*NEW* READY PLAYER ONE REVIEW *NEW*

Spielberg is back baby!

But bigger and better?

When the creator of a virtual reality world (Mark Rylance – The BFG) called the OASIS dies, he releases a video in which he challenges all OASIS users to find his Easter Egg, which will give the finder his fortune.

An enjoyable romp. The man still knows how to deliver a blockbuster. Fantastic visuals, an entertaining premise, good fun BUT . . . NOT without its flaws.

We follow Tye Sheridan’s Wade (X-Men: Apocalypse) as he tries to break away from the hum drum life of “The Stacks”. A poverty stricken district constructed of caravans piled on top of each other.

Those caravans. Seriously, the Jenga style structure triggered my vertigo.

A futuristic cityscape set in the 2040s where people are more interested in escaping to the OASIS and their avatars than worry about the ever-expanding and overpopulated towns. A fitting statement if ever there was one.

BUT at that same stroke, Ready Player One really struck home with the gamer nerd in me and that sense of community and escapism that gaming can offer. A bit like the movie itself.

The visual effects were outstanding. The only problem was that there was so much going in one frame that there was TOO much going on. A mad car chase sequence hit me like a rainbow-infused punch. The colours, the energy. It was chaotic.

There was King Kong, Robocop, the Jurassic Park T-Rex. I didn’t know if I was still supposed to be watching Wade – Sorry, “Parzival” (His alias) razzing around in a DeLorean or not?

The puzzle solving was intriguing enough as Wave delved into the recesses of his childhood hero Halliday’s memories for clues to unlock another key to the OASIS. All archived in a library. Seriously, there wasn’t enough Mark Rylance. The Wayne World’s inventor was brilliant.

There was one level of the game that involved one of my favourite movies. The in-jokes and metatextual references had me in stitches. Obviously the rest of the audience weren’t fans as I laughed out loud at as “Parzival”‘s partner in crime, H unsuspectingly wondered into a certain room *cough* Room 237 *cough*

That sequence alone ticked all the boxes for me.

Olivia Cooke (Bates Motel) was brilliant as Art3mis/Samantha. She had great chemistry with Sheridan and they madBe a great duo. That dance-off shouldn’t have worked as well as it did.

Ben Mendelsohn (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) was the epitome of a slimy corporate exec BUT despite his best efforts and Thanos-inspired avatar, I found him a little weak. And for a man hell bent on taking over the cyber world, he wasn’t very clued up on password protection.

I was disappointed at the lack of T.J. Miller. I know the guy has caused a bit of controversy in the press but the Silicon Valley star knows how to steal the show as Mendelsohn’s minion, I-R0K.

I was annoyed that we only saw his avatar. Bearing in mind that we got to see Wade’s band of loveable rogues.

The detail on the avatars was incredible; meshing in the actors traits and facial expressions perfectly.

NOW I’ve never read the book. I was only aware from the heavy PR that RPO revolved around teenage gamers fanboying over the 80s and tech. Despite the amazing visuals, endless 80s references and zippy pace, the film lost momentum as its reached it’s super corny finale.

It was far too schmaltzy and OTT for my liking. Tye Sheridan delivering a nauseating speech in leather-clad spandex? Meh. The Iron flippin’ Giant evaporating endless cannon fodder?! HELL YES! (What?!)

Come on, that is kinda cool.

BUT what did I expect? These are kid gamers taking on the world. If you keep that in mind, you might not be as disappointed by the finale as I was.

Don’t get me wrong, it was still riveting, engaging and filled with all sorts of nostalgia BUT the end game was a little rushed and tacky.

This won’t top Spielberg’s greats BUT this wasn’t his worst by a country mile.

Either way, it’s worth a watch at any cost.

3/5

*NEW* DUNKIRK REVIEW *NEW*

The greatest war film ever made?

Not even close. BUT still a bloody good watch.

Allied soldiers from Belgium, the British Empire and France are surrounded by the German army and evacuated during a fierce battle in World War II.

Did hype hinder on Nolan’s latest endeavour? Isn’t that always the case, I hear you say? Scandalous!

The opening act had me on tenterhooks. It was tense, exhilarating and Hans Zimmer’s score. That score!

I loved how the lesser known faces took centre stage. Fionn Whitehead was superb as the exhausted Tommy. Desperate to get home. Evading gun fire and fighting for a spot at the port.

The crazy planning behind the withdrawal strategy was shocking. Sending only one ship at a time with a goal of securing a realistic number of men; “We need our army back!”

As much as you understood Commander Bolton’s frustration, Kenneth Branagh literally stood on a pier looking across at the cliffs of Dover. Really? He looked dashing doing it BUT was that it?

It was still daunting watching the troops wait in fear as the German forces knew they had the upper hand. The planes creeping in the clouds. The Jaws of the sky line. Waiting to strike. Picking off their prey.

The dread. Bombs flying, torpedoes slithering across the waves. Mental. I couldn’t imagine what I would do in a situation like that.

Nolan captured the claustrophobia of it all perfectly from the confined Spitfires to the overcrowded boats. Speechless.

I say lesser known, in the context of film, Harry Styles . . . Well, I can’t believe I’m saying this.

He was very good in the role. At first, I thought; “Oh God. Why is he in this? Gratuitous cameo, I see”. BUT the popstar actually had to do some acting. And he didn’t do bad at all.

It was the middle act where I felt my attention wading. The tension left to cook on the back burner. That score, that score!

Whether it was the cinema speaker system, it soon went right through me. Pounding against my head. It was almost comical. Seriously, I couldn’t hear what the characters were saying.

It felt like one of the soldiers was following the gang about with a giant drum! Come on, now. There was only so much the soundtrack could do to make sitting in the sand and staring into space tense and brooding.

Of course, Dunkirk couldn’t completely conform to a mainstream narrative. It wouldn’t be a Nolan movie otherwise.

His renowned fragmented time frame left me a little confused. The penny should have dropped from the beginning. Each sequence titled: “The Mole: One Week, The Air: One Hour and The Sea: One Day”.

In a nutshell, we followed the various troops as they endured a week on the beaches, an hour in the air and a day at sea.

At first, the flicking back and forth was a little disjointed and baffling. Especially when we encountered a shell-shocked Cillian Murphy in one scene, then a cool and composed one in the next frame.

It should have dawned on me when one scene was set in the day and the other in the night. Hoyte Van Hoytema’s cinematography was outstanding.

Apart from that little niggle, the time frame worked well. Especially during the finale as each location came to their thrilling conclusion.

Tom Hardy’s story line was riveting once it going. And wasn’t it nice of Nolan to make him wear yet another mask. Thankfully I could understand him this time.

All the fuel gauge and co-ordinates talk was a little mind numbing for me. BUT once the pilot encountered the enemy, I was transfixed.

Mark Rylance was brilliant in the minute role of Mr Dawson. A civilian who answered the call of duty to help bring our boys home.

The toll of war encapsulated in the traumatized and “appropriately titled” Shivering Solider (Cillian Murphy).

From all the endless praise and hype, I expected something along the lines of Saving Private Ryan (My favourite war film). I know it’s tough to compare war stories and events BUT Dunkirk did stumble with the pacing.

However, the final act was where this movie really won me over and brought it home. Heart breaking and uplifting in the same moment as the defeated soldiers returned home. Fearing they would be spat on and branded cowards for their failure.

The overwhelming support and unity as everyone pitched in was a sight to behold. Something that seems to be missing in these dark times. A polite reminder with Churchill’s iconic speech.

A little over-hyped BUT still one of the better ones.

3.5/5

*NEW* THE BFG REVIEW *NEW*

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The BIG FLOPPIN’ MESS

On paper, the dream of Roald Dahl’s works and Steven Spielberg’s direction should have spelled perfection BUT despite Rylance’s brilliant performance, there was something missing.

A girl named Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) encounters the Big Friendly Giant (Mark Rylance) who, despite his intimidating appearance, turns out to be a kind-hearted soul who is considered an outcast by the other giants because, unlike them, he refuses to eat children.

Definitely one for the little ‘uns. It has been a long time since I read The BFG. I loved Dahl’s books as a child and genuinely enjoyed the film adaptations. Some I still watch as guilty pleasures BUT this won’t be one of them.

The opening 30 minutes was everything I expected. It was exactly how I remembered. The animation and cinematography (from regular Spielberg stalwart Janusz Kaminski) were fantastic. The BFG’s introduction was lifted straight from the book. His eyes twinkling in the dark alleys. The giant hand clambering through the curtains. The sweeping shots across the beautiful English countryside.

It was delightfully easy going. Barnhill carried the role as well as she could. It’s an incredibly difficult task for a child actor to get the balance right. Whether it was the script or her performance BUT there were moments where the poor girl just got on my nerves. BUT it was still a commendable debut for the little lass.

After his Oscar winning turn in Bridge of Spies, Mark Rylance reunited with Spielberg yet again. The animation and effects were impeccable; mixing live animation with Rylance’s facial expressions. His delivery really made all of Dahl’s insanely ridiculous jargon almost believable. He really was the BFG. Perfect.

However, the main issue was the pace. It went on far too long. This would have been much better if it was reduced by a good 30 minutes. If anything, the meandering pace gave me time to pick at how nothingy the story of the BFG really was. Apart from catching dreams and eating whizpoppers (a horrible looking cucumber), there wasn’t really much going on.

What was originally a beautiful scene with the BFG and Sophie chasing after the pixie like dreams flying around the trees, I found myself nodding off. I hate to blame the twinkly lullaby score of John Williams. The maestro providing yet another wonderful score. It just didn’t grab me. The CGI and effects were marvellous BUT it wasn’t enough.

NOT even the giants made enough of an impression for me. Considering the talented supporting cast voicing the eclectic bunch of fantastically designed beasts, the only one that made a memorable impression was Flight of the Conchord’s Jermaine Clement as Fleshlumpeater. The only giant with any depth or dialogue.

I didn’t even realise until the closing credits that Bill Hader (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs) was voicing Bloodbottler! I wanted more of them. There were opportunities for the BFG to overcome the years of bullying. I know it was only a kids’ films BUT I couldn’t help but ask endless questions; Why did the giants hate rain so much? (Especially when the BFG wasn’t fazed at all). Why catch dreams and give them to people while they sleep?

The giants weren’t really as intimidating as I’d hoped. If anything, they were irritating. Despite a wonderfully animated sequence with the dimwitted dirt dwellers throwing the BFG on a digger and Sophie in a battered car and racing them around the hill, they didn’t do much at all.

It was the meeting with the Queen that made me feel my age. For the first time, I actually felt uncomfortable watching a children’s film. I always enjoy family films because they always have something for everyone. BUT this time, it really was just for the sprogs.

Penelope Wilton (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) was brilliant as Her Majesty. It’s just a shame she was playing her in this. Rafe Spall and Rebecca Hall were completely wasted (and unnecessary in their roles). And once everybody was guzzling frobscottle (a strange fizzy drink with bubbles that float down) and farting green smoke including the bloomin’ Corgis, I knew I was getting too old for this.

I know I’m heading towards my thirties and I’ve become an older and more cynical movie goer BUT I can still watch The Witches and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Wilder version, of course. RIP) as guilty pleasures. BUT the meandering pace and silly little gags just didn’t deliver. The giants were barely used and weren’t really as much of a threat as they could have been.

It was watchable guff BUT I’m afraid to say that Spielberg’s dry spell continues. The little ‘uns will love it BUT the older Dahl fans will be disappointed.

2.5/5

*NEW* BRIDGE OF SPIES REVIEW *NEW*

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I spy a cracking little drama.

You can always bank on Hanks (Had to be careful typing that)

During the Cold War, an American lawyer (Tom Hanks) is recruited to defend an arrested Soviet spy (Mark Rylance) in court, and then help the CIA facilitate an exchange of the spy for the Soviet captured American U2 spy plane pilot, Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell).

After a somewhat slow opener with a French Connection style stake out with a group of CIA agents following Rylance’s Rudolf Abel, I wasn’t sure what to expect. BUT as we delved into a reasonably dull and mundane day of reconnaissance with an old man painting a bridge, I realized there was more than meets the eye.

If anything, that opening sequence indicated perfectly what to expect. A slow burning thriller with a rewarding pay-off. This was a return to form for Spielberg. Perhaps it helped that he had a winning talisman in Hanks.

Hanks proved once again why he is one of the best. A powerhouse performance. I can’t believe this was a true story. A reluctant lawyer takes on a case that would change everything. Anxious to deal with the heated Cold War paranoia and the shark infested media BUT determined to give a government traitor his right to a fair trial.

Mark Rylance (Wolf Hall) was superb as Abel. If anything, there wasn’t enough of him. He had a great rapport with Hanks and they made a great duo. Donovan’s fascination with Abel sets the wheels in motion for a bigger play. He couldn’t believe how this man, who was one of the most hated people in the country, was only concerned about having some time to paint?

Donovan even asks: “Aren’t you worried?” Without the bat of an eye, Abel simply says “Would it help?”. A great one liner and cracking delivery.

This felt like a film of two halves. For the first act, we watched the press slander, the authorities hinder and the community shun Donovan for simply doing his job. While that was being played out, I wondered where this training subplot involving Austin Stowell’s (Whiplash) pilot Francis Gary Powers was going. It was intriguing as the pilot was assigned a top secret mission BUT it felt a little disjointed to Donovan and Abel’s case.

However, all would be revealed and a suspenseful second half was soon on the cards. With Powers captured, Donovan must trade Abel for his release. Once Donovan arrived in Berlin, I was hooked. The tension. The cryptic conversations with the Russian Embassy. The bartering with the meddling Germans desperate to get their piece of the action as they take their own prisoner, an American economics student. Sebastian Koch (The Lives of Others) was brilliant as the stubborn Wolfgang Vogel.

I couldn’t believe that Donovan went through all this. No support or backing. An “unsanctioned” operation being the CIA’s defense if things go wrong. The game of cat and mouse heading to an exciting and incredibly tense stand off.

That’s not to say the film was perfect. The stellar supporting cast featuring Alan Alda (M*A*S*H) and Amy Ryan (Gone Baby Gone) were neglected with very minor roles BUT they were always going to play second fiddle to Hanks. The pace did drop in parts and 142 minutes might have been pushing it BUT I was still engaged.

Nitpicking aside, this was a brilliantly acted and well crafted spy thriller and one of my top films of 2015.

4/5

THE GUNMAN REVIEW

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Sean Penn doesn’t do many films but when he does . . .

They’re pretty damn boring.

So what’s it about? A sniper (Sean Penn) on a mercenary assassination team, kills the minister of mines of the Congo. Terrier’s successful kill shot forces him into hiding. Returning to the Congo years later, he becomes the target of a hit squad himself.

That was according to the IMDb. I had no idea what was going on. BUT by the end, I didn’t care.

From the director that brought you Taken . . .

Which one? 1-2-3? Oh, the first one. It should be okay, then. Biggest mistake of my life.

I expected no-nonsense, fist crunching, cars chasing, buildings exploding. ACTION! Not mindless exposition and cliched dialgoue with hammy characters that you couldn’t give two umphs about.

Sean Penn did his best. But his character was so weak and bland. He was the typical generic action hero.

Tortured good guy trying to do the right thing. Smitten with a woman he can’t have. Blah, blah, blah.

I don’t mind being force fed the same old predictable action movie bilge. Nothing’s original. BUT at least try and make it interesting or throw in lots of shiny explosions and high octane punch em ups to make up for it. Is that too much to ask?

Penn looked fit (Not in that way. Steady now). At 54, he proved he could still kick an ass or two. He dealt with the (little) action sequences we had on offer with ease.

I just wish his character didn’t feel like someone pulled out of The Expendables.

The plot was terrible. To make matters worse, it didn’t make any sense. The more they bleated on (and believe me, they did!), the more questions I had.

The opening didn’t really get things going at all. The whole Sky News reporting on The Congo showed potential. Keeping up with the times and building a story around it.

BUT oh how wrong I turned out to be.

The graphic footage and statistics were certainly an eye opener but they were soon pushed into the background for the usual Hollywood guff.

We are had to endure the drudge that was a hammy love triangle between Penn, Jasmine Trinca and Javier Bardem.

Bardem was probably one of the only saving graces. It’s just a shame that he got on my nerves as he went on. His *SPOILER* early departure from the film left a void that was never filled. The void being the rest of the film.

He played the part well as the sleazy operation leader hell bent on stealing Penn’s bird.

That was about as much as I got out of his murderous intent.

Seriously, the plot was that convoluted that it gave me a headache.

BUT don’t worry, it all ends the same way. That’s right. Corny as hell with no real thought or proper explanation. Lovely!

The problem with Bardem’s performance was that it was too manic. He went from a sleazebag to a drunken child within a few scenes. Bad writing. Bad interpretation. Shame.

Speaking of poor performances, Mark Rylance (Wolf Hall). Lordy lord. I couldn’t take him seriously. He sounded constipated. I kid you not. He looked the part. A slick, slimy corporate business type. Until he opened his mouth.

He wasn’t strong enough to be a lead villain. Even Penn didn’t look that convinced by him.

And Idris Elba. What was the point of him? What was his character’s relevance? He smarms his way in for about five minutes spouting some waffle to Penn about not building a treehouse in this garden today.

He chucks him a calling card (accompanied with a cheeky wink) and buggers off!

What a waste of a talented actor. The money must have been good. I mean, was his role cut in the film? To be honest, they missed a trick by not having his presence.

His character was a much needed injection. A bit of mystery. A quirky (if stupid) anecdote. BUT at least it was something.

The Gunman was dull, uninteresting and way too long. And considering it was called the Gunman. Penn didn’t use a lot of guns.

The action sequences were good when they appeared. Frantic, explosive but memorable? Hardly. They became a messy blur by the closing credits.

My main issue was that it seemed to take itself too seriously. The political commentary, the examination on the Congo, the endless “Will they, won’t they?” between Trinca and Penn (when we all knew they bloody would).

AND THEN as the final 30 minutes approached, they realised they had backed themselves into a corner and then desperately went out on an all-out offensive that just came off hammy, laughable and boring.

I mean, the showdown at the bull ring should have been brooding, tense and metaphorical. NOT hysterical.

I felt numb by the end. Deflated and my boredom still very much intact. To make matters worse, I looked to my movie massive (My two mates) and asked; “So why did they want him dead?”

The writer didn’t even make use of Penn’s forced plot device. A revelation that had potential to make this dud so much more.

Hardly spoilierific as it wasn’t explained or executed properly.

Penn’s character is diagnosed with an Alzheimers like disease. He has to record and write everything down. For a moment, I thought Memento meets American Sniper. Okay, let’s do this.

Oh no. Pardon the irony here but it seemed after introducing this newly discovered character flaw, they seemed to forget about it until the final 20 minutes when every time Penn has the chance to dispense some vengeance, what does he do?

He drops to the floor and wails about like’s he having the worst hangover ever!

The whole scorned man with nothing to lose as he’s about to lose the most precious thing of all has been done to death but it still could have offered something.

Not even Ray Winstone could save the day. You know you’re onto a loser when you’re praying for Ray’s messy mercenary to pop back into things.

Sean Penn should have corned him and said, “What are the odds of this film being recommended?”

(In gruffly Winstone voice) Defo worth seeing, san 1000/1.

Place your bets because I’m not.

And to make me laugh even further, I looked into the screenwriters. One of them. Sean Penn. Case closed.

AVOID.

1.5/5