established young talent, it’s bound to attract the attention of any romance fans. 

The film begins in 1965 in London, as socialite Jennifer Stirling (Woodley) returns home from the hospital. It’s clear that there has been some sort of accident and that Jennifer has no memory from before. Her best friend informs her that she has ‘the perfect life’, but upon discovering a love letter from another man that she had hidden in a book, Jennifer sets about discovering the truth and searching for a love that she’s forgotten. Meanwhile, in the present time, Ellie (Jones) is introduced as a less than interested thirty-something, emerging from a one-night stand with a clear desire to avoid any sort of meaningful relationship. She’s a journalist working on a profile, who upon discovering a letter in the paper’s archive, begging “J” to run away with him, is absolutely determined to learn the romantic story of the mysterious ‘pen pals’ from the past. With the help of an eager archivist, Rory (Rizwan), Ellie begins to piece together the romance, presented to the audience through flashbacks, between Jennifer and Anthony O’Hare (Turner).

 The Last Letter from Your Lover is  definitely watchable. It’s an entertaining enough story which, while relatively predictable, holds the attention of it’s audience. The writing has moments that are beautifully poetic, particularly in the letters, which I assume are taken directly from the book. It helps the establish the differences between the two timelines and adds to the romance at the core of the story.  Having said this, it’s not quite the sweeping romance it feels like it should be. I can only attribute that to the lack of on screen passion, particularly in the flashback timeline. We aren’t given the opportunity to watch the relationship actually develop, we are presented with a hint of their true passion through the letters, but in the action we’re given limited dialogue, some nice montages and no real exploration of the story of their falling for each other.

The story gives us four characters who have had or are having unhappy experiences of relationships which creates drama. It immediately presents conflict which makes a romance more interesting, but the lack of exploration into three of the four backstories leaves its audience wanting. I quite enjoyed the modern day story; they didn’t push it too much or over romanticise a situation that was clearly just starting which makes it a little bit more authentic. The flashbacks are definitely romanticised but it fits the essence and world that is created in the flashbacks. You can see moments where the filmmakers clearly try to mirror the two stories. This works quite nicely as a link and to highlight the differences between the two times, but it feels like it could have been used to a greater level; to really show similarities in heart, frustration or hurt, particularly between the two female leads who had plenty of differences. 

While this review has been somewhat critical, I would still recommend watching it. It’s entertaining, has moments of romance and is led by a solid cast. My frustrations stem from a story that has so much potential. It just feels that the end result is lacking, and if we had been given more backstory and character development I think it could have been great. 

Those Who Wish Me Dead – Review

Rating: 15 Cast: Angelina Jolie, Finn Little, Jon Bernthal, Nicholas Hoult, Aidan Gillen and Medina Senghore. Directed by Taylor Sheridan Written by Michael Koryta, Charles Leavitt and Taylor Sheridan. Length: 100mins

Those who wish me dead is a whirlwind action thriller that boasts big stars and a big storyline that starts fairly widespread and gets significantly more narrow as the film unfolds. Angelina Jolie plays Hannah Faber, a wild and determined smoke jumper battling PTSD after she was unable to save the lives of some teenagers. The story teases Hannah’s interesting but dramatic job,  the unusual relationship she has with her ex and forces her to face her recent trauma as she finds herself responsible for a frightened teenager who is being hunted by two no nonsense hitmen. 

The storyline was really interesting to me, it feels both familiar yet original. In the first twenty minutes we’re introduced to all elements of the film in their separate locations. Hannah, her team mates, her job and recent trauma. Ethan, local law enforcement and Hannah’s ex boyfriend who clearly likes to play by the rules and his pregnant wife Allison. Connor and his dad hanging out eating breakfast until they realise that Connors dads work has placed them in danger, and Patrick and Jack, hitmen who disguise themselves and blow up the house of a local politician…it seems like a lot and spreads the audiences attention. But it doesn’t take long for the pieces to come together and I actually think it’s really interesting. One thing that I found particularly refreshing with this movie, is that they didn’t feel the need to inform its audience of all of the characters backstories. They’re happy to pick the story up where it is and just roll with it without using detailed history to inform the current situation, with the exception of Hannah’s recent trauma.

This film boasts solid performances all around, giving the audience a great mix of ‘character type’. We have the rebel, the hero, the bad guys, the vulnerable kid…all there on a base level but built upon with very human emotion and reaction to the stories events. The unexpected but much appreciated surprise came at the point you might expect to find your typical ‘damsel in distress’ character taking control of her situation and defying expectation. Though all performances were strong, the stand out was with the young Finn Little, a teenager from Australia who summons brilliantly raw, authentic emotion. Without him, the film wouldn’t resonate in quite the same way.

In my opinion, Those Who Wish Me Dead is a decent watch. It’s entertaining and exciting but without the need to get deeply invested. It’s a shame that it moved quietly through it’s cinematic release, just as the country was released from lockdown but it’s definitely one to look out for when it releases to the smaller screen. It’s quite a random standalone film, it has set up loosely for the opportunity to make another but I have no real idea where that would go. Unfortunately feels like generally it will be forgotten or missed but I would watch it again given the opportunity. 

Candyman – Review

Rating: 15
Cast: Yayha Abdul-Mateen II, Teyonah Parris, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett and Colman Domingo
Directed by Nia DaCosta
Length: 91mins

2021’s ‘Candyman’ takes the ritualistic horror of the 1992 original and brings it up to speed for a contemporary setting, adding a new sense of societal and cultural awareness which influences a major part of the film. Now in the hands of rising star Nia DaCosta, this new ‘Candyman’ promises just as many thrills as the last.

Although the horror genre is one known for infrequent character development, with many performers being introduced with very little background, simply for the purpose of an easy murder scene, there are always some which take the time to bring the audience into the world of those they’re watching, and often it’s those same films which receive a great amount of success. However, this latest ‘Candyman’ is sadly not such a film, as each character receives only a surface level introduction, and are often only used to perform a certain task or reflect a certain issue, rather than feeling as if they actually live within the world of the film. As a result, the real thrill of seeing such characters being put through variously terrifying situations loses its edge fairly quickly, as the consequence of their death or escape is one of the last things on the audience’s mind.

From the very start, DaCosta’s ‘Candyman’ establishes itself as a film which will use its horror as a means to delve deep into issues revolving around race and inequality. The bourgeois Chicago neighbourhood which comprises the film’s setting is a newly-gentrified area, having taken the homes of those generally in poverty, and renovating them to make such a place more attractive to those from wealthier and more privileged backgrounds. The lead character himself, Anthony, is one such resident, and his careless attitude to the origins of the Candyman work as a reflection to the disregard shown towards such neighbourhoods by the city on a more metaphorical level, and as the beginning of the end for his character in terms of narrative. Whilst it’s important that films use their own medium as a way to explore key issues such as this, and the horror genre is definitely seeming to catch up to others in this way, it’s the overly heavy-handed manner in which ‘Candyman’ goes about developing its themes which can take an audience both out of a scene, and out of the film entirely. Rather than using subtlety and implicit meaning to allow the viewer to think for themselves, the narrative constantly makes reference to specific details in a way that very easily allows the audience to switch off from what’s trying to be said.

‘Candyman’ definitely has moments where it feels as if it’s trying something new, and I imagine that Nia DaCosta has big things ahead of her, but for now I can’t say I’d recommend this film to many people, even those who love horror. The trailer delivers a brilliant use of animation, but other than that, ‘Candyman’ has fairly little to offer.

Summer of Soul – Review

Rating: 12A
Cast: Stevie Wonder, Jesse Jackson, Nina Simone, B.B. King, Mavis Staples and Moms Mabley
Directed by Ahmir-Khalid Thompson
Length: 117mins

The Summer of 1969 was infamous for its association with the ‘Free Love’ movement sweeping across America, and in particular its ties to the now-infamous Woodstock festival, a historic moment in modern American history. However, in the centre of Harlem that very same summer, it could be argued that a festival of even greater importance was taking place – the Harlem Cultural Festival. Some of the biggest artists in the black community took part in the festivities, which ran every weekend over the course of six weeks, showcasing the incredible talents of a range of artists from Nina Simone to Stevie Wonder, Sly & the Family Stone to B.B. King and many more.

Before even diving into the qualities which make ‘Summer of Soul’ a great documentary, the fact that it brings to life a key historic event which had been hidden away for over fifty years is something to be celebrated in itself. As the trailer says, if the festival hadn’t been recorded over the course of its runtime, it would be hard to believe any of this ever took place. The six free concerts culminated in a total attendance of around 600,000 people, solidifying the Summer of ‘69 in New York as one of great importance for the Black community.

Moving from act to act over the course of the films two hour runtime, each performer provides a new and unique perspective on not only their music, but the state of the modern world and how they hope to influence the future, which is greatly fleshed out through a variety of filmmaking techniques, from the colourful cinematography to the well-timed editing. It’s hard to pick out individual artists as really dominating the film, as everyone featured provides something important, but out of all the artists, Nina Simone stands out as an untouchable presence, delivering her songs with such great purpose and power that you can’t help but feel slightly amazed that such performances ever really took place.

Not only is the festival which unfolds throughout ‘Summer of Soul’ one of great cultural and social importance, it also just looks like a great amount of fun. Every artist who takes part in a retrospective ‘talking head’ interview speaks extremely highly of the festival, and often mentions the disbelief they felt when they first realised just how many people were in attendance. Knowing that the audience mainly comprised of fellow people of colour as they walked on stage, the entire show feels more like a communal celebration rather than a concert, creating an atmosphere of one giant party. Furthermore, the level of technical ability displayed by these artists is completely mesmerising, whether that be the forward-thinking funk movements of Sly & the Family Stone, the incredible blues capabilities of B.B. King or the deeply moving and powerful vocals of Nina Simone.

‘Summer of Soul’ truly feels like a summer film, and although it may be nearing the end of its runtime on the cinema circuit, I would highly recommend keeping an eye out for it wherever you can. An incredible insight into the music of America in 1969, there aren’t many other films out there like it.

The Suicide Squad – Review

Rating: 15
Cast: Idris Elba, Margot Robbie, John Cena, Joel Kinnaman, Sylvester Stallone, Viola Davis, David Dastmalchian and Daniela Melchior
Written and Directed by James Gunn
Length: 132mins

After the fairly disastrously received first ‘Suicide Squad’ film, DC were well aware that they had to try something new. Now, five years on, they’ve brought in experienced superhero director James Gunn to take the reins for a reimagining of the team. One of the first major blockbusters to reach the big screen this Summer, ‘The Suicide Squad’ is an exciting and interesting new addition to the DC universe.

The thought on many people’s minds going into this film was likely not too different – can Gunn do it again? After taking control of the ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ franchise for Marvel in the early 2010’s, the director contributed a fresh style which brought some great new ideas to the table, and which Marvel would continue to draw from to this day. Bright colours, an exciting soundtrack and characters who don’t take themselves too seriously all accumulated in a great superhero film, and displayed the sort of innovation DC desperately needed. Now, with the fate of a bunch of criminals and misfits in his hands once again, James Gunn has delivered a gripping and entertaining watch which brilliantly articulates the unlikely teaming-up of these bad guys.

One of the essential elements of the Suicide Squad’s creation is that it shouldn’t matter if any members of the team are lost, as they are all dispensable. A good contrast to the often predictably happy endings found within most modern Superhero stories, Gunn leans into this idea fairly heavily, and utilises such an ethos in a great way. From the get-go, he makes it very clear that no one is safe throughout the film, killing off characters very early on who you were sure would have a much greater presence in the story. Furthermore, the way these characters go out is often completely unexpected and shocking, perhaps giving reason for the 15 rating. This delightfully cruel take on extreme comic book violence allows the audience to see a new side of the DC world, balancing comedy and violence in an excellently dark way.

If there’s one thing that’s been learnt from the creation of dystopian or futuristic stories, it’s that everyone loves to see the strangest and most bizarre creatures imaginable brought to life onscreen. Whether that be the Wookies from Star Wars, or the overly-goofy superheroes created by Marvel in the 70’s, ‘The Suicide Squad’ delivers no shortage of wild and interesting creations who influence the story in their own unique way. Due to the fairly short life-span of many of the squad’s members, Gunn is able to bring in these surreal creatures for only a short space of time, and then quickly move on to the next exciting moment.

‘The Suicide Squad’ may not be top of the list for most moviegoers after the fairly underwhelming release of the original, but it would be a shame if that was the reason why anyone missed this release. Filled with life, colour and excitement, James Gunn’s first film for DC picks up on all the things that makes a superhero film great and delivers them in a consistently entertaining way throughout.

Jungle Cruise – Review

Rating: 12A
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Emily Blunt, Edgar Ramirez, Jack Whitehall and Jesse Plemons.
Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra
Written by Michael Green, Glenn Ficarra, John Requa, John Norville and Josh Goldstein.
Length: 127mins

Jungle Cruise, a film inspired by a ride at Disneyland, follows the story of Dr. Lily Houghton (Blunt) who enlists the help of Frank Wolff (Johnson) to take her and her brother down the Amazon river in the search for an ancient tree that holds the power to heal and break curses. With a whole lot of issues popping up along the way, Jungle Cruise throws it’s audiences into a full on, family adventure with plenty of wise cracks and a story full of twists and turns.

The character archetypes in Jungle Cruise definitely mirror those of 1999 movie ‘The Mummy’, with a brave strong hero and a fierce, intelligent, woman as well as an undead enemy and the comedic brother…while vaguely familiar, it works really nicely and adds to the overall feeling that this film is a wild mixture with inspiration taken from the likes of Journey to Atlantis, Indiana Jones, Pirates of the Caribbean and of course, The Mummy. It feels familiar because there are elements that may well have been inspired by other successful movies, yet it manages to maintain a fresh, exciting feel throughout.

Johnson and Blunt are a wonderful pairing, they bounce off each other really well and deliver equally solid performances. Both bring so much fun to this movie and their chemistry really helps move the story along. I’ve seen a lot of people commenting on the lack of chemistry between both Johnson and Blunt, however, I disagree. There might not be an overt sexual chemistry between the pair, but in every other aspect they work perfectly. Perhaps this is a reflection on an audiences need for romance to be the pillar of a relationship between two leading characters? Either way, I think this was a choice, the films primary story is not a romantic one and, in my opinion, it works. Jack Whitehall was the surprise of this film. He really shone and was the perfect casting to play Lily’s brother. A part that required strong comic timing and delivery, which we all know and expect from Whitehall, but also required a sadness and depth that explains his absolute loyalty to his sister.

Jungle Cruise isn’t a world changing film in many respects, but its the perfect opportunity for families to go to a cinema and experience the magic of this exciting story together. To escape from the worries of real life and take a couple of hours to go on an adventure with a strong cast who deliver a witty script perfectly.

Supernova – Review

Rating: 15
Cast: Stanley Tucci, Colin Firth, Pippa Haywood and Peter Macqueen
Written and Directed by Harry Macqueen
Length: 94mins

The story of an aging couple facing the challenges brought on by a cruel disease, ‘Supernova’ has graced the cinema screen quietly, but with warmth and a lot of heart. Led by established performers Stanley Tucci and Colin Firth, it provides a look at humanity in a way you can’t help but empathise with.

Although ‘Supernova’ may not burn as brightly as its titular dying star, Stanley Tucci fills the role of a different kind of dying star with tenderness and precision, in a performance that some might describe as career defining. A small scale story when compared to his previous work, ‘Supernova’ strips back the complexity of expansive casts and extreme dramatics, focussing instead on the deep connection experienced by the films lead characters as they navigate the heartbreakingly difficult process which has come from Tusker’s deteriorating mental state, in a role brilliantly played by Tucci. His approach to such a character can be described as both nothing more and nothing less than human, interacting with loved ones in a manner that seems fitting more for real life than the big screen. As a result, the relationship established both between Tusker and his partner Sam, as well as Tusker and the audience feels completely genuine, as if we are simply distant onlookers in each scene rather than a collective audience searching for a clear story and resolution. His matter-of-fact approach to the unavoidable consequence which he faces is something which any audience will be able to relate to, as Tusker puts on a brave face for the benefit of those around him, only hinting at the type of pain he’s experiencing, rather than showing it in detail – another reason why ‘Supernova’ deserves its praise as human and touching. 

Sharing the current cinema bill with ‘The Father’, another film which excellently dissects the experiences of an older man suffering from dementia-like symptoms, ‘Supernova’ may not receive as much acclaim, but it sets out to tell its story in a very different manner. The film draws you into its ninety minute character study and works to emphasise the excellent performances from Stanley Tucci and Colin Firth throughout, rather than looking to push the boundaries of what filmmaking can be. It’s cinematography, editing and score all benefit the film, but ultimately they’re the distant harmonies which exclusively work to strengthen the leading melody supplied by Tucci and Firth. It may not be a film for the history books, but when the audience are settled in their cinema seats, it’s effect throughout its runtime is undeniably powerful, drawing you into a portrait of two men’s lives who enjoy the same simple pleasures as ourselves, and who are just looking to make the best they can out of a bad situation.

Although it’s subject matter may be heavier than most films showing at the minute, there is so much to be enjoyed within ‘Supernova’. The moments of heartbreak and loss are counterbalanced by the simple pleasures shared between its characters, from looking up at the stars with childlike wonder, to making new memories with the person you care for most in the world. It’s definitely a film to bring some tissues along to, but also one that shouldn’t be missed.

Dream Horse – Review

Rating: PG Cast: Toni Collette, Owen Teale, Damian Lewis, Alan David and Lynda Baron. Directed by Euros Lyn Written by Neil McKay Length: 113mins

Dream Horse is based on a true story of Jan Vokes, a woman from the Welsh Valley’s who organised a community syndicate to buy a racehorse. Toni Collette stars as our leading lady and brings a warmth and determination to the character who managed to rally the locals to chip in a weekly £10 sub to save up to breed a prize mare; who they name Dream Alliance. 

Jan is a woman working two jobs just to make ends meet who becomes interested in raising a racehorse which could be both financially fruitful and fill a hole in her somewhat monotonous life. After buying a brood mare, the foal is born and the audience get to happily sit back and watch a series of nice moments. What follows is a predictable round of victories (the racing scenes are well done, including the high level of risk in the jumps) and mini defeats. The story is often delivered in dialogue which isn’t a surprise with the run time.

This story was always going to be made into a film. Dream Horse fits nicely into a typical, contemporary ‘Brit Flick’ category. It demonstrates small town community spirit, is very predictable and inevitably has a happy ending. Alongside Collette, Owen Teale plays her husband and Damian Lewis plays Howard Davies, a local tax accountant who’s passion for horse racing has created tension in his home life. This isn’t a particularly in depth story, it’s not going to challenge or provoke thought but it’s a really lovely, heartwarming watch. 

While there is nothing particularly remarkable or surprising about this movie, you can’t help but like it. Toni Collette and Damian Lewis give really solid, believable performances which must have been a nice change for the pair who recently have taken on much more gritty roles. I also thoroughly enjoyed the little sing song at the end where we see the actors singing ‘Delilah’ with their real life counterparts. Dream Horse is a bit of fun, and a good way to spend an afternoon, however, if you don’t get around to watching it you’ve not missed anything life changing.