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. 

Black Widow – Review

Rating: 12A Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, David Harbour, Rachel Weisz and Ray Winstone. Directed by Cate Shortland Written by Jac Schaeffer, Ned Benson and Eric Pearson. Length: 133mins

The greatly anticipated Black Widow ‘stand alone’ movie has finally hit our screens after several release delays due to Covid:19. We join Natasha Romanoff inbetween Captian America: Civil War and Infinity War to learn more about her past and what drove her to become the Avenger that so many know and love.

There was a lot to pack into the plot of Black Widow. We uncover more about who Natasha was as a child and her experiences, we discover relationships that the Marvel audience has never seen before which needed a bit of grit  and history in around them to be believable, we have a couple of ‘mini-missions’, the main ‘mission’ and the fact that Natasha is currently on the run from shield to remind our audience of where this film fits into the MCU timeline. I really appreciated how they introduced the new characters of Yelena (Pugh), Alexi (Harbour) and Melina (Weisz). It could have been quite jarring to just announce these characters but with a bit of backstory and intelligent dialogue we get a real essence of who they are and what they do, without requiring a whole load of new introductory movies. The writers managed to acknowledge the world that this film exists in without dwelling on or focussing on the action of the other MCU films, it wasn’t too intense, but gave an appropriate nod to well known characters and situations when necessary. It’s an easy, entertaining watch, scattered with plenty of humour delivered wonderfully by the immovable Florence Pugh and brilliant David Harbour.

In true MCU fashion, this isn’t a short film. As previously stated they do cram a lot in and there were no moments that I found myself checking my watch but, for me, there were certain scenes that seemed unnecessarily long which was frustrating as there are other elements that might have served the story in a different, more impactful way. There was a lot of ‘falling through the sky’, which, although impressive started to get a bit boring after a while. Dare I say it, some of the more ‘explosive’ scenes towards the end of the film, felt like they were trying to match other films rather than embrace their own direction. 

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed Black Widow, and would absolutely watch it again. Obviously, it’s great to have a female hero in this universe and this story will only enhance peoples love for Natasha Romanov. She’s human, she’s flawed, but she’s fierce, strong and passionate and fights for what is right. What else do we want as a role model for children? One thing I would say, as cinemas are still fighting to survive after the massive blow of being shut for over a year, social distancing and limited capacity, please, go and watch this on the big screen. It was made for cinematic release and although some may find it easier to stream and watch it at home, I don’t think you’ll regret the cinematic experience for this movie. 

Oh, and don’t forget to stay until the end of the credits…

Without Remorse – review

Rating: 15 Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Jodie Turner-Smith, Jamie Bell and Guy Pearce Directed by Stefano Sollima Written by Taylor Sheridan, Will Staples and Tom Clancy (novel) Length: 109mins

Without Remorse tells the story of an elite Navy SEAL who uncovers an international conspiracy while trying to avenge the murder of his pregnant wife. This film is the origin story of Tom Clancy hero John Clark (Jordan), a popular character in the well known Jack Ryan universe. Torn between personal honour and loyalty to his country, Kelly targets his enemies ‘without remorse’ with hopes to avert disaster and reveal the powerful foggers behind the conspiracy. 

Immediately we are presented with a very predictable set up, you know whats coming and they take so long to do it. We start watching a questionable mission, we progress to 3 months later where several of the team are taken out and hero avoids death while his pregnant wife is killed in her sleep. This all happens within the first half hour and tells us exactly whats the IMDB bio or film description. It’s quite strange in a film of this nature to present such a long set up. Half way through there’s a lot of talking and very little action which is what most of the typical audiences of this genre would be watching for.

The prolonged set up may well be due to the fact that this is an origin story and so it’s got potential to become a franchise but this film is certainly at risk in losing audiences before any of the real action happens. In a lot of films that spend time on set up we often get some more in depth character work however in ‘Without Remorse’ they opt to just explain a lot…it doesn’t really fit into it’s genre and can come across a little boring. We spend a lot of time in nothingness; rolling around on the floor, in a hospital bed, under water etc…the music helps to build tension but I found that the further into the film we got the less patience I had for the random details that didn’t help progress the plot. It felt a bit sloppy and was frustrating. 

The actors are the best thing about this film, Michael B. Jordan is solid as you would expect, creating a likeable hero with a vendetta. He manages to create a nice balance between a kick-ass SEAL and a heartbroken husband in a situation that could have easily tipped either way. Jodie Turner-Smith plays a reliable team mate on the battle field, an engaging character who holds a high enough rank to be a decision maker as well as boots on the ground, but unfortunately she is given very little of interest to work with. Jamie Bell plays arguably the most interesting character, the audience is tasked with trying to work out which ‘side’ he’s on and Bell brings a wonderful authenticity to the role. 

Without Remorse had the potential to be a solid action film, the Jack Ryan universe has a decent reputation and the names in the film are enough to attract viewers but for some reason it just lacked. The story isn’t particularly original or interesting, and there’s a whole of lot of talking. Honestly, I would give it a miss. There are so many other good action films to choose from and this just doesn’t hit the mark. 

The Other Boleyn Girl – Review

Rating: 12a Cast: Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson, Eric Bana, Jim Sturgess, Mark Rylance and Kristin Scott Thomas Directed by Justin Chadwick  Written by Peter Morgan (screenplay) and Philippa Gregory (novel) Length: 115mins

In Justin Chadwick’s debut feature film, The Other Boleyn Girl, we jump back in time to a pivotal moment in English history and land in the midst of one of the most notorious monarchs, King Henry VIII. Straight off the bat it’s important to recognise that artistic licence is applied and that some of the Historical facts are debated, but it’s an opportunity to experience an interpretation of one of the Queen famous for her demise.

The plot follows the Boleyn siblings, primarily the two sisters Anne and Mary as they reach adulthood and have set sights set on potential husbands. Through a bit of family meddling and taking advantage of issues with the Kings marriage, the King meets both girls and while initially favouring Anne, becomes captivated with the ‘other Boleyn girl’, who is newly married. The Boleyn’s are summoned to court and thus begins the competition for the Kings attention. It’s not a particularly surprising storyline as Anne Boleyn’s fate is one of the memorable in Royal history, but it’s an interesting take to consider other members of the family. 

From start to finish this film is full of incredible talent. In playing the quarrelsome siblings, Portman and Johansson conjure admirable performances, working as best they can with the dialogue and situations they’re afforded. Portman creates a scheming and flirtatious Anne while keeping the hot headed reactions of a young, inexperienced woman while Johansson leans more to a sweet, innocent sister. Choices that are reactionary to the dialogue, no doubt, and clearly separate the sisters, however there is a slight risk of the characters feeling a bit shallow. It’s easy to criticise these more obvious choices, but there is also plenty to defend. The film is long, the story and it’s characters are very famous and so you could certainly argue that in exploring the focal characters in more depth could mess up the through line of the story and therefore extend the film and throw it off balance. I personally think they made the right decisions within characterisation and the cast were perfect for what they needed. 

Unfortunately, due to the sheer number of incredible actors, there isn’t time to truly analyse all of the performances, but the casting department did a phenomenal job and the outcome was brilliant. 

Aesthetically, the film looks great; the grand settings, beautiful costumes and intricate detail within hair and make up really help transport the audience into a different time and allows the story to be told without a second thought. 

This movie stirs me in an unusual way. It’s deeply sad to see a family torn apart and as we know the ending is all but happy. It’s an entertaining watch, and in reminding us of elements of History it’s helpful to see how society has progressed and possibly, how it hasn’t. I would recommend watching this film, but it’s not perfect and as with every Historical film it’s worth checking the facts. 

Letters to Juliet – Review

Rating: PG Cast: Amanda Seyfried, Gael Garcia Bernal, Vanessa Redgrave and Christopher Egan. Directed by Gary Winick Written by Jose Rivera and Tim Sullivan Length: 105mins

Letters To Juliet tells the story of Sophie, a wanna be writer who takes a romantic trip to Italy with her somewhat distracted finance. While he seems to be more interested in sourcing ingredients for his New York restaurant than spending time with her, Sophie finds herself captivated by the local tradition of lovelorn women writing letters to Shakespeare’s Juliet and joins the team of women of whose job it is to write back to these unhappy souls.

When Sophie (Seyfried) finds a letter that is 50 years old, written by a young British girl about a Tuscan boy she met and fell in love with, she writes to the girl and soon Claire (Redgrave) and her grandson Charlie (Egan) arrive in Verona with the hopes of finding her long lost love, Lorenzo. The story is simple and extremely predictable but is connected with some truly beautiful shots of the Italian countryside. The warmth of the friendship between Sophie and Claire is really lovely and makes for a very easy romantic watch. Where a realist might suggest that Sophie help Claire check out the possible Lorenzo by using her phone, Letters to Juliet sends the three of them to visit the candidates in person, leading to a series of false leads and at last, of course, to the real Lorenzo Bartolini. 

This has a very specific audience, the simplicity and predictability of the plot is clearly for a young romanticist. Hoping that the sweet warmth as everything comes together will distract from problems that would almost certainly exist in reality. I remember watching this as a young teenager and thinking it was one of the best films i’d ever seen, but having re-watched it, it seems it just was  a very satisfying entertainment where very little goes wrong. While ‘nice’, it doesn’t have the depth to be considered amongst the best in it’s genre. The characters are broad, comforting stereotypes that are played well – particularly by Amanda Seyfried and Vanessa Redgrave but it almost seems a waste to have talent such as theirs crawling through a particularly cheesy plot. 

Letters to Juliet is definitely lacking in substance, but the idea at the core is a story of love lost and reunited. While a bit of a soppy melodrama where the ending is predestined from the setup, it’s a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours, especially for a PG audience.

Come Away – Review

Rating: PG Cast: Keira Chansa, Jordan A. Nash, David Oyelowo, Angelina Jolie, Reece Yates and Gugu Mbatha-Raw Directed by Brenda Chapman Written by Marissa Kate Goodhill Length: 94mins

Another 2020 release that went largely unnoticed was Brenda Chapman’s ‘Come Away’. A tale that imagines Peter Pan and Alice (of Wonderland) as siblings which mixes the excitement of childhood imagination with the darker issues of loss, family feud and addiction. An unusual combination for a storyline primarily aimed at children. 

It was the trailer that initially grabbed my attention. On the surface it looked like a lovely escapism piece, allowing the familiar fictional characters to be placed in a new situation and using the medium of film to open up the imaginative worlds of these characters. Unfortunately the heavy counter balance of the children’s reality made it feel a bit clunky. While aesthetically it felt like a family film, the deep sadness when a character dies followed by the, relatively realistic, reactions of the others just didn’t fit the ‘magic’ that was set up in the earlier scenes.

The cast were solid, Oyelowo and Jolie played their parental roles well; creating an authentic feel of family and the children were seemingly uninhibited by the A-list actors that surrounded them. 

While in general the plot didn’t work for me; I commend the intentions of the filmmakers. They didn’t fall into the trap of remaking old stories and you can see the heart behind a film that is clearly commenting on childhood imagination and it’s importance no matter what is going on in the real world – the trouble seems to be that other themes and issues were thrown into the mix and it got messy.

I find this film in particular really frustrating to consider, perhaps I had specific expectations when I went to watch it and they weren’t reached but I just hoped for so much more from this film. Instead of escaping from the pandemic during which it was released, I came away feeling a bit deflated. While unusual for me, I wouldn’t actually recommend this film to many people. It’s probably fine to have on in the background but the more serious topics aren’t really dealt with and the prequel elements of Peter Pan and Alice aren’t fleshed out, leaving the film as a whole feeling like it missed the mark. 

Lovers Rock – Review

Rating: 12A
Cast: Amarah-Jae St Aubyn, Micheal Ward, Shaniqua Okwok, Kedar Williams-Stirling, Ellis George
Directed by Steve McQueen
Written by Steve McQueen and Courttia Newland
Length: 70mins

The first of Steve McQueen’s ‘Small Axe’ series – an anthology of films released through the BBC at the tail end of last year – ‘Lovers Rock’ is probably the closest anyones going to get to a party for the next few months. Set in London during the early 1980’s, for the entire seventy minutes of the film’s runtime, you become completely engrossed in the celebrations as they play out on screen, feeling every change in rhythm and song.

The story’s concept is fairly simple – following a few key characters as they enjoy their night out. However, the execution is entirely different, with moments of joy and intrigue being portrayed through a wide variety of film and story devices. McQueen knows exactly when to draw back from the high intensity of the party and allow characters to have more intimate moments, before bringing the sound and movement back together in a crashing wave of energy. 

McQueen has clearly shown himself as the master of either celebrating or highlighting the stories of people of colour in cinema, particularly in his 2012 release, ‘12 Years a Slave.’ The ‘Small Axe’ series looks to further explore and celebrate black culture, and whilst this will mean delving into stories of prejudice and hatred, ‘Lovers Rock’ feels like the perfect way to begin the anthology. It’s a film of pure joy and energy, and whilst there are a few cracks that show moments of bigotry and hate, for almost the entire runtime the viewer is drawn into a world of celebration. 

Everything in this film works to immerse the viewer in the party that’s taking place, with the camera gliding effortlessly from one character to the next, and the soundtrack playing one great song after another. Despite there not being too much time for overt character development, you still feel engaged in the stories of those at the party, with particular traits being shown within different people, allowing the story to feel believable throughout and preventing the audience from ever feeling as if the energy of the party has lost its momentum.

Overall, I would definitely recommend ‘Lovers Rock’ to anyone looking for something to watch. With its short runtime and joyful, high-energy story making it less of a film and more of a party in your living room – exactly the kind of thing that’s needed during a global lockdown.  

Summerland – Review

Rating: PG Cast: Gemma Arterton, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Penelope Wilton, Lucas Bond and Tom Courtenay Directed by Jessica Swale Written by Jessica Swale Length: 99mins

Summerland is set during World War II and tells the story of writer Alice (Gemma Arterton), who’s surprised one day when discovering she is to provide housing for young London evacuee Frank (Lucas Bond). Though she had no intention to open her door to the boy, Alice eventually opens her heart, discovering that she shares more in common with Frank than she had initially anticipated. 

In Jessica Swale’s debut feature film, she manages to juggle the balance of storytelling between the relational journey of Alice and Frank as well as the romantic narrative that we experience through flashbacks. The flashbacks work really nicely; it’s clear when they’re happening, they aren’t dragged out and their purpose allows the story to progress and character to build rather than just ‘throwing them in’ to make the film more interesting. While elements of the script might be far-fetched, Swale (who wrote the film as well as directed it), was able to create such strong, realistic bonds between her characters which overrides any uncertainty with the action.

As soon as the movie started I wasn’t too concerned with the plot, straight away the ever-dependable Gemma Arterton created such an interesting character in Alice. You see that she’s a bit damaged and bitter but Arterton allows Alice to have a bit of a sense of humour in her own world – demonstrated perfectly when the surprised locals think she’s about to buy a child some chocolate, only to keep the sweet treat for herself and leave with a twinkle in her eye and a smile on her face. Lucas Bond did a great job as Frank as well, while there was a risk of his character becoming a little annoying, he managed to keep a steady mix of the child having fun with new friends and the child thrown into a strange new world with the dark shadow of a war-torn London hanging over him. He presented a real sense of maturity in his performance and it was a pleasure to watch.

Essentially Summerland is a film full of wit and charm, Swale knows how to create a smooth tone whilst slipping between the past and present, alternating between two sides of her focal character, the realist and the romantic. The film boasts real substance beneath the surface but keeps it’s feet on the ground. It’s a wonderful example of a great character based film – the story doesn’t matter, anything could have been written in around these characters and I would argue it would be just as captivating. There’s a wonderful sense of humanity to the story and the characters which is why it provides a sense of escapism whilst the world is in turmoil. Though many audiences might have missed its release, I highly recommend trying to watch this movie if you get chance.

Honest Thief – Review

Rating: 12A
Cast: Liam Neeson, Kate Walsh, Jai Courtney, Jeffrey Dovowan. Anthony Ramos and Robert Patrick
Directed by Mark Williams
Written by Steve Allrich and Mark Williams
Length: 99mins

Liam Neeson explodes back onto our screens in brand new release ‘Honest Thief’ just in time for cinemas, bringing the hope many movie theatres need to pull audiences in while the industry faces potential collapse amidst the shockwaves of Covid:19. Neeson stars as Tom, the honest thief of the title, also known – much to his irritation – as the In-and-Out Bandit. Tom’s late-in-life bank-robbing career has bagged him $9million, but upon meeting Annie (Kate Walsh) decides that an honest, simple life might be worth more than the money he’d acquired.

Built around a solid idea, a master criminal choosing to hand himself in, Honest Thief begins by spending time on it’s characters, giving the roles a chance to develop which is a rarity in most contemporary action movies. It’s nice to see how the key relationship of the story starts and watch as the relationship develops, but also to get a glimpse into the lives of the peripheral characters without dedicating the whole plot to characterisation. It’s clever, subtle work of Mark Williams and Steve Allrich to bulk out the story and allowing the audience to empathise with characters that they might not had the time not been taken to include these moments in the script.

Most audiences will know exactly what they’re going to when the sit down to watch Honest Thief. Liam Neeson almost has his own ‘brand’ of films – very similar to some of his earlier movies like Taken; you know that his work is reliable, if perhaps a little predicable. Despite the similar narrative to some of his earlier works, credit has to be given – he’s 68 years of age and is still spitting out these brilliantly entertaining films with as must gusto as he did 10 years ago.

What I really enjoyed about this film is the themes surrounding guilt and personal responsibility woven into the plot. Again, it’s subtle and if you are looking for a steady action film without having to think about it you can happily enjoy the film for what it is. But it’s nice that it carries some deeper themes as well for the viewers who enjoy looking into the plot a little more. All in all it’s just a steady watch, as previously mentioned its a real treat for any cinemas that are able to open to be able to show a film with such a prestigious name carrying the feature. I urge you to support your local cinemas if they’re open; if this film is showing and you enjoy a solid action film then it will definitely be up your street.

The Equalizer – Review

Rating: 15
Cast: Denzel Washington, Marton Csokas, Chloe Grace Moretz and David Harbour
Directed by Antoine Fuqua
Written by Richard Wenk
Length: 132mins

Robert McCall (Washington) is a former special service commando who faked his own death in the hopes of living out a quiet life. Instead, he comes out of a self-imposed retirement to save a young girl (Moretz) and finds his desire for justice reawakened after coming face to face with members of a brutal Russian gang…

Antoine Fuqua does a brilliant job of telling the story – it doesn’t span over a great length of time yet a lot happens. I really appreciate how he manages to successfully illustrate Robert’s day to day experiences in just a few scenes without using an arty montage or other more suggestive techniques. He had a real confidence in Washington’s ability and you can see it translate to screen. What is fantastic is to watch a film that has a deep consideration of ‘character’ whilst also being able to pull off some amazing action sequences.

Denzel Washington is an absolute powerhouse, I don’t think anyone would argue that his skill is just phenomenal and it’s pretty much a given that he’ll be great in whatever role he undertakes. What is really interesting with the role of Robert is that they needed to cast someone who you can believe to be such a kindhearted, selfless individual who could be equally as convincing as a brutal, determined weapon – both in appearance and in build. Denzel was the perfect fit and it’s such a pleasure to watch him work, particularly in the first half of the film where he is interacting with the peripheral characters and taking situations in as they happen. Although all of the performances are strong in this film, Chloe Grace Moretz is also worth mentioning. Her part is not enormous but she manages to create a really likeable character who the audience empathises with; thus making Roberts reaction to her story much more acceptable to an audience who cares for her.

The film feels complete, which is quite refreshing. Though a sequel was released in 2018 I don’t believe this film was created with the intention of dragging the story and characters out. The story is wrapped up nicely and by the end of the story it leaves it’s audience with very few questions. Real credit to the writer, Richard Wenk, who creates a story where it’s a very natural start to the action – of course bits and pieces about the past come out throughout the film but there’s no confusion from the moment the film starts, right through the action to a solid ending.

Though the violence and, shall we say, ‘creative’ methods that Robert uses to dispatch the bad guys is pretty brutal, the film is only rated 15 so it gives you an indication of the intensity before you watch. If you can stomach a bit of violence I really recommend giving it a watch. It truly holds its own as and action/thriller and is a really brilliant watch with some stellar performances.