‘Pacific Rim Uprising’ Blu-Ray Review (THN)

Pacific Rim Uprising faces a double whammy of expectation. First, it has to fill the shoes of director Guillermo del Toro and be a worthy sequel to boot. Second, with five years between movies it’s slightly belated, a situation that rarely ends well.

Director Steven S. DeKnight and producer/star John Boyega join forces here to move the story on and inject new elements, while at the same time giving fans and general audiences what they want, i.e. Jaegers and Kaijus bashing the hell out of each other with lots of buildings collapsing along the way.

The balancing act starts promisingly enough. Boyega plays Jake, son of Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba’s character from part one). A decade since the devastation of the last film he’s turned his back on piloting Jaegers and is now partying and scavenging to make his way in this drastically-altered world. When he runs into young Amara (Cailee Spaeny), who’s managed to knock up her own Jaeger, it takes him on a path back to his father’s stamping ground of the PPDC and a reunion with former buddy Nate (Scott Eastwood).

At that point, DeKnight has to start bringing in former characters such as Mako (Rinko Kikuchi), Dr.Gottlieb (Burn Gorman) and Newton Geiszler (Charlie Day), who’ve all gone their separate ways into the various plot strands. If you remember these people, and I kind of do, then fine. If you don’t then you have to keep up a bit. Some things are recapped but other aspects, such as the piloting of the Jaegers, are just thrown in and maybe needed more explanation for first-timers.

Kikuchi isn’t given that much to do, while Day and Gorman resume their snappy wisecracker/cartoon boffin double act from before. The pair roam around like ex-Ghostbusters looking for a spook and spark well off one another. Meanwhile Jake and Nate have to train Amara and a team of international newbies how to “move like Jaeger” (sorry) and take on a resurgent batch of Kaijus, who are back for some reason.

The film doesn’t gel much and floats around in chunks before everything comes together for a final battle. In my view, DeKnight improves on his predecessor by setting the Jaeger/Kaiju faceoffs in broad daylight. There the shiny robots and weird creatures can be done justice, whereas in Pacific Rim everything was murky and indistinct.

Another plus is the light atmosphere, which for me was preferable to the first movie with its daft concept taken a little too seriously. Boyega is clearly having fun and is his usual cocky yet likeable self. However, Uprising could have done with ditching a couple of characters just to give things breathing space. If you want more, the home release is happy to oblige, with deleted scenes and a few featurettes.

Despite the last half hour or so being incoherent I enjoyed the film and was happy to leave my brain at the door as the carnage commenced. I’m not sure it’s done enough to warrant a third instalment, something that’s suggested at the end as these things often do. But there’s enough electricity and indeed eccentricity to make Pacific Rim a more watchable mega-franchise than most.

 

This review first appeared on THN

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“None of us knew quite how crazy the tides were.” Simon Rumley Interview, ‘Crowhurst’ (THN)

Out to own on DVD/Blu-ray is Crowhurst, the true life story of British sailor Donald Crowhurst. His decision to take part in a round-the-world yacht race in 1968 had catastrophic consequences, as Donald found himself quite literally out of his depth. His boat was found but its occupant was never seen again.

Justin Salinger plays the title role in this unusual and powerful drama, which found itself competing against another Crowhurst picture, The Mercy with Colin Firth.

Simon Rumley is the acclaimed and innovative director who battled strong currents to tell Crowhurst’s tale in his own unique way. Producing the film was Nicolas Roeg (Don’t Look NowPerformance), a trailblazer in his own right who had attempted his own version years before.

We caught up with Simon to talk about depicting this sea-bound mystery…

THN: What brought you to the project?

Simon Rumley: I was offered the project. At that point, I hadn’t heard of Donald Crowhurst, but I did some research and read the script and it was one of those things where you think “Is this really true?” It really was one of those stranger than fiction moments. And the story I felt had a lot of themes I’d dealt with in the past.

As much as anything I liked the idea of the guy being British and having what I suppose you would call arrogance in one respect and confidence in another. I thought there was a way of investigating national characteristics and our national traits.

And also the subject of isolation and loneliness. He was essentially a good guy but he makes all these terrible mistakes which have an impact on him and his family. I thought it would make a fascinating film investigating someone’s psyche.

Water is famously difficult to shoot on. How did you find working with it?

Yeah! Pretty much what everyone said it was going to be, to be honest. Initially, we were going to do 2 days at sea, and I said: “Look we should at least try 3.” Then that somehow went up to 4. We shot for 4 days and at the end, we didn’t have an opening scene or a closing scene. So we had to do 2 more days and then the motorboat we had to have for insurance purposes broke down on the final day.

We were also shooting in the Bristol Channel… none of us knew quite how crazy the tides were. It turned out it has the second strongest tides of anywhere in the world. We could only sail at certain times or we’d be f***ed. We would set up a shot, get ready to shoot it and then the captain would be like “We’ve got to turn around or we’ll crash!” And we’d just spent the last half hour setting everything up.

The other thing with the Bristol Channel is there’s land on either side, so the first morning was pretty much useless. We tried to film it so there was no land in the background but 99% of the time there was land. It proved quite challenging! While it’s not true to say the script went out the window, we tried to get as much of it as we could, but some scenes were lost.

Interestingly that gave the film an intensity because we had lots of cutaways and mini-sequences of Donald looking into the distance. We shot as much footage as we could, so even if we didn’t have the script we had enough to replace what we missed with something else. It was an enjoyable experience oddly. As a director, it was the time I had to think most on my feet really.

Nicolas Roeg is the executive producer, and he wanted to film the story himself years ago. How much of a creative influence did he have, or did he let you go your own way with it?

Mike (Michael Riley, producer) already knew him. He’s one of my favourite directors, if not my favourite, and we thought he should come aboard. We went out to a pub a couple of times, he read the script. We had some fairly lengthy discussions, which would kind of go in and out of the script and sometimes he would bring up one of his own films.

Having him certainly changed the film to a degree, because the film was written linearly, and the combination of having him on board and what I was talking about before, shooting more than what we had in the script… when we were in the edit Mike said “I want to make this as Roegian as possible. Try and do what Nic would do.” Certainly having someone encouraging me to go in non-linear fashion, to go a bit crazy and all that stuff, definitely shaped the film and obviously having Nic in the background was the main reason behind that. All of that encouraged me in the edit.

I hadn’t seen any of his films for a while and was thinking “What if he asks me about them?”. Before we met I watched some of his films and then the one he did mention was one I hadn’t rewatched, Castaway (1986). As he pointed out, it’s different of course, but had the same theme of self-imposed exile and was about a man losing his marbles.

There’s an unexpected amount of singing in the film! Where did that come from?

I’m a big music fan, films aside, and I suppose going back to what I was saying about it being a film with a quintessentially British character to it… I wanted to have a shorthand about a sense of British pride and duty. For Queen and Country. I thought it was a way of getting that emotion across.

We knew that The Mercy was in production at the same time. There was no way we were going to match the glossiness of their film, so we went the opposite way. I thought it would give it a unique character and make it different.

There was also something in Magnolia, where three-quarters of the way through all the characters sing. I guess that’s something that stayed with me. The songs are a manifestation of Donald’s isolation and loneliness.

This interview first appeared on THN.

‘Their Finest’ Home Entertainment Review (THN)

Director: Lone Scherfig

Starring: Gemma Arterton, Sam Claflin, Bill Nighy, Jack Huston, Helen McCrory, Eddie Marsan, Jake Lacy, Rachael Stirling, Richard E. Grant

Special Features: Director’s commentary, Flickers of Hope: Making of Their Finest

Going by the publicity Their Finest (based on the novel Their Finest Hour And A Half by Lissa Evans) looks like another bright and breezy prestige project for British film. However, while it concerns the apparently light-hearted subject matter of making “morally clean, romantically satisfying” propaganda for the war effort, it also manages to evoke the fear and cruelty present in this dark period. The way it pulls off such a subtle balancing act is both surprising and very moving.

Gemma Arteron plays Catrin Cole, a Welsh writer summoned to the Ministry of Information’s Film Division in order to inject some oomph into their short film scripts. She then meets twin sisters who were supposedly involved in the rescue operation at Dunkirk. When it transpires their tale isn’t quite as heroic as expected, she decides to tailor events in a more dramatic fashion. From there she finds herself co-writing a screenplay for a morale-boosting movie alongside mercurial Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin). Meanwhile Arterton struggles with a half-baked marriage to artist Ellis (Jack Huston) and fading actor Ambrose Hilliard (Bill Nighy) sees the film – The Nancy Starling, named after a boat – as an opportunity to resurrect his career.

There are interesting parallels between Catrin and Ambrose. Being female and old respectively, they find new opportunities whilst young men are away fighting the Nazis. And as their words become reality under the studio lights, Catrin and Tom are drawn closer together in an understated romance. Arterton is terrific and her and Claflin spark off each other nicely. Nighy seems to be having a whale of a time in a part which suits him to a tee, playing to his arch qualities whilst allowing him to subvert his genial image.

The film is populated by diverse and strong characters, from Rachael Stirling’s tough lesbian Ministry exec to Jeremy Irons’ toothsome civil servant. Despite the star power on display, the piece is ensemble-driven, presenting the cast and crew as a microcosm of society. In one sense they exist in a bubble. In another bombs fall several feet away and walls shake as Claflin and Arterton hammer away at their scripts. The movie is also a pleasure to watch and contains numerous warm, funny moments.

The closing scenes, while bleak, are also tinged with hope. Their Finest laughs at the absurdity of the propaganda machine, yet reminds us it was as much a part of the war as the rifles and bullets. Scherfig has brought audiences that rare thing – a story that tugs at the heart with intelligence and which possesses a genuine understanding of what was going on with people at the time.

 

This review first appeared on THN.

‘Neruda’ Review (The Hollywood News)

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With non-centrist politics and concepts of left and right starting to gain a foothold in the mainstream media after a long period away, it’s timely that Pablo Larraín (director of Jackie) has made Neruda. Based on true events, it gives an account of Chilean Communist politician Pablo Neruda (Luis Gnecco), whose opposition to the American-influenced regime of President Videla led to him going on the run in 1948, with ambitious fascist detective Oscar Peluchonneau (Gael García Bernal) in hot pursuit.

Neruda isn’t just a man of the people but a revered poet, so has a hold on the oppressed populace that the authorities can’t match. Despite not being able to leave the country, he manages to hide in plain sight thanks to his extensive support network – a source of frustration to Peluchonneau, who feels the weight of his illustrious father behind him and is determined to make his mark on history by apprehending the rogue senator. At the core of the drama is the interaction between these two men, who barely meet, yet constantly speculate about one another via narration. It should be said this is one of the few cases I’ve experienced where a film is best enjoyed if you speak the language. The subtitles and similarity in the actors’ voices made it confusing for me to work out who was speaking at times, though this is a minor quibble.

The creation of art plays an increasingly significant role in the action, the chase being depicted as an epic narrative with Neruda wielding the pen. Though Peluchonneau also has his artistic side, grappling with the conventional crime novels Neruda leaves him by way of a tease at each location where he inevitably eludes his pursuer. With his short stature and sniffer dog features, Bernal is a dynamic but doomed figure. He starts off thinking he’s got his prey sussed out – “Communists don’t like to work, they’d rather burn churches,” he remarks at one point. However after a while he gradually begins to understand his role in Neruda’s story, leading towards an unexpected destiny. This idea is given free rein in an abstract last third, which will either be emotionally satisfying or a baffling curveball depending on your view.

Gnecco projects an understated charisma as Neruda, in a portrayal that appears to be very much warts and all. He is a great artist but is also shown as a frequenter of prostitutes and a stubborn friend and husband, giving his protectors the slip to go wandering and turning his anger on those who love him. He is caught in that strange place between man and legend, at one with the people whilst associating with the elite. A particularly interesting scene is when he’s challenged in a restaurant by a member of the public who asks in the event of his taking charge: “Will we be equal to him or equal to me?” These aspects of his character are ably brought to life by the actor. You can’t help but be reminded of Jeremy Corbyn, who’s fond of quoting Shelley to inspire voters and perceived as part of an upper echelon that apparently contradicts his populist stance.

Larraín ensures the world of freedom and imagination is never far away, from his use of deliberately retro back projection during car scenes to the jump cuts which create a jarring yet dreamlike effect during some of the exchanges.

This is a film of delicate twists and turns and it doesn’t arrive at the brutal conclusion you might think it would. At the same time it gives you a fascinating portrait of someone who believed that one day love and hope would ultimately triumph over fear.

 

This review first appeared on THN.

“An instant classic.” Arrival DVD Review (The Hollywood News)

Those who have given up on ever seeing an original film again may take comfort from the presence of director Denis Villeneuve, who has carved himself a niche somewhere between well-trodden territory and new ground. His next release is Blade Runner 2049, which sees him in the tricky position of following Ridley Scott‘s futuristic masterpiece. What presumably got him there was Arrival, an assured and powerful sci-fi epic that amazingly is Villeneuve’s first attempt at the genre.

Amy Adams plays grieving and disconnected linguist Louise Banks. Now if you think linguistics isn’t going to make the most compelling subject for a story think again. Her recruitment into a multi-government effort to communicate with the occupants of several large, monolithic objects which have appeared over skies across the globe forms the basis of an instant classic. As she and physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) gradually begin to piece together the purpose of the octopus-like “Heptapods” visit, they feel the weight of world expectation behind them. Meanwhile US Army bigwig Weber (Forest Whitaker) is being leaned on by his superiors to obtain fast results.

This push and pull illustrates one of the film’s big questions – are the superpowers capable of understanding the mysteries of the universe when they can’t trust each other for five minutes? Crucial to the struggle at the heart of Eric Heisserer‘s screenplay (based on a short story by Ted Chiang) is Adams’ lead performance, another effortless example of her star quality. She was the filmmaker’s only choice for the role and you can see why. Renner, Whitaker and the under-used Michael Stuhlbarg are decent, but merely incidental in a narrative that Adams dominates from start to finish. Finally we have a major genre movie that does everything AND has a female perspective.

For an alien encounter story, the feel is surprisingly intimate. Much of the action takes place either within the network of tents where the military have set up shop, or the interior of the spacecraft, a design triumph that acknowledges the likes of HR Giger but which also has a stunning simplicity. This is a sparse and elegant production of looming shapes rather than slithering monsters. It’s intelligent and complex but also accessible and moving. The increasing public disquiet is only shown via screens, ramped up by a deluge of media speculation, reinforcing the idea of a bubble.

Aside from an actress in charge of proceedings, there’s nothing that new on display: like Interstellar, Arrival pays tribute to 2001, both in terms of the central character’s personal odyssey and the striking black shapes heralding the appearance of an alien civilization. However, while Christopher Nolan‘s film boggled your eyes and shattered your eardrums with its central concept, Villeneuve delivers something more nuanced and distinctive. His take brings us familar subject matter in a way that hasn’t quite been seen before, derivative yet challenging. The reveal of the Heptapods’ ship fuses extraterrestrial engineering with nature in an astonishing helicopter shot which marks him out as a visual stylist to match Blade Runner‘s Ridley Scott. On the audio side, composer Johann Jóhannsson‘s score is a stirring mix of deep, Inception-style tones and intricate, exotic composition.

Unusually for a DVD, the extras are quite meaty, befitting the weighty ideas behind the tale. The main featurette – Xenolinguistics: Understanding Arrival – is an absorbing overview. At one point Villeneuve tells the interviewer he felt he couldn’t make a sci-fi movie in Canada… the home of David Cronenberg! How times have changed. But then Arrival rewrites the laws of time altogether. Like the best entries of its type it is a strong comment on humanity and how being confronted with something truly other uncovers the best and worst in us all.

 

This review appeared on THN.

‘Jason Bourne’ DVD Review (The Hollywood News)

jb-1The last entry in the Bourne franchise was 2012’s The Bourne Legacy starring Jeremy Renner. While that became a one-off, it’s worth examining the character’s true legacy before diving in with this review. The original trilogy helped cement Matt Damon‘s position in Hollywood. Paul Greengrass‘s involvement from part two onwards gave the series an additional layer of quality. More than anything, the films had an impact on movie action in general. When Daniel Craig took the role of 007, it was no coincidence his adventures were “back to basics” in nature, a single shot saying more than a million bullets out of a machine gun ever could.

Identity through to Supremacy appeared to offer a complete journey for Jason Bourne. Despite this, Damon and Greengrass have got the band back together for their riskiest mission yet: an extra helping that tries not to tarnish what has gone before. Have they succeeded? Well, on the whole yes, though there are a few bumps on the road as they go.

Greengrass and co-writer Christopher Rouse have developed their hero’s personal odyssey further by revealing hitherto-unknown information about Bourne’s involvement in Operation Blackbriar (the covert assassination league he blew wide open during his last outing). When former ally-turned-Snowden-esque-hacker Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) contacts a broken-down Bourne about this explosive development, the scene is set for him to return from his exile as a bare knuckle boxer and set the world to rights one more time. It’s a logical but well-worn approach, though in fairness the strength of the franchise was the way it put a new spin on hackneyed spy thriller clichés rather than innovate itself.

Drawn back into the fray like a chiselled moth to a flame, Damon’s Bourne runs up against an impressive trio of villains. Tommy Lee Jones‘s weathered CIA chief Robert Dewey wants the rogue operative permanently erased. Alicia Vikander‘s ambitious and fetching Heather Lee represents the changing face of intelligence, believing Bourne can be brought back into the fold. Meanwhile Vincent Cassel’s “The Asset” becomes the latest relentless Euro-henchman to be put on Damon’s tail, a man of steel with old scores to settle.

Inevitably it’s more of the same controlled chaos, with Greengrass’s handheld camera roving amongst the fist fights and destruction at breakneck speed. The unflinching pace doesn’t make up for repetition and an overall lack of meat. However some intriguing snippets of Bourne’s character are in evidence – most notably the way he distances himself from Nicky’s counter culture activities. He may be fighting the system, but at heart he’s an establishment man, a strand which gives credence to Vikander’s belief he secretly wants to return to duty.

She is the film’s strongest element, Lee possessing equal capacity to wear either the white hat or the black. Damon can do this sort of thing in his sleep and the same can be said of Jones, who is a welcome presence. Cassel’s ageing hard man is also highly watchable. Like a lot of these big action projects, it could have done with being a bit shorter and not all the fresh ingredients work. Riz Ahmed‘s social media mogul doesn’t add much to the narrative, aside from making the basic point that Dewey’s world is changing.

Ironically the climactic chase has all the extravagance of Pierce Brosnan’s Bond, a sign that maybe the series is running low on inspiration. The team have had a good run, and made a sizeable mark on the genre – as Moby’s excellent Extreme Ways kicks in over the end credits, it might be time to admit those ways are now the old ways.

 

This review first appeared on THN.

The Commitments At 25: Robert Arkins, Ken McCluskey & Dave Finnegan Interview (The Hollywood News)

tc1Extraordinary as it may seem The Commitments has reached its quarter century. This unlikely smash hit followed the fortunes of a group of young Dubliners scaling the cliff-face of soul to find fame and fortune. Their journey captured the imaginations of audiences around the world and made stars of its then-unknown cast.

The movie is a bittersweet story but one which had a happy ending for the actors, many of whom were given a unique opportunity by veteran director Alan Parker, bringing writer Roddy Doyle‘s novel to the screen.

We had the pleasure of catching up with Robert Arkins (band manager Jimmy Rabbitte), Dave Finnegan (mad drummer Mickah Wallace, who joined the interview part-way though) and Kenneth McCluskey (bass guitarist and butcher) for a trip down their respective musical memory lanes.

Robert Arkins

Robert Arkins

THN: Does it feel like twenty-five years?

Robert Arkins: We can’t forget! We’re reminded of it every day! (Laughs) You can’t avoid it, you can’t hide…well you can try! It would maybe seem like more to some people…

Ken McCluskey: It’s amazing isn’t it? Twenty-five years ago we were all young chaps and here we are now. The film is legendary, we’ve travelled the world. I don’t think there’s anywhere the movie hasn’t been.

THN: I presume you’re all good friends so it feels natural for you to get together…?

RA: Yeah exactly. It becomes a part of life, we have a bit of fun, but the film as films go is fantastic. It’s spread the word of the music to a lot of people and made a lot of people very happy so that’s the main thing.

Kenneth McCluskey, Félim Gormley & Dave Finnegan

Kenneth McCluskey, Félim Gormley & Dave Finnegan

THN: A big part of why the film succeeds is the way it combines a cast who were unknown back then with a seasoned director, Alan Parker. What was it like working with him?

RA: For me, the fact that he chose us individually and made up his mind gave me confidence to go in and do something I’d never done before. He was looking for a bit of this and a bit of that. A bit of light and shade. That was pretty much what he’d say most of the time for me! I don’t know, how do you feel about it Dave?

Dave Finnegan (having just entered the room): Feel about what?

THN: Is that Dave? Did you hear the question?

DF: No. (Laughs)

THN: I was just asking about the filming and how it all went…

DF: The movie was like an open thing. Usually with films actors have agents and it goes through that process. They advertised these auditions in shops and pubs so everybody went for it. I was spotted playing in a band, I didn’t even see the posters to be honest with you. The casting directors came and looked at us and said: ‘This section can go for this character, and that section can go for that character…’ Eventually when I met Alan Parker and auditioned he tried to get that aggressive character out of me, and he succeeded. He knew just by looking at people what he could get out of us, you know? And unfortunately I got the wild guy! (Laughs)

THN: Do you have an abiding memory of the shoot?

RA: There’s a scene where Joey “The Lips” (Johnny Murphy) is driving down the lane on his motorbike. I’m down the lane standing behind the camera with Alan and the crew and Johnny, who’s not very good at driving the motorbike, it was probably his first time… basically he comes down the lane, goes to try and park, smashes into the wall and falls over. We all cracked up and it ended up staying in the film!

tcTHN: A key element was creating a convincing band. How did that come together in terms of rehearsals and shooting the gigs?

RA: Well the film was shot in sequence. But we did two weeks of rehearsal where we ran through all the gig scenes and all the scenes where everybody was together as a unit, the backstage thing so we could get the synchronization working.

KM: Yeah, we got our characters to develop. Alan Parker actually started changing the book. Some of my lines were switched with Outspan (Glen Hansard) so he could develop it properly. When we were filming he’d say ‘I want you to say this instead of this.’ That’s the way he worked. He knew what he was doing, he had it all in his head. He was a genius, having all these characters in his head and knowing what he was going to do.

THN: Was Roddy Doyle involved much in the filming?

RA: No, I met him on set and had a chat. He just wanted to come down, he was curious. You know how it is, writers hand over the baby, depending on the deal. They don’t really have much of a look in after that.

KM: He wanted to come down to see what had happened to the characters. He seemed happy.

Ken McCluskey

Ken McCluskey

THN: The Commitments provides a nice antidote to the Simon Cowell method of nurturing talent. Do you think it’s a good film for aspiring musicians to watch?

RA: (Laughs) There is a good lesson to be learned for young people. If you’re going to get into it, get in for the joy and pleasure of playing the music and the craft. Then at the end of it the band breaks up, so the reality of it is not everyone becomes famous. It’s about luck. There’s a lot of people out there who are very untalented and become very successful. And then there’s the opposite, people who are extremely talented who don’t get lucky at all.

DF: That’s very true. The Commitments wasn’t a band as such, we all came from different kinds of bands. We were jamming in our bedrooms and playing in pubs. Nowadays it’s different.

This review appeared on THN.