Movie Review 12: Dunkirk

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“There’s no hidin’ from this, son… We have a job to do.”

I was invited to see Dunkirk with two of my three older brothers so we could have a boys’ night out at the pictures. However, much to my surprise, Dunkirk was the only so-called boys’ film that’s come out all year that my girlfriend actually wanted to see. I couldn’t help but indulge her, plus Harry Styles was in it so she had some eye candy if things got really boring. I’m okay with that; I had Cillian Murphy to look at.

It’s rather difficult to write a synopsis of a film based on actual historical events without taking it straight off the Wikipedia page, so I shall do just that in case people don’t know anything about what is arguably one of the most triumphant events in British wartime history: The Dunkirk evacuation, code-named Operation Dynamo, also known as the Miracle of Dunkirk, was the evacuation of Allied soldiers from the beaches and harbour of Dunkirk, in the north of France, between 26 May and 4 June 1940, during World War II. There you have it! Let’s get to the movie.

The Good:

I think most of the things I enjoyed during Dunkirk where due in no small part to Vue Cinemas’ gorgeous surround sound. ‘Scuse my French, but FUCK was the sound good!! Divebombers positively screaming overhead, explosions that made your ears ring, gunshots clattering out that felt like they were impacting all around you. It felt more like a 4D movie than a 2D one, with the seats juddering everytime a Spitfire made a pass. God damn, this is what cinema should sound like, god damn god damn. Ahem. Let me compose myself and talk about some other enjoyable aspects, speaking of the planes. The few times I felt my eyes sting a little during Dunkirk were, besides the moment when all the small vessels arrive (which was actually butchered by Kenneth Branagh’s subsequent line, tut tut) and when the boys arrive home and see the white cliffs of Dorset (I’ve already mentioned my little house there on this blog), were whenever the spitfires flew past. They were actually gorgeous, I can’t lie. I’ve never even had a particular affinity for the engines of war, but I guess a substantial part of me enjoys first person shooter video games and sci-fi war movies, and then on top of that Fury is among my top favourite films of all time, soooo perhaps I’m just trying to hide the fact that I do love a beautiful piece of engineering, and the Spitfire is no exception. Says a lot that I purchased a Lego Republic Fighter Tank in the shopping centre we saw the film in, doesn’t it? The visuals of the film in general were rather nice, if a little washed-out, just like the soldiers, and some particularly stomach-churning aerial shots were enjoyable when your seat was wobbling along with the nose of the plane. The acting throughout the film isn’t half bad, surprising considering it’s mostly American accents that work on the big screen, and I hate to say it but you know it’s never a good sign when I draw my “The Good” section to a close with a comment on something which is expected to be present in any film. To attempt to defend Dunkirk before I get into my criticisms, I will say that I acknowledge the fact maybe the character’s aren’t memorable because they’re not supposed to be, as war is anonymous, and hardly any are individual heroes… but let’s be frank: Nolan probably wasn’t thinking that hard about the symbolism.

To be Improved:

When I had to turn to my girlfriend and explain that yes, we were now on a third separate timeline in terms of the plot, I think we both realised that something was amiss. Cillian Murphy is on the small vessel Moonstone after being rescued, heading back towards Dunkirk; Cillian Murphy is also refusing access to a boat to another of our main characters, who is stuck on the beach (confusing enough already, the only indication that these are different time frames being the time of day); and Tom Hardy flies towards a German bomber about to take out a minesweeper. To add insult to injury, Hardy’s character takes about twenty minutes of screentime to get to the bomber, despite going full throttle and blazing through his Spitfire’s fuel. This is because it keeps jumping back and forth, and then to my intense frustration, Hardy doesn’t even catch up to the bomber before it completely obliterates the minesweeper, killing most on board in one barrage. There are moments like this that aren’t entirely explained, like when some sort of blind man (possibly, again, not explained) touches our hero on the face before giving him a blanket. Also, when Harry Styles’ character (who is the grumpy nadir of the film) does what he does best by being moody on the train ride home through England, there’s this sort of lacklustre reveal, as the other protagonist (though I use that word lightly) reads Churchill’s triumphant Commons’ address in the paper, that “Oh, I guess Harry’s character thought everyone would be angry at them for retreating, but we already… Sort of… Knew that Dunkirk was a triumph rather than a failure so… What?” On top of that, the sheer frustration that Hardy’s character, when he finally does run out of fuel, simply glides to a halt on the beach and, despite that fact that he flies over hundreds of men on the beach being evacuated, is captured by Germans in the film’s closing shots. I guess he didn’t want the Spitfire to fall into enemy hands? It’s all just so vague and confusing, and any emotional impact is lost because we don’t actually spend enough time with any of the characters to really care about them. Plus, and god, now I’m just ranting, the trailer spoils absolutely any moment of tension. My girlfriend got all tense when Styles’ character goes into the belly of a boat, and I just turned and said “Torpedo, I reckon,” and lo and behold, someone shouted “TORPEDO!” and the whole thing was blown to smithereens. Again, when some Englishmen hide in the bottom of a fishing boat which is being used as target practice by some unsuspecting Germans, one is asked to plug the holes or the boat will sink. I covered my ears, and sure enough, only my girlfriend jumped at the next bullet which came through the hull. How did I know all these things, I hear you ask? The trailer, man. The damn trailer. When the next Star Wars one comes out, I’m tellin’ ya, I don’t think I want to watch it, because studios are just spoiling more and more and more with each new film. The artificial tension throughout the film was a cheap way of making the audience on edge, and I started to notice about halfway through that at most quiet moments, some sort of gunshot was about to go off. Nearly one hundred percent of the time, I was right. It still gave me a bloody fright every single time, which was a nice adrenalin kick, but I’d go to a horror movie if I wanted that. And finally, speaking of artificiality, the death scenes that came every quarter of an hour were even less emotional than the jumpscares, and that’s saying something. It wasn’t poignant because, much like a horror movie in fact, characters were just picked off at every opportunity rather than in any sort of moving scene. Sure, as I kind of mentioned in the above section, maybe this is the point, as you can die at the drop of a hat in war, but Nolan’s death scenes were just too formulaic and at intervals far too regular to make me think that was the case.

Overall: 6/10

Dunkirk rumbles moodily along for its duration and for whatever reason manages to make its nearly two-hour runtime feel like half of that, with some great shots and emotional moments, but fails to deliver on any satisfying characters, action or poignancy overall. More like a string of ‘boo’ moments, the film (like many Cillian Murphy stars in, Anthropoid included) is not one that will be remembered, despite its subject matter, mainly due to the frantic (but somehow still dragging) jumping between scenes. I shall simply agree with what my dad, who saw it a few days before me with aforementioned brothers, said when I asked him whether or not Dunkirk was good: “Mmm… It was enjoyable, yeah,” he replied, with a so-so look on his face. And, in stark contrast to the history it was based on, I’ve gotta admit that that’s all Nolan’s Dunkirk is, unfortunately.

 

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Game Review 7: Halo – Reach

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I knew Spartans were big, but damn. Forget the marines, at this rate we’ll be able to just punch the Covenant fleet out of orbit.

Halo: Reach. My, my, what a banger of a game, eh? That’s right, I’m not afraid to slightly spoil the outcome of this review from the get-go. This is my favourite Halo game of them all, and may just be one of my favourite games, period. I don’t actually remember how or when I got Reach, but it was probably for Christmas. What I do remember is finishing the campaign in close to a single sitting, it was so enjoyable and varied. The characters, the story, the visuals, all those gorgeous armour permutations. Yes indeed, playing this through again for the review for what is probably nearing the tenth time sure was a treat.

In Halo: Reach, you once again step into the gleaming Mjolnir boots of a near-indestructible Spartan. This time, however, you not only have your juggernaut-like strength, speed and agility to help you, but also five team members just as if not more skilled than you. Noble Team are at the forefront of the fight to save the planet Reach, and the participants in the birth of the all out war between humanity and the Covenant that you go on to play as the figurehead of in Halo 1 through 3, the indomitable Master Chief.

Disclaimer: I won’t be discussing multiplayer or forge, because as someone who was never allowed to buy Xbox Live, never had a Playstation in order to take advantage of the free multiplayer, and then eventually just realised that single player was all the fun I needed, I play games purely for their campaigns.

The Good:

There are definitely some amazing aspects to the Reach campaign that, when we fans first played it, blew our socks off. The most innovative (but, as we shall see, one of the least thrilling) was by far the space-combat section. Getting launched into atmosphere in the cockpit of a Sabre is something that I, with my propensity for fan-girling over massive orbital battles the likes of which you hardly ever see on consoles outside Mass Effect cutscenes, thoroughly enjoyed the look of. Again, we’ll come to my criticisms of this mission, but that’s not what this section of the review is for. The most blindingly apparent update to the Halo franchise is the visuals. It’s much more akin to those of ODST, favouring moodier but just as beautiful skyboxes complete with rolling thunderclouds and scorching sunsets than the studio did in previous games. I really like how Reach feels. The fiery twilight of the Falcon mission, the cool blues of the dawn sneak through New Alexandria, and the cold darkness of the night-time sniping excursion punctuated by the green flashes of your night-vision (which is far more useful and better incorporated than it ever was in ODST, by the way). All these and more make each mission really feel unique, and gives the game on the whole much more personality. People may argue in favour of a more seamless experience, but when you think of what a washed-out slog ODST felt like at times, and the sudden stark and jarring switches from desert vista to barren snowscape that punctuated Halo 3, Reach is a far more appealing system in my opinion, and one that the developers really managed to perfect.

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Baggage claim was going to be hell today.

To be Improved:

As mentioned above, the space combat level, Long Night of Solace, is mind-numbingly dull. The first time you get to go into space you practically jump for joy, but as I said I’ve played Reach about ten times now so you really start to see the cracks after that many sessions. There are also some abrupt difficulty spikes throughout, such as the appearance of two hunters, or being dropped into a city full of brutes with only a magnum (I know that’s kind of the point of the level but the checkpoints are particularly poorly placed). The only other real problems are that Firefight gets super boring, and even then it is the only way to properly earn armour permutations outside of multiplayer; if you read the disclaimer at the start of this review you’ll already know what a problem that is for me.

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Spartan Greg made a mental note to remember the safe-word next time.

Overall: 8/10

Halo Reach was a great delight to go back and play through again. There are some frustrating moments, and ones that are outright mind-numbing to have to keep repeating, but overall it is a fairly solid experience. There’s nothing much more to say than that, and I’m sure the, what, two or so people who read this review aren’t going to mind it being a little shorter than most. Thanks all the same.

Model Review: Bandai 1/12 Stormtrooper Kit

I don’t know if this will become a regular series, but I really like the looks, feel, build-process and design for these models, so who knows if I’ll buy more in the future. I own a few Gundams, but many were treated horribly (by me, that’s what happens when buying model kits for a twelve-year-old who’s likely to bash them about in battle with his Star Wars figures) so are now broken beyond having any display or play value. That said, I did buy a fairly nice one for a tenner recently just to go with all the other various items on display in my room (many Lego sets among them, obviously), so we’ll have to see whether or not this segment becomes a repeated thing.

Star Wars and sci-fi are at this point absolutely the summation of my interests, and of all the designs for the various ships, armour, weapons and characters across all the different works I’ve come into contact with over the years, none are more iconic than the stormtrooper. I therefore thought it best, when I discovered the model kit and also the fact that it was only eighteen quid with free delivery, that I finally purchased a proper version of a member of the Empire’s unyielding legion of ground troops.

The Good:

  • Articulation is insane, owing to the wonderful combination of soft and hard plastic parts which actually fit with the stormtrooper in canon, with their leather under-armour.
  • No gluing is a welcome respite from Warhammer 40k which I used to collect, all of which have a dirty great splodge of glue leaking from their neck and shoulders like some sort of horrific, pus-filled wound. The snap together design even allows for some extra posing options, seeing as you can slide the joints slightly apart for a tad more manoeuvrability.
  • The way the black parts really are beneath the armour as the bodyglove would be adds a depth which I would expect kits from lesser companies do not include.
  • Very dark green transparent visor is greatly appreciated.
  • Paint sticks to it like glue, and it may just be the paints themselves (more on that in the additional section below) but anything I put on dried almost instantly.
  • Was incredibly nervous about the stickers, but they went on smooth as anything despite their small size, and were not affected by the dampness of the wash (again, see below for details).
  • The inclusion of all three weapons is amazing, as I’m very accessory-oriented in my opinions of sets like this, and discovering the blaster pistol that I have to admit I thought only death troopers utilised was a nice surprise.

To be Improved:

  • Some coloured detailing already included on the figure would be nice, but I suppose as they’re just mould-injected plastic (or whatever they are) on sprues, I imagine this is a manufacturing impossibility. The decals themselves are very good, as mentioned above, and you can just paint the figures yourself which made me feel so much like I was having a thirty-years-too-early midlife crisis it was unreal, though it was still super fun.
  • If this isn’t the tiniest (literally) complaint on this site, I don’t know what is. There’s a millimetre wide blue button decal that goes on his stomach panel, and this didn’t stay down flush with the rounded plastic so is just sitting on top of it. However, it still stayed on, despite having a wash go down on top of it, so not many complaints in terms of how strong the glue is!
  • Two fisted hands instead of just the one would also have been great, as they included enough trigger hands for him to be ambidextrous so should probably have added another fist, too. That said, we do get a nice pointing hand, though the finger on this is far too long compared to the rest of the hand so it just ends up looking weird.
  • Some joints are a little looser than I’d like them to be but I’m sure this is only limited to this specific model.

Additional Section – Painting Process:

For this kit, I used Citadel Paints from Games Workshop because there’s a fairly solid range of different types and colours, and because they’re also relatively cheap when only buying one or two different colours. I bought Nuln Oil (a dark grey wash for bringing out fine detail), Blood for the Blood God (a personal favourite, I wonder if you can guess what it was used for), Abaddon Black which is a standard super dark black that I used for scuffing and scratches, some sort of tan for weathering (there are about ten different types and I just chose the one I liked the look of), and a thinner for making the wash lighter. I also managed to dig out my old Warhammer paints including a brown which was all dried up but still allowed me to drybrush on some mud, and Boltgun Metal which was a dark silver that, again, I was easily able to drybrush, this time onto the weapons. I used a fine detail brush for stippling scuff marks and doing nice flicky scratches, then loaded a brush with Blood for the Blood God and flicked it at the figure with my finger. I did the same for the tan colour, then drybrushed the same shade over the top of the legs and waist. There are some natural mud and blood flecks which I’m particularly proud of, showing just how far a little rough weathering can go when it comes to creating a story behind a figure. I wanted to use a tiny bit more red on the figure, because I’d literally used about ten tiny drops of a whole pot, so I’ve drybrushed on some dried blood to the heel of his fist and along the underside of his wrist. Perhaps he cracked some rebel skull with the grip of his rifle and got some guck on his nice white armour, who knows? I then applied a nice helping of 1:5 wash/thinner across the whole figure, and I was going to wipe some of it off with a cotton bud while it was still slightly wet but it ended up giving a really nice dirty, oil-soaked look, so I left it as it was. Looks like this trooper got stuck on TIE detail on the Death Star at some point. The end result is a pretty beaten up trooper who looks like he’s been everywhere from Tatooine to Endor then back again, and I’m really happy with the result, especially those mud and blood flecks.

Overall: 10/10

With no other brands to compare to besides the ever-frustrating Warhammer and a handful of slide-together wooden and cardboard models I owned as a child, the Bandai Stormtrooper is still an obvious standout, as with the Gundam line. While they were still intact, my four Gundams were incredibly detailed even without painting or panel lining, and wonderfully articulated to boot. The Stormtrooper is no exception. Bandai create brilliant kits for a (mostly, providing it doesn’t include a sniper rifle the size of a building or colossal gold-chrome-plated wings) fantastically affordable price, and in my opinion this stands among the most satisfying and well-made of them all.

Lego Review 18: 30521 – Mini Batmobile

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I got this from a car boot sale in Dorset, which seems like a very odd place to pick up a relatively new, sealed Lego set but it’s the truth, and when you think about it it’s unsurprising considering the fact that most country folk have started to become savvy to the ways of the business world.

The Mini Batmobile is a polybag that, the guy who sold me it claimed, was given away free with tickets for the first screenings of the Lego Batman Movie… Possibly? It comes with all you see above, which is a one mini batmobile. It does, however, also come with a spare batarang and trans-purple stud, which is nice.

The Good:

  • Where the big set has wheel mounts that swivel to turn this into a more monstertruck feeling vehicle, Lego has actually sort of stayed true to that design in the miniature version, as you can take the Technic wheel pieces off and place them in different orientations.
  • The build process itself is nice and rather unorthodox.
  • Those red stripes are very subtle but without them it wouldn’t feel the same.
  • As mentioned above, purple stud is a nice addition, especially two of them.
  • You get one of what I shall be referring to as the Nexo Knight shield pieces, in black.

To be Improved:

  • The overall design is very ugly, in my opinion, now that it has been shrunken down to this size:
  • The windscreen has a very obvious ugly line through it,
  • the thruster wings aren’t oriented the right way,
  • the batarang on the front is way too big (no way they could have gotten around this but still),
  • and by god is that shield piece the wrong one to use. It either completely shrouds or totally exposes the windshield, and doesn’t look good either way.
  • In fact, everything about this set looks like it’s stuck on the wrong way round, but then you switch it about (which is what Lego is designed for, just saying) and it still looks wrong.

Overall: 4/10

The batmobile is supposed to be this big gorgeous chunky thing, and this set is decidedly none of those things. I really don’t like the way they’ve tried to ‘capture’ the look of the one from the film, when in reality they just don’t have the pieces to do something like that. It’s not minimalist; it’s just ugly.

Review 21: Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee

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I read this a year ago, very nearly to the day. It seems so strange to try and look back on that time, because I was so different and my tastes weren’t what they are now, but I’m sure it gave me a ton of inspiration for my own novel, and really pushed me to keep going with it. Well, a year down the line, I’m a hundred pages in (to my own sci-fi, that is!) and still going strong, and the sequel to Ninefox Gambit, Raven Stratagem, has just been released. I’ve waited a long time for it, so I’m not about to just dive in without giving myself a refresher of the first in the trilogy beforehand. I make a point of the fact that I never read books twice, but Ninefox is among my all time favourites so, for once, it’s a pleasure to get lost in it once again. Because I may have changed a lot in the last year, but what certainly hasn’t changed is how much I love this book.

In a distant and hierarchical future of calendrical warfare and exotic technologies, the ruling Hexarchate loses one of its central fortresses to a heretic takeover. The Liozh, the abolished seventh faction of the old Heptarchate, seek to reinstate themselves, and are willing to kill thousands in the process by purging the fortress. When Captain Kel Cheris of Heron Company is selected to take down the heretics and is given full access to the Kel arsenal, she decides on the undead tactician General Shuos Jedao as her weapon of choice. She bonds with the ghost of the man who massacred two armies, one of them his own, and sets out to take back the Fortress of Scattered Needles. But will she succeed, or will Jedao drive her insane before she does and get them both killed?

The Good: 

I think this may have happened before with my reviews, but this is another book where the ‘Good’ section will be a lot shorter than the ‘To be Improved’ one, for one simple reason. When you have a book that is consistently amazing throughout, it’s very hard to narrow down your praises, so you’re sort of just left saying “It’s all great, simple as”, which is a lot less complicated than, for instance, describing a whole scene in depth because that was the only silver lining you could find in an otherwise mediocre novel. Consequently, any criticisms are super specific so, even though they warrant a lot more explanation, just because there are more words doesn’t mean there are more things wrong with the book. Capeesh? Case in point: All of the imagery, description, names of the ships and weapons, it’s superb, it really is. See? That sentence is a lot shorter than if there was only one example of gorgeous imagery and I went into it in greater detail, but I can’t say anything more! It’s just so well-written. I’m going to have to get specific here, so let’s just list some things. The imagination that has been required to come up with all the weapons, ships, factions and imagery throughout is just staggering. Boxmoth troop transports, Cindermoths equipped with Erasure Guns and Dire Cannons, Kel Ashhawks, Threshold Winnowers, it goes on and on. And they never start to get boring, that’s the main thing. So much new weaponry is introduced that drastically turns the tide of battle (and that’s really what this book is about on the whole, so it just adds to the gritty feel) but none of it done cheaply in dull ex machina fashion. Instead, there are genuine surprises which grip you and keep your fingers flicking the pages, moments of terror that make you hold your breath, conversational gambits (pun intended, as I’m sure it was intended in the book) that make you grin in satisfaction, laugh out loud or shudder, and, of course, a whole host of explosive space battles and infantry skirmishes complete with all the aforementioned cannons, guns and winnowers, along with many others. As well as all this, the lore behind the story is established incredibly cunningly. When I first read it, sure, I was incredibly confused by all the “calendar” stuff, as none of it is explicitly explained; but, and this is something many people cite as a reason to avoid sci-fi as it is too easy a genre to write to be awarded any credit, it doesn’t need to be explained, because it is shown not told. That’s the joy of reading Ninefox Gambit and unravelling the mystery for yourself. On top of that, many questions are left unanswered and I am very much looking forward to having them answered in the sequel, as well as having new ones raised to be reserved for, I hope, an eventual finale to a trilogy.

To be Improved:

Yoon Ha Lee has clearly chosen some things that very much resemble but not quite enough for copyright infringement multiple items and characters from Bungie’s Destiny and not even bothered to change the names. Servitors are enemies that look very similar to the small drones of the same name described in the book, and serve (pun intended) much the same function. Exotics, even though this is already an English word, I guess, are the powerful weapons you unlock at high levels in Destiny, and they’re the ones used in the book, too. The Kel are a race in Destiny, and a faction in the book. Look, I’m all for a bit of homage, but when you mention all three of these things in the first page and the reason I buy your book is because of how much it initially reminds me of one of my favourite video games, you’ve cheated a bit. But that’s not to say that’s the reason I carried on reading. Another slight issue is that as you go through the book there are perhaps a few too many characters to keep up with. When you also consider the fact they all start with the name of their faction (Kel Cheris, Kel Nerevor, Kel Diaia, etc) it becomes frustrating to try and keep track of them all, especially seeing as they all seem to be equally important at various points in the narrative. Although maybe that’s the point, as the main character herself finds herself unable to keep track of her subordinates due to her inexperience in her newly-brevetted rank, so I’ll overlook it. And on top all this, there are some VERY convoluted plot points that are never really followed up. If they are eventually explained, there’s too many to keep track of so whenever a “She dreaded to think what was going to happen” moment crops up, the reveal comes so much further on in the book and there are so many of these moments that it all gets a bit lost and muddled. But now we come to my biggest complaint, albeit one that will hopefully have been ironed out by the time there’s a second printing of this book. It’s now incredibly annoying when this happens, and yes, it’s an editing rather than an authorial problem, and yes, before I picked the book up this time around I’d forgotten about it which means it can’t have been too much of a problem the last time I read it, but Ninefox Gambit is one of if not the only book I’ve read where whole paragraphs (short ones, mind, but paragraphs all the same) are accidentally used twice, in completely different contexts. It’s immersion-shattering, it’s tedious, it’s just a mistake that shouldn’t even be made if you do any sort of proofreading before publication. Rather unfortunate, but there it is. No fault of the author, of course, as switching around paragraphs to places they work best is a must during one’s own editing sessions, but I try to give reviews of books as a whole rather than just the skill of the author. If a movie was amazingly done but they used a line of dialogue or a specific shot more than once (Michael Bay, take notes) you’d definitely notice, so I try and critique books in a similar vein. Other than that, I have no more criticisms to offer regarding the actual content of the novel, the description, the plot and the way it’s all done. I did mention that this was in my top five favourite books of all time, right?

Overall: 9/10

Ninefox Gambit is incredible. I love military science fiction (like Joe Haldeman’s Forever War), and this is a brilliant blend of rip-roaring battle sequences punctuated by intricate instances of political intrigue and backdoor influences. I say instances because all too often (in novels like Dune, for example) authors choose to focus drastically more attention on the politics of it all at the cost of anything exciting. Probably need to change that attitude if I’m planning on getting through Frank Herbert’s 400 or so pages at some point in the near future, but that’s just my opinion. Ha Lee does decidedly the opposite, and does it very well indeed, adding little pieces of what’s going on between the characters pulling the strings, adding some nice background and lore to the story, but mainly focusing on the hard realities of space warfare, the thing you can really bite on as you read, which is what catapults the narrative forward, keeps those pages turning, and, above all, is fundamentally, grin-inducingly fun. It makes for an awesome and compelling read, and one which, like I said, sits in my top five. Bring on the sequel.

 

Review 20: The Frogs by Aristophanes

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Well, well, well, what do we have here? This is a bit of a wildcard, isn’t it? In a reading career almost entirely comprised of sci-fi, peppered through with a few Westerns, what’s classical literature doing in the mix? Well, if you’ve read some of my other reviews you may know that I am a budding classicist, and as I’ve always wanted to read Greek Comedy (we only ever did epics and tragedy at A-Level), I knew it would be a good idea to buy this when I found out it was available in the form of the adorable one-to-two-pound-a-copy Penguin Classics series.

The Frogs follows Dionysus and his sidekick Xanthias as they travel to the underworld disguised as Heracles and his slave, in order to bring back Euripides from the dead and experience true poetry. Expertly translated by David Barrett, The Frogs is outrageous, hilarious and, beneath the surface, unexpectedly political. This review is a little shorter than usual because technically it’s a play rather than a book, and this copy is tiny in and of itself.

The Good:

  • Actually laugh out loud funny which even modern on-screen comedies don’t get right the majority of the time.
  • Plenty of intricate and carefully tailored characters who each have their own personalities from the moment they first speak.
  • Fantastical settings as are only appropriate for a work in the classical genre.
  • Some hilarious precursor-to-Deadpool fourth wall breaks, really including the audience (and, if you use your imagination a little, as we’re not seeing this on stage, after all, the reader) in the antics.

To be Improved:

  • Too much singing, always boring in literature (here’s looking at you, Tolkien) and would work much better if actually seen on stage. Doesn’t translate (no pun intended) well to written word. Obviously not the fault of the original author or translator but there it is, I suppose.

Overall: 8/10

Examining The Frogs for what it is, and being nowhere near as critical and exploratory as I’ll no doubt need to be when I inevitably come to read it again at university, the play does its job incredibly well. Aristophanes was never afraid to poke fun at his contemporaries, and The Frogs appears to one massive satire piece on that subject, a sheer stroke of riotously funny genius.

Movie Review 11: Baby Driver

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‘The moment you catch feelings is the moment you catch a bullet.’

Against the wishes of my friends that I attend a house party, I already had tickets booked to see a film I’d been looking forward to since I saw the trailer before Free Fire way back at the beginning of April, three months ago today. That film was Baby Driver, and I was not about to trek twenty stops on the central line when I could take a bus down the road to my local cinema and have a car chase- and rock music-fuelled evening of action.

Baby is a driver (seems simple enough, appropriate title choice) for Kevin Spacey’s Doc, a ruthless mobster who has our titular hero under his thumb for stealing a bunch of his stuff, presumably drugs, in the trunk of a car which he then proceeded to drive round Spaghetti Junction with no headlights or brake lights, managing to evade the police but (again presumably, and we’ll come to this in my biggest gripe with the film) crashing the car and (fucking presumably, because have I made it clear that we are never told) losing the drugs. We don’t see any of this, which is shame, and the film instead follows Baby’s last few jobs as he finally gets straight with Doc. But once your hands are this dirty, you’re probably going to end up curtains trying to get them clean, as we shall see.

The Good:

As with Free Fire and Full Metal Jacket, this is another one of the only good films I’ve reviewed on this blog. I’m not talking about enjoyability, because I gave Ghost in the Shell a 9.5/10 and that was a box office flop, but I’m talking about actual production value and lack of pandering to the rollercoaster-thrillride-loving common denominator. In that vein, the rating for this film should be taken with that in mind, and that a 9/10, for instance, is worth way more than a full 10/10 for a blockbuster. This is where the cracks in rating systems start to peek through, but I hope what I’m trying to sell makes sense. Right, let’s get into this thang.

This. Film. Rocks. Holy SHIT, does it rock. There aren’t many movies I come out of with the memory of turning to whoever I’m seeing it with and excitedly whispering “I think I’m gonna pee!” as I jiggle in place, but that was certainly the case with Baby Driver. There are around four different shootouts and chase scenes that time the gunshots and gear changes with the rumbling drumbeats and blaring electric guitars of such hits as Queen’s Brighton Rock and Tequila by The Champs. I could barely my contain squeals of pleasure as a pistol slide cracked with the hi-hat, or a clutch pedal was slammed down on the kick of the bass drum. God dayum was it a ride! This is so far removed from the bland, achingly over-the-top action and violence of Transformers or X-Men. It is true adrenalin, bursting at the seams, and it feels fucking great. This was a 15 so I’m allowing myself, much like the film, some ‘strong language’, I don’t even care. In terms of individual positives, a scene that stood out to me, above all others, was when Buddy goes crazy after the death of his bride and tracks Baby down in a multi-story car park. Seeing the beefy, glistening black police cruiser, swallowing all colour save for the piercing red and blue of the lights, growling as it patrols the bays like a shark, especially when you overlay Mercury’s vocals and Brighton Rock’s guitar solo, was joy. Pure joy, simple as. Mum and I had to hold hands, we were just bouncing in our seats. The script isn’t bad, either. Mum thought it was a little too on the nose, and claimed it wasn’t very well written, but I thought many of the quips were laugh out loud funny, especially one pertaining to a certain line from Monsters Inc, although I will say that for obvious reasons Spacey is a standout. On top of the ridiculously satisfying action and soundtrack, there were also some lovely moments of symbolism. Case in point: A shot from Baby’s point of view where his gaze flicks from Bats (Jamie Foxx), whose reckless personality not only he but also we the audience can’t pin down, to Buddy, a character who is somewhat of a friend to Baby, who we have just seen listening to music with him. Bats wears the privacy glasses (sunglasses framed with glaring pink LEDs to confuse cameras and shroud your identity, hint hint) that are about to be used in the heist, and Buddy does not. See what they did there? Also, whenever Baby is taking part in the heists or the planning of them, everything that happens around him goes with the beat of the music he is listening to, because it’s the life, or even the rhythm, one might say, that he’s gotten used to. But whenever he’s living his normal life, the life he wants, everything feels disjointed and it took me a moment to realise that it was because everything is out of time. Flat. What he wants, but not what he’s accustomed to anymore. Genius. Finally, and this leads nicely into one of my criticisms, just before Bats is killed, there is a shot of him (in true ‘The Departed’ fashion) through a car window, with the reflection of a lamppost or telegraph wire slashing straight through his image, crossing him off, subtly placing the imagery in the viewer’s brain and adding even more to the sense of unease that something is about to go down.

To be Improved:

As with books that I enjoy to a massive extent, this section is often a little longer when I find a film I love, but that’s because the criticisms are very specific. The biggest one I have with Baby Driver is the fact that the trailer featured many split second shots of nifty car stunts, and I remember saying to my girlfriend on the way to the cinema that I bet there would only be one chase scene at the beginning, then maybe another one a little later on that wouldn’t be as action-packed. How right I was, when, much to me and mum’s disappointment (yes, we saw it with my parents, but it was lovely, shush), the film opened on a car chase. It was the highlight of the film for my parents, who left feeling the rest of it was a bit flat in comparison. I don’t share this opinion, but I do agree that it was a high note which should have been saved for a little further into the narrative or at least matched by another later scene in terms of excitement, which, to be honest, it wasn’t. That’s really my only big issue with the film, so the rest of these are slight cracks which, for me, stuck out a smidgen to much. Firstly, a shot where a girl in a denim jacket and purple headphones goes into the back room of a diner singing ‘B-A-B-Y baby’, followed closely by the eyes of our eponymous protagonist. Then, a second later, a different girl in a waitress outfit appears from a different direction by the tableside, causing our hero to look up from the door his gaze was just fixed on. It’s just the case of a bad series of cuts that make it look like Debbie, who in reality is both women, just after a costume change, is two different people, but it took me at least fifteen minutes to suddenly hit that “OHHHH” moment, which was a little distracting. Second, contrary to my enjoyment of the symbolism before the fact, Jamie Foxx’s death was way too obviously set up. Hitting the audience over the head with not just one but several shots of an incredibly unsubtle stack of poles sticking out the back of a lorry parked in front of the getaway car directly in front of the passenger side was a little too indicative of Edgar Wright’s style, and something that should have stayed in Shaun of the Dead or the disgustingly gratuitous Hot Fuzz (just my opinion, shoot me). Finally, there were just some moments left painfully unexplained or fizzled out. Like a character referred to only as Soldier Boy who suddenly comes out of nowhere during the robbery of a money truck, starts shooting at the getaway vehicle, and is then killed, never to be explained. Seems a bit random and unnecessary, is all. Then, Buddy discharging his pistol beside Baby’s ears, supposedly deafening him, although his hearing returns by the closing shot which seems strange. If it doesn’t return, and he stays deaf, a possibility me and dad discussed, it’s not obvious at all, and that’s a problem in itself, so it’s still a problem. But above all, the most disappointing aspect of the film was a lovely nighttime aerial shot of Spaghetti Junction just before the film’s climax, as this seemed to be setting up a repeat of the scene we heard about but never saw of Baby’s famous police chase, which in my opinion would have been an incredible way to end it, but turned out to only serve as a callback to the backstory. In fact, looking back on it after the rush of seeing the film has passed, a Spaghetti Junction chase should have been how the film ended, because the real ending was lacklustre and ambiguous to say the least. You can tell by the time Baby wakes up in the car beside Debbie, however long after Buddy’s death, that Edgar Wright was running out of ideas. It suffers from LotR syndrome, being that it doesn’t know when to end, meaning that instead of solidly ending, Baby Driver just sort of… peters out.

Overall: 7/10

Some truly great filmmaking has gone into Baby Driver. The soundtrack is insane, and I think I’ll be preordering the vinyl just after this review goes up because it’s certainly gotten me in the mood to listen to it all over again. “That’s some Oscar shit right there!” exclaims Jamie Foxx’s Bats as he applauds, breaking the tension during a sinister moment in the diner. Mmm… Perhaps I wouldn’t go that far, but that’s not to say that Baby Driver isn’t a glorious blend of pink neon, banging tracks, delicious carplay (too little of it, if you ask me) and dazzling firefights. A Winding-Refn’s Drive-esque chase to finish the story where it started and really wrap everything up would have made this my film of the year, possibly my film of the decade, which just means it’s that much more of a letdown that it ended how it did. Sad face, but one that is trying hard to hide its childlike glee.