Chris Pine

Outlaw King

 

23/11/18

In a move that is happening with increasing regularity, Outlaw King has gone straight to Netflix. When this first started, I imagined it would only be an occasional thing, but now, it seems, the streaming company have their eyes on the Oscars. The inevitable result is that brilliant films like the Coen Brothers’ Ballad of Buster Scruggs have been afforded the same treatment; and Alfonso Cuaron’s upcoming release, the Oscar-tipped Roma, looks certain to follow an identical path. Oh sure, it will have a ‘limited theatrical release,’ but that may only amount to one week in a few cinemas in London in order to qualify for competition. Ultimately, it means that British cinema goers are going to miss out and this worries me. I love cinema and I want to see it supported not sidelined.

Ironically, this powerful action movie, based around the life of Robert the Bruce is yet another film that really deserves to be viewed on the big screen. There’s sumptuous location photography, filmed (in what is becoming the exception rather than the rule) in the places where the story actually happened. The time is clearly right for the subject. Consigned to a supporting role in Mel Gibson’s Braveheart, Robert the Bruce is an important figure in Scottish history, and the man chiefly responsible for securing its independence from England.

When we first meet Robert (Chris Pine), he is renewing his fealty to King Edward the First of England (Stephen Dillane), mostly at the insistence of his elderly father, Robert Senior (James Cosmo), who feels he’s seen enough bloodshed for one lifetime and fears the consequences of taking on his country’s occupiers. Robert reluctantly toes the line, paying his exorbitant taxes and even agreeing to marry Edward’s daughter, Elizabeth (Florence Pugh, building on her star making role in Lady Macbeth), a woman he has never even met before. But the capture and murder of Scottish rebel leader, William Wallace, brings about a change of heart in Robert and, against all contrary advice, he takes up his sword and sets about trying to unite Scotland against a common enemy. It’s no easy matter and he has plenty of defeats to overcome before he can make any progress. But as the saying goes, ‘if at first you don’t succeed…’

David Mackenzie makes an assured job of all this, handling the more intimate scenes and the epic battles with equal aplomb. The growing relationship between Robert and Elizabeth is sensitively handled but the film is unflinching when it comes to the visceral – a scene where one character is hung, drawn and quartered is certainly not for the faint-hearted. A climactic cavalry charge is so brilliantly immersive, I find myself wincing at every hack of a claymore, every thrust of a lance. Again, this really needs the scale of a cinema screen to fully bring Barry Ackroyd’s superb cinematography to life – even the biggest of home screens cannot hope to do it justice.

Pine handles the Scots accent convincingly enough and there’s nice supporting work by Aaron Taylor-Johnson as the pugnacious James Douglas, one of Robert’s closest allies. Those hoping for an appearance by the infamous spider of legend will be sadly disappointed, but lovers of stirring action will find plenty to enjoy here.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

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Wonder Woman

05/06/17

The character of Wonder Woman first appeared, in comic form, in 1942. In 1976, portrayed by Linda Carter, she was the star of a TV series, which ran for a perfectly respectable three seasons. The inevitable question is, why has it taken so long for her to star in a big screen adaptation of her story? (I’m going to discount the brief appearance she made in last year’s Batman vs Superman.) Is it simply that the superhero genre has always been associated with ‘films for the lads?’ Did the powers-that-be actually believe that a woman wasn’t capable of carrying an entire movie? The last time it was tried was in 2004, with Catwoman – which, it has to be admitted, wasn’t exactly a success.

Whatever the reason, the wait has been worthwhile – because unlike most of DC’s other recent output, this film benefits from a great big shot of fun. The plot may occasionally raise your eyebrows but it’s hard to deny just how enjoyable a ride this is – at least until the final twenty minutes or so.

We first encounter our eponymous heroine in the modern day, as she receives a communication from Wayne Enterprises. This is DC trying to open out their shared universe, taking their lead, no doubt, from Marvel’s more confident approach. Then we are quickly whisked back in time to the mysterious island of Themiscyra, where the Amazons dwell. Young Diana is the only child on an island inhabited entirely by women – and before you ask the obvious question, she was fashioned from clay by her mother, Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), with a little help from Zeus.  Hippolyta wants to protect her daughter from the evils of the outside world, and tries to steer her away from anything too physical, but Diana’s auntie, (Robin Wright) secretly coaches Diana in the ways of warfare so she will be able to fulfil her destiny and, pretty soon, she has grown up to be former physical training instructor Gal Gadot, a woman of such stunning physical beauty and strength, she might have descended from thoroughbred race horses.

Then one fateful day, a plane crashes on the island and Diana rescues the pilot, who turns out to be doe-eyed hunk, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine). Steve is a spy and, it turns out,  one who is carrying a very important notebook – something that he believes will help to end the First World War – for out in the real world it is 1916, and evil German officer, Ludendorff (Danny Huston, who, if not exactly chewing the scenery, is definitely giving it a pretty thorough nibble) is working alongside disfigured scientist, Dr Maru (Elena Anaya) to create a deadly nerve gas, one that Ludendorff thinks will turn the tide of the war and make his country victorious.

Pretty soon, Diana and Steve are on their way to London, with a tall order to fulfil – to end the war, once and for all. Okay, so this isn’t going to win any prizes for being the most convincing story ever written (indeed there are plot holes here you could comfortably drive an Amazon chariot through) but there’s real chemistry between Gadot and Pine and it does feel refreshingly empowering to see a woman handling the kind of kick-ass moves usually commandeered by the boys in spandex. There’s nicely judged comedy relief from Lucy Davis as Steve’s secretary, Etta, and some genuinely funny scenes where Diana’s gung ho attitude crashes headlong into the patriarchal conventions of the age. Despite what the naysayers are muttering, neither Diana nor Steve call the shots in this enterprise. They work together as a team.

My only beef with the film are those final twenty minutes, when inevitably, the limitations of the genre kick in and we’re plunged headlong into yet another over-pixilated punch up. As Diana and her nemesis, Ares, start picking up tanks and throwing them at each other, it simply serves to emphasise the point that what’s so good about this film is the way in which a superhero interacts with real people. But that quibble aside, there’s much to enjoy here and the news that director Patty Jenkins has already scored a record opening weekend for a female director is simply the icing on an already tasty cinematic confection.

If, like me, you’re a little tired of seeing moody blokes in capes thumping seven bells out of each other, this may be just the film for you.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

Hell or High Water

hell-or-high-water

30/09/16

Brothers, Toby and Tanner Howard (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) are industriously robbing a series of small banks in West Texas and going to great lengths to conceal all evidence of their crimes. They aren’t doing it for the usual reasons, though, but in a desperate attempt to pay off a crippling loan on their late mother’s ranch, in order to secure the future of Toby’s two sons from his failed marriage. When the robberies come to the attention of aging Texas Ranger, Marcus Hamilton, (Jeff Bridges), he resolves to solve one last case before he retires…

Hell Or High Water is a searing look at the underbelly of America, where ordinary people struggle to make ends meet and where the real criminals (at least in the view of writer Taylor Sheridan) are the bankers, who make a rich living from foreclosing on those who can no longer afford to pay for their homes. It’s a side of the USA we rarely glimpse in movie theatres and for that at least, it deserves our attention. There’s plenty here to enjoy. Bridges excels as the crusty-as-last-month’s-tortillas lawman, forever bickering with his Native American partner, Alberto (Gil Parker), while lamenting a way of life that seems as doomed as the ranchers we glimpse herding their cattle away from a raging brushfire. And can we really take wholeheartedly against the Tanner brothers, when they are in such a desperate plight?

This is an unapologetically elegiac story, as stripped and spare as the desert landscapes in which the events take place – but as with Sheridan’s previous script, Sicario, it’s almost exclusively a man’s world and you’ll have to look very hard indeed to spot a properly developed female character. Forget the Bechdel test – all we are offered here is a parade of hookers, harpies and harridans – a shame, because just like Sicario, this is an otherwise assured production, strong on action and the hard bitten verbal interplay between its main characters.

The ending hints at unfinished business but wisely leaves us wanting closure. It’s a lean, taut action movie but the inclusion of some decent female characters would have lent it more depth, and assured it a higher score from yours truly. It’s good, but ultimately a bit of a missed opportunity.

3.8 stars

Philip Caveney

Star Trek Beyond

Jaylah_and_scott

23/07/81

Star Trek has had a somewhat chequered history in the movies, a series that started well, peaked around the  third film and then become increasingly moribund with each successive instalment. In 2009, J.J. Abrams managed to deliver a great big kick up the franchise, revitalising the whole shebang – and while his sequel, Into Darkness wasn’t quite as assured, managing to upset a lot of Trek stalwarts with it’s reinventions, it was nonetheless, well told and fairly absorbing. Now Justin Lin (of the Fast and Furious movies) picks up the baton and attempts to run with it. Oh dear, oh dear…

Things start promisingly enough with a clever sight gag and soon after that, a sequence where The Enterprise arrives at a remote space station, a stunning construction that looks like it might have been designed by Escher – but when Kirk (Chris Pine) agrees to go and help some captives on a beleaguered planet, he and his intrepid crew soon realise that they have wandered into an elaborate trap, set by the villainous Krall (a virtually unrecognisable Idris Elba) and a huge space battle ensues. It goes on for what seems like weeks and the fact that it occurs in murky, half-darkness does nothing for an audience’s ability to follow what’s happening. Soon, the familiar characters are aboard escape pods and hurtling towards different locations, where they will have to regroup in order to stop Krall from employing a terrible weapon…

There are a few moments here, where Lin remembers that what has always fuelled Gene Roddenberry’s creation most effectively is the interplay between the characters. But whenever there’s a danger of things getting interesting, the script by Simon Pegg (who should have known better) and several other broth-spoilers, flings us back in the direction of yet another interminable pitched battle. And the franchise finds itself  in the doldrums once again, undoing all of Abrams hard work. A coda where a character solemnly intones the old bit about ‘boldly going to strange new worlds’ seems all the more ironic.

There’s nothing new or interesting here, just the resounding clunk of a missed opportunity.

2 stars

Philip Caveney

 

 

The Finest Hours

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21/02/16

A rare Disney vehicle that doesn’t involve animation or slapstick humour, The Finest Hours (forgettable title) is based on a true story and depicts a daring rescue mission carried out in the heart of a terrible storm off Cape Cod in 1952. In terrifying conditions, a huge oil tanker is not so much battered by the storm as actually ripped in two, drowning its captain and most of the crew, but leaving the rear section still afloat with thirty two men on board. It’s down to quietly spoken engine-room man, Ray Sybert (Casey Afflick) to take control of the situation and devise a way of keeping what’s left of the tanker above the waterline until help gets there – but in the days before GPS location existed, how is anybody ever going to find them?

Help eventually comes in the shape of handsome coastguard officer, Bernie Weber (the angel-faced Chris Pine)  who has recently become engaged to the feisty Miriam (Holliday Grainger). Having failed to save some local seamen in a recent maritime tragedy, Weber has something to prove, so despite being warned by all and sundry that he’s embarking on a suicide mission, he selects three plucky crewmen and sets off into the heart of the storm, trusting on good luck and previous experience to guide him.This would seem unlikely if it didn’t hap[pen to be true.

The Finest Hours is a handsomely mounted film, that has much to recommend it. The period detail is convincingly evoked, there are nice performances from the ensemble cast and the storm at sea sequences are suitably immersive, occasionally downright thrilling. If in the end it’s all a bit reminiscent of The Perfect Storm, it matters not one jot, because if the aims of this film were to entertain and enthral then it achieves them with ease. In what’s becoming an increasingly popular trope, the end credits show images of the real life heroes alongside their screen counterparts, allowing us to see just how faithful the filmmakers have been to their source material.

A word of warning though. Anyone planning a cruise in the near future may want to give this one a miss.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney