’71 REVIEW

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A bold, visceral debut with another charismatic performance from a rising star.

BUT not without its imperfections.

Firstly, it helps to have some insight into the Troubles of ’71. Now my knowledge is sparse but despite not being alive at the time, that doesn’t mean I’m not aware of the conflict that ensued between England and Ireland.

Now writer Gregory Burke and director Yann Demange (Dead Set) leave little explanation throwing you and our protagonist into the heated confusing mess that was the conflict in Belfast. All that is established is a map highlighting the areas to avoid at all costs. The areas seized by the Irish nationalists who were perceived by the British as the enemy.

The confusion is merely one of a number of revelations. So what’s it all about? A young and disoriented British soldier (Jack O’Connell) is accidentally abandoned by his unit following a riot on the deadly streets of Belfast in 1971.

We start with a slow opening as O’Connell visits his son while awaiting his next mission. At first, I was a little unsure with O’Connell’s delivery. He seemed to mumble and mope around. But as the scene progressed, O’Connell excelled. I was afraid that O’Connell would be typecast as the cocky hot head after Skins and Starred Up but the character of Gary Cook was a complete change of tempo.

The treatment of the British soldiers as they entered Belfast was harrowing and unsettling. The children swearing and throwing excrement was an unpleasant sight. The women grabbing saucepans and dustbin lids to warn the men of the incoming troops was tense and . . . irritating as hell (What?)

The slow build up as the masses continue to grow around the military vehicles was excruciating. Excruciating in the sense that all you can do is wait for it all to go up in smoke. The suspense brewing more and more as the tension reaches boiling point. As the orders became more and more misconstrued by the inexperienced Lieutenant Armitage (played perfectly by Sam Reid – The Riot Club), you find your loyalties divided.

However, the one who are routing for is Gary as he attempts to evade capture and get home. The chase sequences were intense and frantic. At times, the shaky camerawork was a little unsettling as you couldn’t see who was where.

It’s slow burning, at times tense and suspenseful. But for a 99 minute film, it felt a lot longer. The parts in which Gary is hiding (Several in fact) seemed to hit lulls. Where I was originally engrossed and held in suspense on Gary’s fate, I felt my mind wandering as the ongoing conversations between the nationalists and the Military Reaction Force seemed to run down familiar lines.

Despite being eerily realistic, it was also very predictable with the inevitable backstabbing. A sign of the times in this current day and age with paranoia, suspicions and backroom dealing ever present in politics. One thing that I can commend Burke and Demange for is capturing the dilapidated wasteland of the captured areas in Belfast and providing the opportunity for a talented cast to bring such characters to life.

The Military Reaction Force certainly didn’t portray Britain in the best of lights but with questionable motives and hidden agendas, I wasn’t surprised. Sean Harris (Prometheus) was perfectly cast as the shady Captain Browning. If anyone can play a creepy double crosser, it’s him.

There were surprises along the way with people you wouldn’t expect coming to Gary’s aid. Corey McKinley made a memorable impression as the loyalist kid. His acting was superb and quite comical, lightening the tone. It was great to see a talented cast of British actors and actresses, who have been popping up on the telly, get the opportunity to shine; Paul Anderson (Peaky Blinders), Sam Hazeldine (Resurrection) and Charlie Murphy (Happy Valley).

The final 15 minutes came out of nowhere. Nail-bitingly tense with more ‘shoot em ups and backstabbing than The Departed and the conclusion certainly made for sombre viewing. Burke and Demange were not afraid to hold back the punches in commenting on a political minefield.

A bold, if a little drawn out, screen debut from a promising director and a stellar performance from a rising star.

O’Connell will certainly be one to look out for in the foreseeable future.

3/5

ANNABELLE REVIEW

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Terri-belle, more like

It was only a matter of time that a spin-off of one of the creepiest horror characters of the last decade would happen. BUT maybe they shouldn’t have bothered.

A couple begins to experience terrifying supernatural occurrences involving a vintage doll shortly after their home is invaded by satanic cultists.

Both the Insidious and Conjuring films were actually quite good.

Not hard considering the mindless entries of regurgitated jump-in-your-seat hidden footage movies that have bombarded the box office since Paranormal Activity.

They weren’t perfect but they attempted to resurrect that old school haunted house feel and tell an actual story.

The Annabelle doll was the creepiest thing for me in The Conjuring. That face. Shudder. And so we have a spin-off . . . Hollywood milking another cash cow.

Unfortunately the story was flat, predictable and dull. It relied on incredibly loud music and lazy “jump bits” to keep you interested.

The story of Annabelle’s origins were briefly glazed over in The Conjuring but that was still creepier than the story we got in this one.

I mean, really? The plot line was taken from Child’s Play. A demonic cult member possessing a dodgy looking doll. Boring and unoriginal.

Annabelle Wallis (Ironic her name’s the name of . . . Yeah, moving on) delivered a solid performance and certainly carried the film. That also explained her absence from the excellent BBC crime drama Peaky Blinders. It was lucky that there was a likeable lead or this would have been a complete write off.

My main issue was that the scares were so predictable. The film felt like it was going through the motions.

You could tick off a checklist of clichéd horror moments. Something will run past . . . NOW. The creepy baby mobile will start to move . . . NOW. If not for the massive cinema speakers and the grandiose musical score of Joseph Bishara, I would have barely flinched.

It seemed to mesh Child’s Play with Rosemary’s Baby. On paper, perfect. But it’s execution? Meh.

Now, don’t get me wrong, there were a couple of moments (for all my cynicism) that caught me off guard. Hell, there were even actual moments of suspense.

An elongated elevator sequence had me quivering behind my hands as the doors refused to close. The ever-growing threat of something about to strike.

That was until . . . the doors kept opening and closing for the next two or three minutes, killing any tension or patience.

The final 20 minutes finally got going BUT it just wasn’t enough.

Ward Horton was so stocky and wooden. I couldn’t care what happened to his character. And that was the problem, the supporting characters were so cliched and one dimensional.

All the bad stuff would (Surprise, surprise!) happen at night. Leaving us with shoddy acting and mindless dialogue during the day sequences. Bar one crazy kitchen encounter.

Considering the running time was 99 minutes, it felt a whole lot longer.

Alfre Woodard (12 Years A Slave) and Tony Amendola (Once Upon A Time) had perfect opportunities to take the stage but their characters were so pointless and unnecessary. Save a “twist” in the closing moments.

A twist that I called so early on that I could feel my ever-thinning patience fading to nothing.

Annabelle herself was delightfully demonic. I just wish they had made more of the doll. You know, the very object that the film was supposed to be about?!

Playing on that Child’s Play vibe with the doll moving or doing something. Not the “supernatural force” around her.

For every dark moment, I felt more could have been made. The writers could have done so much more with the premise.  BUT they just played it safe. The ol’ “Well it worked with the others” spiel.

I think this film needs to be exorcised and possessed with a better cast and story line.

I don’t know what scared me more the fact it was made or the fact it made money.

2/5 for me.

LOCKE REVIEW

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Tom Hardy is back. Better? Definitely beardier. Along with another strange accent. Unfortunately boyo I had to Google that you were trying to be Welsh. I thought he was doing a broken South African mish-mesh of an accent. Anyway, I digress. A strange exercise that tests the acting abilities of the charismatic actor but unfortunately at times tests the very patience of the viewer. I am just sitting here. Driving a car. Okay? That is pretty much the premise of Locke.

85 whole minutes of our leading Locke talking, swearing, revealing not so dramatic revelations and dealing with the aftermath as he drives down the motorway. I can appreciate Steven Knight’s ambition with a talented lead actor, this had all the potential to be something so much more. Attempts have been done before with one actor, one scenario for an extended time. Buried, Cast Away, 127 Hours come to mind. I’m sure you can think of others, hell even better ones. Now I’m a huge fan of Knight. I loved his previous efforts; Dirty Pretty Things, Eastern Promises and the underrated BBC gangster series Peaky Blinders.

Interestingly enough Knight has recruited Hardy for the second series. However, Knight isn’t perfect by any means. Let us not forget the humdrum Hummingbird. However, he did get a convincing turn out of The Stath. I don’t really want to divulge into the story line. There is a dramatic incident that has caused Locke to drop everything he is doing and get on that motorway. When it is first revealed, it is quite suspenseful and tense. However, once the said incident or twist is revealed and Locke has to wait for the aftermath, we are left with his character talking to an empty seat supposedly possessing the metaphorical spirit of his dead dad or banging on about concrete.

I kid you not. I have now been educated in concrete. I did not know how important it was in the structure of a building. Consider myself told. The main problem is that even with Hardy’s conviction and stamina, it comes off almost like a parody. You feel like he is taking the mick out of himself. Random tantrums, weird accents, it’s all there. I was impressed with the cast. Well, the voices. They do their utmost to keep this project from flailing.

Olivia Colman provides the plaudits once again following an award winning turn in Broadchurch. Even if it is in reduced phone call tit bits. Ruth Wilson (Luther/The Lone Ranger) managed to make a mark, especially in the closing minutes as Locke’s wife. Ben Daniels’ character, appropriately labelled on Locke’s phone as the Bastard, brought the odd laugh. Intentional is another matter. The main scene stealer, however, is (Did You Miss Me Moriarity) Andrew Scott as the dimwit drunkard Donal. Scott manages to provide a much needed comic relief to something that just should be more dramatic but really isn’t.

Locke’s intentions and behaviour are bizarre but not completely unjustified but somehow it just doesn’t quite hit it for me. And for all his crazy driving, I expected a different finale but was left deflated and scratching my head. A topic that certainly has moments of well-acted, or well voiced moments, but really could or should have been put on Film Four as a TV movie. Nothing more.

Hardy manages to get this stuttering old (been there seen that) banger to its intended destination but I just wish they had given him a better vehicle on a better route if you get my drift. A missed opportunity for an ever growing prolific actor 2.5 out of 5!

Currently ranks #142 out of 182!