The Gentlemen (2019)

gentlemen poster

Having built up an empire as the marijuana king of Britain, American Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey), has decided it’s time to retire and sell on the business. But this being a Guy Ritchie movie, things are rarely so straightforward. A raid on one of the production facilities, a possible war with the local heroin manufacturers, and a bit of revenge from a tabloid editor he snubbed…

The last gives rise to the framing of this tale, as sleazy investigator Hugh Grant decides there’s more money to be made taking his research to the source for blackmail money, rather than a far smaller fee from the newspaper. Grant is playing against type wonderfully, as he tries to persuade Mickey’s right hand man (Charlie Hunnam), that he has all the ins and outs of the twisted story in place.

The tale weaves brilliantly between the story-telling, flashbacks, and side-stories, rarely letting up on the pace or entertainment levels. There’s plenty of action, bucket loads of laughs, and soooo much swearing! If you’ve seen Snatch or Lock, Stock... you pretty much know the kind of thing you’re getting into, but if anything I’d say this one is better.

The cast is spot on, and all seem to be thoroughly enjoying their parts. Shout out to Colin Farrell’s ‘Coach’, best role he’s had in years. The soundtrack sweeps you up in the mood. And the story twists and turns towards its purpose in a brilliantly non-linear fashion that is nothing short of gleeful.

It’s sweary and politically incorrect, and rude and has you rooting for one bunch of criminals over others. Brilliant 🙂

Released: 1st January 2020
Viewed: 3rd January 2020
Running time: 113 minutes
Rated: 18

My rating: 9/10

Ocean’s Eight (2018)

oceans eight poster

Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) has spent five years in prison planning her next job. The team she gathers includes a fab list of talent, from Cate Blanchett to Rihanna, Mindy Kaling to Helena Bonham Carter. Together, they’re going to steal the world’s most exclusive diamond necklace from around the neck of It-girl Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway) at the Met Ball.

There’s a bit of criticism around the whole idea of ‘gender switch’ reboots (see Ghostbusters) but for one, this is not a reboot – it’s a sequel, referencing George Clooney as Debbie’s brother Danny – and secondly: have you SEEN that cast list?! Putting these women in a movie together makes it worth watching, regardless!

The premise is much the same: a slow build heist movie, full of clever tricks and somehow a ‘moral’ that lets the criminals be the good-ish guys. There’s a giant serving of glamour, this time from New York’s biggest fashion event rather than Las Vegas. Layers of the con are slowly built up, culminating in… well, maybe not exactly what you might have been expecting!

I’d say I enjoyed Ocean’s Eight, rather than loved it. The cast was fabulous, but the story pay-off just a little less than thrilling. Which maybe wasn’t the point, as this is more of a nostalgic, comfortable kind of a movie, not an edge-of-the-seat thing. Still, it was only good and not great – but for plot and pacing reasons, not cast!! So fed up of hearing things like that: this is 2018, and it is FAB that we’ve finally got a movie with all the women centre stage. More, please!

Released: 18th June 2018
Viewed: 22nd June 2018
Running time: 110 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 7/10

The City and the City

the city and the city poster

When an Ul Qoman resident is found dead in the neighbouring city of Beszel, Inspector Tyador BorlĂș is granted rare permission to enter the sister location. Sounds like a routine murder investigation, right? But Beszel and Ul Qoma aren’t ‘neighbours’, per se: they exist in the same space. Residents must ‘unsee’ streets from the wrong city, ignore events that happen in the other place.

This deeply ingrained habit of deliberate ignorance is one thing to put on to paper – the book is suitably mind-bending – but how on earth can you put in on screen? The thing that impressed me most about this adaptation was just that: the two cities look like they exist in different decades as well as different colour-palettes.

In fact, while I enjoyed but didn’t love the book (for whatever reason), the cool ideas stayed with me in a rather ambiguous way. Are the cities genuinely ‘in the same space’ (phased, perhaps?) or are they physically in the same space, so literally sharing streets – making the mental gymnastics all the more impressive? Watching the show made that a little clearer.

However, the parts that made this more interesting as a bit of fiction were not suited to the screen, I think. Unlike the fantasy genre’s vague hand waving of ‘magic’, author China Mieville presents us with a very rationally thought-out world. His fiction is rife with border control issues, and bureaucracy – not the most thrilling thing for the screen. The story itself is perhaps a little bit convoluted, as ‘unionists’ terrorists are brought into the mix, and Borlu faces more hindrance from political corners desperate to keep the status quo.

All in all it makes for a very well-considered and well-made show, but one that I think works far better for fans of the book who already ‘get’ the concepts. It looks impressive, but the story takes a lot of attention for perhaps not quite enough ‘pow’ in the final denouement.

First broadcast: April 2018
Series: 1
Episodes: 4 @ ~55 mins each

My rating: 7/10

Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

murder on the orient express poster

Famous detective Hercule Poirot has just solved yet another baffling case – the resolution of which we see at the start of this movie – but he feels weary and out of sorts. He’s a little love lorn, as it turns out, but generally just tired of being a famous detective. However, his planned vacation goes a little awry when one of the thirteen other passengers is murdered. Of course Poirot is called upon to use his skills: because they are now trapped on an avalanche-blocked train, high in the mountains, with a murderer.

I have absolutely no recollection of any previous adaptation of this, one of Agatha Christie’s most famous and lauded novels, which I have also failed to read. So, for me this was still quite the mystery, which really added to the experience – something that I’m not sure many viewers would have. However, I have a sneaky suspicion that I did at one time know the ‘whodunnit’, or the story was even less well handled as the who reveal was a little less than the stonking surprise it perhaps should have been.

That’s rather my general view of this movie: given the cast, the obviously generous budget, the pedigree of the material and the opportunity to put on the big screen something that hasn’t really been done for decades – why isn’t this just somehow better?

On the plus side, it looks absolutely gorgeous. The period detail, the scenery, the train itself – all wonderful. And yes, the cast is an amazing list of names to gather in one place: Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, Judi Dench, Olivia Colman, Willem Dafoe, Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz… phew!! And, of course, director, theatre luvvy, and bearer of the most amazing moustache seen on screen this year, Kenneth Branagh.

And… that’s perhaps the problem. Or rather, Branagh himself might be. The movie gives so little time to any of these amazing actors, relegated to bit-parts and almost-cameos, that it’s hard to care as much as I think we should about their characters. Instead, we get a few too many self-indulgent moments with the great detective laughing oddly at Dickens, or sighing over a woman’s photo – trying, perhaps, to add complexity to his character when I’d suggest the detective should be the least well-rounded person in the story, to be honest.

So. Y’know, I’d still say go and see it. It’s lush and lavish, and the sort of thing I do rather wish they’d make more of. Okay, I’m a bit so-so on the idea of the end-of-movie hint at a sequel (it does bookend the story, which also starts with a different case), but I’d probably still go and see it, just for the spectacle. That said, I’m reliably informed that if you have fond memories of David Suchet in the role from back in the 1980s-90s, then this is going compare poorly. You have been warned!

Released: 3rd November 2017
Viewed: 6th November 2017
Running time: 114 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 6.5/10

Free Fire (2016)

Two Irishmen, Chris (Cillian Murphy) and Frank (Michael Smiley) go to a warehouse in Boston to buy guns for the fight against the English (this is 1978). Brokering the deal is Justine (Brie Larson), who brings these IRA members together with gun runner, Vernon (Sharlto Copley), and his hired help including Ord (Armie Hammer) and Martin (Babou Ceesay).

With high levels of aggression on both sides, the opening of the movie is a teeter-totter of anticipation as to just what it will take to set things off – and from trailers and title, you know that things ARE going to go off – quite literally with a bang!

I’m in two minds about this film. On the one hand, if you don’t like it you’re going to really hate it as it’s one set, practically one scene – well, one long gunfight. On the other, it’s a rather fascinating masterclass at how something so slight can be drawn out into a full 90 minute film, constantly ebbing and flowing on the tension. Throw in a lot of laughs, spiced with several out and out ‘urgh! Gross!’ moments, and more swearing than a response to a Trump tweet, and this is a much more entertaining piece than the slender set-up would have you believe possible.

Released: 31st March 2017
Viewed: 12th April 2017
Running time: 90 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 6.5/10

Hell or High Water (2016)

With the bank due to foreclose on the loan on the family ranch, Texan brothers Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner (Ben Foster) take to robbing banks – all branches of the one trying to swindle them out of their inheritance, by their reckoning. Come hell or high water, they must get the money to the bank before the foreclosure date. But with a soon-to-retire Texas Ranger (Jeff Bridges) sticking doggedly to their heels, can the brothers succeed?

Put like that, Hell or High Water sounds like a typical heist-chase movie – it’s not. Instead, it’s something quite a bit darker, full of pathos, and with layers of motivation giving it a great deal more meat, if a little bit less ‘fun’. Don’t go in thinking this is going to be escapism! The desperation, the unhappiness, the grinding down of the everyman – these are themes that aren’t meant for giggles.

That said, there’s a lot of moments of ordinary, every day humour on show, too. There’s something quite real about this story’s telling – and that can feel a little odd in a cinema setting, more familiar to hyper-real blockbusters.

HoHW is a quiet affair, really. It did feel a little slow at times, the plot just a little – not exactly predictable, but not surprising – and the performances can rely perhaps a little too much (Mr Pine) on sultry looks and long silences. But overall it’s very well made, and a lovely change of pace from the kind of movies that usually have car chases and guns in them. I could see this movie just slipping under the radar for most, but I’m glad I saw it.

Released: 9th September 2016
Viewed: 23rd September 2016
Running time: 102 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 7/10

Criminal (2016)

When CIA operative Bill Pope (Ryan Reynolds) is killed in action, his employers gamble with an experimental medical procedure to recover his memories. Transferred into the head of sociopathic prisoner, Jericho (Kevin Costner), can the memories be recovered in time to complete Pope’s mission – stopping an anarchist from bringing down the world’s governments?

Criminal was a decent idea handed to a great cast, but sadly drowned in a poor script. The action is high (as are the violence and gore – I winced more than a few times!) and I was quite impressed with several of the performances. Costner’s character changes and develops a great deal over the film, and while I’m not a big fan, he handles it all very well. Reynolds may never be allowed to play so small a role again, after the success of Deadpool, but his presence adds a nice counterweight to what could have been mistakenly given to a lesser-known face.

Unfortunately, the rest of the cast have been given rather shaky roles. Jordi Molla is a truly one dimensional baddie, which is just no good up against the increasingly morally unbalanced Jericho. Worse, Gary Oldman’s CIA chief does nothing bar shout and make horrendously poor decisions. Unfortunately, the plot hinges on the outcomes of those awful decisions and it becomes more than a little distracting. One ounce of common sense from the character, rather than irrational violence, and the story would have fallen apart. Argh!

Overall, then, this is gory popcorn fare – or should be, if we were only allowed to switch our brains off. Alas, the dreadful ‘science’ and unlikely character decisions stretch credulity wafer thin, which is a shame given some of the strong performances.

Released: 15th April 2016
Viewed: 22nd April 2016
Running time: 113 minutes
Rated: 15 with a lot of gore, violence, and swearing

My rating: 5/10

Triple 9 (2016)

Every now and then I get to attend a ‘secret screening’ – an advanced screening of a movie where we don’t know what it is until the BFFC rating screen appears. Speculation is rife ahead of this, and while I think Triple 9 is a decent movie, that kind of build up just killed the whole thing for me – thankfully it wasn’t The Witcher (or Grimsby) but half the audience reacted with, “What?”

What indeed. 999 is the UK emergency (ie 911) number, but in the States it’s the code for ‘officer down’, and also – apparently – drop everything and come running, all ye fellow cops. Cos that ain’t ever going to be a bad idea, right?

The problem I had with this movie was the pace. It is s-l-o-w, and I just wasn’t in the mood for that. Building tension, okay, alright, but… sheesh. So we have some criminals, and some dirty cops, and some other bloke(s), and then there’s the Russian mob (wait, what?) and some weird family stuff, and… yeah o_O

The tension ratchets up as the movie goes along, but the title if nothing else really signposts where we’re heading. And while the amazing cast – Chiwetel Ejiofor, Casey Affleck (really turning into his big bro!), Anthony Mackie, Kate Winslet (oy, that hair!!), and really just every character a big name – all do very very well, overall I just wasn’t, well, thrilled.

And thus we have a weekend of a pretty bad movie that entertained me, and a pretty decent movie that didn’t quite. Go figure.

Released: 19th February 2016
Viewed: 6th February 2016 (advanced screening)
Running time: 115 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 6.5/10 – probably deserves the 7, but it was a little slow

Sicario (2015)

Sicario, we are told, means hitman. And like the best of assassins, this movie is ruthless and relentless, never quite showing its hand until the last moments.

When an attempted hostage rescue goes hideously wrong, idealistic FBI agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) is offered the chance to join a cross-agency team aiming to hit the drugs trade a little closer to home. The viewer then follows Kate’s perspective as she’s thrust into the action without a clue to what’s actually going on – the only certainty being that the further it goes, the more doubts she has.

I found it interesting that Kate is both the newcomer to a well-bonded team, and the only woman. Was this to make her even more of an outsider? I did find her naivety a little ‘meh’ at one point: threatening dangerous people isn’t a clever way to ensure you walk away from a situation – but no spoilers! Perhaps the character needs to be a little too ‘clean’ like that, to highlight the reality being thrust in our faces from the rest of the characters and plot.

A word, too, about the cinematography: it is gorgeous, throwing scenes of glorious landscape as almost abstract beauty at us in stark contrast to the ugliness of the theme and people.

Although the pace is unhurried, this was gripping cinema. I’m slightly surprised that there’s a sequel mooted, but only because this says what it needs to already.

Released: 8th October 2015
Running time: 121 minutes
Rated: 15 (although as ever, I’m surprised that ratings are so low these days – bloody and violent, surely this would have been an 18 not so long ago? I’m clearly getting old!)

My rating: 8/10

Finders Keepers – Stephen King

“Wake up, genius.”

I read and reviewed the first book of the Bill Hodges trilogy recently, finding it readable but not spectacular. I’ve ended up giving the new, middle book – Finders Keepers – the same rating, but in truth I liked it more.

Two things improved the read for me: the first is that the storyline is slightly less predictable – do I mean predictable? Hmm. Less pedestrian, then. The second is that the subject matter is one I could really get behind: a hidden trove of writing, new books in a beloved series, previously unpublished. It’s enough to set the keen bibliophile to drooling – and in a few cases, enough to drive them to a little more ­extreme behaviour

Flitting between two timelines (1978 and 2010-2014), the first half of the book covers the discovery of and subsequent misadventures with this Amazing Book by two very different characters, and yet each sharing the obsession with the new work.I did enjoy the way the entwining plots were handled, but while one of the characters is nicely rounded out as human, the other is a rather one dimensional nutcase – increasingly so as the book goes on.

Interestingly, the returning characters don’t appear until the second part of the book – and that’s great. It means that you can get immersed in the new story and new characters, rather than making the emphasis on the returning cast. Indeed, I’d suggest that they get a slightly short shrift if you haven’t read the first book to fully understand where Bill, Holly, and Jerome are coming from.

Another mild disappointment is the reference back to Mr Mercedes – the book, and the character. Towards the end, it seems like Mr King couldn’t resist throwing in a spooky, supernatural element after all. I presume that’s going to be the plot of the third in the trilogy, and I can’t say I’m now super-keen to read it.

Overall: you should probably read Mr Mercedes first, as there’s a lot of background. If you don’t mind enjoy that, then this is a slightly better story, still easily digested, if nothing ‘wow’ (in my humble opinion!). It may, however, leave you wanting to read the (fictional) book described in this book!

…every plot stood on an idea.

Hardback: 370 pages
First published: 2015
Read from 1st-2nd August 2015

My rating: 6/10 – still not jumping up and down about it, but it was an engrossing enough storyline that, yes, I did devour it in 2 days!