Review

Turtle Bay Colchester – Review

 

I make no secret of my love of the Caribbean and its cuisine, nor of my delight at the opening of Turtle Bay on Colchester’s High Street just before Christmas. Several trips to Jamaica have given me a taste for such local delights as jerk chicken, curry goat and beef patties washed down with Red Stripe beer and rum based cocktails.

So the chance to along to what has fast become one of Colchester’s favourite restaurants to enjoy some of Turtle Bay’s delicious food and let you know what I thought about it was not one I was going to pass by!

We booked for Friday night, traditionally one of the busiest nights of the week, and when we arrived the restaurant was already busy and the standalone ‘island hut’ bar was buzzing with the Friday night crowd enjoying classic cocktails with a Turtle Bay twist made from a choice of a staggering 40+ hand-picked rums from across the Caribbean, as well as a magnificent mix of their signature cocktails too.

The Caribbean laid back vibe is all around you in this beach shack themed restaurant, the design of which is unique to Colchester and includes an open ‘street kitchen’ and a raised veranda seating area at the back of the main dining area, along with reclaimed wood and chequer-plate, lights hanging from beer crates and giant paintings on brick walls to complete the look. And, of course, reggae music playing in the background!

We decided to skip the bar and went straight to our table where we ordered drinks from our waitress. I ordered a Red Stripe to recapture the feeling of that first beer at the hotel pool bar after a long tiring day of travelling to Jamaica, and my partner decided to try a Reggae Rum Punch which apparently “hit the spot.” Nuff said!


After changing our minds several times about our starters thanks to the mouth-watering choices which included my favourite, Beef Patties, as well as such delights as Duck Rolls and the very tempting Jerk Glazed Pit Ribs, which will of course mean further trips back to sample them, we decided to share a Seafood Platter. It did not disappoint and there was ample food for us both, which included curried fish roti flatbread, chilli squid, crispy panko whitebait, sweet corn fritters, mango mole with herb mayo and a green salad. This turned out to be the perfect starter, or ‘cutter’ as they call it down Turtle Bay way.


After a short interval to let our starters go down our main courses were brought by our cheerful waitress. It is so noticeable at Turtle Bay how enthusiastic the staff are, and how knowledgeable they are about the menu, and tonight was to be no different as they took exceptional care of us as usual. I had decided to try the Guyanese Curry Duck. As a big fan of any Caribbean curries, and duck, I thought this might be the perfect marriage. And it proved to be so with the slow braised duck leg perfectly complemented by the citrus fruit flavours of the curry and served with coconut rice ‘n’ peas and dumplings as good as any you will find in the Caribbean.

My partner had no complaints either about her Jerk Chicken with was also served with coconut rice ‘n’ peas with a sour orange chutney, coconut shavings & Caribbean slaw. She said it was amongst the best she has ever eaten. Praise indeed.


Desserts were up next, though with our appetites now well and truly satisfied these were an indulgence rather than a necessity. Caymanas Upside Down Rum cake for me, with just enough of the rum taste coming through to excite the taste buds but without overwhelming the other flavours, and Spiced Rum and Chocolate Pot for my partner which also did not fail to deliver.

So, as ever, a fabulous dining experience at Colchester’s Turtle Bay, one in which you can lose yourself in the tastes, smells and sounds of the Caribbean for an hour or two.

Simon Crow

The Shape of Water

 


BBFC 15 2hrs 3mins

I was lucky enough to have seen Guillermo Del Toro’s The Shape of Water at last year’s London Film Festival (it was the hot ticket screening) and I have been thinking about it ever since. It’s a movie that can be enjoyed purely at surface level – a romantic fairy tale about a mute cleaning lady at a top-secret Government research facility who falls in love with a fish man – but it contains multitudes and the more thought I put into it the more pleasure I get from it.


Elisa (Sally Hawkins) lives a lonely, routine life in a shabby apartment above a movie theatre in Baltimore, 1962. Her best friends are Giles (Richard Jenkins), her closeted gay neighbour, and Zelda (Octavia Spencer), her chatty, brassy co-worker with whom she shares her secrets and scrapes gum from the floors of jet-engine laboratories. When a new “asset” arrives at the facility, along with its handler Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon), Elisa’s natural curiosity and compassion leads to an unlikely, inter-species relationship. The asset (Doug Jones), you see, is a humanoid, amphibian creature captured from deep within the Amazon by Strickland and brought to the lab’s in the hope that unlocking its secrets will give the US the edge in the Cold War in general and in the “Space Race” specifically. When it transpires that those secrets can only be revealed via the asset’s death and dissection it is up to Elisa and her friends to help it escape the facility and release it to freedom.

Whilst The Shape of Water can be enjoyed at its most basic fairy-tale level, a quirky riff on The Little Mermaid or The Creature From the Black Lagoon, a throwaway genre romance, it is when you start to unpack its many layers and storytelling choices that it reveals its true glory. Key amongst these choices is understanding the viewpoint from which the movie is told: The movie is bookended by Giles’ lyrical narration, how you react to the much of the film (and especially the ending) relies upon whether, or not, you believe him to be a reliable narrator. A subplot involving sympathetic scientist Dr. Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg) and Soviet spies which, on first viewing, appears to be ridden with clichés and rather silly makes a lot more sense when you understand that it is coming from Giles, whom it is established is a dyed-in-the-wool romantic fantasist. Just grasping this one simple device, I think, will give you a much more enjoyable and nuanced viewing experience.

Director Guillermo Del Toro (known, not only, for his audience pleasing genre crowd pleasers like Blade II, Pacific Rim and two Hellboy movies but his more arthouse fantasies Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone) has absolutely stuffed the film with references, textures, metaphors and salutes. The Shape of Water is Del Toro’s love letter to Hollywood and, in particular, the movies that have influenced him. It is not difficult to see the spot nods to silent cinema (after all the two main protagonists, Elisa and the asset, are both mute, both silent); there’s a wonderful fantasy pastiche of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers’ “Let’s Face the Music and Dance” sequence from Follow The Fleet; there’s quiet tributes to Powell & Pressburger, Vincente Minelli and Douglas Sirk and, most obviously, Del Toro’s love of classic monster movies. This is about as close to Del Toro’s Cinema Paradiso as we’re ever likely to get to or hope for, occasionally pausing to take in moments of real Hollywood gold (such as Shirley Temple dancing with Mr. Bojangles, Bill Robinson). Everything is imbued with meaning from individual props, the choice of colours, the choice of language, even Alexandre Desplat’s beautiful score harkens back to Hollywood romanticism. And all these things are not there to be clever or smart, they are there to move the story forward and provide texture and background.

In any other year you would nail on Sally Hawkins performance to win the Best Actress Oscar (such is the quality of her fellow nominees, especially Frances McDormand in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri). There is never a single moment when you don’t know what she is thinking or feeling (emotionally), it’s a (largely) wordless performance and yet through her face and body language she says more than virtually any other actor on screen. Richard Jenkins is wonderfully sweet and affecting as the gay artist with one foot firmly in the dreams of Hollywood musicals and romantic yearnings for the guy who runs the pie shop. Octavia Spencer, always wonderful, provides the majority of the film’s humour as the sassy, vociferous and loyal Zelda. My only gripe with the film’s casting is that Michael Shannon is too perfectly cast as Strickland, we’ve seen him play similar roles too often for it ever raise a question in our minds as to who is the real monster of the piece? He’s great as a vile, entitled, toxic male who could sadly exist in 1962 or 2018, but as a subversion of the B-movie, lantern-jawed hero he’s just a wee bit too familiar.

Not forgetting Doug Jones who, with a dancer’s physique, poise and grace brings The Asset to beautiful and vibrant life.


It may seem a little strange to give The Shape of Water a Valentines Day release, but it is, ultimately, a film about love and as Guillermo Del Toro so poignantly explained, “…love is like water, it has no shape. It can take the shape of whatever you pour it into. You can fall in love with someone that is twice your age, the same gender, completely opposite religion, the completely wrong political persuasion – it just happens. And it is, like water, the most powerful and malleable element in the universe. And it goes through everything.”

Andy Oliver

Turtle Bay Preview Night

I’ve been lucky enough to have visited Jamaica a few times, though sadly not in more recent years, and I’m a huge fan of the island, its charming people, the laid back culture and its delicious food. So I was delighted to receive an invitation to the VIP Preview Night of Colchester’s newest dining experience, the Caribbean themed Turtle Bay.

Located in Greytown House next door to the Town Hall, this previously drab building has been wondrously transformed into three brand new restaurant units, the first of which to open, in time for Christmas, is Turtle Bay.

The Caribbean vibe hits you the moment you walk in and get your first look at this cool beach shack themed restaurant that transports you to sunnier climes. The ‘island hut’ bar takes centre stage at the front of the restaurant, ideal if you are waiting for a table or just popping in for a cocktail (more about them later) or a glass of cold Red Stripe lager. With reggae music playing in the background you really could be in a Jamaican beach bar.


Reclaimed wood and chequer-plate, lights hanging from beer crates, giant paintings on brick walls along with the open ‘street kitchen’ and a raised veranda seating area at the back of the dining area are just some of the features and little touches that give this restaurant its charismatic vibe for your unique dining experience.

And what an experience it is! Let’s start with the cocktails. They have over forty, yes FORTY, different rums from across the Caribbean which they use to make classic cocktails with, of course, a special Turtle Bay twist. I had a fair crack at working my way through the cocktail list, aided by the very friendly and knowledgeable Turtle Bay team who were happy to recommend their favourites, which of course it would have been rude not to try. Now I’m not really a rum drinker, in fact I would go so far as to say I’ve never really liked it very much, but each of my cocktails beautifully hit the spot, and after also trying a couple of neat rums too I’m now a convert.

But enough about the cocktails. Every single item from the selection of mouth-watering dishes we were served was a delight to eat. From the crispy panko coated whitebait nibbles on the bar, the sweetcorn fritters, crispy okre, and sweet plantain in the vegetarian platter, to the jerk chicken were as delicious and authentic as you could hope for. But the curry goat stole the show for me. Every trip I’ve made to Jamaica has begun with curry goat and a Red Stripe, and Turtle Bay’s take on this classic dish was up there with the best of them I’ve eaten in the Caribbean. With Sean Paul playing in the background happy memories from trips gone by soon came flooding back.


Just when I thought I couldn’t eat another morsel along came a selection from the Puddings menu (yes they do call it that) which included their rum and raisin bread pudding and sticky black treacle pudding. Now I’m not really much of a dessert (or pudding!) eater but I gave in and tried a couple and they really were absolutely delicious, and the staff happily offered to pack up what we couldn’t eat to take home with us, which delighted my daughter to find she had Caribbean puddings to add to her lunchbox this morning.


Talking about home, we were glad it was a fifteen minute walk away which gave us a chance to walk off some of the food we had eaten as I really did have that Christmas Day stuffed full feeling!

Special thanks go to all the staff who worked so hard last night to make our preview night so memorable. Turtle Bay is going to be a welcome addition to Colchester High Street when it officially opens on 4th December, expanding the town’s dining options as well as a few waistlines I should think!

www.turtlebay.co.uk/colchester

@turtlebayuk

www.facebook.com/TurtleBayRestaurants/

EMAIL

Simon Crow

 

Paddington 2

(BBFC PG 1hr 43mins)

 

2014’s Paddington was an absolute treat. A genuine slice of unadulterated family fun with a heart big enough to bring joy to multiple generations. With that in mind it was with more than a touch of trepidation that I approached Paddington 2, fearing that “difficult second album”, worried that this sequel would throw too much sugar in the recipe or that lightning couldn’t be bottled twice.

Within minutes of the opening of Paddington 2 I was wrapped in a warm bear-hug of comforting familiarity, a gormless smile plastered itself on my face and for the next hour and three-quarters everything was right with the world. Even the most cynical of viewers, once embraced by its marmalade-sticky paws, would find it difficult to leave the cinema with anything but joy in their hearts and an ache in their chuckle muscles after watching it.

This time out, our ursine hero (beautifully voiced again by Ben Whishaw) finds himself in need of money to buy a present for his aunt Lucy’s 100th birthday, having found the perfect gift in Mr. Gruber’s quaint little shop of curiosities: a unique pop-up book of London. Whilst Paddington takes on a bunch of odd-jobs (creating the sort of chaos that only he can), the book is stolen by cravat wearing cad and down on his heels thespian Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant) who frames the young bear for the crime. The book supposedly holds clues to a hidden fortune. A fortune which Buchanan hopes to find in order to fund his dreams of staging a one man spectacular in London’s West End. Poor Paddington finds himself thrown in gaol for a crime he didn’t commit but, with the assistance of curmudgeonly prison cook Knuckles McGinty (Brendan Gleeson), plans an audacious escape (The Pawshank Redemption, anyone? Anyone?). Everything culminates in a thrilling and hilarious dash to the west country as Paddington and his adoptive family, the Browns, chase down Buchanan, the book and, possibly, the treasure.


It’s all very silly, edge-of-the-seat thrilling and tremendously entertaining. It doesn’t take a genius to work out where the movie is heading but it’s so much fun getting there that you really don’t care.

The casting of Ben Whishaw as the voice of the eponymous little hero seems even more inspired in this second outing, constantly curious, occasionally puzzled, always innocent yet possessing a very clear sense of right and wrong, there’s something of Paddington that harks back to Charlie Chaplin’s little tramp (and in the action set-pieces, of Buster Keaton). Meanwhile, when he’s not stealing pop-up books, Hugh Grant nicks virtually every scene he’s in as the narcissistic Phoenix Buchanan, a mediocre, has-been actor reduced to starring in dog food adverts (Buchanan not Grant). Buchanan is a wonderful invention, the kind of moustache twirling villain of the Chaplin era rather than Nicole Kidman’s evil intentioned taxidermist from the first Paddington.


The Browns are happily pootling along despite Mr. Brown’s oncoming mid-life crisis and flirtations with moisturiser and yoga. Hugh Bonneville and the always excellent Sally Hawkins provide plenty of laughs and warmth, while Julie Walters returns as wily housekeeper Mrs. Bird. There’s also excellent support from Jim Broadbent as Mr. Gruber, Brendan Gleeson as Knuckles, Sanjeev Bhaskar as a forgetful neighbour, Richard Ayoade as an eccentric forensics expert, Peter Capaldi as the long-suffering misery-guts neighbour Mr. Curry and a host of well-known faces who do themselves, or their reputations, no harm whatsoever by appearing in this funny and charming movie.

Paul King returns to the director’s chair once more and, along with co-writers Jon Croker and Horrible Histories’ Simon Farnaby, has managed to produce a movie that looks effortlessly original and yet heart-warmingly familiar. The laughs come thick and fast and refreshingly free of snark, the jokes are there for everybody to enjoy and all aimed at the entire audience, young and, ahem, older. Yes, it is all too easy to get sniffy about the idealised London, the spotlessly clean Notting Hill, the steam trains and the fact that people still use red telephone boxes (or, indeed, the fact that they can find any working examples of such) but… Hello!… This is a movie about a talking bear that wears a red hat, a duffle coat and subsists solely on a diet of marmalade sandwiches! Don’t pick holes, okay?

Paddington 2 is a Christmas treat come early. A full-on feast of fun that you’ll want to gorge on until your trousers get uncomfortably tight; a gloriously colourful gift that is powered along by its Grade-A laughs rather than AA batteries; and best of all, when it’s all over there’s no washing up required (though you might be tempted to go back for seconds).

Andy Oliver

Thor: Ragnarok

(BBFC 12A 2hrs 10mins)

With Thor: Ragnarok, New Zealand director Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows, Hunt for the Wilderpeople) has ditched the Shakespearean miserabilism of Kenneth Branagh’s crack at the character and the muddled/studio-interference troubles of Alan Taylor’s The Dark World. What he’s done instead is embrace the goofy fun of The Guardians of the Galaxy and the inherent silliness of the whole “Men in capes and lycra” superhero genre to produce a movie that’s garlic and Kryptonite to anyone who doesn’t like fun: a kaleidoscopic romp bursting at the seams with laugh out loud one-liners, great characters and excitingly crazy action scenes.

The plot is pretty standard comic book fare (especially if you were reading Marvel comics in the 1970’s) and won’t stretch any viewer too far, although a little familiarity with previous Marvel movies might be helpful as Thor: Ragnarok picks up a few threads from the earlier entries. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) returns to Asgard (the mythical home of the Norse gods) to discover his half-brother Loki (Tom Hiddlestone) has banished their father, Odin (Sir Anthony Hopkins), and now sits at the throne of the realm.


Unfortunately for the squabbling siblings their long-forgotten sister, Hela (Cate Blanchett), has escaped her millennia-old captivity and returned to herald the destruction of the gods and their kingdom (hence Ragnarok, The Doom of the Gods). Thor and Loki are then banished themselves, the god of thunder finding himself on the battle planet Sakaar where, to earn his freedom, hemust fight in gladiatorial games and comes up against an old rival/ally in the form of Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). With the help of allies old and new Thor must find his way back to Asgard to save the realm from his sister who wants only to destroy it.

Thor’s regular supporting cast all put in appearances including Heimdall (Idris Elba), Lady Sif (Jamie Alexander) and The Warriors Three (Ray Stephenson, Tadanobu Asano and Zachary Levi), bolstered by all new heroes and villains like Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), Hela’s henchman Skurge (Karl Urban) and a gloriously over-the-top Jeff Goldblum as The Grandmaster. Oh, and as hinted at the end of his own movie, Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) makes an appearance as well.

Chris Hemsworth has already shown a deft hand at comedy in the remakes of National Lampoon’s Vacation and Ghostbusters, but here he gets free reign to flex his considerable comedic muscle and grasps that chance with aplomb. When he and Mark Ruffalo (in both his Bruce Banner and Hulk modes) share the screen it’s like Withnail & I in space, permanently trapped on an inter-galactic holiday by mistake. Tom Hiddlestone’s Loki gets probably the best character arc of the movie and even at his most scheming he’s still a likeable presence. Cate Blanchett is clearly relishing her chance to go all-out panto villainess and Jeff Goldblum’s Grandmaster is Goldblum at his most Goldblum-iest, which is always a joy to behold. Tessa Thompson might be the breakout character though as Valkyrie, a bounty hunter who turns hero, she’s definitely the “Han Solo” of Thor: Ragnarok and Thompson is great in the role.

The baggy plot is not the reason to see Thor: Ragnarok though. It’s just the hook upon which all the fun and goofiness ultimately hangs. No, the real reason to spend your well-earned sheckles is the fun and goofiness. The movie sets out its stall right from the opening scene, in which Hemsworth spins in and out of frame as he engages in a barbed battle of “bants” with a horrifying antagonist whilst, at the same time, delivering a gloriously stylized (and hilarious) voice-over. It’s almost exhaustingly self-aware but never tips over into parody, it’s clear that everyone’s having a great time making this movie and the audience has an open invite to either jump on board or find the nearest exit.

The look of the film is obviously inspired by a thousand Heavy Metal magazine covers (as well as a thousand “heavy metal” album covers), it’s insanely vibrant and harks back to a time when legendary comic book artist Jack “King” Kirby was doing his greatest work on titles like Thor, The New Gods and The Fantastic Four.

There’s bad-ass women, hilarious gags, monsters, Led Zeppelin’s The Immigrant Song and a bonkers 1980’s style synth-pop score by Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh; lively and exciting characters that you want to spend the whole movie with; top-notch CGI and practical effects; Jeff Goldblum…

That’s not to say Thor: Ragnarok is not without its problems, some of the world building and lore is flubbed (probably because it wasn’t as much fun to film as making the rest of the film) and a little too much time is spent developing Karl Urban’s Skurge, whose role in the movie is obvious from his first appearance. Because the rest of the movie is so enjoyable you do start to resent the moments when it has to go “serious”, but that’s a minor quibble and there’s really only about ten minutes that it could do without.

Fans who prefer the superhero canon to be a bit more straight-laced and serious faced might well baulk at the irreverence and meta-commentary of Thor: Ragnarok. Waititi obviously doesn’t believe in sacred cows or, if he does he really enjoys hitting them in the bum, and, credit where it’s due, Marvel has been brave enough to hand him a banjo big enough to do it. It was a big risk to let the director indulge in all his favourite idiosyncrasies, but it’s a gamble that Marvel/Disney should now be able to collect on: Thor: Ragnarok manages to make “more of the same” not only feel fresh and shiny-new but provides one of the most enjoyable visits to the cinema this year.

Andy Oliver

The Snowman & The Ritual

THE SNOWMAN (BBFC 15 1hr 59mins)

 

 

There were 26 years between two of Hollywood’s most iconic chillers, Jaws (1975) and The Silence of the Lambs (1991). Any hopes that lightning might strike for a third time are fading fast as, 26 years after Hannibal Lecter’s fava bean and chianti sides, the “great white hope”, an adaptation of bestselling Norwegian author Jo Nesbø’s The Snowman, fails to deliver a single shiver.

Based on the seventh of Nesbø’s successful Harry Hole (pronounced Hool-eh, so no jokes about Michael Fassbender’s Hole, okay?) detective novels, The Snowman struggles to find anything new to bring audiences unfamiliar to the author’s work whilst also alienating his existing fanbase. When elite crime-squad detective Harry Hole (Michael Fassbender) investigates the disappearance of a young woman he begins to suspect that the elusive serial killer dubbed “The Snowman” may be on the prowl again after years of hibernation. With the help of brilliant rookie Katrine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson), Hole has to connect his investigation to decades-old cold cases if he wants to catch the killer before he (or she) strikes again.

Various characters appear, disappear, deliver exposition and generally muddy the waters of both the investigation and the movie’s plot: J.K. Simmons plays a sinister magazine mogul trying to engineer a major winter-sports event; Charlotte Gainsbourg as Hole’s ex, Rakel, who constantly interrupts proceedings with some crisis or another involving their teenage son Oleg (Michael Yates); James D’Arcy as the hostile husband of the disappeared woman; Chloe Sevigny as identical twin chicken-farmers (one of whom is basically just a head stuck on top of a snowman); and a precariously coiffured Val Kilmer who appears in flashback scenes as the detective in charge of the original Snowman case. The audience is led up and down numerous snow-blind alleys and served up more than a barrel’s worth of pickled red herrings on their way to a finale that’s as bafflingly impractical as it is emotionally unrewarding.

Fassbender is fine as the clinical detective who is only ever really alive when he’s challenged by his work and a hopeless alcoholic when he’s not. Rebecca Ferguson is the standout as the feisty and eager Katrine, though she’s never quite handed enough by the script to really get her teeth into. The rest of the cast do the best they can with what little they’re given, although I’d like to know the reasoning behind the bizarrely bad voice-dubbing of Val Kilmer’s appearances.

The real detective work that hangs around The Snowman though, is how such a fine pedigree of talents (both in front of and behind the camera) managed to produce such a mutt? Director Thomas Alfredson, the man behind the near-impeccable Let the Right One In and the equally classy Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, seems to have not just dropped the ball but left it on the bus on his way home from the shops, a bus that subsequently burst into flames, driven off a bridge and plunged into a lake full of ball-eating piranhas. Where Jaws and Silence of the Lambs relied on a slowly building intensity and an inexorable feeling of inevitable dread, The Snowman goes straight for lurid, grisly shocks straight out of the most basic eighties slasher canon. Martin Scorsese is on board as executive producer and top-notch editors Claire Simpson (Platoon, Wall Street, The Reader) and long-time Scorsese collaborator Thelma Schoonmaker fail to pull the pieces together. Perhaps the fault lies at the feet of the writers? Peter Straughan (Frank, The Men Who Stare at Goats, Wolf Hall and the afore-mentioned Tinker, Tailor) and Hossein Amini (highs: Drive, The Wings of the Dove, lows: 47 Ronin, Snow White and the Huntsman) appear to have forgotten that what appears terrifying on the page may appear ridiculous on the screen, not the least of these being the snowmen which appear at every murder scene just come across as naughty or sad Olafs rather than signposts of evil.

Not the worst movie of the year by a long stretch but The Snowman is pretty abominable.

BONUS REVIEW

THE RITUAL (BBFC 15 1hr 34mins)

 


A bunch of chums (Rafe Spall, Arsher Ali, Sam Troughton and Robert James-Collier) go hiking in Sweden in memory of their friend Robert who was murdered in a convenience store robbery. Luke (Spall) is especially traumatised because he failed to intervene in the senseless killing and hid behind shelving unit during the crime. When one of the chums twists his ankle, a shortcut through a forest is decided upon with predictable horror movie results.

Dead animal hanging in the trees still dripping blood? Check. Creepy cabin in the woods? Check. Mysterious runes cut into trees/cabin/everything? Check.

Can you see where this is heading?

There’s good, solid performances by all but The Ritual is more of a trudge than a brisk hike. There’s nothing here you haven’t seen before, in fact there’s probably less. Sometimes you need a creepy local to say, “Stay out of the woods, lads” just to add a bit of context, which is something this movie sorely needs. It’s all a bit dull and you’ve seen it all before (unless this is your first horror movie, in which case you might experience minor goose-pimpling). It’s a calorie free rice cake of a movie, which is fine I suppose, I just like my calorie free rice cakes to be dipped in chocolate and smarties and served between two cream buns.

Andy Oliver

 

Kingsman: The Golden Circle

 

 

(BBFC 15 2hrs 21mins)


Oh dear.

There’s no easy way to say this but Kingsman: The Golden Circle, the follow up to director Matthew Vaughan and writer Jane Goldman’s fun, breezy, occasionally off-colour, occasionally shockingly violent but always exciting spy-spoof Kingsman: The Secret Service, is a bit of a slog. It’s a “Tough Mudder” of a movie, an exhausting trial of endurance, and the only prize waiting for those crawling across its finish line is to sniff a bucket of poop. It’s not without a few fun moments but unfortunately, as a whole, it’s a disappointment.

Eggsy (Taron Egerton), the council estate raised hero of the first movie, returns as a now fully-fledged member of ultra-dapper secret service organisation The Kingsmen, to face an all-new super-villain and an all-new threat to World peace. Poppy (Julianne Moore), the Martha Stewart/Kirstie Allsop-ish head of a major drugs cartel has been lacing her product with a lethal virus thereby infecting her entire userbase, an antidote to which will only be forthcoming if the US President (Bruce Greenwood) ends the war on drugs. The problem here being that POTUS sees Poppy’s plan as the way to solve the drugs problem once and for all.

Tired of the Kingsmen’s meddling Poppy destroys the organisation leaving only Eggsy and Kingsman Quartermaster Merlin (Mark Strong) as the surviving members. The pair then bounce around the world, team up with their US counterparts The Statesmen and discover that veteran Kingsman Harry Hart (Colin Firth) is still alive (despite being shot in the head at point-blank range in the first film), albeit suffering amnesia.

If you’ve seen the first movie or, indeed, any James Bond movie ever you’ll know where this is all heading: set-piece upon set-piece leading to an all-out, mega-action finale.

The problem is that it takes so long to get there and those set-pieces become increasingly tiresome, one extended sequence in which Eggsy has to… ahem, how should I describe this?… deposit a fingertip mounted tracker inside the genitals of a bad guy’s girlfriend (Poppy Delevingne) at Glastonbury becomes a particularly wearing test of endurance. So much time and effort is put into that sequence and none of it is really worth the pay-off, which, in many ways, sums up the whole movie.

The introduction of The Statesmen is a pleasant enough diversion but they are so poorly served that they feel like a wasted opportunity. Stars like Channing Tatum, Jeff Bridges and Halle Berry are painfully under-used and only Pablo Pascal gets a decent amount of screen time. Bizarrely Elton John (yes, Elton John) gets more to do in The Golden Circle than many of the other extended cameos, that’s how weird this movie is. The wonky use of The Statesmen is sort of resolved in the final third of the film but by then patience and suspension of belief has already been stretched to their limits.

Much of the criticism of The Secret Service was aimed at a particularly jarring and ill-advised gag at that movies end and chances were that The Golden Circle was always going to respond to those complaints by gleefully asking, “You think that was bad? Here, hold my pint…” And it certainly doesn’t hold back in its attempts to shock, in fact it tries way too hard (as evidenced by that Glastonbury sequence) and as a result sinks to Sacha Baron Cohen’s Brothers Grimsby levels of lad-mag humour. Great if you like that sort of thing, alienating if you find it don’t and, whatever you feel about it, it adds very little except bum-numbing minutes to an already too long movie.

It’s understandable that they’d want to bring back the always likeable Colin Firth as Eggsy’s mentor Harry but the way it’s done is a cheap cop-out (apparently the application of some super-Savlon can repair the damage of being shot in the face), a cheat which removes any life or death tension. Harry believes he’s a lepidopterist (butterfly collector) because of his amnesia and is perfectly happy and content until Eggsy forces him to relive a past trauma to snap him out of it. It’s a stretch to believe that the Eggsy of The Secret Service would be the callous Eggsy of The Golden Circle to take that away from him. It’s all too contrived and jarring and sells out the characters for a plot that doesn’t deserve them.

For all its fun moments, of which there are too few, Kingsman: The Golden Circle is too dogged by forced motivations, forced situations, increasingly weightless action sequences (all of which try to be as iconic as the church massacre of The Secret Service, none of which are successful), flaky CGI and wasted opportunities to hang together as an enjoyable whole. It’s a shame and I hope that it’s not a franchise killer, I’d love to see more of The Kingsmen, The Statesmen, Eggsy, Merlin, et al. Vaughan and Goldman just need to understand that more is not always necessarily more, sometimes you need to touch the brakes to get around the corner with speed.

Andy Oliver

Mother!

Anywhere between

 

and

 

(BBFC 18 2Hrs 1Min)


If you were anticipating my review of Mother! I’m afraid I have to disappoint: Although I tried many times to write a spoiler-free review, I have failed miserably. All I offer here is a kind of steer, a warning to the unwary, a softly whispered piece of advice in the ear of the hopelessly intrigued. In fact, I’m not sure this movie is even reviewable, it is possible to read it on so many levels, all of them right, most of them wrong, very few of them unworthy of friendship destroying argument.

Nominally, Mother! concerns a couple (Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem) renovating the man’s childhood home (none of the characters have names, by the way, so this might get confusing), when a stranger (Ed Harris) appears on their doorstep, closely followed by his wife (Michelle Pfeiffer). Bardem’s character invites the strangers in and Lawrence’s character begins to doubt her sanity (and their relationship) as more and more people come to the house and Bardem welcomes them all in and offers them free lodging. Where it goes from here is all spoiler territory into which I shall not tread, suffice it to say that the plot spirals into ever more horrific psychological and, eventually, physically violent acts which are not sexual but definitely gender-specific.

Be aware that if you’re handing over your hard-earned money for a ticket it may well be for something you will absolutely hate, I suspect more people will loathe Mother! than love it. It is one of the most divisive movies I’ve ever seen. I’m talking Anti-Christ/Eternal Sunshine/Only God Forgives/Spring Breakers/ Neon Demon level divisiveness. If you think you’re going to see a horror movie, you’re wrong. If you think you’re going to see a marital drama, you’re wrong. If you think everything will be wrapped up with a neat bow or Shyamalan-esque twist, guess what? You’re wrong.

Is it a thesis on toxic masculinity and misogyny? A religious parable? A satire in the mould of Luis Bunuel’s The Exterminating Angel (albeit one with a 180⁰ shift)? A damning critique of celebrity relationships? An environmental warning? A puzzle akin to Alain Resnais’ Last Year at Marienbad? An anthropological study of solitude versus tribal responsibilities? It’s all these things and more… or some of these things and less… or all of these things and none of them. Listen, how you respond to Mother! will depend exclusively upon you and what you take from it and how much you’re willing to put into it.

Written and directed by Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream, Noah, Black Swan), everything about Mother! is next level: beautifully shot, designed and lit; incredible performances from everyone in the cast, Lawrence remarkably manages to up her already “A” game and Bardem, Harris and Pfeiffer are nothing if not magnetic, to mention but four of this astonishing ensemble.

I’ve tried to help here but, honestly, nothing can prepare you for Mother! You will love it or you will hate it with venom. Caveat Emptor, my friends, Caveat Emptor. Maybe ask yourself would you watch this if it wasn’t a Jennifer Lawrence movie?

Me? Predictably, I loved it.

Andy Oliver

War for the Planet of the Apes

(BBFC 12A, 2hrs 22mins)


War. Huh. What is it good for? Absolutely nothin’ (?).

Or, at least that was the stance taken by Andy Serkis’ remarkable creation, Caesar the chimpanzee, at the end of the last instalment of the Planet of the Apes saga, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Caesar had killed the warmongering simian Koba and looked to live in (an uneasy) peace with mankind, both sides wanting to build or rebuild their societies and start afresh.

War for The Planet of the Apes opens with an establishing battle that destroys that accord, a massacre perpetrated by the now-militarised humans that hints that something has shifted within the status quo. That balance is subsequently blown out of the water when a sneak attack by the humans led by a figure known only as the Colonel (Woody Harrelson) leads to the deaths of Caesar’s wife and eldest child. Consumed by anger, Caesar vows revenge on the Colonel and sets off to exact his vengeance along with his closest allies, Maurice the Orangutan (Karin Konoval), Rocket the Chimp (Terry Notary) and Luca the Gorilla (Michael Adamthwaite). His quest leads him directly into the heart of darkness and a final battle that will change the fate of the world forever.


There is plenty in War for The Planet of the Apes that connects it to “Heart of Darkness”, or, more accurately, the most successful adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s best-known work, Apocalypse Now: from Woody Harrelson’s bullet-headed, unhinged Colonel, held in reverence by his troops/followers to an explosive attack by a formation of helicopters; the forest settings a constant reminder of how far from civilisation we’ve come; crucifixions, compound building, the soldiers referring to their ape enemies as “the Kong” (as in “Viet-Cong”, geddit?) and, most obviously, graffiti scrawled on a wall that reads, “Ape-pocalypse Now”.  It’s a lofty bar to aspire to and whilst War is hugely entertaining and affecting, it never quite hits those heights.

For the most part War moves successfully between revenge Western and escape movie, it’s a humane story written across an epic landscape and when it focusses on these aspects it is at its most effective often recalling the films of John Ford or David Lean, it’s director Matt Reeves’ pretensions to Coppola that prove less than satisfying. But that’s a film-nerd niggle, when judged against other Summer blockbusters, War is a hugely thoughtful and satisfying movie, a thinking person’s epic that proves good, old-fashioned storytelling is just as exciting as bloomin’ great big explosions.


The performances and performance captures are, across the board, of the highest quality. Andy Serkis lays down his heaviest gauntlet yet to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to be recognised for its highest awards, an Oscar nomination being the very least he deserves. It’s mostly a two-hander with the Caesar/Colonel relationship at its centre, Serkis’ motion capture performance is remarkable in its subtlety and nuance, conveying emotion through his body language, expression and small gestures, you are never unsure as to his essential ‘goodness’ even as his soul is consumed by his roiling need for justice and Harrelson has never been better as his driven and unceasingly chilling nemesis. There’s light relief and heart-breaking tragedy offered by the monkeyshines of Steve Zahn’s Bad Ape and if you thought it unfeasible to love Maurice the Orangutan more, his relationship with a young mute girl (played by Amiah Miller) manages to prove that nothing’s impossible.

I cannot even imagine how much work has gone into rendering the CGI of the apes, there’s a scene early on where Caesar walks amongst his tribe of primates, seemingly hundreds of them, and every single one has its own personality, a light behind the eyes that suggests each and one of them has a story to tell that’s worth listening to. The effects are absolutely flawless and, after an initial few minutes of stunned wonder, you no longer question that what you’re watching is the result of clever programming and immaculate artistry, there are no jarring moments that shatter the imitation of life, there’s never a second that you don’t believe they are living, breathing creatures deserving of your full attention and every ounce of your empathy.


It’s a formidable, thematically dense, soul-stirring and thought-provoking conclusion to the one of the more well-considered trilogies and, whilst there is no cosmic-bending “Statue of Liberty” or (Heaven forbid) “Lincoln Memorial” twist, Keyser Soze-like War for The Planet of the Apes pulls its greatest trick after you have left the building and you’ll find yourself wondering, “Wait, was I just rooting for the end of mankind?”

War is the apocalypse mankind knows full well it is rushing into but even with both eyes fully open seems unable to prevent. Yet, as dark as it gets, like the ending of a classic Western there is always a bright horizon and a better tomorrow.

That’s always worth seeing, isn’t it?

Andy Oliver

Moonlight, Hidden Figures, The Great Wall

MOONLIGHT

 

(BBFC 15)


A story in three chapters that chronicles the boyhood, adolescence and young manhood of Chiron, a gay black character growing up in a rough, drug riven district of Miami. Moonlight is an achingly beautiful examination of life that transcends its settings to tell a story we can all find meaning in.

Like pebbles dropped in a pool people fall into our lives creating ripples and waves that shape who and what we are. Moonlight posits that we have no control over not only our skin colour, our backgrounds or sexuality but that we have no control over who will enter our lives and the effects they will have upon us. The themes are universal and through them director Barry Jenkins allows us to explore a life so alien and different to our own yet so similar. What is it that makes us “us”?

Centring your thoughts on Moonlight being a black movie or a gay movie is missing the point, the film asks you to look at your own life and the influences that subliminally and consciously have brought you to the place you are today. And what happens to us if we decide to create our own narrative. Whilst Chiron (in the third and final chapter, Black) has allowed his past to shape his present, Kevin finds his “happy” in, finally, ejecting his past and the people he allowed to shape decisions.


Everything about Moonlight is next level. Universally great performances; beautiful cinematography; understated yet powerful writing; a melancholy, yet uplifting, score and poetic and subtle direction all combine to create one of the most nuanced and (though I hate the term) “Important” movies of the year (or many years, for that matter). Where Richard Linklater’s wonderful “Boyhood” focused on a single life, Moonlight has implications for all our lives.

Saying it is a coming of age movie or a black movie or a gay movie or a “worthy” movie is missing the point. Yes, it is all these things, but those are “parts”, what make Moonlight so special is the “whole”.

 

HIDDEN FIGURES

 

(BBFC PG)

Hidden Figures tells the spectacularly fascinating, and yet little known, story of the black women who contributed to the early years of NASA’s space program. Unfortunately, it is told in an utterly pedestrian manner that embraces stereotypes and clichés, it’s like buying the very best ingredients and still ending up with egg and chips for dinner.

There’s plenty of solid work from the central trio of Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae, but the movie has so many problems it’s hard to know where to start in dissecting it: tonally, it’s all over the place never sure whether it wants to be serious or amusing; it embraces so many clichés about black people and black culture that it borders on its own racism; it lacks any focus wanting to tell three stories and only really doing one of them any kind of justice (barely any justice at all actually); nobody is ever called to account for their overt or covert acceptance of institutionalised racism and sexism (and even goes so far as to portray all the white characters as nice guys who are simply misguided or absolute straight arrows); about five minutes in you get the first of Pharrell Williams’ faux Sixties soul tracks which continue to jar and annoy throughout the movie.


Add to this, Kevin Costner chewing the scenery (and an endless supply of gum); Jim Parsons attempting to show that there’s more to him than playing a snippy science nerd in The Big Bang Theory (here he plays a snippy science nerd who’s also a bit racist) and a script so shallow you would struggle to get the soles of your shoes wet were you to step in it. It’s everything that was bad about eighties/nineties movies, more Cool Runnings than Selma, less The Right Stuff and more Spacecamp.

Such a shame as the story of these women genuinely needed to be told and admired. Hidden Figures is just not the film to do it.

 

THE GREAT WALL

 

 


(BBFC 12A)

The Great Wall, although beautifully designed, is such a weird mix of generic Western and Eastern action tropes, Chinese mythology and Communist ideology (yes, really) that it’s difficult to understand exactly where it’s coming from.

Matt Damon and Pedro Pascal play a pair of European mercenaries who travel to ancient China in search of the secret of gunpowder, only to stumble upon an ongoing war between men and monsters. Should the pair use the chaos of battle to steal the secret they came for or stay and fight?

There’s plenty to enjoy in the film’s design (including the creatures and the colourful costumes of the oriental army) and original ideas (especially the female warriors who bungee jump off the wall to attack the dragon-like beasts below and the well-thought creature hierarchy), less so in the story or characters. The Great Wall is an okay action movie, no more, no less. It’s only when you scratch beneath the surface it becomes ideologically troublesome.


Made by House of Flying Daggers and Hero auteur Zhang Yimou for the state-owned China Film Group, The Great Wall is pretty overt in its politics, ie the blind adherence to the state in the face of outside antagonism over individualism (interesting to see how that plays in 2017 America). The nobility is buffoonish and incompetent whereas the strength and sacrifice of those who hold the line for the greater good seems like a polemic straight out of a certain little red book. Admittedly it’s one hive-mind versus another, it’s just that the outside one wants to devour the other.

Yimou is a master of composition and large-scale action and, as propaganda, The Great Wall is not short of spectacle or subtlety, unfortunately it lacks enough plot or character depth to make it a memorable cinematic experience.

Andy Oliver