*NEW* THE BAD EDUCATION MOVIE REVIEW *NEW*

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Bad, just plain bad.

Mr Wickers (Jack Whitehall) and his class go on one final school trip after they finish their GCSEs.

Well, that’s what I thought I was going to say.

Whitehall brings his BBC3 hit sitcom to a close with one final big screen outing. And probably for the best. It was hardly groundbreaking comedy BUT with a good episode, you could have a cringe-worthy laugh fest.

The first half of the film was brilliant. It was outrageous, cringe-inducing BUT funny. A drug-induced opening sequence at the Anne Frank Museum in Amsterdam set up an unexpected homage to a classic Spielberg flick.

It was wrong, rude and deliciously bad taste. I had more fun watching the class’ actual trip down to Cornwall. It was the best part. Every supporting member having their chance to shine from Joe’s (Ethan Lawrence) attempt at pole dancing to Mitchell’s (Charlie Wernham – Hollyoaks) endless shenanigans.

The introduction of Joanna Scanlan (Stella/No Offence) as Joe’s mum was a welcome addition to the mix. The uptight guardian on the warpath to capture another cock up from the dysfunctional school teacher. One that will end his career once and for all.

For the first 40 minutes, I honestly wondered why this film had such a bad wrap? It was silly Inbetweeners style humour that hit the spot. Whitehall was on fine form as usual and really didn’t give a damn as he zip wired starkers through the Eden Project.

A revolting gag at a castle involving an ancient saint’s foreskin shouldn’t have worked BUT as much as I cringed, I couldn’t help BUT laugh.

Unfortunately, the road trip hit a major u-turn when it actually reached its destination. A crazy night out at a strip club certainly delivered the laughs BUT Whitehall really seemed to stretch out the gags for the rest of the film which made this a strenuous effort by the end.

I couldn’t believe that Jorah Mormont was in this. Iain Glen proved he was still up for a laugh and hasn’t gone too serious after Game of Thrones. However, I reckon quite a few GoT fans may view this as a step down. His introduction (unfortunately) was the tipping point for the film’s spiral into tedious mediocrity (Somebody ate a dictionary today). Creeping out of the woodwork as a Cornish resistance fighter.

The whole Cornwall revolution gag was a highly unfunny one. Desperate to break from England. This may strike a few chords after ‘Brexit’ BUT it killed a lot of the fun. What didn’t help was that Whitehall resorted to lazy stereotyping and class wars with his ‘Made in Chelsea’ chums. Talulah Riley (St. Trinians) was completely unnecessary in her cameo.

The only laugh I got out of that whole sequence was Alfie tea bagging a swan. You read that right? Ridiculous, stupid BUT oh so funny. He tried to bring some depth to the characters BUT it was never that sort of show so why should the film be any different?

It just didn’t work as Alfie failed to accept that he was being bullied while helping Joe conquer his own bullying problem. He tried to deliver a message and failed. The bickering between the school chums as they faced leaving school felt tacked on to fill the gag-less void. Shame.

Not even the re-introduction of Harry Enfield (Kevin and Perry Go Large), Matthew Horne (Gavin and Stacey) and Sarah Solemani (Him & Her) didn’t do anything to solve the problem. Brought in for one last hurrah. If anything, they should have stayed at home. Shame.

It was watchable and fans of the show will enjoy it. BUT if anything it was nothing more than a mediocre feature length episode. And maybe its conclusion was for the best.

2.5/5

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*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* THE SHALLOWS REVIEW *NEW*

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Blake Lively in a bikini and a ridiculous CGI’d shark – what’s not to like?

A mere 200 yards from shore, surfer Nancy (Blake Lively – Gossip Girl) is attacked by a great white shark, with her short journey to safety becoming the ultimate contest of wills.

Jaws, this ain’t BUT once you cut through all the cheese, there lies a tense nail biting thriller that delivered everything I expected from the abomination that was Open Water.

An ominous opening involving a mangled helmet and some Go Pro footage certainly got the ball rolling. BUT that was soon hampered by Lively’s introduction. She did her best with the character and thankfully there wasn’t too much of her nauseating “I’m an American traveller in Mexico” spiel. Some guff about her visiting the same beach where her mother found out she was pregnant. Corny, I know.

It was easygoing enough as Lively’s Nancy set up on the shore and the location . . . My Goodness. Flavio Martinez Labiano’s beautiful cinematography really captured the beauty of Australia. *Cough* Sorry, “Mexico”. The clear blue oceans depressed me. The sun, the sea, the beach. I need a holiday. So inviting BUT of course, Nancy won’t be surfing alone.

The surfing scenes were actually quite good. I can never get enough Lively in slow motion (What?). BUT it was a little naff watching a stunt woman rip the tides with Lively’s badly CGI’d face. Yikes. I could feel my patience wading. 20 minutes in and no sign of our fishy friend?

Instead, we had Nancy challenged by two other surfers (I forgot their names. Let’s call them Shark Bait #1 and Shark Bait #2) and an argument over Face Time with some poorly placed multi-screens. It did give a much needed depth to her wafer thin surfer girl and there was a little more empathy behind the real reason for her cheesy quest.

Director Jaume Collet-Sera continued to tease the main star’s arrival. A darker score by Marco Beltrami, a few disorienting camera angles and the majestic waves soon became monstrous. Nancy’s board floating. The sun piercing. Every wave pressing. “One last wave . . . ” Oh that silly mistake. A dark shape flashes past.

And for the next 60 minutes, I was hooked. A game of wits against one of nature’s oldest and deadliest predators. Lively held her own and carried the film when the pace dropped. A little disappointing considering the film was only 86 minutes. BUT it got me jumping out of my seat, fidgeting uncomfortably and biting my nails off.

A nightmare situation if ever there was one. Stumbling into the feeding ground of a giant Great White Shark. Hell to the no.

Injured, afraid and left on a pile of rocks with only a few hours until low tide. The make up effects were pretty good as Nancy used her earrings to suture a gaping leg wound. Her medical student/patient mono-logging may have been a coping mechanism BUT it got on my nerves.

Thankfully she had a companion in a CGI’d seagull. Steven Seagull. No, seriously. That’s the bird’s name.

With no help coming (or being teared to pieces), Nancy takes desperate measures. Timing the the cycle that our foe takes. 32 seconds to swim from one rock to a rotting whale carcass.

I have to say that the CGI’d creature was a little hit and miss for me. It didn’t really spoil the experience or suspense BUT there were moments where I would have preferred the old mechanical monstrosity that drew Spielberg to scream profanities in Jaws.

BUT every time a fin rose to the surface, I was wincing. The seconds on our heroine’s timer running out. The closing act was frantic and nerve wracking. A final showdown on a bobbling bouy delivered a fitting homage to the ultimate shark movie. NO! NOT Sharknado.

The Shallows carried that fun B-movie feel BUT didn’t push things too far. Even if sirens went off when a flare somehow set a good portion of the ocean surface on fire.

I didn’t expect to get caught up in it as much as I did and even if the CGI left little to be desired, it was a still highly watchable and tense little thriller that is a must for the underwater horror junkies.

3/5

*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