‘Wind River’

wind_river_ver2_xlgSet in the isolated beauty of a Wyoming winter and the Wind River Reserve, game tracker Jeremy Renner (The Avengers, The Hurt Locker) discovers the body of Natalie, a teenage Native American and best friend of his deceased daughter. An ill-prepared FBI agent, Elizabeth Olsen (The Avengers, Godzilla) arrives from Las Vegas and appeals to him for help.

The directorial debut of scriptwriter Taylor Sheridan (Sicario, Hell Or High Water) is a thrilling ride in the search for her killers. Masculinity in its rawest form comes under the microscope as strutting machismo is only too evident in a world where resident in Native American Reserves offers limited choice and corporate America rules the roost.

Rating: 74%

 

‘A Ghost Story’

a-ghost-storyA potentially pretentious existential narrative somehow works, in spite of its repetition and slow scene building. The result is a mesmerising exploration of life, love and loss that is lyrical, poetic and hypnotic.

Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints) is killed in a car accident, leaving Rooney Mara (Carol, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints) to grieve for her loss. Affleck returns as a sheet-shrouded ghost.

Haunting rather than scary, writer/director David Lowery (Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Pete’s Dragon) plays with the stereotypical haunted house story, producing an accessible, graceful film that, in 92 minutes, never outstays its welcome.

 Rating: 71%

‘Dunkirk’

dunkirk-posterOh, oh, oh. It’s visceral magnificence on screen. Grand gestures aplenty but the minutiae of wartime claustrophobia, fear and defeat balance this superb, emotional sweep of a film.

Christopher Nolan (Inception, The Dark Knight) tells the true story of the rescue of 300,000 British, Belgian and French soldiers from the beaches of Dunkirk, surrounded by an advancing German army. It’s the flotilla of weekend sailors and fishermen (and women) who save the day as the navy destroyers are picked off by the German air force.

A true ensemble piece – Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy along with newcomers Fionn Whitehead and Aneurin Barnard are just a few – that is a jigsaw of narratives of few words and which makes up the whole,  building to a rousing crescendo. Exhausting!

Rating: 89%

‘Spiderman: Homecoming’

Spider-Man-Homecoming-poster-2-largeAn adolescent superhero within an adolescent storyline. The cheeky charm of Tom Holland (The Impossible, How I Live Now), introduced as Peter Parker in a cameo in last year’s Captain America: Civil War wears thin over the length of Jon Watts’ (Cop Car, Clown) first foray into the Marvel canon.

A predictable storyline (youth ignored by adults who therefore relies on his own wits to save the day) with a flat, uninvolving telling with little real excitement and only the occasional flashes of humour. That’s Spiderman: Homecoming.

Rating: 32%

‘Baby Driver’

baby-driver-posterPure unadulterated entertainment. It’s slick, fun, engaging with a fabulous soundtrack and an ubercool lead in Ansel Elgort as Baby (Insurgent, The Fault in Our Stars).

Nearly a decade as the getaway driver for crime boss Kevin Spacey (American Beauty, Horrible Bosses) closes in – but just because he’s paid his debt does not mean Baby can simply drive off into the sunset with new beau, Lily James (Cinderella, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies). It’s a heist bound to fail – especially with pyscho Jamie Foxx and trigger happy husband and wife team, Jon Hamm and Eiza Gonzalez in the vehicle.

Director Edgar Wright’s (Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead) narrative may not be original, but a surfeit of ideas, fun and sheer class make Baby Driver one of the best films of the year.

Rating: 83%

‘The Beguiled’

timthumb.phpA languid, Southern Gothic psychosexual potboiler as a wounded Yankee soldier (Colin Farrell – In Bruges, Miami Vice) turns up at a Virginia girls school at the height of the American civil war.

His arrival awakens sexual longing for the adult teachers left at the school (Nicole Kidman and Kirsten Dunst) as well as kindles burgeoning sexuality among the girls (particularly Elle Fanning). Erotic, poetic, tense – the southern humidity is palpable in the enclosed, claustrophobic space of the girls’ privileged environment.

The Beguiled, seemingly more expertly teased than directed by Sofia Coppola (Lost In Translation, Marie Antoinette), is a beautifully nuanced ensemble piece that, whilst at times a little slow, tells its visceral story with aplomb.

Rating: 73% 

’20th Century Women’

HO00004115The latest from Mike Mills (Beginners, Thumbsucker) is a beautifully balanced late 70s nostalgic ensemble piece of likeable people.

As a single mother, the matriarch, a never better Annette Bening (American Beauty, The Kids Are Alright) quite rightly takes centre stage, persuading Greta Gerwig and Elle Fanning help raise and guide her 15 year-old son Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann). Arguably not the most sensible choices as mentors – Gerwig’s feminist influences leave Jamie in fights with school friends over clitoral orgasms and Fanning heads off on a road trip with Jamie in tow.

It’s a film full of contradictions and it does occasionally slip into anecdotal gratification but relative newcomer Zumann is a delight and, possibly for the first time, I personally liked Greta Gerwig (Frances Ha, Mistress America) on screen.

Rating: 69%

‘Alien: Covenant’

3229948-alien+covenant+ka+promoIt’s not the most coherent of the Alien/Prometheus films and, at times the action seems a little rushed after an overly slow intro, but Alien: Covenant is nothing if not spectacularly crafted.

Thrills and (literally) spills abound as the synthetic David (a sublime Michael Fassbender – Prometheus, 12 Years a Slave) looks to creation and immortality. But the real story of course is the virus that evolves into the deadly creatures – and what’s low in number in Alien: Covenant is still enough to create carnage on an unchartered planet and aboard the colony ship, Covenant.

Ridley Scott (The Martian, Alien) plumbs the same scares from the original to great effect along with several references to earlier films in the franchise as the action keeps on coming and the gore count keeps on rising.

Rating: 62%

‘King Arthur: Legend of the Sword’

arthur-posterDirector Guy Ritchie transposes his loveable cockney rogues of Lock, Stock and Two Smokin’ Barrels and Rock’n’Rolla to Medieval England and the world of Game of Thrones.

The cocky,  buffed Charlie Hunnam (Crimson Peak, The Lost City of Z), robbed of his birthright, must overcome the evil of his uncle, Jude Law (Cold Mountain, Sherlock Holmes), controller of the country through dark magic. But first Arthur must understand the power of Excalibur, his new found sword.

It looks good (production design by Gemma Jackson – Game of Thrones!), the soundtrack loud but the bombastic treatment wears thin and the film slips into tedium.

Rating: 39%

‘The Zookeeper’s Wife’

zookeepers_wifeOverly sanitised telling of the true story of Jan and Antonina Zabinski, owners of the Warsaw Zoo who saved the lives of more than 300 Polish Jews in World War II.

A leaden script and pan-European casting (along with Jessica Chastain – The Help, Zero Dark Thirty) doesn’t help a turgid, uninspiring narrative. Director Niki Caro (North Country, Whale Rider) noticeably misses the storytelling boat – somewhat unforgivable considering the source material.

Rating: 42%