Spider-Man: Homecoming (Cinema Review)

12A – 133mins – 2017 – 3D


 

TURN OFF THE STARK

After five blockbuster movies taking place over two unrelated movie-verses with two separate casts and crews – all of which were released in the space of just twelve years – Marvel Comic’s friendly neighbourhood web-slinger has finally come home, in his first solo Marvel Cinematic Universe adventure following a triumphant cursory cameo in 2016’s Civil War.

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Frank & Lola (DVD Review)

18 – 87mins – 2017


 

LOVE IS NO FAIRY TALE

Opening on an intense lovemaking scene between Las Vegas chef Frank (Michael Midnight Special Shannon) and aspiring fashion designer Lola (Imogen Green Room Poots), I honestly thought I was in for a Fifty Shades-style erotic thriller with debuting director Matthew Ross’ protagonist-named straight-to-DVD feature. But aside from this brief and surprising snatch of nudity from the gorgeous Ms. Poots, this is as titillating as Frank & Lola gets. The ensuing 80-plus minutes does deal with sexual themes, but in a far darker and less intimate manner.

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Things to Come (DVD Review)

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12 – 98mins – 2016


LØVE AND FRIENDSHIP

“I thought you’d love me forever. I’m a goddamn idiot.”

Released in its native France as L’Avenir, this naturalistic drama from young director Mia Hansen-Løve drew rave reviews and award success for its wry humanity and Isabelle Huppert’s performance as Nathalie Chazeaux, a philosophy teacher who amidst juggling her career, home live and looking after her depressed and ailing mother (Édith Scob), is left by her husband (André Marcon) for another woman.

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When Marnie Was There (DVD Review)

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U – 103mins – 2014


 

FINE ON THE OUTSIDE

Transposing the setting of Joan G. Robinson’s 1967 children’s book from North Norfolk to Sapporo, Japan, Arrietty director Hiromasa Yonebayashi’s second feature film is otherwise respectfully dutiful to its classic source material – a book which Studio Ghibli founder Hayau Miyazaki proclaimed one of his top fifty children’s stories of all time.

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The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman (DVD Review)

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15 – 99mins – 2013


 

BY SHIA WILL

Hollywood golden boy Shia Transformers LaBeouf edged his way out of mainstream blockbusters and towards more edgy, indie fare with this trippy and über-violent coming of age romantic drama from debuting director Fredrik Bond, enticing a number of well-known faces along for the Euro joyride.

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Equals (DVD Review)

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12 – 98mins – 2015


 

THE LOVE BUG

“We cured cancer, we cured the common cold, we can cure S.O.S.”

In a starkly clinical ‘utopian’ potentiality where to be “Switched On” to your emotions is to be labelled “defective” and sent to the doctor for inhibitors, tantamount to a disease which is on the verge of being cured, two members of the Collective struggle to keep their love for one another under wraps.

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Trolls (Cinema Review)

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U – 93mins – 2016 – 3D


 

HAPPY, HAPPY, TOY JOY

Those beady-eyed, multi-coloured, Mr. Whippy-haired dolls from your youth (provided you were young in the 90s!) sing, dance and scrapbook their way to the big screen in this nauseatingly bright, bubbly and emotive celebration of all things HAPPY from Dreamworks Animation, Shrek Forever After director Mike Mitchell and co-director Walt Dohrn (a fellow Shrek franchise alum).

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Branagh Theatre Live: ROMEO & JULIET (Live Review)

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12A – 210mins – 2016 – B&W


 

THE RO MUST GO ON

The performance last night was preceded by a clearly impromptu card-prompted introduction from Kenneth Branagh which explained Romeo (Richard Madden) had sustained an ankle injury just 48hours prior to this nationwide cinema simulcast (“the perils of live theatre!”). Nevertheless, the Game of Thrones actor was determined to power through this performance, which was part of the Cinderella director’s yearlong Plays at the Garrick season.

Branagh noted a few changes to the staging to better accommodate the lead’s mobility issues, but the show still flowed flawlessly and at no time did it appear the young Montague was in any sort of agony (other than of the heart) – quite remarkable given how he was still gamely dancing and fighting across the stage throughout.

Romeo & Juliet’s tone was set by the monochrome black and white palette, which empathised Branagh’s 1950’s Italian influence on Christopher Oram’s costume and set design. The camera direction on the night by Benjamin Caron was wonderfully dynamic and cinematic in its execution, with crucial scenes even incorporating focus blurs!

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In fact, so polished was the entire production that I almost needed reminding that this wasn’t tirelessly edited together from hours of unusable rehearsal footage; this was happening live, albeit an hour down the road from where I watched it in my local Cineworld. There were no dropped props, fluffed monologues or even winces from the delicate Romeo.

From Lily James’ hopeful and gushing Juliet to Meera Syal’s dryly humorous Nurse, the entire cast were superb – with special mention due to Derek Jacobi’s aged take on Mercutio. In a vox pop screened in the build up to the broadcast Branagh explained his “Wilde” inspiration behind this potentially divisive casting decision, and Jacobi delivered it with spunk and assured nonchalance.

Perhaps it was the lack of Mercutio’s unerring, larger-than-life presence, or the downward spiral of the fleetingly-promising love story, but the second half (following a twenty minute interval in which the camera lingered on a bird’s eye view of the milling Garrick attendees) was far more intense and far less fun than the spirited first. Juliet’s father (Michael Rouse) in particular delivering a shockingly brutal disavowal of his daughter’s protest against an arranged suitor.

Image result for kenneth branagh romeo and julietWhile the delivery of the awkwardly tongue-twisting Shakespearean verse made it impossible not to give the screen your full attention if you intended to stand any chance of following the ups and downs of this tragic tale, your concentration was rewarded with an impressive and immersive theatre experience. Purists may scoff at some of Branagh’s bolder revisions (a club song during the party scene, for instance), but this still retained the heartbreaking soul of the timeless original.

CR@B’s Claw Score: 4 stars

Tuck Everlasting (DVD Review)

PG – 90mins – 2003


 

I WANT TO LOVE FOREVER

From Jay Russell, the director of My Dog Skip (2000), comes this sweet but conservative family-friendly fable about the romance which blossoms between an immortal son (Jesse Jackson) and the upper class socialite (Alexis Gilmore Girls Bledel) who discovers his family’s long-hidden secret.

Set in 1914 and largely based in a timeless woodland homestead, Tuck Everlasting’s unpretentious plot is undeniably charming and chock-full of rose-tinted awe, but ultimately this A-to-B adaptation of Natalie Babbitt’s beloved children’s book doesn’t play around with its magic-infused, era-spanning narrative enough.

Ben Kingsley is sufficiently stuffed with smarm as an enigmatic yellow-suited profiteer of the Tuck’s blessing/curse, but his menace – and the ramifications of his fate – are dulled down for a Disney demographic. So too is the fact that baby-faced Bledel’s protagonist Winnie is kidnapped by William Hurt’s age-defying brood in order to hold her tongue from babbling about their magical spring of youth.

CR@B Verdict: 3 stars

Ocean Waves (DVD Review)

PG – 72mins – 1993


 

LESSONS IN LOVE

One of the more obscure and less renowned films in the peerless Studio Ghibli collection, up-and-coming director Tomomi Mochizuki’s anime adap. of a popular Japanese novel is also known as I Can Hear the Sea (or Umi Ga Kikoeru, if you’re feeling brave with your pronunciation), but was released as Ocean Waves on its belated region 2 DVD debut release in 2009. Originally made for television by a young crew, it ended up going over budget and schedule.

This extras-lite disc (a trailer is the sole bonus content) is also lacking an English dub, so Japanese with subtitles is the sole audio option. Some may argue that this is how it should always be, but I welcome the option. News that the studio giants are sadly winding down production on new films post-When Marnie was There (released this week on these shores) means revisiting and re-releasing these unsung rarities is surely inevitable going forward.

Despite retaining Ghibli’s distinctive calm and graceful tonal atmosphere, Ocean Waves is unfortunately a slave to its age, with a number of cringingly outmoded sexist comments lending an awkward and naïve air to this story of blossoming young love. Pretty transfer student Rikako (Yoko Sakamoto) moves from Tokyo to the sleepy coastal town of Shikoku and makes waves between competitive best friends Yutaka (Toshihiko Seki) and Taku (Nobuo Tobita) in their last year of high school.

“You’re only acting up because your teacher’s a woman!”

With these two “innocent country lads” lost in wide-eyed, gaping admiration over Rikako’s beauty, they are seemingly blind to her deceptive ways, which often verges on flat-out manipulation and makes “a girl like that” hard to endear to. Nevertheless, this doesn’t excuse the hefty slap an exasperated Taku (the relatable lead character, I should clarify) executes to knock Rikako to the floor. It’s hard to watch and makes Ocean Waves uneasy viewing.

With nearly an hour of the film consumed by Taku’s memories of this fawning and formative time, Mochizuki executes a technique of opening each new reverie with thick white borders of varying sizes accompanied by scene-setting illustrations which are instantly repeated when the story begins. It’s an interesting visual choice (perhaps enforced by budget?), but certainly makes the film stand out – and leaves a better taste in the mouth than the archaic gender politics which are more narrow-minded than charmingly innocent.

With the stunted 72 minute feature fading on the promise of a happy ending, I can’t help thinking Taku and Rikako’s blossoming relationship is in for a rude awakening. After all, “women are only into how guys look, anyway” (!!). For a young director (Mochizuki was just 34 at the time) stretching his creative wings, Ocean Waves is not without promise or value, but its darker, pubescent attitude jars and mars any of the timeless adolescent splendour we usually associate with the Asian anime giants.

CR@B Verdict: 2 stars