#36: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

After a slightly wobbly fourth movie, the Dead Men Tell No Tales brings Jack Sparrow and crew back to screen after a 6 year hiatus. It wouldn’t be a Pirates of the Caribbean movie without Johnny Depp and he returns to the role some might say he was born to play. I’m not sure Sparrow could be played by anyone else to be honest.

For the first time in a Pirates movie, Hans Zimmer isn’t behind the score, instead that duty falls to former colleague Geoff Zanelli. The score itself at times is quite reminiscent of “The Rock” (the film not the former WWF wrestler). Interestingly, Zimmer was on the credits for that movie, working alongside Nick Glennie-Smith, who – whilst we’re making fun connections – contributed to a number of Paul McCartney’s solo albums. What is the connection you ask? Well, the former Beatle has a little cameo in this very film.

This swashbuckling episode features Captain Salazar, a pirate hunter intent on chasing down Jack Sparrow, who had been responsible for him and his crew being cursed into becoming the undead. As with all the Pirate movies, you know what you’re getting. Plenty of action, great effects – which are pretty epic this time especially, and lots of great comedy. It may not be quite up to the standard of the first film in story, but those effects will absolutely impress.

My rating: 7/10 – Highly entertaining and worth seeing

#35: Sleepless

Baran bo Odar’s remake of ‘Nuit blanche’ is relentless in its delivery of action. Unfortunately the package it delivers appears to have been squashed, dropped and rained on.

Vegas has a drug problem. With dirty cops everywhere, IA have their work cut out for them. Bryant (Michelle Monaghan), with a cut on the cheek, is just the officer to crack the case. Perhaps intentionally, her character was irritating and blandly stereotypical; difficult to tell though given how flimsy her acting was.

“He didn’t even get me a damn latte”

Jamie Foxx plays the lead role of Vincent, and he does so relatively well given the uninspiring script and the hugely one-dimensional nature of the film. It’s disappointing as there was great opportunity to do something interesting with the story. A good action movie will gradually ratchet up the tension, each scene methodically building on the last, playing with the tempo to keep you interested – in some ways comparable to a classical symphony. Sleepless however has no symphonic movements; I’d liken it to listening a the same four bars of a trance track on endless repeat.

With plot holes so big that Boeing intend to fly a 747 through them, a messy sound mix with glaring errors (like missing room tone between shots in the same scene), wooden acting from supporting cast and a predictable ending, you might think that this is the worst film I’ve seen all year. Well, not quite. I still think Assassins Creed gets that dubious accolade, but Sleepless is not much ahead.

Mr rating: 4/10 – I’m sure you can find a better way to waste 95 minutes

#34: A Dog’s Purpose

One thing that A Dog’s Purpose was not short of just prior to it’s US release in January, was controversy. A video which appeared to depict a German Shepherd being forced by a handler to go into water – which it was clearly distressed about – coloured a lot of peoples opinions without them setting foot in the cinema; many choosing to boycott the movie entirely.

I’ve seen the footage and certainly at first glance it seems pretty indicting; As ever, this is not the whole story though. Not only was the video shot out of context, but some ‘clever’ editing was employed to make things seem much worse than they really were. Don’t get me wrong, the handler in the video is clearly not behaving properly – but the actual events fall well short of abuse. Unfortunately the damage has been done now and this is likely to follow the film around like a bad smell. This is a real shame, because A Dog’s Purpose is a great film for dog lovers everywhere.

There have been plenty of ‘talking dog’ movies in the past, including live action. Actually, there are dozens of recent examples. None of them can be considered in any way good. I believe both myself and my partner were thinking the same thing – was this going follow in the footsteps of those films which end up being neglected even in the 99p bin in the local filling station. It was a pleasant surprise that this would have been worth the full price of admission (if we didn’t have ‘Limitless’ of course!).

Lasse Hallström was the top dog of this heartwarming tail (sic) and he’s no stranger to the canine movie universe. Also behind the highly related Hachi: A Dog’s Tale (rated in the top 200 movies on IMDB) and My Life as a Dog (Winner of a Golden Globe), it’s pretty clear that Hallström is a bit of a dog lover. It’s no surprise that this comes across in spades in A Dog’s Purpose and if you have a similar doggy persuasion then this is absolutely one for you.

I’ll give fair warning, if you shed a tear during K9 make sure you’ve ordered a crate of Man Size ready for this. Animals passing on screen is somehow worse than that of humans, at least for me. Whether that due to their innocence or something else I don’t know but I’m pretty sure that I’m not alone in this. Caveat Emptor.

The story is narrated in the form of inner monologue by Josh Gad (Frozen, Beauty and the Beast) over the five different ‘lifetimes’ of our hero pup, who struggles to find what his purpose is in life. It’s also a very human story of a boy who’s father descends in alcoholism and how life can be turned upside down in the blink of an eye.

For interest, the very last movie I saw #33: Their Finest had music crafted by the same Rachel Portman as this one. It’s a decent score and worked very well; it’s not what I’d call memorable but this shouldn’t be seen as critical – it’s not unexpected given the type of film.

Personally, I thought that this film was brilliantly executed and is one I’d happily go and watch again and again.

My rating: 9/10 – A demonstration of why a dog is Man’s best friend

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In might be coincidence or it might not – but one of the plot points that Their Finest revolves around will shortly be coming to screens everywhere as Christopher Nolan’s ‘Dunkirk’; which, by the way, is a movie likely to cause a spike in Kleenex shares based upon the trailer.

Talking of trailers, the one for Their Finest really does give away almost every key moment. It’s perhaps unfair to then deduct marks from the film because the trailer editor failed to hold anything back, but it does detract somewhat when you pretty much know where the story is going.

Their Finest is a romantic comedy centred around Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton), a welsh girl thats moved to London during the Blitz, counter to the prevailing movements of the population. Catrin finds herself a job in the Ministry of Information initially producing the propaganda between the main features. Her talents are quickly noted as is asked to be one of the screenwriters for a feature film hoped to raise morale of the populous.

Their Finest
Is this the right way to Monument?

Bill Nighy is perfectly cast as the egocentric actor, Ambrose Hilliard, who has failed to notice that he can no longer play the young hero. His antics add a good comedic relief to a film that has quite a sombre undertow. Also keeping the film a little lighter is the bright and playful score crafted by Rachel Portman.

At almost two hours, Their Finest felt a little too long, perhaps trying to pack in more of the plot points from the Lissa Evans book “Their Finest Hour and a Half” upon which this picture is based. What it sets out to accomplish it achieves though; great acting and good execution on the production definitely lifts it’s score up in spite of obvious predictability.

For me, I wouldn’t be rushing to the box office to grab tickets; but it’ll pass the time with your other half pleasantly enough.

My rating: 7/10 – At the high-end of expectation for a British romcom

#32: Boss Baby

From DreamWorks Animation Studios, Boss Baby had hype at near Logan proportions. The score put together by none other than Hans Zimmer and has a voice cast including Toby Maguire, Alec Baldwin and Steve Buscemi. Based on the marketing, a wide demographic from young to old was being targeted. The product that I ended up watching though had very little to offer to an adult audience.

Storywise, the film is about a baby that is a baby in appearance only. He’s actually upper middle management of Baby Corp, the people behind the worlds babies. And they have a problem. Puppies. Apparently, babies are becoming less popular because of the increased cuteness of mans best friend. Puppies, predictably produced by Puppy Corp, have an evil plan. A puppy that lives forever. Boss Baby is here to put things right.

There is a certain novelty to Alec Baldwin’s character, who plays the Boss Baby himself. However, it is one that wears off quickly. With a running time of just 97 minutes, this is not a long film, but it seemed like hours. There are some questionable concepts that end up being introduced to what is really quite a weak storyline. I won’t go into the particulars of these concepts, but any couple that has lost a child may want to give this flick a miss.

At $125M, this is no budget movie. It comes in just $25M under that of Disney’s jumbo release 541-536-8850. I guess that cash was being spent on the big names though, not the animation, which was flat and uninspired. All in all, theres not much to say thats positive.

My rating: 5/10 – If you don’t have kids, save yourself the time and money

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Probably best known for his near decade-long run in Scrubs, Zach Braff takes charge of this remake of Going In Style. I haven’t seen the 1979 version, but it was written (at least co-written) and directed by Martin Brest (Beverly Hills Cop, Midnight Run) – and now the I’ve watched the 2017 release I’m keen to see the original.

The story is based around three pensioners who are made penniless as their pension fund is used to pay off their old firms debts. To make things worse, Joe, played by Caine, is about to default on his mortgage and Willie (Freeman) has no more than a couple of years to live without a kidney transplant. With nothing left to lose, the three friends decide to take matters into their own hands by planning a bank heist.

You aren’t going to go far wrong with a film with Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman as your leads. These top notch actors, paired with a good underlying screenplay make for a very funny film. Look out for the little nods to previous heist movies – including one that a cast member maybe somewhat famous for.

Rob Simonsen is behind the creation of a cheeky sounding score. I was surprised when his name appeared in the credits though, as it felt like it was someone else – I was expecting Thomas Newman or someone of that ilk. Hopefully thats seen as a compliment to him though (it’s meant to be!) – it worked very well.

It’d been a while since my last trip to the cinema since I’ve been starring in some real theatre myself. Actually, I’ll need to crank up the visits, lest I fall behind! Anyway, this was a great one for a Saturday night after such a period of absence. Just enough story to keep you entertained and never losing its light-hearted nature.

My rating: 7/10 – Plenty of laughs and very little not to like

#30: Ghost in the Shell

Rupert Sanders live action version of the Ghost in the Shell is might well divide opinion. The original manga series written by Shirow Masamune at the end of the 1980’s has a not insignificant cult following, so any ‘tampering’ of the story will be met with swift rebuke by some.

The opening sequence sets the mood for the picture and its superbly executed. Initially I thought the first part of the story had been glossed over, however once I’d seen the complete work the direction that had been taken did make sense – so don’t be off-put that the backstory hasn’t been handed to you in the first 5 minutes. If you’ve seen the trailer – or know the previous incarnations of this series – you’ll be aware that Scarlett Johansson is playing ‘Major’, a human brain and soul (her ‘ghost’) in a humanoid-like robot ‘shell’. We’re led to believe that this combination of man and machine is due to an accident she had that meant her body could not be clinically saved.

Our lead, Johansson, keeps being picked for this sort of role, and actually I’m not surprised since she absolutely excels at them. For not the first time she’s able to deliver a mostly neutral performance and leak emotion at key moments; something that is effective and powerful.

In a lot of ways Ghost in the Shell is a British movie. All the key people from skipper Sanders to the cinematographer (Jess Hall) and both men behind the score (Lorne Balfe and Clint Mansell) are from our small island.  What they have forged has a familiar future-noir feel with echoes of Ridley Scott’s classic, Blade Runner. It’s the second movie this year I’ve seen with a Balfe score, the first being LEGO Batman, and once again the final product is impressive.

Set against the usual Hollywood offerings, Ghost in the Shell is something quite different. It’s not for everyone, but if you like the stylisation of films such as The Crow and Blade Runner then you might well enjoy this too.

My rating: 7/10 – If you like the dark, maybe one to go along and see

#29: Viceroy’s House

At the end of the second World War, the United Kingdom could no longer afford to hold on to the Indian portion of the British Empire. Lord Mountbatten was appointed to be the last Viceroy to India after the government decided independence. This was no simple job. Religious differences between the various cultures sparked serious violence that made the prospect of a single state solution all but impossible. Viceroy’s House covers this story.

The movie is more than just a political story though and focuses on how the process of division affects the relationship between Jeet Kumar (Manish Dayal) and Aalia Noor (Huma Qureshi).

Division as a topic alone is an enormous subject, with the addition of sub plots the 106 minute running time is not really sufficient to really dig into the detail. Some of the story felt a little rushed with events passing too quickly and not giving enough time to develop the characters fully.

From a cinematographical standpoint, it’s a bit of a mixed bag – on the whole it probably comes out as just average, just there are a few scenes which appeared under exposed. The sound mix was muddy at times, which meant that certain parts of the speech were lost in the room tone.

There are some good performances on show, especially from Dayal and Hugh Bonneville who plays Lord Mountbatten. However, certain scenes felt very staged and felt quite weak.

Despite the criticism I’m levelling at Viceroy’s House, it is still very watchable. The story is an important one to tell and I’d say it is worth seeing, but it isn’t necessarily great enough to warrant rushing out for.

My rating: 6/10 – Very mixed feelings, but couldn’t justify a 7

#28: Beauty and the Beast

“Tale as old as time… Beauty and the Beast”.  The lyric from the 1991 animated film and reprised in this 2017 live-action version has some grounding in fact. The story itself dates back to 1740’s France, when it was first published by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve. Sixteen years later Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont, without crediting Barbot, produced a second, abridged version. There is some evidence that La Belle et la Bête was influenced by stories dating back over 4000 years.

Beauty and the Beast is certain to be Bill Condon’s most successful film to date. Given the budget, it should be; this Disney re-imagination is the most expensive musical ever made. It looks every bit that as well. The attention to detail and amount of polish applied is extraordinary. Just take a look at the quality of the CGI applied to Lumiere, who moves around fluidly as if really alive.

It’s Emma Watson playing Belle in this incarnation of the movie and casting her was a great move. Watson is very likeable in the role, (far more so than as Hermione in the Potter series), oozing personality, she’s charming, naturalistic in her emotion and delivery, and with an innocent smile that could probably broker peace in the middle-east. There are some critics out there, for whatever reason, have not taken to her as Belle, but it is of course possible that they are just dead inside.

Actually, there’s plenty good to pick out from the performances. Welshman Luke Evans as bad-guy Gaston for example. His character starts out being quite likeable but devolves as the film progresses into a far more villainous form, which Evans pitches just right. Josh Gad absolutely deserves a mention too. No stranger to Disney movies, (he’s the voice behind Olaf in Frozen), Gad’s comic timing is bang-on as Gaston’s sidekick LeFou.

It’s always risky taking on a project like this. Execute badly and it could put a nasty dent in your career – particularly for the director and lead actor. I don’t think either will have much to fear though. Disney will easily claw back their hefty investment and then some. Our local multiplex is running this feature on at least 3 of its screens and every showing is jam packed. The only negative is that I had to put up with a woman sat behind me who insisted on singing every song. As she left the cinema she said “Still remember all the words”, to which my retort was “I noticed” – perhaps fortuitously she was already out of earshot.

My rating: 8/10 – A nice re-imagining of a classic

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It’s listed as a horror mystery on IMDB, although Jordan Peele’s directorial debut could easily be listed under psychological thriller too. Get Out, as it turns out, is a bit of a gem.

Rose Armitage (Allison Williams) takes her boyfriend Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) home to see her parents for the first time. Rose’s mother Missy, played by Catherine Keener, is a hypnotist whilst her Dad, Dean is a neurosurgeon. Right from the outset, something isn’t quite right about this white family and Chris is quickly made uneasy by the black housekeeper and gardener. The former is played outstandingly by Betty Gabriel, with a permanent eerie smile that appears just skin deep.

Get Out
You replaced Jay Cutler with who?

It would be easy to talk for some time about Gabriel’s acting, but I don’t want to spoil the film for you – suffice it to say, what she pulls off is fantastic. And it isn’t just her nailing the performance. All of the key cast are brilliant. Caleb Landry Jones channels Brad Pitt from Twelve Monkeys during an uncomfortable dinner scene, and does a great job as support. Meanwhile, the funnies predominantly come from LilRel Howery playing TSA officer Rod Williams.

Brilliant produced, with some excellent choices of particularly haunting music, Get Out really is very unique to any genre that you care to call it. The fact that it won’t stay in any one pigeon hole is a credit to it. Unlike A Cure For Wellness, this is not a film that you could call predictable at all. I’ll not say any more, other than this is a movie I’d highly recommend.

My rating: 9/10 – Whatever genre it is, it’s right up there with the best