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A spectre is haunting Bond movies. Ever since the Berlin Wall fell, 007 has had a bit of an identity crisis: caught between cold assassin and cosy quip merchant, between serious espionage and groan-nuendo misogyny, between eras and attitudes.

Daniel Craig, the first post-9/11 Bond, had appeared to lean towards the former, bringing a newfound seriousness and muscularity to a role which had previously dealt primarily in raised eyebrows. Which makes Spectre a bit of an odd entry: it’s a film which tries to have its Bond cake and eat it too.

Under the eye of returning director Sam Mendes, Spectre starts with one of the strongest pre-credits sequences in the entire franchise: an audacious tracking shot through the Mexican Day of the Dead festival, climaxing in a spectacular helicopter somersault. But beyond that, Mendes feels obliged to embrace the laziest of the series’ tropes.

Austin Powers-grade cliches abound. Here is the villain openly inviting Bond to his evil lair for some reason! Here is the villain monologuing his evil plan in detail! Here is the villain attempting to kill Bond in the most elaborate manner possible, instead of just shooting him in the face!

In a sense, this is all fine. If you’re after a familiar Bond, you’ll find everything in order here. Spectre will make for fine Bank Holiday telly. But Craig’s Bond always seemed to aim higher than that. After 53 years and 24 films, is it too much to, ahem, exSpectre bit more?



With one leading Republican nominee currently bloviating about building a “giant wall” between the US and Mexico, Sicario feels like a timely critique of America’s ruinous drug wars. It’s set in an area of Texas which has always felt extra-legal, locked in an eternal schism between immigrants and rednecks, between cartel drug traffickers and cowboy vigilantes.

FBI agent Kate (Emily Blunt) finds herself thrust into this Wild West, ostensibly to “consult” on a Department of Defense cross-agency operation. But things seem awry from the start, and Kate grows increasingly mistrustful of flip-flop wearing Texan Matt (Josh Brolin) and enigmatic Colombian Alejandro (a simmering Benicio Del Toro), who take a cavalier approach to the rule of law in their hunt for a cartel king.

In truth, these ‘web of conspiracy’ plots are hardly strangers to cinema, and while Kate grows increasingly shocked at the corruption of her superiors, it’s difficult to share her surprise. Still, while the structure might be familiar, the execution is fiercely fresh. Denis Villeneuve knows how to create tension with devastating precision and stunning visual swagger; a disastrous border crossing – featuring the most nightmarish traffic jam imaginable – is a standout sequence.

Villeneuve’s canny ability to surround himself with outstanding collaborators pays dividends too – credit must go to Jóhan Jóhannson’s deeply disturbing, ear-smothering score, and Roger Deakins’ crisp, hauntingly beautiful cinematography. (Surely Deakins’ Oscarlessness will soon be remedied?)

After the twisty weirdness of Enemy and Prisoners, Sicario represents Villeneuve’s most grounded effort so far – yet through all his works runs an intoxicating sense of paranoia and dread, Hitchcock with a flourish of Fincher. On this strength, his upcoming Blade Runner sequel looks to be very promising indeed.


“I have no regrets,” Reggie Kray once said, in an interview shortly before his death.”My brother didn’t have any either. I would not change anything. You can’t just select parts of your life and alter them.”

You can, of course, if you are a Hollywood director. Brian Helgeland, a veteran of crime cinema, has here created a raucously entertaining take on the enduring Kray legend, though whether it bears much resemblance to the real-life Krays is open to debate.

The story of the East End brothers is pretty well known by this point (there are at least two other Kray-based films due out this year alone) so Helgeland wisely dives straight into the action.

We skip the brothers’ early life as amateur boxers, their prison time in the Tower of London, and their brief stint getting conscripted into, and dishonourably discharged from, the military.


This is a Swinging Sixties movie, so it begins, appropriately enough, in 1960. Reggie Kray (Hardy) is already a successful nightclub owner and ‘legitimate businessman’, finding time between running protection rackets and armed robberies to court a teenage Frances Shea (Browning), his future wife and our narrator.

Meanwhile, twin brother Ronnie (also Hardy) has just been released from a psychiatric hospital and is, as a doctor sensitively warns, “off his rocker”.

In both roles, Hardy is at the top of his game, inserting a seamless technical and emotional distinction between the two. Reg is louche, cool, and a little impatient; Ron, on the other hand, is the loosest of cannons, his permanent scowl never far from exploding.

There’s a sprawling, Scorsesian feel to the whole thing. It follows a well-hooved mob movie structure, revelling in the glamour and good times of the early years before conceding that a life of crime is probably unsustainable.

It’s rich in sharp suits and sizzling soundtracks. It even has a Goodfellas-style tracking shot, with a steadicam hovering behind Hardy as he greets club regulars, in manner not unlike Henry Hill.

What’s surprising, perhaps, is how funny it is. Helgeland finds opportunities for gallows humour in abundance, especially in Ronnie’s incongruous tastes (violence/westerns/orgies with aristocrats). It contrasts starkly with previous takes on the story – like the 1990 Spandau Ballet-starring biopic The Krays – which seemed keener to emphasise that both brothers were, by all historical accounts, psychopaths.

Helgeland’s take – essentially, that Reggie was a romantic who wanted to go straight, were it not for his brother – is perhaps a slightly generous assessment of a convicted murderer.

But the title lays clues to its intentions. As a historical account, it’s problematic; as a vibrant slice of period fiction, it’s boisterously, bruisingly great.

Sinister 2

“Whatever happened to the Oswalts is going to happen again,” warns James Ransone’s private investigator, at a key scene in Sinister 2. “It’s only a question of where and when”.

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Much like the unstoppable power of supernatural forces, there’s a grim inevitability to this horror sequel. Scott Derrickson’s 2012 original, a brooding haunted house mystery, hardly demanded a follow-up. But when an original movie earns a box-office gross twenty-five times its budget, a sequel is going to happen – it’s only a question of where and when.

Ciaran Foy’s franchise continuation hits the key beats of the first film efficiently and effectively enough, shifting the focus to a young boy haunted by nightmares, and a private investigator (Ransone, reprising his earlier role) attempting to break the chain of the boogeyman Bughuul (think Saw’s Jigsaw crossed with the lead guitarist from Slipknot).

Tormented by a cluster of creepy ghost children, the boy is coaxed down to the basement of his creaking poorly-lit farmhouse (where else?), night after night. There, the creepy ghost child leader – adorned in a spiffy sweater-vest-and-tie combo, the preferred uniform of all creepy ghost children – implores him to watch old home movies on a vintage projector.

These home movies all initially depict the quintessence of the nuclear family: a fishing trip, a new home, a Christmas morning. Invariably, these wholesome harmonies are abruptly and brutally shattered by elaborate scenes of mass murder – crucifixion, arson, electrocution – orchestrated by Bughuul’s omnipresent influence.

Though not exactly the first to harness grainy old-school film as a tool of horror, there is undeniably something profoundly disturbing about these sequences. The flicker of the projector, the wobbly homemade camerawork, the unheard screams: it all makes for a visceral, unsettling experience.

But overall, the film seems to be in thrall to scares, not characters. Its predecessor delved into themes of obsession, mystery, and common parental anxieties – themes retrodden ever so lightly here.

Too often, it resorts to tactics as cheap and as predictable as a travelling fairground ghost train. While the first Sinister was B-movie horror with A-movie aspirations, this seems fairly happy to wear its B-movie stripes firmly on its sleeve. Workmanlike without ever threatening to be remarkable, it really was only a question of where and when.

Absolutely Anything

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When it was announced, Absolutely Anything was touted as a unique opportunity to see a proper reunion of the surviving Monty Python members – the old troupe, back on the big screen, for maybe the last time.

Terry Jones, director of The Holy Grail, Life of Brian, and many more, was getting the gang back together. Could this be the movie Python fans have clamoured for?

Put bluntly: no. No, it could not. Despite Jones at the helm, and Cleese, Palin, Idle and Gilliam on board, Python’s irresistible mix of surrealism and silliness now seems like a very distant memory.

This film has a tone so broad you could see it from space. And for a film that is, in fact, partly set in space, it has a depressingly unambitious streak, of the kind you see in studio Britcoms chasing that lucrative US export. There’s none of the bold inventive sparkle or intellectual immaturity that was once a Python hallmark.

The Pythons themselves, meanwhile, are almost literally phoning it in – their roles equate to voicing some CGI aliens, probably dashed off in an afternoon. None of them seem especially enthused to be there. John Cleese just sounds a bit tired.

The focus instead falls on Simon Pegg’s secondary school teacher Neil, an unassuming nobody who suddenly finds himself gifted with unlimited powers by said aliens, while they ponder whether to destroy the Earth.

If you were thinking this high-concept pitch – Ordinary Joe becomes God – sounds rather a lot like ​Bruce Almighty, well, yes, you’re not far off. But unlike Jim Carrey’s brush with omnipotence, Neil is remarkably unimaginative in the use of his powers.

He gives himself a generously-endowed body, self-dressing clothes, and a talking dog; but he’s too witless to conjure up anything more dazzling than that. (A more accurate title might be Absolutely Anything That The Special Effects Budget Will Allow For.)

Still, at least the powers allow for some mildly entertaining diversions. It’s when Neil pursues the girl-next-door (Kate Beckinsale) that the film takes a sharp turn into Mediocreville.

Beckinsale’s absurdly glamorous Hollywood looks are wildly out of place in her drab office job; her gaudy-best-mate-tropes are found in only the bleakest romantic comedies, and her whole tawdry subplot offers literally nothing of value to the film at large.

A real disappointment, Absolutely Anything brims with talent and potential, but squanders it on a parade of safe, unfunny, paint-by-numbers clichés. Forgive the obvious wordplay… but truly, you’ll wish you were watching absolutely anything else.

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

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The Mission: Impossible series feels a fair distance away from Brian DePalma’s dark, brooding 1996 effort. Five films and nearly two decades in, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) has settled into a comfortable, James Bond-ian groove, singing to a hymnsheet of familiar spy beats. Car chases? Check! Tuxedos? Check! Slightly gratuitous shots of disrobed ladies? Check and mate!

It’s hardly breaking any bold new ground. But as Hunt, Cruise is utterly reliable, his commitment to the role – and what must have been a brutal workout regime – never in doubt. The sundry action sequences are again defined by a signature stunt, again ostensibly done by the Cruiser for real; last time around, he swung rakishly off an Emirati skyscraper. This time, he hangs off an A400 Airbus plane, as it takes off, all within the first blistering five minutes – setting a whippy pace which lasts at least until Sean Harris’ whispering bad guy caricature explains his evil schemes.

Still, it’s undemanding fun. The series is starting to get a whiff of repetition about it – Hunt’s apparent immortality and infallibility stretches the definition of ‘impossible’ ever further – but with Cruise at the wheel, it remains nothing if not solid.



Every new boxing movie faces a dilemma. Whether it wants to or not, any film rendering the sport of kings must be judged against those two eternal blueprints of the genre. There’s been challengers. But Raging Bull and Rocky remain the heavyweight champions. You almost pity a movie like Southpaw.

Does director Antoine Fuqua aim for Scorsese’s artful, sensitive camera movements – boxing as ballet? Does he vie for something more approaching Stallone’s sense of personal triumph and inspiration? Or does he try something new?

It begins, as boxing movies are inclined to do, with a boxing match: introducing Billy Hope (Gyllenhaal) at the height of his powers, cocky, reckless, but unequivocally the undisputed light heavyweight champion of the world. He has a beautiful wife (Rachel McAdams), and a tenacious promoter (50 Cent). He’s rich, he’s successful. Life is good.

But then, Kurt Sutter’s script manoeuvres a tragedy into Hope’s life, in the clumsiest and most cynical of manners; and the stage is rapidly set for a sour melodrama. Funerals, drink, drugs, guns, homes repossessed, children taken into care, extended crying scenes, rain… a veritable montage of misery.

All of this piles on in unrelenting fashion so that, much like Alan Partridge before him, Hope can bounce back. Forest Whitaker, in whispering mentor mode, reluctantly helps him back to form. A comeback beckons. It doesn’t take a boxing expert to guess how it ends.

Southpaw isn’t terrible. You cannot doubt Gyllenhaal’s chameleonic commitment to the role. You believe every punch he throws. You feel every one he takes.

But you can’t help wondering what it’s trying to say, and whether it’s even worth saying. Does the boxing-as-redemption cliché really need regurgitating? Do we need another I-hate-to-see-you-do-this-to-yourself speech from a fretting wife? Is the only way to regain your daughter’s love really just to go twelve rounds in the ring?

Do Scorsese and Stallone have anything to worry about? On this evidence, their title belts remain safe.


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As one of over a thousand Marvel superheroes all presumably making their way to the big screen, Ant-Man is no easy proposition. To those not versed in Marvel’s prolific comic book heritage, the superhero sounds, well, a bit ridiculous, really. A man who can shrink to the size of an insect makes for a less than impressive superhero when stacked up against Thor, the God of Thunder.

As if overcoming instant negative perceptions wasn’t tricky enough, Marvel also had the ire of Edgar Wright fans to weather. After a decade of developing the script, the Shaun of the Dead director abruptly exited the project last year, weeks before filming, citing the old “creative differences” mitigation. Whatever the efforts of his replacement, Peyton Reed (The Break-Up), there will always be Wright diehards who lament the Ant-Man that never was.

Be in no doubt: Ant-Man had a mountain to climb (or in ant terms, at least a hill). So it’s to Reed and Marvel’s substantial credit that Ant-Man is not, in fact, an absurd folly, but a perfectly entertaining little entry in the increasingly oversized Marvel Cinematic Universe, and one that works on its own terms. It doesn’t quite shrug off the by-now-extremely-well-worn superhero origins formula. But it has a refreshing sense of humour about itself.

Much of that comes from the impossibly likeable Rudd, who, as well as starring, contributed to rewrites of Wright’s script. He plays Scott Lang, a skilled cat burglar looking to reunite with his estranged daughter after a stint in prison.

When all seems lost, Lang is approached by scientist and inventor Hank Pym (Douglas), who passes the torch of his incredible shrinking suit to the young pretender and together they harness an army of easily-susceptible real-life ants to save the world. As only superheroes can.

As Lang, Rudd has a fantastically dopey charm, which grounds the movie into something approaching believable, and punctures some of the more eye-narrowingly ludicrous elements. (Pym’s shrinking technology is apparently possible thanks to ‘Pym Particles’, and, y’know, science!)

Lang is an unusual entry in the Marvel line-up, in fact. Handsome and charismatic, certainly, but also a bit of a goofball, with some goofy powers that could never pit him among Marvel’s A-team. So it’s a shame that the movie around his is not a wildly unusual entry in Marvel’s increasingly repetitive canon.

Wright’s script called for a heist movie, and there is certainly some fun, spicy, Ocean’s 11-esque break-in sequences. But take that away and it’s Superhero Origins 101, complete with training montages, redemption cliches, and in Corey Stoll’s Yellowjacket, a villain for villain’s sake, whose primary motivation for evil seems to be, erm, because the template demands it.

Mercifully, however, we are not treated to another finale dominated by computer-generated cities being destroyed by computer-generated superheroes. Ant-Man’s excellent third act largely takes place on a micro scale, with Lang’s shrinking powers paving the way for some highly inventive visual effects – and very funny Honey I Shrunk the Kids-style visual gags.

It remains a Marvel movie through and through – something they are keen to remind you throughout, with innumerable references to, and occasional cameos from, the Avengers. But Ant-Man’s unlikely charm is just enough to stop it from being squished at the cinematic picnic.

Song of the Sea


Back in February, Song of the Sea was memorably described by one Oscar voter as “that obscure freakin’ Chinese fuckin’ thing that nobody ever freakin’ saw,” which must have come as a surprise to Kilkenny-based Irish animation studio Cartoon Saloon. No matter: obscurity surely now short-lived, it richly deserved its Oscar nomination.

With a fairytale template and childlike sense of wonder, clumsy comparisons to Studio Ghibli are inevitable, but overstated; while Song of the Sea undoubtedly owes a debt to the Japanese studio, this is an Irish film, through and through. The selkies, giants, and spirits of the story are rooted in centuries of Gaelic mythology, with themes of grief and loss weaved seamlessly into the tapestry. Folkloric storytelling on a lavish canvas, it also boasts some of the most astonishing animation in recent memory – every frame could be framed. Moore’s film brims with charm, wit, emotion and magic, and should, by all measures, leave you utterly rapt. Go freakin’ see it.



I didn’t know anything about Timbuktu going in, which is fitting, I suppose, for a film named after a place considered by Westerners as unfathomably distant and unknowable. (Do Africans have a ‘Timbuktu’ equivalent? Do Saharan villagers say things like “from here to Milton Keynes”?)

Far more unfathomable than any colonial-era geographical mystique is the baffling ideology of ISIS, the terrorist group who form the loose subject of Abderrahmane Sissako’s gorgeous film. Granted, a movie about Islamic fundamentalists hardly seems like a barrel of laughs, and I’ll admit, there is not quite a barrel’s worth of chuckles here. But what’s surprising about Timbuktu is how warm and perversely optimistic it is, even in the face of incredible persecution.

Maybe optimistic is the wrong word. It’s dark. It’s rife with injustice and terror. It does not end well. People are punished, and murdered, for the flimsiest of reasons. But Timbuktu’s great strength is portraying the humanity that comes up against this ugly force.

It presents a side of the ISIS story rarely told in western media: the Average Joe. Most of the people in Timbuktu are just nice, ordinary people, trying to get by, who react with a mixture of exasperation, weariness, drollery and anger when this parade of idiots roll into town.

Put aside their extreme religious or murderous elements and you arrive at one incontrovertible truth: ISIS are just massive, massive arseholes. They ban cigarettes, music, and footballs. They force women to wear veils and gloves. They’re hypocrites (one member smokes secretly behind sand dunes) and cowards. Their utter dickishness is counterpointed by the brilliant stoicism of the people they oppress.

Witness the religious elder who calmly, quietly tells one of the terrorists that there is nothing in the Koran which approves of child murder. Or the woman who offers her hands up for chopping in frustration after refusing to wear gloves. Or the boys who play football without a ball, miming an entire game with breathless enthusiasm.

These ephemeral acts of civil disobedience offer no small amount of hope. That’s where the optimism lies. If you had to offer a criticism, you could say it is a little unfocused, and the motivations of a central character, tried for murder under Sharia law, seem somewhat spurious. But it’s worth seeking out. Sumptuously shot – it probably doesn’t take much to make a country like Mauritania look beautiful, but still, credit where credit’s due – and buoyed by a mesmeric soundtrack, Timbuktu brushes beauty and humanity against an unfathomable ideology in one elegant, timely package.


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