The Limehouse Golem (2017): Gore and greasepaint in Old London Town

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Director: Juan Carlos Medina 

Writers:  Peter Ackroyd (novel), Jane Goldman (screenplay)

Stars: Olivia CookeEddie Marsan, Douglas Booth , Maria ValverdeDaniel MaysBill Nighy,

Set in the gloomy East End of London, The Limehouse Golem is a gory Victorian whodunnit with a gloriously twisted difference.

Directed by Juan Carlos Medina (director of 2012 film Painless) the film is based on a 1994 novel by Peter Ackroyd, “Dan Leno and The Limehouse Golem”, a metafictional pastiche on the Victorian ‘shocker’ which interwove theatrical drama around a spate of murders, featuring real-life historical figures from Leno himself (a lauded music hall star) to the very-much-original Marxist, Karl Marx. The unusual source material has been adapted for the screen by Kick-Ass, Kingsman: The Secret Service and Stardust scribe Jane Goldman, who has added additional layers to the tale shifting the action away from the famous men, and back to a female perspective.

The films starts with curtains drawing back on the stage with the words “Let us begin my friends, at the end” uttered by Dan Leno, (Douglas Booth, escaping his usual type-casting as pretty posh-boy for a wonderful outing as a cockney music hall blend of Freddie Mercury and Russell Brand) and so the tale begins to be told, shifting between flashbacks aided by voiceovers to the escalating events relating to the central storyline.

Bill Nighy plays John Kildare, a detective with a stalled career (“he’s not the marrying kind”, said with a knowing head nod) who is brought in by Scotland Yard to carry the can on the stalled investigation of a series of extremely brutal murders in the largely Jewish area of Limehouse. The murder victims have ranged from prostitutes to elderly men and children, with seemingly no pattern to the killings, other than the gruesome tableaus the murderer leaves behind.

Kildare is paired with enthusiastic native Eastender, Constable George Flood (played with some aplomb by the ever fabulous Daniel Mays), who has recently been investigating the death of a playwright, John Cree. Cree’s wife Lizzie (Olivia Cooke), herself an ex-music hall star, stands accused of her husband’s murder and will face the death penalty if found guilty. The two cases begin to interweave as Kildare finds himself fascinated by Lizzie Cree’s rags to riches tale, learning how she was abused as a child, the two outsiders become drawn together, with the detective going to desperate lengths to save her.

The Limehouse Golem is a wonderfully atmospheric, Victorian murder mystery, with a twist in the tale. Elements of Hammer horror meet scenes which wouldn’t have felt out of place in Se7en, with the odd bawdy song and dance routine thrown in for good measure. The production design is beautifully realised, with the grim and grimy back alleys of Limehouse contrasting with the grease-paint of the music hall and the splendour of Lizzie’s married life.

Olivia Cooke as Lizzie is terrific, playing on her wide-eyed innocence with some joy, drawing us in as she recounts her tale to Kildare from her prison cell.

“You don’t need saving,” Kildare tells Lizzie. “Not by me. Not by any man.” While it is the famous men whose names initially draw the detective’s eye, this is a film about women claiming centre-stage.

8 out of 10

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Baby Driver (2017) review: Car Car Land*

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Director: Edgar Wright Writer: Edgar Wright Stars: Ansel Elgort, Jon Bernthal, Jon Hamm 

*I thought of this pun during the film, then was disappointed to discover Edgar Wright had already used it for an event he curated at the BFI. GREAT MINDS is what I say. It’s not stealing. Really.

Synopsis: “A talented, young getaway driver (Ansel Elgort) relies on the beat of his personal soundtrack to be the best in the game. But after being coerced into working for a crime boss (Kevin Spacey), he must face the music when a doomed heist threatens his life, love and freedom.”

Sometimes you go into a cinema showing with your expectations so high you inwardly know you’re sabotaging what you’re about to watch. I LOVE Edgar Wright. Everything he has done to date has been funny, clever, witty and all with an unmistakably Edgar Wright feel.  You can spot his hyper-pop, music-loving, rapid-fire style a mile off, and that’s not an easy feat. He’s also read my blog, so that clearly means he’s a man of taste.

Here comes the but… I found myself mildly disappointed in Baby Driver. The reviews from friends who’d seen previews were glowing. In a they’d-bought-the-soundtrack-and-were-champing-at-the-bit-to-see-it-a-second-time kind of glowing. In a summer that has so far has given us stinkers like Pirates 5 (I can’t even be bothered to check if that’s the correct  number, that’s how much I care about the Pirates of the Caribbean films). Transformers: The Last Knight and The Mummy reboot, it seemed no Rotten Tomatoes score would edge over 30%. Baby Driver appeared like ray of light beaming down on the cinematic universe sewage. An original film with a great soundtrack, great cast and director with a lot to prove.

The opening 20 minutes are stunning. From the tinnitus that accompanies the studio logo and first few frames, to the carefully choreographed ballet of the opening heist, to Baby grabbing a coffee and singing along while the lyrics play out in graffiti and signs on the street behind him, this is an all-time great start to a film. Every step, every shot, every extra conveys something. It’s clever, it’s cool and it filled me with joy. I was fully prepared for Baby Driver to instantly go into my top ten films of all time. However it just didn’t quite keep up that glorious early pace.

We start the film firmly in Baby’s world, witnessing events from his point of view, from the glorious heist set to Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s ‘Bellbottoms’ (if you don’t own it already you should check out Orange) to the charming scene with his foster father Joseph demanding his peanut butter be spread right to the edges.

By the time Baby has witnessed the first on-screen death (there have been so many previous heists the assumption is this isn’t the first one there has been) the pace starts to slow. We start seeing how the world sees Baby and the initial joy starts to fade. No longer do we have Baby singing and dancing, instead we’re given his passive facade behind shades, looking increasingly moody and uncomfortable with the situation he has become trapped in, leading to a dramatic and tense conclusion.

The music and the visuals are so much fun, and the film really could have been dubbed ‘Car Car Land’ (see above for credit to Edgar Wright) for it’s marriage of car chases and classic musical elements, but it was the narrative which let it down a little for me.

The romance between Baby and Debora (Lily James) is a wonderful hybrid of John Hughes and Quentin Tarantino. Baby’s relationship with Joseph (CJ Jones) is sweet and touching. There is something about his interactions with the criminal gang of Doc (Kevin Spacey on fine Spacey-esque form) which just didn’t quite ring true.

The female characters were also somewhat underwritten. Debora is very charming, but she very much falls into the good old manic pixie dream girl trope, and Darling (Eliza Gonzalez) could be summed up as ‘hot drug-addict, lapdancer and wife’. Some of the decisions the characters make also seem to be somewhat pulled out of a hat. But then I guess heist films aren’t subtle, so maybe I am asking too much for the characters to be given nuance or subtlety when so much of the film is so very loud, and extended backstories would undoubtedly have slowed the pace.

Of special note is the fact that Jon Hamm somehow remains attractive in the role of Buddy, Darling’s husband, despite the dodgy haircut and neck tattoos. He also seems to be having the time of his life playing the role, which makes it a joy to watch.

Baby Driver is a fun, fast-paced, popcorn flick that shows Edgar Wright is a director at the height of his game (and clearly has a kick-ass music collection), the narrative just tends to rely a little too heavily on familiar tropes when it could have been as original and exiting as the audio and visuals.

8 out of 10

 

 

My Cousin Rachel (2017) review: Weisz impresses in Du Maurier’s classic ‘Did she or didn’t she?’

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Director:  Roger Michell Writers:  Daphne Du Maurier (novel), Roger Michell (adaptation) Starring: Rachel WeiszSam ClaflinHolliday Grainger

Synopsis: “The story of a young Englishman, Philip (Claflin) who plots revenge against his mysterious, beautiful cousin, Rachel (Weisz), believing that she murdered his guardian. But his feelings become complicated as he finds himself falling under the beguiling spell of her charms.”

The director of Notting Hill brings us this fresh take on Daphne Du Maurier’s dark thriller My Cousin Rachel. The book had previously been brought to life in 1952, just a year after the publication of the source novel, in a lavish affair starring Richard Burton and Olivia De Havilland which, while not quite reaching the heights of fame of other Du Maurier adaptations Rebecca and Don’t Look Now, was considered a cinematic success and was nominated for 4 academy awards. To attempt another adaptation could be seen as a bold move, but Michell and team do bring a breath of fresh air to the story.

The story itself is not so much of a whodunnit, but rather a ‘did she do it?’ as we take Philip’s perspective in attempting to unravel the true story of his guardian’s death.

During the early scenes of the film we only hear about the mysterious Rachel through letters and gossip, she comes into Philip’s life not with the bang and confrontation he had been expecting, but with an understated entrance that means our first view of her is silhouetted against the moon, her back to a window. Rather than the monster we are led to expect, Rachel is quiet, funny and warm, with the household’s army of dogs following her about loyally from the moment she arrives.

As Philip’s infatuation grows, Rachel remains a mystery. She seems genuine in her affections for her departed husband Ambrose (the ‘great family resemblance’ is achieved by Claflin playing both roles) but why does she keep plying Philip with that odd herbal tea…?

Weisz plays Rachel with great skill, with Michell seeming to lead our expectations one way as a single glance leads us another. Rachel seems decidedly modern and at odds with the stifling societal expectations exhibited by all those around her. Indeed the fact that she is a woman ‘of appetites’ is whispered knowingly by several of the supporting cast. However Weisz ensures Rachel flits between being charming and likeable then cold and standoffish, just enough to keep us asking ourselves if she could really be capable of murder.

Claflin plays Philip every inch as the ‘wet-nosed- puppy’ Rachel describes him, which does become grating at times. Seeing the world through Philip’s eyes is a somewhat disarming and claustrophobic experience, with the view sometimes becoming as blank and shallow as he seems.

Philip’s lack of experience with women is referenced several times, and indeed the view of Rachel we are given is one buried beneath his own misunderstanding and confusion, alongside a burning attraction and fascination. The whole film could be seen as a giant metaphor for modern cinema, as we struggle along with an old-fashioned male gaze trying to depict highly complex modern womanhood.

While the longing glances and candlelit encounters increase, the orchestral score swells, keeping true to the genre. Other melodramatic tropes abound, from the waves crashing on the shore to the string of pearls breaking and scattering down the stairs.

The film may seem a little slow for some tastes, but the many threads of the story are drawn together in a deft web for the final act. Audiences have been discussing their view of Rachel for over 50 years, and this won’t change that, but ultimately My Cousin Rachel is a well-made period melodrama with an interesting modern twist.

7 out of 10

 

 

 

I, Daniel Blake (2016) review: a passionate and gut-wrenching look at modern Britain

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Director: Ken Loach   Writer: Paul Laverty (screenplay)

Stars: Dave Johns, Hayley Squires, Sharon Percy

Ken Loach has long been a fearsome and tireless campaigner for political change, giving a voice to those in society who might otherwise be overlooked, through films which merge drama and reality. When ‘I, Daniel Blake’ won the BAFTA for Outstanding British Film Loach took the opportunity to thank the Academy for endorsing the truth of the film “which hundreds and thousands of people in this country know, that the most vulnerable and poorest are treated by the Government with a callous brutality that is disgraceful”.  ‘I, Daniel Blake’ is the best kind of cinema, one that entertains but that could also enact social change.

Written by long-time collaborator Paul Laverty (The Wind that Shake the Barley, My Name is Joe), I, Daniel Blake focuses on the life of 59 year old Daniel. Daniel is a carpenter, living in Newcastle, who has recently had a series of heart problems that have meant his doctors have ordered him to stay off work. Having worked in manual labour his whole life Daniel find the transition difficult and finds himself having to rely on help from the State to see him through. The film follows Daniel in his battle to negotiate the welfare system and keep himself going.

Along his journey he meets up with Katie (Hayley Squires) a single mother to 2 children, who has had to move out of London when the benefit caps meant they could no longer afford to live anywhere other than a one bedroom homeless hostel. Wanting some space and freedom for her family (with her son displaying some worrying behaviours) she has taken the plunge and moved away from everything she knows to give her son and daughter a better quality of life. Now desperate to be able to go back to college Katie tries to keep up appearances for her children as her life slowly unravels.

Both Daniel and Katie find themselves at the mercy of a benefits system which seeks to meet arbitrary sanctions targets, driving them both beyond poverty and desperation and into very dark territory.  They form a kind of surrogate family and help support each other in their darkest times.

The film looks at the benefit system through the lens of a country which has been brain-washed by a media intent on propagating the idea of the deserving and undeserving poor and is unflinching in it’s portrayal of a system set up solely around numbers and absent of humanity.

As one of those hundreds and thousands of people who has seen the cruelty of the benefits system I can also testify to Loach’s truth here. I have seen first-hand the arbitrary decisions that are made in order to fulfil an imaginary quota of ‘undeserving’ poor which in turn leads to callous abandonment of those in our society who are the most vulnerable. The tale told here is not one that has been exaggerated for dramatic purpose; this is happening every day.

However, if politics isn’t your thing, ‘I, Daniel Blake’ is a masterful piece of film-making, as you would expect from someone of Loach’s standing. Despite the subject matter it never lectures, allowing the viewer to be caught up in the story at hand. It manages to balance warmth, humour and hope against the bleakest of backdrops and makes you truly care about Daniel, Katie and all those who have found themselves either trapped in or cast out by the system.

A rare mix of the passionate and human, the gut-wrenching and the comedic, ‘I, Daniel Blake’ is an absolute must see and one of the most important films of recent years.

9.5 out of 10

Free Fire (2017) review: A distinctly British twist on an American classic

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Director: Ben Wheatley  Writers: Amy Jump, Ben Wheatley Starring: Sam Riley, Michael Smiley, Brie Larson, Armie Hammer, Cillian Murphy, Sharlto Copley, Jack Reynor, Babou Ceesay and more…

“An arms deal goes spectacularly and explosively wrong. Justine (Brie Larson) has brokered a meeting in a deserted warehouse between two Irishmen and a gang led by Vernon (Sharlto Copley) and Ord (Armie Hammer), who are selling them a stash of guns. But when shots are fired during the handover, complete pandemonium ensues, with everyone at the scene suddenly thrust into a heart-stopping game of survival.”

If you were pitching to a studio executive you could describe Free Fire as being an action-packed homage to the 1970’s gritty crime B-movies so beloved of Quentin Tarantino.  Sold in another way you could describe it as a talky, theatrical set piece all housed in one warehouse in Boston. In another way you could well describe Free Fire as 90 minutes of 10 (Ok, shhh…12) great actors crawling around the floor, firing guns indiscriminately at one another. All are true, but all under-sell it as a film, as it’s certainly more than the sum of it’s parts.

Wheatley and Jump’s witty script takes in a range of styles from a pastiche of the aforementioned gritty 70’s crime flick like the two choices presented by Vernon to Ord:

Vernon: We’ve got two choices. One, you distract them and I leave.
Ord: What?
Vernon: Two, you kill all of these motherfuckers and I leave.

To those which could have been plucked from a distinctly pre-PC 70’s sitcom:

Vernon:You’re a bird, they’re not going to shoot a bird!”

The costumes, hair and make-up are all fantastic, capturing the glamour of the late 70’s while perfectly encapsulating each character.

Somehow, in spite of the witty dialogue (which more than passes the Kermodian 6 laugh test), great costumes and a plot familiar to more glossy films, Free Fire feels wonderfully ordinary. I mean that in the best possible way. The film seems to outline exactly what would happen if 10 (*cough* 12) real people with guns, grudges and quick tempers found themselves in a shoot-out. Shots ring out randomly, people get shot in the leg, bullets graze shoulder-pads. This is not neat, Hollywood violence (a nice aside about the ‘real’ Hollywood being in Ireland is made early on). This is bullets accidentally ricocheting off the walls and hitting your mate in the butt. This is you cowering behind a concrete pillar hoping everyone will just walk away.

Even the direction and choreography of the violence lends itself to this feeling of chaos and normality. None of the usual action director tricks are pulled out of the bag, with bullets flying in all directions, the camera crossing the line wildly, dragging the audience in to the character’s point of view.

Free Fire somehow manages to brilliantly balance drama, comedy and tension, with huge laughs almost immediately interrupted by a wince and your hands involuntarily flying in front of your face.

Sharlto Copley’s comic turn as the ostentatiously-coiffed and 70’s Savile Row-suited Vernon is a joy to behold, as is Armie Hammer as the charismatic and handsome stoner who just doesn’t really seem to be bothered about the whole affair. Cillian Murphy and Brie Larson’s more straight laced roles are also worthy of note as both give great performances which hold up against the big comedy guns.

Being Ben Wheatley there is of course somewhat of a twist in this cinematic tale…

Free Fire feels like a modern classic, somehow managing to breathe new life into what was a tired cinematic trope.

9 out of 10

 

 

 

Mustang (2015) review: A powerful, magical feminist masterpiece

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Mustang is a film which (as is the case with many foreign language flicks) has taken a while to make its way over to the UK. First released in France back in June 2015, after a successful showing at Cannes, ‘Mustang’ was actually only released in select UK theatres in May of this year.

In a small Turkish village, five orphaned teenage sisters play on the beach on their way home from school at the start of their long summer holiday. They splash around with some boys from the school, jumping on the boys’ shoulders so they can wrestle each other into the warm waters. By the time they have arrive home, their world has changed forever, as news has reached their strict grandmother (via a nosey neighbour), that they have been “putting their private parts against boys’ necks”. Soon the girls find themselves under virtual house arrest, having all items which could “corrupt” them removed from their lives and being groomed for life as wives and mothers, having their freedom ripped away from them. The three eldest sisters are taken to have a “virginity test”, finding themselves at the mercy of a middle-aged male doctor armed with a speculum.

Seen largely through the eyes of youngest sister Lala (brilliantly played by Gunes Sensoy), director Deniz Gamze Ergüven expertly weaves a tale that is equal parts endearingly mundane, truly horrifying and a little bit magical. Events that are seen through the eyes of a grown-up could have dominated the whole film, but are instead reduced to mere footnotes and shadows, as Lale’s understanding of them is limited. At the same time, moments where the girls play together achieve a kind of magic as you can feel Lale reveling in the simple joy they bring her. By subverting the way in which the events are viewed, Ergüven gives what could have been a well-worn tale, a truly fresh voice.

The girls, and the Turkish countryside, are filmed with the utmost reverence and love, portraying their beauty in spite of the bleak circumstances. The sisters retain their sense of humour, and provide a few laugh out loud moments in the midst of the most difficult situations. However, as the girls are married off, one by one, the horrors become more real for Lale, and the remaining girls’ freedom becomes more and more restricted to ensure they comply. While the men of the world they occupy eat separately, shoot guns in the air and lob fireworks onto football pitches, the girls’ sexuality is treated as the most dangerous and subversive thing in society.

The real joy of cinema is being transported to another place for the duration of a film – be it galaxies far, far away, a zombie-infested dystopia, or a very real, very current horror. Ergüven, and the terrific ensemble cast, throw a spotlight on a modern tragedy; that women the world over are still having to fight for their right to freedom from oppression. The magical realism of ‘Mustang’ helps the reality of life, which affects far too many women in our world, truly hit home. This is a powerful, magical, raw, feminist masterpiece.

9 out of 10

Tale of Tales (2015) review: a brutal carnival of the grotesque and magical

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Director: Matteo Garrone Writers: Giambattista Basile (book), Edoardo Albinati (screenplay) Stars: Salma Hayek, Vincent Cassel, Toby Jones

In ‘Tale of Tales’ Matteo Garrone takes the basis of three Italian folk tales – originally collected in the 15th century by Giambattista Basile (who also made the first known records of the tales of Rapunzel and Cinderella) – and weaves them into a sumptuous and magical portmanteau film.

In the first tale we see Salma Hayek as Queen of Longtrellis, with John C. Reilly as her heroic King, being told they will be able to have their long-yearned-for child if he can only defeat a sea monster, and she can then devour it’s heart having had it cooked by a virgin. Bizarre, I know. The second tale sees Vincent Cassell as the lothario King of Strongcliff, who is banging his way around the kingdom, exhausting himself and the ladies he leaves strewn in his wake. One day he hears the beautiful voice of a woman he has never heard before, and finds himself accidentally wooing two elderly sisters. Toby Jones leads the third tale, as he finds his Kingly affections swayed not by women, but an altogether very different kind of creature, leading him to make a decision which leaves his daughter Violet (Bebe Cave) in mortal peril.

‘Tale of Tales’ is a very grown-up fairy tale of sorts, with sex and violence galore, and some pretty adult themes to boot. Part ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’, part ‘The Princess Bride’, it comes as no surprise to learn that the cinematographer is Peter Suschitzky, who has a long history working with David Lynch on films such as ‘Naked Lunch’ and ‘eXistenZ’, and consequently is well-versed in capturing gruesome beasties and body horror to maximum effect.

The performances are all excellent, but they are often eclipsed by the incredible costumes, sets and make-up, which really make the film stand out from its more saccharine counterparts. The practical effects in particular are stunning, with several impressive and terrifying creatures being bought to life not through CGI but through good old silicon and ingenuity. The aged make-up on Hayley Carmichael and Shirley Henderson is truly something to behold.

It’s great to see that the women of these fairy tales are not all damsels in distress needing saving by a handsome Prince. Indeed, their lives are far more complex, their desires more nuanced, and they certainly don’t all live happily ever after. While one of the tales peters out and another meets a brutal, gory end, it is Toby Jones and Bebe Cave’s tale which provides the substantial backbone to the film, and gives us the most satisfying resolution.

‘Tale of Tales’ is a resolutely gorgeous, brutal carnival of the grotesque and magical, although it is a little too patchy for it to be ranked as a classic, it may still make it to cult status.

7 out of 10

Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016) review: Warm and wise odd couple comedy

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Director: Taika Waititi Writers: Taika Waititi (screenplay), Barry Crump (based on the book by)  Stars: Sam Neill, Julian Dennison, Rima Te Wiata

If you consider that Taika Waititi’s previous body of work includes the supremely quirky ‘Eagle Vs Shark’, and the pant-wettingly hilarious vampire mockumentary ‘What we do in the Shadows’, to go into a viewing of ‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople’ expecting anything other than offbeat and idiosyncratic would be foolish.

‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople’ takes on a familiar story as we follow the progress of orphaned Ricky (the very charming Julian Dennison), as he reluctantly starts out his new life with foster family Aunty Bella (played with unabashed joy by Rima Te Wiata) and Uncle Hec (a grumbly Sam Neill) on a small holding in the remote outback of New Zealand. Having been through a number of foster homes, with social workers writing him off as a wannabe gangster and rotten apple, Ricky tries his best to escape his new life, but soon finds himself drawn in by Bella’s unflinching warmth, good humour and ninja-like deployment of hot water bottles.

Tragedy soon strikes, although it is handled in a distinctly low-key and stiff-upper-lipped way, with the men going about their normal business to the best of their abilities. Then, through a series of unfortunate events, Ricky finds himself on the run with stoic Uncle Hec and dogs Zag and Tupac in tow, trekking through the thousands of hectares of dense forest surrounding the family’s farm, on the run from both the police and a very angry social worker.

As with Waititi’s previous directorial outings the real joy comes with the unpolished and off-kilter, from Hec’s quiet awe at the “majestical” landscape that lies before them, to Ricky’s ill-fated attempts at running away from home. There is the seemingly obligatory appearance by Rhys Darby as outback hermit Psycho Sam, along with a cameo by the director himself as an eccentric Vicar (who almost steals the show with his tale about Jesus hiding behind doors).

The New Zealand landscape looks both awesome and terrifying as the pair immerse themselves in wilderness living, becoming both an ally and an enemy in their battle to stay together.

Waititi is becoming masterful in his directorial style, and brings a wonderfully fresh slant to what could have been a hackneyed, odd-couple buddy movie, making it a joyous and heart-warming tale of strong characters overcoming adversity and finding comfort in new forms of family.

8 out of 10

The Girl with all the Gifts (2016) review: Imaginative and emotional update on the zombie trope

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Director: Colm McCarthy Writers: Mike Carey (novel), Mike Carey (screenplay) Stars:Gemma Arterton, Dominique Tipper, Glenn Close

Based on a novel of the same name, ‘The Girl with All the Gifts’ is a horror/drama set in a dystopian Britain, where an aggressive fungal infection has turned most of the population into mindless, flesh-eating ‘hungries’ (zombies essentially). ‘The Girl with All the Gifts’ follows the fortunes of a young girl, Melanie (Sennia Nanua) on her journey of self-discovery. Starting in a bleak underground bunker on an army base, we see Melanie and her classmates being strapped into wheelchairs and transported from their tiny cells to an austere classroom by heavily armed soldiers. Leading the class is affable teacher Miss Justineau (Gemma Arterton), who treats the children with a warmth and respect the military personnel lack. As the story unfolds Melanie finds herself on the run with Miss Justineau, Dr Caldwell (Glenn Close), Sgt Parks (Paddy Considine) and Kieran Gallagher (Fisayo Akinade), fleeing to escape a horde of hungries, slowly learning more about who she is, where she came from and her part in the unfolding horror around her.

Created by a British team on a relatively tiny £4.4 million budget, ‘The Girl with All the Gifts’ is an ambitious genre piece with a surprisingly glossy production feel. Mike Carey has taken his own novel and penned the script, making some interesting choices with its adaptation from book to big screen. Taking out some of the more horrific elements of the novel, Carey instead brings us a more intimate tale, with some of the characters sharp edges filed away; which at times leads to their motivations feeling muddled and two-dimensional.

Melanie however, played by shining star Sennia Nanua, feels fully formed, ferocious and frightening, veering from wide-eyed innocence to feral abandon with ease. Her idolisation of Miss Justineau is both claustrophobic and beautiful, with Arterton and Nanua managing to convey their peculiar bond with a single glance. Glenn Close was an apt choice for the role of the Cruella De Vil-esque Dr Caldwell, who is desperate to dissect our heroine. She seems to disappear into the background for most of the middle act, only to make an impactful return for the heart-crushing finale. Some light relief comes in the form of Paddy Considine as Sgt Parks, whose ‘call a spade a spade’ attitude and practicality reflects the fact that despite the horror it portrays the film does not take itself too seriously.

One of the most successful aspects of the film is the wonderful score, by Cristobal Tapia de Veer, which takes a repetitive refrain of looped voices to add a real sense of foreboding and dread to the bleak landscapes.

While some of the practical make-up and effects look a little clunky (understandable given the budgetary restraints), and not all of the hungries elicit the same level of fear (indeed one or two raised a quiet snigger), the sheer imagination and emotion of ‘The Girl with All the Gifts’ manages to steer it past B-movie territory and could well see it considered one of the best films in the zombie genre.

Now you all need to see it so we can talk about that ending…

7 out of 10

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016) review: Burton’s peculiar take on YA

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Director: Tim Burton Writers: Ransom Riggs (based upon the novel written by), Jane Goldman (screenplay) Stars: Eva Green, Asa Butterfield, Samuel L. Jackson

‘Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children’ is so Tim Burton, it feels like it could have been specifically written for him! Jake (Asa Butterfield) is an outsider, his parents tolerate him, everyone at school ignores him and he feels in some way different. The only person he is truly close to is his grandfather, Abe, (Terence Stamp), a man who believes in the magical and tall tales. Following Abe’s untimely demise, Jake finds himself taking a trip to Wales, accompanied by his wonderfully passively-neglectful father (Chris O’Dowd), trying to track down the children’s home where Abe grew up, to help him piece together the mystery of the man he misses so dearly. Upon arrival at the children’s home Jake is plunged into a world of peculiar children; one of whom is lighter than air, one stronger than 10 men and one who has a whole hive of bees living inside them, all overseen by Scary Poppins, Miss Peregrine (Eva Green). Oh, and they’re now in 1943, live the same day over and over again, ‘Groundhog Day’ style, and are being chased by monsters. Still with me? If anyone other than Tim Burton directed this, it would have been a nonsense.

The first act of the film sees Burton and cast on top form, with the pastel-coloured Hopper-esque Florida homes reminiscent of those in ‘Edward Scissorhands’, paving way to the dark dreary Welsh island where the children’s home stands. The characters seem profoundly real, and Jake’s need to connect with his grandfather proves to be a powerful drive, providing a good emotional scaffold to the tale. Indeed, during this first act it appeared this was a film that could rival Harry Potter in it’s imagination, scope and sense of whimsy.

However, the film seems to lose it’s way once it disconnects with reality entirely. The early scenes of Jake travelling through the ‘loop’ (the plot device explaining how the children remain shielded from the real world) from the dark and rain of Wales to the seemingly idyllic sunshine bathed children’s home in 1943 work well, as Burton explores the disconnect between fantasy and reality, unpicking Jake’s grieving process.

Rather than becoming the next Harry Potter, the narrative seems to drag the film down into becoming the next generic YA outing. You know, the one where Percy Jackson fights immortal trolls in a maze, and heals the rifts in a divided society, all the time finding out who he is as a person.

A whole raft of faux-mythic words are unleashed upon the audience as ‘ymbrines’ (Miss Peregrine herself is one, capable of creating a time-loop, turning into a bird, and entrusted with the care of the titular peculiar children), and ‘hollowgasts’ (‘peculiars’ who were transformed into terrifying eyeball eating, invisible creatures) take centre-stage, over-shadowing the very charming tale of Jake and his grandfather.

Then Samuel L. Jackson’s Barron (head hollowgast) bursts into the plot, in full comic-book bad guy mode, (providing the Johnny Depp element, perhaps?) and drags the film even further into the realms of the silly.

Those criticisms aside, ‘Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children’ still feels like a return to form for Burton, as he captures both the gothic and magical elements of the story and the dreary mundane heartbreak of reality with some style. The connect between the Hollowgasts and the horrors Abe’s grandfather endured during his time in Poland during WWII is made subtly, and with care. Visually it is pure Burton, playing with colour-palettes and surreal and uncanny imagery. He even indulges in paying homage to other films, with nods to Ray Harryhausen and Stanley Kubrick (“Heeeerrrre’s Samuel!”) peppered throughout.

The fact the original novel was written around some intriguing photographs speaks volumes. The images here are clear and precise, but the narrative feels somewhat secondary.

Largely enjoyable, if overly long and peppered with over-cooked YA tropes (when an intriguing story about family bonds lay underneath it all), ‘Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children’ will probably prove to be a popular addition to future Christmas TV schedules, but is ultimately quite forgettable.

6 out of 10